Missing pilot captured after three days on the run
Published: Wednesday, January 14, 2009 at 6:42 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 14, 2009 at 6:42 a.m.
QUINCY, Florida — A missing pilot's three-day run from authorities — and personal and financial ruin — ended when authorities found him inside an isolated campground tent, bleeding from his wrist after an apparent suicide attempt.
U.S. Marshals apprehended Marcus Schrenker, 38, late Tuesday at a North Florida campground days after the businessman and amateur daredevil pilot apparently tried to fake his own death in a plane crash. Authorities believe he parachuted to the ground and later sped off on a motorcycle he had stashed in a central Alabama storage shed.
Frank Chiumento, an assistant chief with the U.S. Marshals in Florida, said officers had to tend to Schrenker's self-inflicted gash to the wrist before he was airlifted to Tallahassee Memorial Hospital. Schrenker was listed in fair condition Wednesday morning.
The self-inflicted gash was "very serious at the time," Chiumento said. "He was bleeding profusely from the wounds to the left arm."
Schrenker could face charges in Florida, though Chiumento did not know what those might be.
Chiumento said Schrenker was found based on information from U.S. Marshals officers in Indiana and in Alabama. He did not provide details of how Schrenker was tracked to Florida.
Evidence, including the motorcycle authorities believe Schrenker used to get away, was being analyzed Wednesday morning, Chiumento said. He wouldn't describe what else was found at the Chattahoochee campground, but did say the investigation revealed Schrenker was prepared to be on the run for some time.
Schrenker fled not only the law but divorce, a state investigation of his businesses and angry investors who accuse him of stealing potentially millions in savings they entrusted to him.
"We've learned over time that he's a pathological liar — you don't believe a single word that comes out of his mouth," said Charles Kinney, a 49-year-old airline pilot from Atlanta who alleges Schrenker pocketed at least $135,000 of his parents' retirement fund.
On Sunday — two days after burying his stepfather and suffering a half-million-dollar loss in federal court the same day — Schrenker was flying his single-engine Piper Malibu to Florida from his Indiana home when he reported the windshield had imploded.
Then his radio went silent.
Military jets tried to intercept the plane and found the door open, the cockpit dark. The aircraft crashed soon after in a Florida Panhandle bayou surrounded by homes.
Police believe Schrenker made his way 220 miles (354 kilometers) north to Childersburg, Alabama, where he had stashed a motorcycle with full saddlebags in a storage unit rented just the day before his flight.
It appeared, by all accounts, that Schrenker was doing quite well.
At 38, he controlled an impressive slate of businesses. Through his Heritage Wealth Management Inc., Heritage Insurance Services Inc. and Icon Wealth Management, he was responsible for providing financial advice and managing portfolios worth millions.
He collected luxury automobiles, owned two airplanes and lived in a 10,000-square-foot (929-square-meter) house in an upscale neighborhood known as "Cocktail Cove," where affluent boaters often socialize with cocktails in hand.
But officials now say Schrenker's enterprise was ready to topple.
Authorities in Indiana have been investigating Schrenker's businesses on allegations that he sold clients annuities and charged them exorbitant fees they weren't aware they would face.
State Insurance Commissioner Jim Atterholt said Schrenker would close the investors out of one annuity and move them to another while charging them especially high "surrender charges" — in one case costing a retired couple $135,000 or their original $900,000 investment.
In recent weeks, Schrenker's life began to spin out of control. According to documents in a lawsuit filed in Indianapolis, Schrenker sent a frantic e-mail to plaintiffs on Dec. 16.
"I walked out on my job about 30 minutes ago," it read. "My career is over ... over one letter in a trade error. One letter!! ... I've had so many people yelling at me today that I couldn't figure out what was up or down. I still can't figure it out."
It's unclear to what "error" he is referring. In another e-mail to a neighbor following his disappearance, Schrenker referred to having "just made a 2 million dollar mistake." But it appeared he was hoping to work things out.
But things were now out of his hands.
On Dec. 31, officers searched Schrenker's home, seizing his family's passports, $6,036 in cash, the title to a Lexus and deposit slips for bank accounts in Michelle Schrenker's name. They also took six computers and nine large plastic tubs filled with various financial and corporate documents.
In the supporting affidavit, investigators suggested Schrenker might have access to at least $665,000 in the offshore accounts of a client.
But it wasn't just his finances that were in turmoil.
Just a day before, Michelle Schrenker had filed for divorce. She told the people searching the house that her husband had been having an affair.
Hours after Schrenker vanished, neighbor Tom Britt received what he believes is an e-mail from Schrenker. The tone was ominous.
"I embarrassed my family for the last time," Britt quoted Schrenker as saying. "By the time you read this I'll be gone."
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