CLEVELAND, Ga. (CBS/AP) The brother of Kristi Cornwell, who disappeared while walking near her parents' home more than a year ago, found his sister's burned, skeletal remains on New Year's Day in the north Georgia woods after one of his many hours of diligent searching.
Cornwell, a 38-year-old former probation officer, disappeared in August 2009 in Union County. Her boyfriend, who was talking to her on her cell phone at the time, told police that she said a vehicle appeared to be following her and he overheard a struggle moments later.
Richard Cornwell found his sister's remains Saturday while conducting his own search of a 2-square-mile area using information given to him by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, said GBI Director Vernon Keenan on Monday. Investigators had planned to search that land this month because cell phone records indicated the primary suspect, James Carringer, was there the night that Cornwell disappeared.
Carringer, 42, killed himself in May after a standoff with Atlanta police who were trying to arrest him on charges that he raped a teenager in Gilmer County. Police in Montgomery, Ala., said Carringer also likely tried to abduct a 10-year old girl during a church egg hunt there a few days earlier.
Kristi Cornwell's body had been burned, and the medical examiner could not determine how she died, Keenan said. A state forensic pathologist used dental records to identify her remains.
GBI agents would tell Richard Cornwell where to look based on leads they had and he would go out searching on weekends, days off and whenever he could.
Mike Ayers, former special agent in charge of the regional GBI office in Cleveland, said the Cornwell family's devotion to finding Kristi was unlike anything he'd seen in his more than 20 years as an investigator.
On Saturday, as other people were sleeping off a New Year's Eve hangover or watching college football bowl games, Richard Cornwell headed out to a new area the GBI had recently told him about. After searching for several hours, he found the charred skeletal remains hidden partially under leaves in a hilly, rural area.
Authorities said the case remains an open investigation, even though the primary suspect is dead. Keenan said they have no other suspects.
Anyone with information is asked to contact the GBI at 800-597-TIPS (8477), the Union County Sheriff's Office at 706-439-6080 or the Cherokee, North Carolina Sheriff's Office at 828-835-4152.