044 - The Abduction and Murder of Kristi Cornwell

[Case Evidence]

                Kristi Leigh Cornwell was born on December 20th, 1970 in Hiawassee, Georgia to parents Jo-Ann and Harold Cornwell.  Kristi was the Cornwell’s first born child of the Cornwell family, with a young brother, Richard, being born not long after.  Though born in Hiawassee, Kristi would spend her life being raised in the rural town of Blairsville, Georgia, living on two separate family owned farms throughout her childhood.  Blairsville is the county seat of Union County which sits on the border between Georgia and North Carolina.  Blairsville is indicative of the term rural, with a total population sitting at just over 650 residents.  A very small town, Blairsville sits on 1.1 square miles of land and endures a humid, subtropical climate.  However, being that the town sits at an elevation of 1,883 feet, it often experiences the benefits of cool nights as opposed to much of the rest of the south eastern United States, making the days warm and sticky while the nights may be brisk and refreshing.

                Kristi’s family was just what you’d imagine in small town USA.  Jo Ann worked as a teacher while Harold tended farms and was an experienced and skilled outdoorsman.  From a young age, Kristi’s independence and focus were clearly evident, and she didn’t have a problem expressing herself or standing up for what she believed in.  Friends and family have often described her as the type of person who had a soft spot in her heart for those who were less fortunate, and she had a strong adherence to justice resonating from her soul.  This passion for doing what is right, and defending those who couldn’t help themselves, would stick with her throughout her life.  Kristi was an adept student, focused and determined to do the best that she could, but this didn’t suppress the strong willed, wildly humorous young woman who lurked beneath the surface.

                When Richard was born, Kristi was head over heels for her new little brother.  The excitement and joy she had provided to the rest of her family was now expanded to include her new sibling, but like most brother sister relationships, they had their share of battles, but the question of love and protection was never up for debate.  While Kristi may have given Richard a hard time, and he would repay the favor, it was obvious to everyone they knew that each would step in and protect the other from any attacks from someone outside of the family.  They developed a strong bond, based around humor and endless support.  When asked about his sister later, Richard stated “We loved to joke around with each other.  We had our share of disputes, when we were children, but as we became adults, those never happened.”

                Growing up in a rural is quite different from an urban environment, and while they may not have had the benefit of a big town with a lot of hustle and bustle, they did have the excitement of the wilderness.  Kristi enjoyed playing outside, and was for much of her life, a tomboy of sorts, though the older she got, the more her feminine prowess would develop and her beauty would become difficult to ignore for all the small town boys who passed by her.  Growing up on a farm can be hard work, but it does come with its benefits.  Richard later said “We grew up on two different farms, and we both loved to ride horses and loved the outdoors.”  In Blairsville, the siblings would get their fair share of fun in the sunshine, often playing until dusk when they’d rush home for dinner with their parents.

                Harold and Jo Ann raised their children to be polite, kind and respectful, with a strong foundation of love and faith.  Religion played a strong role in their lives, as often is the case in rural areas, especially along the Bible Belt, as it is frequently known.  Throughout her life, Kristi would become a member of the Crossover Community Church, located in Blue Ridge, Georgia.  She was often active on missions at her church, believing that spreading the gospel and sharing her faith were important qualities of a good individual.  This, supported by her family’s faith and strength, gave Kristi a resilient spirit and determined mindset where she believed that she could do anything.  Even from a young age, Kristi’s focus was on helping others and she did her best to bring light and happiness into the lives of everyone she cared about.  Friends have commented how Kristi would often lend her ear to strangers, and she has been defined as having a gentle soul and a giving generosity.

                Details about Kristi’s past are scarce, and while her younger years are submerged in the shadows of the unknown, some information does rise to the surface.  Kristi graduated in 1989 from Union County High School and would go on to pursue a career in law enforcement, eventually working as a probation officer.  While she had a deep passion for law enforcement, and enjoyed working her career, there was always the subtle suggestion that she wanted to take a more hands on approach to saving others.  While working in probation could be rewarding, there was something about wanting to be there for someone before things went wrong, before the legal system got involved, that spoke to her.

                However, Kristi was a strong woman who did enjoy using her position to teach others while continuing to expand her own abilities.  She had taken martial arts, and began instructing self-defense courses for others.  She thoroughly enjoyed working with firearms, and was a proficient shot, taking many classes and practicing frequently.  A skilled shot, and a woman capable of defending herself, she enjoyed spending her free time riding her motorcycle and exploring the beauty of the world around her.  She had an intense passion for nature, and took tremendous pleasure in hiking, walking and simply being surrounded by the pastures and wooded areas of Georgia. 

                Kristi’s love life was, troubled, to say the least.  Kristi would eventually get married and divorced, a total of three times.  The last marriage had barely lasted for two months when everything came undone.  While she was a deeply loving woman, her past experiences had given her a sense of hesitance when it came to relationships.  Her strong will and independence could be challenging for a man, and while many expected her to acquiesce to their desires, she had a mind of her own and wasn’t shy about expressing it.  With a heart so big, it isn’t uncommon for it to be broken and Kristi certainly experienced her share of emotional pain, but she always managed to find her way through.  Her greatest gift in life, she believed, was her son, Brody. 

                Kristi was a good mother, doting on her son at every turn.  She raised him, just as she had been raised, with love, faith and respect.  She loved every moment that she had with him and others couldn’t help but be drawn in to what has frequently been described as an incredible level of devotion.  Kristi’s mother, Jo Ann would later say “She loved her son more than anything, I mean, he was the joy of her life.  She was a wonderful mother.”  Richard was an uncle to Brody, but his career had drawn him out of the rural area, settling in to Knoxville, Tennessee, a few hours drive away.  Despite the distance, the Cornwell family remained close, bonded by their love and care.  Throughout Kristi’s marital struggles, she never felt alone for she knew that everyone would be there at the drop of a hat if she needed them, just as she would do the same.

                Krist’s third marriage ended in the late spring, early summer of 2009 and while she was reeling, she never quite gave up her hope that there was someone out there for her.  Brody was now sixteen years old, and she found comfort in watching her little boy grow into a man.  Regardless of her love life, Brody would always be the one who truly owned his mother’s heart and that was something which drove her forward and gave her the energy and determination to follow her dreams, to pursue all of that which she desired.  Kristi would ultimately make the decision to leave her career as a probation over, listening to that little voice that had always guided her to do more to help others.  She enrolled in Dalton State College, located in Dalton, Georgia, just an hour and a half drive west of Blairsville. 

                While working a part time job at Home Depot, years earlier, Kristi met Melissa Camp who would become her best friend.  The two had grown up with similar backgrounds, in small towns, and almost immediately hit it off.  Melissa later said “We considered each other best friends and she was the sister I never had.”  When Kristi returned to school, Melissa was very excited because she knew Kristi had always wanted to do more.  Of her time in school, Melissa would say that Krist was “thoroughly enjoying going back to school.  Really excited and realized this is something that she felt a call to do.”  Kristi was in school now to be a medical technician, a field in which she felt she might be able to continue her love of helping others, but perhaps, in a way which was very different from Probation, and yet also similar.  She would still be working to improve lives, and save others, but now it would be in the field of medicine.

                By the Summer of 2009, Kristi was a thirty-eight year old single mother, working towards a new degree and focused on setting out on a new path in her life.  She was excited by the prospects that lied on her horizon, but there was still one area of her life that was lacking presence and that was her love life.  Though nervous, and feeling scarred by incidents of her past, Kristi decided to try her hand at least one more time.  She signed up on an online dating website and, in her free time, would look through various profiles and answer messages from potential suitors.  In June of 2009, she made contacted with a man who seemed to provide much of what she had been looking for.  Douglas Davis was a pastor, living in Atlanta.  He was kind, caring and devoted to God. 

                According to Melissa, the relationship was moving slowly, but Kristi felt that there was a real connection there.  While she was worried, that ever present anxiety of waiting for the other shoe to drop, she was very open with Douglas about her past, and to her surprise, it didn’t frighten him away.  When asked later about their relationship, Douglas responded “Our relationship was just about us, and we were looking to a future together.”  Their courtship was sweet, and old school, which Kristi deeply appreciated.  She couldn’t help but wonder if mistakes from the past had been the result of rushing forward, following those initial feelings of love and infactuation without giving them time to truly incubate.  While Douglas had tremendous feelings for Kristi, they were still new and he was in no rush either.  Douglas would later say that he truly believed that God had brought them together, and Kristi’s mother commented that it was as if all of her prayers had finally been answered and this could have been this one.

                Kristi looked at her relationship with Douglas as the opportunity to start a new, to refresh and to make up for lost time in past relationships.  They spent their free time together, talking in depth about everything from their dreams and aspirations to their faith and flaws.  Kristi was going to be spending the Summer at her parents home in Blairsville, while Douglas remained in Atlanta, although they would be visiting each other.  In the weeks leading up to this summer vacation, Kristi suffered an accident.  After a day of strong rain, she slipped down some slick stairs and took a nasty fall.  The fall resulted in damage to her tailbone, and as a result Kristi was in a constant state of discomfort.  The throbbing ache was always there, but Kristi soon learned that walking seemed to ease the pressure.  She began going out for evening walks and would return home feeling better and with the pain lessened.

                Jo Ann was concerned about the walks, asking Kristi why she couldn’t just take the walks during the day time.  According to Jo Ann, she had mentioned to Kristi that she was worried because if something happened, she wouldn’t even know where to begin looking.  Kristi shared her route with her mom, and told her not to worry.  She also explained that, with the days being as hot as they were, it was much more comfortable for her to take her walks at dusk.  Blairsville wasn’t the kind of place where bad things happened and Jo Ann would later say “Most people know each other and go to church together, and, you know, it’s just, you feel safe here.  A lot of people didn’t even lock their doors.”  Besides, were something to ever go wrong, Kristi always had her cell phone with her.  She would often walk with an earpiece in, putting her phone in her pocket and just chatting away.  Sometimes she spoke to Melissa, other times it was Douglas.  Either way, Kristi felt secure having it with her and, she had training in self defense and had been a probation officer.  Kristi never doubted her ability to take care of herself.  All of that would change on the night of Tuesday, August 11th, 2009.

                It had been a usual day, and Kristi had spent it at home with Jo Ann and Harold.  As the sun began to set, she changed her clothes and gathered up her cell phone and ear piece.  She told her mother she was going out for her evening walk and slowly stepped outside.  Jo Ann had gotten used to it by now, and it was just another part of Kristi’s routine.  She had no way of knowing that this would be the last time she’d ever see her daughter.  Jo Ann would later recall “She said I’m going for my walk now and I didn’t even look up from the newspaper.  I said ok.”  Kristi’s path would carry her down Jones Creek Rd, where she would pass a picturesque little church that she’d grown a fondness for.  On this particular night, she dialed up Douglas and the two began chatting as she walked along. 

                The conversation seemed completely normal.  It was after 9pm, and while Kristi was fully confident in her abilities to take care of herself, the walks were often made more comfortable, and quicker, during conversation.  After getting Douglas on the phone, she slid it down into her pocket using her earpiece to remain hands free.  Kristi made a comment to Douglas to hang on, she had to move out of the way of a vehicle that was coming down the road.  It seemed an innocuous detail until moments later when Douglas would become an audio witness to her abduction.  According to Douglas, he heard Kristi scream and she said something along the lines of “Please don’t take me.”

                Douglas immediately sat up in a panic.  He called out her name, asked her what was going on, but Kristi didn’t answer him.  He could hear the sounds of a struggle and Kristi seemed to be pleading with someone.  Among the things Kristi was saying was that she was being tied up, that she had a son, that she had lived in the area all her life and that she didn’t want to be hurt.  Douglas didn’t know what to do, he just continued to call her name but the phone went dead on the other end, outside of the sound of silence.  Douglas would later say “I know her voice, and I know it well, she was afraid.  And the tone of it gave me the fullest confidence that she was being abducted.”

                The call was still connected, but there were no voices, there was nothing.  Completely freaking out, Douglas immediately picked up his landline phone and dialed 911.  Unfortunately, Douglas was in Atlanta at the time, just over one hundred miles south of Blairsville.  His call to 911 landed him on the Atlanta Police Department’s dispatch, and when he explained the situation, they explained that he’d need to speak to someone in Union County.  Douglas was given a number to call, apparently a non-emergency number which led to the Union County Sheriff’s department.  He called multiple times but received no answer.  Frustrated and not sure what else he could do, Douglas continued trying to reach someone in law enforcement but couldn’t connect with anyone in the area and so, in desperation, he dialed 411 for information and got the home number of Kristi’s parents.  He dialed and found Jo Ann on the other end.  Jo Ann would later say “About approximately 9:25pm, the phone rang so I picked up.  Douglas said ‘Jo Ann, listen, I was on the phone with Kristi and someone’s taken her.’  I said ‘What are you saying?’  He said ‘Someone is taking her, someone has kidnapped her.’  He heard her screaming and heard her say ‘Please don’t take me.’”

                Sometime between Kristi’s initial abduction, Douglas finally reaching Jo Ann, and Jo Ann dialing 911 and being connected to the Union County Sheriff’s department, forty to forty-five minutes have passed.  The time of Kristi’s abduction has been officially listed as occurring between 9:15 and 9:20pm, but the call to the Sheriff’s dispatch isn’t received until 10pm.  Due to jurisdictional issues, being given the runaround and a non-emergency phone number, precious time has been lost and in in those lost minutes, Kristi could be as far as forty to fifty miles away at this time.  Almost immediately after placing the call, Jo Ann goes out in her car and begins driving around the area she knows Kristi walks.  Kristi’s father, Harold, also goes out searching for his daughter.  Douglas is already in his car and is driving north to Blairsville.  Kristi’s brother, Richard, has begun the drive in from Knoxville and even Kristi’s best friend, Melissa, is heading toward the family home.

                The Union County Sheriff’s Department arrives on the scene, setting up a command post at the church that Kristi always walked passed.  They begin combing the road, looking for any sign that Kristi could still be in the area.  They find nothing which indicates a struggle, and they are unable to locate anything which points them in what direction the abductor may have gone with Kristi.  Being that it’s late at night, this makes searches more difficult.  That rural area is not well lit, and so officers are shining spotlights from their cruisers as others comb over areas with flashlights.  It’s a frustrating prospect, aside from the darkness, they do not have a pinpoint location to begin.  All that is known is the route that Kristi typically took, the amount of time that passed from when she left her parents home and the abduction, and so they have to estimate an approximate location, even though they will cover all areas.

                Richard arrived at the family home by 1am, he had driven hard and fast, rushing to aid his sister and to be there for his parents.  When he pulls up, he finds that Douglas and Melissa have arrived prior to him and he heads inside.  Melissa is an absolute wreck, not knowing what to think or what can be done to help.  She rushes to Douglas and asks the Pastor if he might lead a prayer for them in hopes of settling their nerves as well as giving them the strength and hope they so desperately need in that moment.  Melissa recalls her last conversation with Kristi, a phone call several hours before the abduction, and the call she received from Jo Ann.  Melissa later states “She was really so full of life, and joy.  And her mom called me that night, hearing that something may be wrong, I had no idea that it could be this.”  When Douglas is later asked about Kristi he says “In my heart, she’s a fighter.  She had faith in the lord that’s real and I believe that faith will sustain her.”  After speaking with the family and telling them everything he knows, he is directed to the Church command post to see if he can aid investigators.

                When Douglas gets to the church he finds that, in addition to the Union County Sheriff’s Department, there are officers from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, or GBI.  They were in the county working on an unrelated homicide investigation, and when they learned of the abduction, decided to join in an assist.  Douglas is immediately questioned, multiple times, to give them every piece of information he has.  They ask him first about the phone call, what specifically did Kristi say, could he hear the suspect at all, did she describe him, the vehicle, her location or any other details that may be of assistance. 

                GBI Special Agent Brian Whidby states that Douglas “Said that she normally walked with an earbud in her ear so she didn’t have to hold her telephone.  Approximately 9:20pm is when she made the statement ‘hang on, I have to get out of the way of this vehicle.’  He hears what he described as a commotion.  And then he hears Kristi scream.  Just a few seconds after that, she makes tatements to the effect of she was tied up, please don’t hurt me, she has a son and has lived in the area all of her life.  We believe that Kristi was actually talking to her abductor, trying to reason with this person, and also to let Douglas, her boyfriend, know, that things were happening to her that she couldn’t control.”

                While authorities take notes on his story, and others are on the streets searching for Kristi, they also go about the process of verifying Douglas’ story.  As a new boyfriend, and someone who appears to have been on the phone with her during the abduction, they have to consider him a possible suspect at the time.  They begin trying to verify his location when Kristi disappeared, they pull phone records to confirm the call and they search their systems to see if Douglas has any kind of record or history that might make him more suspicious.  Ultimately, though, Douglas comes back as clean and they are able to verify that he was in fact in Atlanta when the abduction took place.  The last time Douglas saw Kristi was days earlier when they had lunch in Atlanta.  Agent Whidby says “He was not in the area of Kristi’s abduction.  He has been ruled out as any type of suspect.”

                After discussing the phone call, their next thought process is that Kristi may have been taken by someone she knew or had known.  They ask Douglas thorough questions regarding her past, if she’d recently been afraid of anyone or made any statements about someone who has threatened her.  They are looking for anything they can find, and they let Douglas know that what may not seem like an important detail at the time could prove very important later.  Douglas explains that he knew a lot about Kristi’s past, but that there was nothing she had ever said to him to make him think she could be in any danger.  In an interview, Douglas later says “I have no idea, in all of our conversations, the many hours we’ve talked and shared our lives, she never indicated that there’s anyone in her past who could do such a thing.”

                Outside of Douglas, authorities have to consider many other possibilities, including Kristi’s previous husbands.  They begin conducting a thoroughly investigation to check into their backgrounds, as well as trying to confirm their location in the hours leading up to and following Kristi’s disappearance.  While not much is revealed about this aspect of the investigation, the three men are ultimately ruled out when they have solid alibis supporting their lack of involvement.  Set back to square one, investigators begin to consider the possibility that this could be random, but they have another massive list of potential suspects to look at.  Due to Kristi’s former job as a probation officer, there is a growing litany of ex-cons who could have an axe to grind.  They begin gathering this information when they are approached by the caretaker of the church in which they have set up their base and he has an interesting account to give.

                According to the caretaker, he and his daughter had seen Kristi walking by in the past.  On this particular night, they again saw Kristi, though they didn’t witness the abduction.  However, in the moments after her abduction, they witnessed a vehicle they were unfamiliar with.  GBI special agent Brian Whidby later relayed their information, saying “That person and his daughter saw, what they believe to be, a white or silver, maybe even a light color SUV on the road right about the time they saw Kristi.”  Immediately, Police radio out the partial vehicle description so that any of the officers searching can keep their eyes open in case they happen upon one.  At this point, the GBI delivers the information to the family, and Douglas Davis is there.  The description of the SUV reminds him of an incident which had taken place just four days earlier.

                The previous weekend there had been a funeral service for Kristi’s grandmother and Douglas had driven up from Atlanta to be there for her.  It was a sad day for the family, but Kristi was grateful to Douglas for having made the trip.  His pastoral influence had brought feelings of comfort to the family.  Following the difficult days activities, Kristi told her mother that she and Douglas were going to take a walk.  Jo Ann later said “Saturday, they went for a walk, like Kristi usually did.  I assume they went her normal path and they were gone, thirty, forty-five minutes, maybe.”  According to Douglas this was not just another uneventful walk.  He told the GBI that, during that walk, a vehicle had approached them on the side of the road.  It pulled up quickly, stopping just three or four feet from them.  The vehicle sat there for a moment and then turned back onto the road, speeding off.  Douglas told the GBI that it was a light colored SUV.  Authorities began to wonder if this could have been the same SUV, and if so, did this previous incident indicate that this was not random and that Kristi was in fact targeted?

                By 2am, five hours have passed since Kristi was abducted.  The proximity to the North Carolina border concerns authorities that she may have been taken into another state which would majorly impact their investigation.  At this time, they make the choice to pull in many of their officers and agents in order to launch a full scale search of the area when the sun rises.  Richard Cornwell, though, is not ready to turn in for the night.  In what will become the first example of his complete and utter devotion to finding his sister, he heads out on foot, armed with a flashlight and a handgun, determined to comb every square inch of land along her walking path.  When asked about this later, Richard says “There were several scenarios going through my head that night.  There was the possibility that the suspect might still be in the area with Kristi so I was prepared for that, for that scenario.”

                At sunrise on August 12th, 2009, Richard is still walking the roadside.  He cuts off his flashlight and begins walking through the tall grass in the area that authorities have estimated to be the abduction point.  To his surprise, laying there in the weeds, he finds one of Kristi’s flip flops.  He immediately jumps out into the road and flags down a passing Sheriff’s Deputy.  Within minutes the GBI arrives at the scene with a crime scene investigation truck and begins combing through the overgrown roadside.  At the end of their search they locate the other flip flop, the ear piece that Kristi was wearing at the time, as well as her glasses.  This confirms the abduction site for authorities, and the items are bagged as evidence and processed for any possible fingerprints or DNA which may lead them to a suspect, though they find nothing helpful.

                The hunt for Kristi and her abductor kicks into high gear as the day grows lighter.  For the next two days, the GBI working in conjunction with seventeen other law enforcement agencies, including local and state, search a three mile radius around the abduction point.  The FBI sends down a helicopter, which searches from the sky.  Search dogs are brought in to cover every inch of ground and dive teams are sent into surrounding rivers and lakes.  At it’s peak, the GBI invests sixty agents to assist with the search and investigation.  Sadly, after finding the aforementioned items, law enforcement fails to locate anything else in the area, or surrounding wilderness, which points them in any direction.  At this point, they believe that Kristi was indeed taken in the vehicle and likely driven to another location.   Then, a local man makes a discovery that might assist them in mapping a possible direction to head.

                At 5:30pm, officers respond to a call from a homeowner located along Nottley Dam Road, approximately three and a half miles north of the abduction site.  A man who was mowing his loan found a cell phone lying in the grass.  According to investigators, it seems likely that this phone was thrown from a moving vehicle, likely from the driver’s side, and it is later confirmed to be Kristi’s cell phone.  While they have hopes of gaining the abductor’s fingerprints or DNA from the phone, their hopes are crushed when the man explains that he wiped the phone clean upon discovering it.  Hoping that something may still remain, they process the phone but anything of forensic value has been cleaned away.  While this is a blow to the investigation, it does lead them to believe that Kristi has been taken north along this road.  Unfortunately, following this road further North will eventually lead across the North Carolina state line.

                Days began passing, and police were finding nothing else to lead them to Kristi.  By August 18th, one week after she was taken, the search area expands to include three surrounding counties.  Authorities begin canvassing neighborhoods that had been previously outside of their search quadrant, and ultimately, they visit four hundred homes searching, not just for Kristi, but also for a light colored SUV.  In addition to the canvassing, multiple roadblocks are arranged in hopes of finding the driver passing through the area.  It is also at this time that the GBI speaks to the family, and tries to brace them for the possibility that, at this time, the odds of finding Kristi alive are becoming less and less.  John Bankhead, a spokesman for the GBI, speaks to the media and states “In a case like this, time is our enemy.  The further away you get from that initial incident, the less chance you have of finding the victim alive.”

                The family isn’t sure what to think.  While evidence seems to suggest this may have been a random abduction, the fact that Kristi walked the same path, around the same time, makes them wonder if its possible that the suspect could have been someone Kristi knew, or perhaps, someone who had been watching her.  In such a small town, it’s difficult for them to imagine that one of their own neighbors could be responsible.  Jo Ann states “I just felt like it might be somebody that knew she walked that time of day.  Maybe he had targeted her.”  Investigators are considering all options at this time, but when another week passes, they are forced to pull back their investigation.  Their budget doesn’t allow for a search of that magnitude, involving so many different agencies, and covering such a wide swath of area, to continue for that long.  Seventeen days after Kristi was taken, on August 28th, many of the officers involved are reassigned to other investigations.

                For the Cornwell family, it’s absolutely devastating.  They have remained strong throughout the investigation and the search, and have done everything to contribute.  Kristi is all they think about, day and night, but as each day passes, it becomes harder for this family of faith to hold onto hope.  When authorities begin to pull back from the search, they take it upon themselves to make sure someone is always looking.  Fliers are printed up bearing Kristi’s image, description and a description of the possible suspect vehicle.  They also begin trying to raise funds to assist in the search, as well as to provide a reward.  Kristi’s father, Harold, uses his outdoorsman experience and knowledge of the area to arrange volunteer search parties.  Richard flies in his own private Cesna and continues searching from the sky while donated helicopters are piloted by volunteers.  They look over Union, as well as the three surrounding counties, and the family offers a $50,000 reward.

                The searches continued, but to no avail.  Despite the effort and volunteers, Kristi could not be located and no new leads were developed on her possible abductor.  They had Kristi’s items in an evidence locker, they had a vehicle description and a possible direction of travel, but little else.  The family spoke to the media in hopes of keeping the story alive, but as is often the case, as the days continued to pass, larger news outlets began moving on to other things.  Authorities continued their investigation, but had little to move forward on.  The case essentially fell to a standstill, though the Cornwell family continuing using every resource they had to keep Kristi’s name alive.  For them, they beluieved she was capable of taking care of herself and they believed she was still alive, and possibly being held captive somewhere.  Without anything to prove them wrong, they refused to let go of their hope.

                A month after Kristi vanished, on September 11th, 2009, campers in the Chatahoochee National Forest came across what appeared to be an improvised campsite.  The site was located approximately 10 miles south from the point of the abduction, and for a moment, there was consideration given that Kristi may have been taken to this location the night she was taken.  However, for authorities, they knew exactly who the campsite was linked to.  A year earlier, twenty-four year old Meredith Hope Emerson was abducted and murdered by Gary Michael Hilton while walking on a trail on Blood Mountain.  On New Years Day, 2008, Hilton, a drifted, came across Meredith on the trail.  According to his statement, he told Meredith he wanted her ATM card and pin number, but the martial arts trained young woman wasn’t going to give up without a fight.

                According to GBI Director Vernon Keenan, Meredith was “doing everything she could to stay alive.  It’s not something you can train for, instinct kicks in.  She nearly got the best of him, She’s very much a hero.”  Hilton later explained that Meredith brandished a knife and was screaming for attention, he ultimately got control of the situation by punching her, breaking his hand, and possibly her nose in the process.  He then led her down the trail where he placed her inside of his van.  Emerson remained in Hilton’s custody for four days, during which time she delayed the inevitable by continually giving him the wrong pin number.  On the fourth day, Hilton led her outside and bound her to a tree.  He then casually returned to his van to collect himself and drink coffee.  Upon his return, he violently bludgeoned Emerson with the handle of a car jack and, in a sickening addition, decapitated the young woman.  GBI Agent Clay Bridges later said “That’s the one thing that broke my heart in this case.  She was doing everything she was supposed to do to stay alive, and we didn’t get there in time.”

                While the campsite had momentarily sparked interest, it was quickly dismissed as Hilton was serving a life sentence for the abduction and murder of Meredith, which eliminated him as a possible suspect.  In a bizarre twist, Melissa Camp recalled that she and Kristi had spoken about the case in the past.  For Melissa, it was difficult to reconcile that her best friend may have met a similar fate, though she held out hope that Kristi would be returned safely.  The memory of what had happened to Emerson brought in grim possibilities in Kristi’s own case, with a month now gone, the likelihood that she was still alive seemed to be fading every day.  GBI investigators concluded their discussions with all of the ex-cons that Kristi had worked with, but no information was gained from any of these individuals.  Without anything to connect a possible suspect to Kristi, the probability became likely that her abduction had been conducted completely at random.

                In December of 2009, the GBI called a press conference to announce a probable break in the case.  During the press conference, they asked for the assistance of the public.  They had been contacted by a female living in Murphy, North Carolina, just 20 miles North of Blairsville, who told them about a frightening incident she’d experienced on August 2nd, just nine days before Kristi was abducted.  According to the witness, she had been walking on the side of the road when a vehicle approached at a slow speed and struck her, knocking her to the ground.  The vehicle hadn’t hit her hard enough to cause major damage, but just enough to disable her.  The woman managed to fight off her would be abductor.  She screamed loudly and a passing vehicle seemed to spook him.  The man got back into his vehicle and fled the scene.  The most interesting detail – the man had been driving a light colored SUV, in fact, it was a Silver Nissan XTerra with a black brush guard on the front.  This fit the description of the vehicle seen by the church caretaker the night Kristi had been abducted. 

                For the GBI, the make and model of the vehicle fitting the description was an important detail, but it was the actions of the suspect that interested them more.  The night she vanished, Kristi had told Douglas to hang on because she had to get out of the way of a vehicle.  Was it possible that the reason she had to get out of the way was because the man was attempting to hit her, as he had the previous woman, in a pretext to her abduction?  In what was the most positive news they’d received in a while, the previous victim had gotten such a good look at the suspect that she had been able to describe him to a sketch artist.  A composite drawing was made, showing the left side of the man’s face in profile.  The suspect was described as a Caucasian male in his mid to late twenties with dark hair.  This sketch was shown at the press conference and within twenty-four hours the GBI received thousands of tips, though none of those tips managed to lead to the suspect.

                Two weeks would pass before there would be any movement on this suspect, but soon, another potential victim called the Union County Sheriff’s department.  She told a similar story to the first woman, and states that the clearly recognizes the composite drawing.  According to this woman, she was on the side of the road dealing with a problem with her car when the suspect approached her from behind and tried to grab her.  This victim, also, managed to fight off her attacker.  This woman, though, had gotten an even better look at the man than the previous woman had, and authorities were able to complete a much more detailed, full face composite drawing which was then circulated in the area.  Authorities now had a good description of a suspect who they considered a good possibility as being the man who abducted Kristi, but they had little else to work with.  While the image was sharp, and the description was good, they had nothing which particularly distinguished the man.

                December 20th, 2009, was Kristi’s 39th birthday.  The family marked the occasion by holding a candlelight vigil, in hopes of honoring Kristi, showing their support, and possibly to gain more attention from someone who may have information.  The family made a plea for additional information, and Kristi’s brother spoke about the reward.  In his opinion, they didn’t expect to hear from the suspect, but it was likely he had friends, and maybe even a family.  Someone who may have information which they didn’t even know was useful.  The family hoped that they would get tips, but ultimately, nothing came in.  For them, the nightmare continued.  Where could Kristi be and who could have done such a thing like abduct a single mother simply out for a walk in a quiet town?  It was a question which, for the time, they had no answers.

                Two weeks later on January 5th, 2010, the GBI is made aware of two anonymous letters.  One was received by the Union County Sheriff’s Department, the other by the Cherokee County Sheriff’s department, apparently in reference to the first woman to escape her attacker.  The letters, alleged to have been written by a concerned grandmother, told the tale of a twenty-seven year old grandson’s suspicious behavior around the time of Kristi’s disappearance.  According to a GBI press release, the letters further explained that her grandson drove a white Nissan XTerra with a black brush guard and that, on the night that Kristi vanished, he did not return home until early the next morning, and when he did, he had scratches on his face, hands and neck.  Her grandson had also been present in western north Carolina around the time the first attempted abduction took place.  According to the letter, when she asked her grandson what had happened, he said he’d been in a fight.  He very quickly left the area and fled home, to Florida.

                The letter was post marked in Charlotte, North Carolina, but there was no other information for them to try and find the writer.  There was no return address and the letter, as well as the envelope, had been written in purple ink.  Both letters and envelopes were sent for processing, but there were no fingerprints of forensic evidence present on either.  The GBI began looking into White Nissan XTerra’s registered in Florida, but that hit them back with a massive number of possibilities.  While they would attempt to narrow down the possibilities, it would be an exceedingly time consuming task for which they didn’t have a large number of agents available to work it.  In an attempt to gain the assistance of the public, and to reach out to the woman, the GBI went to Jo Ann Cornwell with a request.

                Jo Ann was asked to reach out to the woman in a public format, and just days later, the family released a video on YouTube.  The video runs just over two minutes and I will now play it in its entirety.  [Insert YouTube Video]

                Sadly, after the release of the video, no valid tips were received, and in fact, many fraudulent tips were called in.  In some instances, disturbing phone calls were placed to the Cornwell residence, upsetting the family greatly.  In the following weeks, with nothing new discovered, the GBI were asked whether or not they were giving up on the investigation.  John Bankhead, a GBI spokesman, assured the press that the GBI was as dedicated to solving this case as they had been at the onset.  Agent Brian Whidby would later say “We remain realistic.  We may not find Kristi alive.  We hope we do, we hope for her family we do, but based on statistics, it doesn’t look good.”  At that time, in January of 2010, the case seemed to come to a standstill.  Despite the efforts of the family, and investigators, there simply weren’t any new developments.  Frustration grew for the authorities, and the pain of the family continued to grow, and yet still, they remained hopeful and determined to help Kristi.

                Three months passed, with little to nothing developing, and then suddenly, a standoff with police in Atlanta led to a new possibility.  On April 8th, 2010, Atlanta Police were involved in an armed standoff with an abduction suspect in downtown Atlanta.  They had received a call to report a suspicious vehicle parked behind the Buckhead Mellow Mushroom.  They found forty-two year old James Scott Carringer, was sitting in his black, Nissan XTerra with a rifle in his hands.  The man had been tracked down after he attempted to abduct a ten year old girl from an easter egg hunt at Hunter Station Baptist Church in Montgomery, days earlier.  The entire incident had been captured on surveillance footage, and shows Carringer calling over a boy and girl.  He speaks with the two for a moment before shoving the boy to the ground and throwing the girl into the SUV.  Luckily, the young girl had managed to escape from the vehicle before it fled the scene.  However, this was not the initial reason that Carringer was being hunted.

                Days earlier, Carringer had abducted a nineteen year old woman from a shopping center in the Kennesaw area.  The woman was later sexually assaulted, and it was later revealed, that the victim was actually a relative of Carringer’s, adding another disturbing twist to an already horrendous story.  It was during the time that Carringer was fleeing from authorities, and going into hiding, that he attempted to abduct the ten year old from the church.  Eventually, they managed to corner Carringer in downtown Atlanta.  According to reports of the time, Carringer informed authorities that he was suicidal and that his vehicle was wired with explosives.  SWAT officers arrived on the scene, as did the bomb squad.  A bomb squad robot was sent towards his vehicle, at which time, authorities heard a single gunshot.  Carringer had taken his own life with a rifle that he had in the vehicle with him.  The entire standoff lasted three hours and it was later determined there were no explosives in the vehicle.

                It was after Carringer’s suicide that authorites began to make potential connections to Kristi’s abduction.  In the aftermath of his death, police had begun a thorough investigation into him, in hopes of linking him to other abductions or attempted abductions in the area.  When they arrived at his home they discovered that Carringer, in addition to his black XTerra, also owned two others:  A white and a silver one.  The silver XTerra matched the vehicle described by the first assault victim in Ranger, North Carolina.  There was one detail which was off, though.  The silver XTerra did not have a black brush guard, but a silver one. 

                While investigating the area around the home, authorities located a black brush guard which had been thrown into the woods.  According to Carringer’s family, from whom he was estranged at the time, he had replaced the brush guard himself, without explanation.  He had also gifted the vehicle to his stepson without any pretense.  GBI agent Whidby stated “He was driving that vehicle during August of 2009, just at the end of august, early September, 2009, he unexpectedly gave that vehicle to his step son without discussing it with his current wife.  There was no reason behind giving it to his step son.”  This meant, to investigators, that Carringer was driving this vehicle, which matched witness descriptions, around the time Kirsti vanished and the other attack had taken place and then, just two weeks after Kristi vanished, he had changed the brush guard and given the vehicle to his step son.

                In further investigation, authorities uncovered other details which could possibly tie Carringer to the night that Kristi was abducted.  Carringer lived only eighteen miles away from Kristi’s parents home, and also had family in southern North Carolina, near the area in which the first victim was attacked.  When they question family members and friends, most express surprise over Carringer’s actions, but they also tell the story of a man who would bizarrely disappear for days at a time, during which he was unreachable.  They told investigators that Carringer would go on trips and while on these trips he would turn off his cell phone and he wouldn’t contact anyone until he was on his way home.  Where he went and what he did, they never knew.  Carringer did leave a suicide note for his family, though the only piece which has been made public is that he acknowledged being sexually assaulted by a neighbor when he was ten years old.

                With all of the evidence accumulating, authorities moved to list Carringer as the only person of interest ever named in Kristi’s abduction.  Sadly, though, with Carringer dead from a self inflicted gunshot, they didn’t have the ability to question him or gain any new information.  One the one hand, it was a major break in the case, but on the other, it didn’t paint a hopeful picture for Kristi’s fate.  If indeed Carringer had been the one to abduct her, they had no way of knowing where she might be or what he could have done with her.  At this point, they began to face the strong possibility that Kristi’s was likely deceased.  Despite their statements, the Cornwell family continued to cling to hope.  A few weeks later, her brother Richard quit his job, to devote himself full time to searching for his sister.  The family sold their lakefront vacation home to pay for airplane and helicopter searches, and for the production and mailing over 80,000 missing persons fliers which were sent all throughout Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee. 

                GBI Agent Mike Ayers, when asked about the potential connection between Kristi and Carringer, stated “James Scott Carringer is our primary suspect and has been for a long time.  I would give anything to have had thirty minutes to talk with him.”  It was later revealed that, during their search of Carringer’s home, they discovered multiple sets of purple pens, which they believe, could be linked to the anonymous letter they’d received from an alleged grandmother.  They began to theorize that Carringer may have written the letters himself, either to throw suspicion off himself, or perhaps in an attempt to get things off his chest.  It has never been publicly confirmed that he was the author, though authorities have hinted that this is a good possibility.

                Over the course of the next eight months, Richard Cornwell worked in close association with the GBI.  They gave him leads, information and tips on locations that he might search.  John Bankhead, when asked about Richard’s devotion to finding his sister, and his process, stated “He had a set process where he had to walk every foot of the area he was looking in.  He walked every square foot of an area.”  GBI agent Mike Ayers, when asked about Richard’s dedication, responded “I’ve never seen anything like it.”  Every time the GBI had a possible location to search, Richard would get there first and cover every inch of it.  When asked about his sister, Richard responded “There’s not a day that goes by that we don’t think about Kristi and it’s constant.”

                In late 2010, the GBI was able to receive information from James Scott Carringer’s cell phone.  While he had typically turned it off during his travels, they were able to find a ping.  That ping put him in an area near to Kristi’s abduction site, at 11:30pm, on the night she vanished.  This information was relayed to Richard, who was determined to search for himself.  The GBI was planning to canvass the area, but they needed time to arrange everything.  This gave Richard two weeks to search on his own.  The cell phone ping led to a 2 square mile section of land, and Richard began covering all of it, his search was thorough and focused.  On New Years Day, 2011, while so many around the country were recovering from a night of partying and celebration, Richard discovered the remains of his sister Kristi.

                Approximately 75 yards from Moccasin Creek Road, just south of the North Carolina border, Richard discovered the partially burned skeleton, concealed beneath leaves.  The horrifying discovery was immediately reported to the GBI who came down to the scene to investigate, and to console a distraught Richard, as well as the rest of the Cornwell family.  For over two years they had held out hope that Kristi would be returned safely, and sadly, their hopes were dashed in this tragic ending to Kristi’s life.  A medical examiner was not able to determine Kristi’s cause of death, due to deterioration of the body and the burning, however, it was obvious that Kristi had been the victim of a homicide and it seemed most likely that her life had ended within hours of her abduction.  It has been stated that authorities found other items of evidence at the scene, though they have never revealed what they discovered or where it led them in their investigation.

                At a press conference, GBI Director Vernon Keenan praised Richard’s devotion to his sister, stating “Richard has been searching diligently for his sister Kristi since she disappeared.  He has spent many hours scouring the area in Union County trying to locate her.”  When asked for comment, a heartbroken Richard responded “We’re thankful that Kristi can now have a proper burial that she deserves.”  Jo Ann was absolutely crushed, and choked back tears as she spoke, stating “We didn’t want it to end this way.  But that’s the way it is.  And we can bring her home now.  I know in my heart she’s in heaven and we’ll see her again, so that’s what’s going to make me able to go on.”

                Kristi was laid to rest in January of 2011, in a private ceremony held by her family through Cochran Funeral Home, in Blairsville.  The family asked for donations to be made to your favorite charity, in Kristi’s name, in lew of flowers.  Listed amongst those she left behind were her mother and father, Jo Ann and Harold, her son Brody, her brother Richard and his wife Karen as well as two nieces, Amelia and Isabella and a nephew, Conner.  The void left in all their hearts can never be filled, but they have taken some comfort in knowing that Kristi has been found and given a respectful burial, from which they keep faith, that they will once again be reunited with her.  But, sadly, questions still loom.  While authorities still list Carringer as their only person of interest, they have not yet been able to close the case as they lack enough evidence to, beyond a reasonable doubt, be certain that Carringer was in fact the man who abducted and murdered Kristi Cornwell.

                In terms of theories, this case is very different from many others I have covered.  There are, essentially, two theories in relation to the abduction and murder of Kristi Cornwell. 

                The first theory suggests that Kristi may have been abducted and murdered by an unknown individual, or perhaps even more than one, and that her murder could have been motivated by something person, while it also may have simply been a random act of atrocious violence.

                The second, and most prominent theory, is that Kristi was ultimately abducted and murdered by James Scott Carringer.  So much of the evidence, though much of it circumstantial, puts Carringer in the area, driving a vehicle of a similar description, and it is known that he attempted other abductions following Kristi’s murder.  However, without that final piece to complete the puzzle, there can be nothing known for certain.

                The abduction and murder of Kristi Cornwell is a tremendously heartbreaking case.  In so many of these stories we hear of a victim being taken, and they are never found.  The family lives the rest of their lives wondering what happened, wondering if they are alive or dead.  In this case, the Cornwell family was able to get the closure that so many others have been denied, but that closure only seals the tiniest of holes in their hearts, left nearly vacant in the absence of their daughter, sister and aunt.  While the Cornwell family may now shut their eyes knowing the truth, and trying to find strength in their faith, their nights will never again be carefree and peaceful.  Kristi’s laughter will never illuminate their homes, not their smiles.  They choose to remember the way Kristi lived, as a strong, jovial and vibrant woman who was in the midst of chasing her dreams, not the way she died.  In her son, Brody, they see so much of Kristi, and in some way, he carries on a piece of her light, and forever will live in the loving world his mother provided for him.

[Thoughts & Theories]

                Kristi Cornwell a was a beautiful, bright, single mother with a loving family and a lot of dreams.  She worked hard to provide for her son, and while she had been unlucky in love up until that point, she’d recently met a man with whom she felt comfortable, safe and even the hope for something more to develop between them.  Her parents and brother are the kind of people who just seem to glow with love and care, the kind of small town, southern residents who provide support and comfort in times of need.  When Kristi was abducted, it was they who turned to their friends and neighbors, and it was through them that they found support, care and people willing to go to great lengths to aid them in their search.  The tight knit community of Blairsville was dealt a heavy blow when Kristi was taken, and an even heavier one when her body was recovered.  It was a very dark day in their history, but they banded together, rallied around the Cornwells, and did the best they could to lift their hearts.

                On the funeral home website, there is an entry which holds a small obiturary for Kristi.  That page is absolutely flooded by friends, relatives, and even total strangers, who wished to send out their condolences and to let the family know they were in their thoughts.  While nothing can return Kristi to her family, and the pain and grief of her lost can never be truly assuaged, there is a certain level of comfort to be found in the compassion of others and the knowledge that Kristi will never be forgotten and her legacy will live on, through charitable donations, the lives of her family, and specifically, the life of her son, for whom I have a tremendous amount of respect and emptathy.

                This case is a little different from the ones I normally cover.  Usually, there are several theories, all which varying degrees of possibility.  In Kristi’s case, for the most part, the family and investigators are united on the one theory which they believe is most likely.  This case is, essentially, solved, but due to a lack of evidence and nothing which can be established to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt, the files remain open and the case remains, officially, unsolved.  So why did I choose a case this close to being solved?  Several reasons, really.  First and foremost, I was extremely moved by this case.  Every case I cover touches me in some way, but for whatever reason, this one really hit me.  As I was reading interviews with the family, statements from the investigators and speculation about the suspect, I just felt very overwhelmed and grief sticken.  I didn’t Kristi, but through all of the research, I began to feel like I did.

                Another reason was, on several occasions in both emails and social media, I’ve been asked if I’d ever cover a solved case.  Typically, my answer is no.  However, I felt compelled to do this one.  So frequently we discuss the loss of someone, and the pain brought to their loved ones due to the lack of closure.  In this case, the family mostly has closure.  Kristi was recovered, she was laid to rest and the family was told that the man responsible had died by his own hand.  While they may have much of the information they didn’t at the time Kristi vanished, I don’t know that they truly feel the satisfaction of closure as we often speculate they will.  Their daughter, their sister, their niece is gone and nothing is ever going to fill the void left behind.  Beyond that, while they are no longer wondering where she is, they will never know why.  A medical examiner couldn’t determine a cause of death, and the most probable suspect isn’t here to explain his horrendous actions.

                There are two theories in the abduction and murder of Kristi Cornwell.  The first theory addresses the possibility that Kristi may have been taken, and subsequently murdered, by someone who has never crossed the radar of investigators.  While a great deal of evidence exists which points in the direction of one individual, none of that is strong enough to be sure.  Much of it is circumstantial, and revolves around his later actions and his location at the time Kristi was taken. For many proponents of this theory, they find it difficult to believe that the abduction was merely random.  Kristi walked around the same approximate time every night, and the probability that someone may have been keeping tabs on her certainly piques their interst when it comes to investigating this tragic and heartbreaking story.

                Pushing aside all which leads to the suspect I will discuss in the second theory, a full examination of the evidence can certainly leave the door open for other possibilities.  Kristi’s routine certainly could have been monitored, either by someone she knew, or perhaps, someone who was simply watching her.  We have the account from the church caretaker and his daughter about the night she vanished and the light colored SUV.  Suffice it to say, if these two could notice her nightly ritual while doing their work, it’s not imporbable to assume that others could as well.  While Kristi was a kind woman who no one could imagine anyone having a grudge against, she did previously work as a probation officer, and while the information regarding ex-cons she worked with is protected, and has never been revealed, many have speculated that she could have come into contact with any number of people who may have wanted to do her harm, or hold a grudge.

                Some have brought up the possibility that, while the prime suspect may indeed be the man who committed this crime, it isn’t completely impossible that he could have been urged on to do so by someone else.  Perhaps someone from Kristi’s life.  This would make that person party to the abduction and murder, and while there has never been anything found to suggest this, there has never been anything specifically found to completely rule it out, and that’s the problem in a situation like this one.  While authorities believe they found their man, they can’t fully prove it, and that leaves the door open for other realms of speculation. 

                This list, at this point, can be considered quite long.  If the abductor and murderer is not the man the GBI is sure that it is, then it could have been almost anyone.  For a long time, Kristi’s family lived in fear.  They wondered how it was possible that someone in their own town could have committed this crime and been undetected.  Jo Ann, Kristi’s mother, even speculated that someone may have watched her daughter, became familiar with her routine, and planned the abduction.  This is a possibility, again, we can’t officially rule out just yet.  For the family, they couldn’t help but wonder every time they shook a strangers hand in church, or had a conversation at the local super market, if they could possibly be speaking to the person who was responsible for their pain.  That is for sure a haunting feeling, and one which doesn’t easily subside.

                Of course, this is all speculative.  I could go on for hours with possibilities in regard to this case, but for most people who examine it, including the GBI and Kristi’s own family, they believe her abductor died by suicide in downtown Atlanta.  What evidence does exist, contradicts the abduction and murder being committed by an unknown figure, but this goes great lengths to show how people will often look for the more complicated answer.  When something can’t be proven for sure, there is an innate human quality that wants to find the ins and outs, that wants to take what may be straight forward and cause the road to curve.  That isn’t a negative, and in investigations sharp minds that are open to possibility are certainly necessary to make sure every angle is covered.  Some have gone so far as to say that the GBI simply dropped the ball on this case, and that when they found a suspect who sort of fit the bill, they stopped looking for others.  That’s difficult to prove, but they definitely seemed to zero in on him.

                The one point of contention for supporters of this theory seems to revolve around the composite sketches.  In both sketches, we view a younger looking man, with longer hair.  In all of the photos I’ve found of that suspect, he has thinner, shorter hair.  That doesn’t make it impossible that there could have been some differences over time, but that would be a rather rapid change, at least in terms of the thinning.  In addition to this, almost every witness described the man as being in his mid to late twenties.  Carringer, the man authorities believe was responsible, was already forty years old when Kristi vanished.  Though I understand the interest in stating this contradiction, I’ve also been very outspoken in past episodes about my lack of faith in composite sketches.  In many instances, they just kind of look like everyone. 

                Also, people aren’t typically amazing at guessing ages from appearance.  I am often told I look like I’m in my early twenties, and I am in my mid thirties.  The point is, there is room here for speculation but when it comes to the possibility that Kristi was abducted and murdered by someone who has not been named, there’s even less evidence to support that.  While there are holes in the GBI’s case against Carringer, there are chasms in the case against a yet unknown suspect.

                The second, and final theory, is that Kristi Cornwell was abducted and murdered by James Scott Carringer, the man who abducted and sexually assaulted a relative, and then while on the run from that incident, attempted to abduct a ten year old girl from a church Easter egg hunt.  Certainly the makings of someone who had a proclivity for committing these kinds of acts, and his later, known behavior, definitely added to the likelihood, in investigators minds, that he could have been the man responsible for what happened to Kristi. 

                Circumstantial evidence includes several Nissan XTerras’s fitting the description of the one seen the night Kristi was taken, as well as those reported by two other women who were attacked by the driver.  Purple pens in his home, which indicated to authorities, that he may have in fact been the one who authored the letter which was alleged to have been written by a grandmother.  Cell phone pings place him in the area near Kristi’s abduction site within hours of her abduction and the fact that Carringer had, at a time, lived just eighteen miles away from the Cornwell family home.

                That’s an impressive list which is hard to ignore.  In his suicide note, Carringer stated that he had been sexually assaulted as a child.  Whether or not anything else in that letter could assist in trying to pin him down in terms of abductions or attempted abductions, we simply don’t know.  That information has never been released, though I have heard that the GBI has suggested there was nothing in the suicide note which indicated Kristi, her abduction or murder, nor anything about Blairsville or that area of Georgia. 

                When Carringer committed suicide, he essentially stole any chance authorities had of gaining any information from him.  At the time, Kristi’s remains had still not been located, so even trying to find her was something they couldn’t ascertain from him.  He took many secrets to his grave, and though we know for certain about the assault perpetrated on his relative, an incredibly heinous act, and his attempted abduction of a child, we know little else.  When it comes to Kristi, and even the other two women who were nearly victimized, authorities have never been able to establish a link between Carringer and those crimes, other than to say he had been in the area around the times they occurred.  As much as we may want to take all of that evidence and say it proves guilt, we simply can’t.  Yet.

                The investigation remains open, and the GBI has said they found items where Kristi’s remains were located, which were taken into evidence and may assist in the investigation.  We don’t know what those items were, or why they are being kept hidden if indeed Carringer is the likely suspect – he’s deceased, and knowledge of those items cannot then be used to support a defense case.  Perhaps there is some other reason, sensitive nature of the items, it’s honestly speculative at this time.  The fact of the matter is Carringer died in April of 2010.  It’s been over eight years now, and they have yet to find what they need to conclude with certainty that he was the man responsible for this terrible case.

                It’s very difficult to examine this case.  On the one hand, the emotional side of me wants to believe that James Scott Carringer is the monster responsible for the abduction and murder of Kristi Cornwell.  The logical side wants to follow the evidence, and wants to paint everything in bright shades of black and white.  This is one of those instances where, regardless of what you believe, there is a huge gray area which must also be considered.  Everything seems to point toward Carringer, all of the evidence which has been found suggest his culpability.  And yet, it cannot be proven for certain.  That is the frustration facing the GBI, the frustration facing the family and the frustration facing myself and all of you who have listened to this terribly heart breaking story, and stand on the precipice of conclusion, but cannot quite take that last step.

                Given all of the circumstances, it does seem most likely that Carringer is the man who attempted previous abductions, and likely abducted and murdered Kristi Cornwell.  His phone pinged in that area the night she vanished and Kristi’s brother, Richard, found her body in the area where his phone pinged.  For me, that is simply too much to overlook and while I have a respect for those who choose to explore alternative theories, the Carringer theory is the one which carries the most weight with me.  From here onward, it’s a matter of whether or not new evidence can be found, or something can be brought to the surface which can erase any doubt that may exist.  Technological advances are happening every day, and if you need an example of how even the most unlikely to be solved cases can be broken when they seem most unsolvable, you need look no further than the recent developments in the Golden State Killer case.  Something like that gives us hope that we may yet find the answers to many, if not all of the cases that haunt us.

                The abduction and murder of Krist Cornwell is one of those cases that just sticks with it.  It’s a reminder that, even in our own communities where we’ve lived all our lives, and feel safe, anything can happen.  There are vicious, terrible people out there who are looking only to satisfy their own vile interests, and vigilience and awareness are incredibly important.  I have been told by a lot of listeners that they walk or jog while listening, and while I am hugely supportive of this, I always suggest that they carry mace, pepper spray or some item for self defense as well as making sure to turn their volumes down as to be aware of their surroundings.  Kristi was a probation officer, she taught classes in martial arts, she was not an easy victim. 

                Kristi’s legacy is not in being the victim of a kidnapper and murderer.  It’s in the eyes of her son, the incredible love and devotion shown by her brother, the hope and faith of her family and the well wishes and expressions of sorrow from her community.  While the answers may not be fully known, and the reasons behind this odious action may never come to light, it’s important to remember not the hideous monster who committed this crime, but the beauty light that remains in the wake of Kristi’s memory, and still illuminates the hearts of those who loved her, and those whom she touched and impacted throughout her life.