The man who jumped to his death at Spaghetti Junction during the Monday morning’s commute was grieving over the death of his long-time partner, his sister told The Atlanta Journal Constitution.
Mark Rhea Castleberry, 55, committed suicide by jumping off a northbound I-285 overpass to southbound I-85 shortly after it appears his partner of 30 years, Gregory Woodlief, 66, died after a long illness, Ginger Castleberry Holt said.
“My brother pretty much lost his mind and leapt,” said Holt, who is coming to Atlanta Wednesday from Mobile, Ala. “He didn’t want to be in a world that Greg wasn’t.”
Castleberry left a note in his car with his sister’s name and phone number and Woodlief’s name and address for the house the two men shared on Gladney Drive where his partner’s body was discovered.
The DeKalb Medical Examiner has not made a final determination on the cause of Woodlief’s death, but a police spokeswoman said investigators found no sign of trauma and aren’t investigating it as a homicide. Officials indicated Woodlief’s death was due to natural causes, Holt said.
The actual disease was a mystery to friends and family but it left Woodlief emaciated and the two men became cloistered in the house over the last year, said Holt. Woodlief stepmother Sylvia Woodlief said her stepson would not share the nature of the illness when she and his father spoke with him at Christmas. She and his father live in South Carolina.
Both men were well-known around the Miss Atlanta Scholarship Pageant, where Castleberry was the volunteer executive director from 2000 to mid-2013. He resigned after he was arrested by Chamblee police on theft charges.
Castleberry admitted to stealing more than $12,000 from two professional acquaintances when he came on dire financial times, said Chamblee Capt. Ernesto Ford who investigated the case. Castleberry took checkbooks of two long-term acquaintances with whom he shared office space and wrote checks to himself, Ford said.
Castleberry, who had no previous criminal record, emailed the victims about his crime and promised to repay them but police were alerted and he was arrested, said Ford who described Castleberry as a nice guy.
“He was in a bind,” Ford said.
Neither Ford nor Russell Kirby, co-director of the Miss Atlanta Pageant, knew whether the financial pressure was brought on by Woodlief’s illness. Kirby said he was friends with both men for years until they withdrew “into themselves.” He expected the arrest weighed heavily on Castleberry.
“They were both very proud men,” Kirby said. “I would imagine he was embarrassed by the whole thing.”
Castleberry left notes to family members, which they are keeping private, Holt said.
She said authorities were in possession of the two matching rings the men wore. She hopes to retrieve her brother’s.
“It appears he laid his ring on Greg and left,” Holt said. “Those rings were very important to them.”