As authorities continue to investigate the suicide of an accused rapist as a possible lead in the abduction of Kristi Cornwell, the missing Blairsville woman’s family remains vigilant but cautious.
“We’ve had our hopes up before and things didn’t pan out,” said Jo Ann Cornwell, the mother of 38-year-old Kristi Cornwell. “I’m not going to get too excited about this until we see something more concrete. Right now it’s still just another lead like all the others.”
James Scott Carringer’s DNA has been entered into an investigative database in Alabama, where he was a suspect in last month’s attempted abduction of a 10-year-old girl, Montgomery Police Department Capt. Keith Barnett said.
Authorities are checking to see if Carringer’s DNA matches evidence from any unsolved crimes in the state.
Carringer shot and killed himself in a standoff with Atlanta police on April 10. He was wanted for kidnapping a young woman he knew and raping her in Gilmer County.
Since then, Georgia and Alabama authorities have taken an interest in Carringer, who worked as a real estate appraiser with his wife in Young Harris.
Georgia Bureau of Investigation officials said this week they have investigated Carringer’s whereabouts on Aug. 11, the day Cornwell was abducted while walking alone on a rural Union County road. Nothing they’ve learned so far has led them to rule Carringer out.
Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange this week told WFSA-TV that Carringer’s wife said he would leave home for two to three days at a time.
Though he was in a black Nissan Xterra when he killed himself, officials said Carringer was also known to drive a silver Xterra like the one involved in an incident in Ranger, N.C., on Aug. 2. In that incident, a woman was walking alone when she was intentionally struck by the truck. The driver got out of the truck but then got back in and drove off when another car approached. The case had enough similarities to Cornwell’s abduction for investigators to pursue a connection.
News of Carringer’s name surfacing in the investigation has drawn renewed media attention to the case, publicity the Cornwell family welcomes. Jo Ann Cornwell gave several interviews Wednesday, including one with national cable news network HLN.
“I’m glad any time Kristi’s case is in the media because I hope it will help her be found,” Jo Ann Cornwell said. “I’m glad that people won’t forget her and know she’s still missing.”
Carringer has a criminal record in Clay County, N.C., where he was sentenced to probation in 2000 for harassing and threatening phone calls and misdemeanor assault, according to North Carolina Department of Corrections records.
Carringer operated The Appraisal Agency in Young Harris, which specialized in appraisals of residential property in North Georgia. His appraiser’s license was revoked in 2003 by the Georgia Real Estate Commission and Appraisers Board, according to the agency’s website.
Authorities have said that a woman who wrote a letter to the Cherokee County, N.C., sheriff’s office may have information they are looking for. The letter-writer claimed to have a grandson who might be involved in the unsolved cases, but did not provide a name.
Investigators have unsuccessfully tried to locate the person who wrote the letter.
At least one of Carringer’s grandmothers was dead before the letter was sent. Bertha Carringer died at age 100 in September 2008 in Cherokee County, N.C., according to her obituary in the Cherokee Scout newspaper.
Like the GBI, Cornwell cautions that Carringer may not be connected, and wants potential tipsters to keep an open mind.
“I don’t want us to get tunnel vision and just focus on this one person,” she said.
Jo Ann Cornwell also said she realizes that if Carringer did abduct her daughter, finding her will be more difficult with him dead.
“If he did have something to do with it, then it would be frustrating,” she said. “But I’m not giving up hope. Nobody’s coming up with proof she’s not alive, so that’s where I’m going to keep my hopes.”
Anyone with information about the disappearance of Kristi Cornwell is asked to call 800-597-8477. A $50,000 reward is available.