By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Ga. prof suspected in shootings leaves no trail
CORRECTION Georgia Pr Heal
Two people console each other at the entry of Athens Community Theater in Athens, Ga. on Sunday. Authorities had few leads Sunday as they searched for a University of Georgia professor who disappeared after his wife and two other men were shot to death outside the theater on Saturday. - photo by Associated Press

Ga. professor suspected in shooting seemed distant

Associated Press Writer

ATLANTA — Two people who knew college professor George Zinkhan early in his career described him as an ambitious and gifted academic with a promising future, but recent students at the University of Georgia said Zinkhan seemed disorganized and distant.

Police were searching Sunday for the 57-year-old marketing professor in the shooting deaths of his wife and two men outside a community theater in Athens, about 70 miles east of Atlanta. Zinkhan was last seen dropping his two young children off at his neighbor's house after the Saturday afternoon shootings, saying there was an emergency and he needed someone to watch them.

"If you gave me a list of 100 people who might crack in this way, I would have put him at the bottom of that list," said Michael R. Hyman, a marketing professor at New Mexico State University. Hyman knew Zinkhan in the mid-1980s when both were associate professors at the University of Houston.

Zinkhan was highly regarded for his abilities and his intellect, enjoyed writing poetry and was a bit of a history buff, Hyman said. He was collegial and never showed violent tendencies or even raised his voice.

Hyman and a former doctoral student of Zinkhan's at the University of Houston, Richard Tansey, both said they were shocked to hear Zinkhan was accused of shooting anyone, and said they never knew him to use or talk about guns.

Killed Saturday afternoon were Zinkhan's wife, Marie Bruce, 47, Tom Tanner, 40, and Ben Teague, 63. All were members of a local theater group, and the shooting occurred during a reunion for past and present group members. Two others were injured by shrapnel.

Josh Gurley, 21, is a junior at the school and was taking a marketing class from Zinkhan this semester.

Little more than a week ago, Zinkhan surprised students by saying he would give them their grades for the semester and they wouldn't have to take the previously announced final exam if they were satisfied with that grade.

Gurley said he was shocked when he heard about the shooting. Zinkhan was clearly intelligent and interested in the subject, but was disorganized and seemed "a little off" and unapproachable, he said.

"He never seemed like he went above and beyond to try to reach out to students," Gurley said.

David Felfoldi, who took an honors class on e-commerce taught by Zinkhan in 2001, said that when he heard that a UGA professor had shot three people, he wondered if it might be Zinkhan.

"I thought that if any professor I knew at UGA was going to do something like that, it would be him," Felfoldi said. "He seemed the most unstable and peculiar, not violent unstable but just not all there."

That description marks a sharp contrast with Tansey's memories from 20 years ago.

"He was not only very handsome, but he was a very gentle soul," Tansey said. "He was not a hard-charging academic. He was very laid back and created a nurturing environment that appealed to his students."

But Tansey also cited a driving ambition and said Zinkhan would sometimes put his name on an article mostly written by a student, both to get his name out there but also to use his own prestige to get a student's work published.

"He used people, but he used them in a nice way," Tansey said.

Zinkhan joined the faculty of UGA's Terry College of Business in 1994. He graduated from Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania in 1974 with a degree in English literature and went to the University of Michigan, where he got a business degree in 1979 and a doctorate in marketing in 1981.

His curriculum vitae, posted on the business school's Web site, is 40 pages long and details a prolific academic career spread over more than 30 years. It lists several books he edited or co-authored, more than 100 journal articles he wrote or co-wrote and many other publications, and research and consulting activities.

There are 22 works listed under a section headlined "Research Activities: Poetry." The Web site of the American Marketing Association features a collection of 16 poems called "Marketing as Life" by Zinkhan.

In one, titled "B-school Politics" written in April 2004, Zinkhan writes that professors have to teach "many, many (extra) classes" with "vague promises" that things will get better. The last stanza reads, "the dark department head is always lurking,/making the rounds with a crooked, yankee-trader smile,/full of false promise about a better time to come."

ATHENS, Ga. — A college professor suspected in the shooting deaths of his wife and two men outside a community theater hasn't used his cell phone or credit card, leaving few traces as authorities searched for him Sunday.

George Zinkhan, a 57-year-old marketing professor at the University of Georgia, was last seen Saturday afternoon shortly after the shooting when he dropped his two young children off at his neighbor's house, police said.

Authorities initially described one of the victims, Marie Bruce, as Zinkhan's ex-wife, although police later said the couple was still married.

Investigators have received no tips about Zinkhan's whereabouts and urged people to call police if they see his 2005 red Jeep Liberty with Georgia license plate AIX1376.

State and federal authorities are assisting in the search. Investigators were monitoring airports in case Zinkhan tried to head to Amsterdam, where he owns a home, and speaking with law enforcement agencies in Austin, Texas, where he has relatives. Officials hope Zinkhan will surface, said Athens-Clarke County Police Capt. Clarence Holeman.

"Criminals make mistakes. It doesn't matter if you've got a Ph.D., an M.D. or whatever," Holeman said.

Meanwhile, friends of the victims dropped off flowers and lit candles Sunday morning in front of the Athens Community Theater. The victims — Bruce, 47; Tom Tanner, 40; and Ben Teague, 63 — were members of Town & Gown Players, a local theater group that was staging a performance of "Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure" this weekend at the theater. Two others were hurt by shrapnel.

"Ben, Marie and Tom were a part of our family, and as painful as their loss is for us, we know it is even more painful for their families," the theater group said in a statement Sunday afternoon. "There are no words we can use to adequately express our grief."

LaBau Bryan, a member of Town & Gown Players since 1988, said Bruce cast her in her first role with the group, in the "The Mikado." On her way to church, Bryan dropped off a small vase containing cuttings from an English dogwood, azalea and iris — one for each of the victims.

"It's a personal loss," Bryan said, crying. "It's a terrible, terrible blow to the theater."

It was midday Saturday when a few dozen members of the theater group were gathered at the Athens Community Theater a short distance from campus. Some described it as a reunion, a homecoming for current and former group members. Most were inside the theater, while a small group was gathered around a few benches outside.

Holeman, the police captain, said an argument erupted between Zinkhan and Bruce. Holeman said police believe Zinkhan walked away briefly, before returning with two handguns.

Each victim was shot multiple times, according to the county coroner.

Holeman said Zinkhan had his son and daughter with him when he went to the theater, but left them in the Jeep when the shooting occurred.

None of the 20 witnesses interviewed by police overheard the argument and couldn't say what prompted the shooting, Holeman said, though he described the slayings as "a crime of passion."

SWAT members, guns drawn, later swarmed Zinkhan's tidy middle-class suburb about seven miles from the campus and searched his two-story colonial house. They also searched his office at the university, which had issued a campus-wide alert immediately following the shooting as a precaution.

When Zinkhan dropped his children off, he told his neighbor, Robert Covington, that he needed someone to watch them for about an hour because of an emergency. The children are around the ages of 8 and 10.

Covington said when he asked Zinkhan's daughter about the emergency, "all she would relate to me was there was something about a firecracker."

Zinkhan, who has a doctorate from the University of Michigan, is a professor at UGA's Terry College of Business and had no disciplinary problems, university spokesman Pete Konenkamp said. Before joining the school in the 1990s, he held academic positions at the universities of Houston and Pittsburgh.

Bruce, a family law attorney who specialized in divorce cases, had been a member of Town & Gown Players for several years and currently served as the group's president. She was a graduate of the University of Georgia's law school.

Friends said she had performed just about every job imaginable at the theater — from playing leading roles to directing and taking care of behind-the-scenes work such as overseeing season tickets and collecting dues from members.

"She's been involved in Town and Gown for so many years, what hasn't she done? Maybe repaired the toilets," said Dina Canup, a former president of the group.

Teague, who played Prospero in William Shakespeare's "The Tempest" two years ago, was better known for his wizardry in building elaborate sets. He was among the group's longest-serving volunteers and considered a mentor by many. On his Web site, he described himself as "a confirmed theater bum."

"Yesterday Ben was murdered, which is hard to comprehend and impossible to accept," Teague's wife, university professor Fran Teague, said in a written statement. "It was a beautiful day, however, and he was in his favorite place with the people he loved."

Tanner had grown his own mutton-chop sideburns to play Dr. John Watson in the "Sherlock Homes" play that opened April 17. Performances were canceled yesterday. Tanner also loved to build eye-popping sets. "Most would call him a genius," Town & Gown's statement said.

"Tom's idea for the next production was to build the world's largest pop-up book," said Rick Bedell, who played Holmes alongside Tanner's Watson. "He was looking at the 'Guiness Book of World Records,' and they had one that was 18-by-8 feet, and he was looking at 33-feet-by-8, something like that."

Attorney Hue Henry, who was also a member of the theater group and knew all the victims well, worked with Bruce and said his colleague was private about her personal life and didn't say much about Zinkhan.

"She loved to talk about her children but never talked about her husband or their relationship," Henry said in a telephone interview from Italy. "It never seemed like a very close relationship. But I never saw anything that indicated she might be in danger, nothing to make me worry about her."


Associated Press writers Harry R. Weber, Kate Brumback, Bernard McGhee and Shannon McCaffrey in Atlanta contributed this report.

Sign up for the Herald's free e-newsletter