32-year-old woman surfaces in N.M., reportedly 'needed some time alone'
The Associated Press
Updated: 9:56 a.m. ET April 30, 2005ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - A Georgia bride-to-be who vanished just days before her wedding turned up in New Mexico and fabricated a tale of abduction before admitting Saturday that she had gotten cold feet and “needed some time alone,” police said.
Jennifer Wilbanks, 32, was in police custody more than 1,420 miles from her home on what was supposed to be her wedding day.
“It turns out that Miss Wilbanks basically felt the pressure of this large wedding and could not handle it,” said Randy Belcher, the police chief in Duluth, Ga., the Atlanta suburb where Wilbanks lives with her fiance. He said there would be no criminal charges.
Wilbanks, whose disappearance set off a nationwide hunt, called her fiance, John Mason, from a pay phone late Friday and told him that she had been kidnapped while jogging three days before, authorities said. Her family rejoiced that she was safe, telling reporters that the media coverage apparently got to the kidnappers.
But Wilbanks soon recanted, according to police.
Ray Schultz, chief of police in Albuquerque, said Wilbanks “had become scared and concerned about her impending marriage and decided she needed some time alone.” He said she traveled to Las Vegas by bus before going to Albuquerque.
“She’s obviously very concerned about the stress that she’s been through, the stress that’s been placed on her family,” he said. “She is very upset.”
The mood outside Wilbanks’ home went from jubilant to somber after Wilbanks changed her story. Family members ducked inside and the blinds were drawn, but friends expressed relief that Wilbanks was safe.
“Having cold feet is a joy compared to what the alternative might have been,” friend Melinda Larson, who had planned to attend the wedding, told CNN.
The wedding was going to be a huge bash. The couple had mailed 600 invitations, and the ceremony was to feature 14 bridesmaids and 14 groomsmen.
Wilbanks’ uncle, Mike Satterfield, thanked people who had helped in the search and supported the family.
“Jennifer had some issues the family was not aware of. We’re looking forward to loving her and talking to her about these issues,” he said.
Mason and Wilbanks’ family planned to fly to Albuquerque later Saturday.
Wilbanks, who is a nurse, was tired and thirsty, but was not complaining of any injuries Saturday, officials said. Her hair, which was long in pictures released by her family, was shoulder-length.
Search consumed tight-knit town
Just hours before Wilbanks called her fiance, police in Duluth said they had no solid leads in the case and began dismantling a search center. Relatives offered a $100,000 reward for information and were planning a prayer vigil.
The hunt for Wilbanks had consumed Duluth, a tight-knit town. Her picture and newspaper articles about her disappearance were on telephone poles and shop windows. Police had also seized three computers from the home she shared with Mason.
Mason had become a target of suspicion and agreed to a private polygraph test, which Wilbanks’ family said he passed. He had been negotiating with authorities for another test.
“That’s been the hardest part for me,” Mason said after Wilbanks called from Albuquerque. “It gives you a feeling like you can’t walk outside your home.”
Larson, a friend of both Mason and Wilbanks, said she thought the bride-to-be had no idea her disappearance would draw so much attention.
“Sometimes things take on a life of their own, just like weddings,” she said.