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Cockpit items led cops to missing financier

A road atlas and campground directory discovered in the airplane cockpit of an Indiana financial manager helped lead authorities to the remote North Florida campsite where he was finally arrested.
Map locates cities related to the missing Indiana pilot; 2 c x 3 3/8 in; 96.3 mm x 85.725 mmJ. Bell / AP
/ Source: news services

A road atlas and campground directory discovered in the airplane cockpit of an Indiana financial manager helped lead authorities to the remote North Florida campsite where he was finally arrested.

In an affidavit supporting the federal charges filed Wednesday against 38-year-old Marcus Schrenker, investigators who searched the empty cockpit after the plane crashed said they found a 50-state U.S. road atlas with the Alabama and Florida pages removed. They also found a national campground directory with the same two states' listings torn out.

Schrenker was arrested late Tuesday night when U.S. Marshals found him semiconscious inside a tent at the Florida campground, muttering the word "die" as he bled from a self-inflicted gash to his left wrist. His arrest ended a dramatic three-day run from personal and financial ruin that saw Schrenker parachute from his plane in an apparent attempt to stage his death, then flee on a motorcycle he'd stashed in rural Alabama.

Schrenker was recovering Thursday in a heavily guarded hospital room after the apparent suicide attempt. He was in fair condition, and was expected to appear in court in Florida before returning to his home state of Indiana, where he faced the prospect of bankruptcy, divorce and other problems even before his ill-fated flight.

Scott Wilson, a spokesman for the U.S. Marshals Northern District of Florida, said Schrenker was charged with intentionally wrecking the aircraft and faking a distress call, which forced the Coast Guard to launch a costly and unnecessary search-and-rescue effort. Schrenker may have to pay at least $5,100 for the boats and helicopters used in the search.

"It's certainly something right out of Hollywood," Wilson said. "Someone parachuting out of a plane to avoid capture as a fugitive. It's certainly not the run of the mill case for us."

Investigators had not previously disclosed how they tracked Schrenker to the leafy campground, but the affidavit offered new clues on the search.

"On the back of one of the books was what appeared to be a list containing bullet summary points which included the following: 'cracked wind shield, window imploded, bleeding profusely' or words to that effect," the affidavit said.

When Schrenker made the distress call from his plane Sunday, he claimed the windshield had shattered and that he was covered in blood. But when investigators found the wreckage the window was not broken and there was no blood.

Red stain seen on tent
Campground owners Troy and Caroline Hastings said they first heard from law enforcement when the sheriff called late Tuesday.

The couple had grown suspicious of a camper who hadn't checked out by 5 p.m., and had only paid for one night. Hastings' husband went to his tent and saw a red stain on one of the outer flaps.

"Are you OK? Planning to spend another night?" he called out.

Schrenker said he was, he'd be by later to pay. He didn't come.

Later, the Hastings were making dinner when the sheriff called and asked if anything odd was going on. Troy Hastings mentioned the camper, and the sheriff asked if they could come identify him.

Caroline Hastings didn't need to look at a picture long to know it was Schrenker — and soon, authorities swarmed the grounds and found him bloodied and barely conscious inside the tent.

'Financially insolvent'
Schrenker had hardly lurked in the shadows, approaching local police in Alabama before hopping on the flashy red motorcycle he had hidden in a storage unit. He even e-mailed a friend, saying the whole situation was a misunderstanding.

He rode that motorcycle to the campground Monday night, telling the owners he was traveling across the country with friends. Schrenker didn't give his name but paid cash for a tent site, firewood and a six-pack of Bud Light Lime. He was also given a password to use wireless Internet.

Schrenker will likely face a parade of legal proceedings in the coming months. Already, he has been charged with acting as a financial manager even though his license had expired in Indiana. State regulators also have filed complaints against him that he unfairly charged seven investors some $250,000 in exorbitant fees he didn't tell them about when they switched annuities.

It wasn't clear if Schrenker had obtained an attorney, and no one answered the door Wednesday at his Indiana home.

When Schrenker took off from Indiana, he already faced some $9 million or more in potential and actual court judgments and legal claims, according to a review of court documents by The Associated Press. And according to a letter he wrote in early December, he was planning to file for bankruptcy.

"It needs to be known that I am financially insolvent," Schrenker, with two personal bankruptcies already behind him, wrote in a letter in early December. "I am intending on filing bankruptcy in 2009 should my financial conditions continue to deteriorate."

Things did get worse, and investigators say that's when Schrenker took another way out by apparently trying to stage his death.

On top of his other debts, Schrenker could be forced to pay $5,100 — and possibly much more — for the cost of Coast Guard boats and helicopters used in the search.

"I have personally lost all hope," Schrenker wrote to his attorney in December, regarding an Alabama case in which a man sued him claiming he unknowingly purchased a damaged aircraft from Schrenker in 2002. "I don't think that there is a good person left in this world."

Pending divorce
Schrenker fled not only the law but divorce, a state investigation of his businesses and angry investors who accuse him of stealing potentially millions in savings they entrusted to him.

"We've learned over time that he's a pathological liar — you don't believe a single word that comes out of his mouth," said Charles Kinney, a 49-year-old airline pilot from Atlanta who alleges Schrenker scammed up to $135,000 from his parents' retirement fund.

On Sunday — two days after burying his stepfather and suffering a half-million-dollar loss in federal court the same day — Schrenker was flying his single-engine Piper Malibu to Florida from his Indiana home when he reported the windshield had imploded over central Alabama.

Then his radio went silent.

Military jets tried to intercept the plane and found the door open, the cockpit dark. The aircraft crashed more than 200 miles farther south in a Florida Panhandle bayou surrounded by homes.

Police believe Schrenker parachuted to the ground in central Alabama, where he'd stashed a motorcycle with full saddlebags in a storage unit in Harpersville rented just the day before his flight.

'Can't figure it out'
It appeared, by all accounts, that Schrenker was doing quite well.

At 38, he controlled an impressive slate of businesses. Through his Heritage Wealth Management Inc., Heritage Insurance Services Inc. and Icon Wealth Management, he was responsible for providing financial advice and managing portfolios worth millions.

He collected luxury automobiles, owned two airplanes and lived in a 10,000-square-foot house in an upscale neighborhood known as "Cocktail Cove," where affluent boaters often socialize with cocktails in hand.

But officials now say Schrenker's enterprise was ready to topple.

Authorities in Indiana have been investigating Schrenker's businesses on allegations that he sold clients annuities and charged them exorbitant fees they weren't aware they would face.

State Insurance Commissioner Jim Atterholt said Schrenker would close the investors out of one annuity and move them to another while charging them especially high "surrender charges" — in one case costing a retired couple $135,000 of their original $900,000 investment.

In recent weeks, Schrenker's life began to spin out of control. According to documents in a lawsuit filed in Indianapolis, Schrenker sent a frantic e-mail to plaintiffs on Dec. 16.

"I walked out on my job about 30 minutes ago," it read. "My career is over ... over one letter in a trade error. One letter!! ... I've had so many people yelling at me today that I couldn't figure out what was up or down. I still can't figure it out."

It's unclear to what "error" he is referring. In the e-mail to his neighbor, Schrenker referred to having "just made a 2 million dollar mistake." It appeared he was hoping to work things out.

But things were now out of his hands.

Wife filed for divorce
On Dec. 31, officers searched Schrenker's home, seizing his family's passports, $6,036 in cash, the title to a Lexus and deposit slips for bank accounts in Michelle Schrenker's name. They also took six computers and nine large plastic tubs filled with various financial and corporate documents.

In the supporting affidavit, investigators suggested Schrenker might have access to at least $665,000 in the offshore accounts of a client.

But it wasn't just his finances that were in turmoil.

Just a day before, Michelle Schrenker had filed for divorce. She told the people searching the house that her husband had been having an affair.