A “concerned grandmother” wrote state and local investigators that she suspects her grandson is the person they want to talk to about the disappearance of Kristi Cornwell a year ago.
“I pray this information is meaningless and I have no proof of any wrongdoing," the anonymous grandmother wrote to sheriff's offices in Union County and Cherokee County, N.C. “I want to give my grandson the benefit of doubt until proven otherwise. However, I will not turn a blind eye to my suspicions.”
The letter also suggested the grandson may have committed other crimes similar to Cornwell's disappearance.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation acknowledged in January that it received a letter voicing suspicions, but did not release the contents until Wednesday, the one-year anniversary of Cornwell's disappearance. The GBI said it hopes someone will recognize it. The letter writer did not provide any information that would lead investigators to her or her grandson.
Kristi Leigh Cornwell disappeared a year ago on Wednesday while walking on Jones Creek Road, an unmarked crossroad between major highways running through Union County.
The 38-year-old mother was talking to her boyfriend, who was in Atlanta, when she told him that a car was following her as she walked near her parents’ house in Blairsville. The boyfriend, Douglas Davis of Carrollton, told investigators he heard a scuffle and then his girlfriend say “Don’t take me!”
Her shoes, eyeglasses and cell phone earpiece were found at the place where she was abducted and her cell phone was found discarded a few miles away. Otherwise, there was no trace of her.
For a year, her family has been relentless in searching for her and keeping her name in the media.
They rented airplanes to scout for her. They sent some 80,000 fliers with information about the case to communities in Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee. They auctioned off their lake house to pay for their search. And they started a website dedicated to their missing daughter, kristicornwell.com, that includes details about Cornwell and her disappearance and offers a $50,000 reward.
The grandmother wrote in the letter to investigators that a sketch of a man they were seeking looked like her 27-year-old grandson. She wrote that he also drove a white Nissan Xterra with black bars on the front; witnesses said they saw a white or silver SUV in the area around the time Cornwell disappeared
The grandmother wrote that her grandson visited her for 12 days, starting Aug. 1, 2009. He helped her with some repairs to her western North Carolina house, and left for home on Aug. 12.
“Each day after working, my grandson would leave for four or five hours and return around eleven or twelve o’clock,” according to the letter. “On Tuesday, August 11th he did not return until seven o’clock the next morning. He returned with somes scratches on his face and left side of his neck. When I ask [sic] what had happened, he said he was in a fight and was ready to go back home.”
But he did not get to his home in Florida until Aug. 15, the grandmother wrote.
“I have tried to ignore the chain of coincidences surrounding my grandson’s twelve day stay with me, but can barely eat or sleep,” the grandmother wrote. “My suspicions are only strengthened after discovering similar articles in areas near his Florida residence.”
The GBI case agent, Brian Whidby, responded with an open letter to the grandmother that also was released to the media Wednesday.
It was addressed “dear concerned grandmother.”
“You cannot ignore the chain of coincidences surrounding your grandson’s twelve day stay with you in August 2009,” Whidby wrote. “I believe you are a Godly and caring person. You made the right decision by contacting us with your letter. I now ask you to continue your journey with us and contact me. I understand that you have concerns about your family and I ask that you pray about your decision and do what is right.”
Whidby offered her peace of mind should her grandson not be involved. “We can learn together if your suspicions are mistaken,” Whidby wrote.
Soon after the grandmother’s letter got to Georgia and North Carolina authorities, Cornwell’s mother posted a response to the grandmother on the family’s website, begging her to contact investigators and “end the nightmare our family is going through!”
Investigators have suspected Cornwell’s disappearance may be linked to another. In July 2009, a man driving a Ford Ranger tried to kidnap a woman in Murphy, N.C., 20 miles from Blairsville in Union County.
“We’re connecting those through the time and proximity,” Whidby said in an interview.
The GBI also continues to look at evidence police took from the SUV and house of a Young Harris man who shot himself during a confrontation with police last April. James Scott Carringer committed suicide while sitting his silver Nissan Xterra.
The sketch "sort of" looks like Carringer but for the most part it does not resemble him, Whidby said.
"There are some things we want to continue to investigate in reference to Carringer," Whidby said.
So far, they have found nothing "definitive" to connect Carringer to Cornwell.
Two days before he shot himself, Carringer was accused of kidnapping and raping a 19-year-old relative.
“We get calls sporadically but we haven’t had any calls on this letter from the concerned grandmother,” Whidby said. “We just want to get the information out in reference to the grandmother’s letter. We would like that person to contact us.”
Anyone with information can call the GBI at 1-800-597-TIPS (8477), the Union County Sheriff’s Office at 706-439-6080 or the Cherokee, N.C., Sheriff’s Office at 828-835-4152.