Brother discovered Cornwell’s remains; ‘strong suspect’ identified

Richard Cornwell’s relentless search for his sister, missing since August 2009, ended Saturday on a lonesome wooded trail in the mountains near Blairsville.

Kristi Cornwell’s brother discovered her partially buried, burned remains off Moccasin Creek Road, roughly nine miles from where she disappeared, the former probation officer’s sibling revealed Monday. Evidence shared by investigators led Cornwell to focus his search in that particular area.

“I’m thankful she can now have the proper burial that she deserves,” Richard Cornwell said Monday at a press conference in which GBI officials confirmed the remains where those of 38-year-old Kristi Cornwell.

Investigators also identified a “strong suspect” in her slaying: James Scott Carringer, who first emerged as a person of interest last spring after fatally shooting himself following a three-hour standoff with Atlanta police.

Cell phone records indicate that Carringer was within a two-mile radius the night Cornwell disappeared, said GBI director Vernon Keenan.

Carringer was wanted in the April 6 kidnapping and rape of a 19-year-old relative, and Kennesaw State student, in Ellijay. While assisting in that investigation GBI agents “uncovered information that led them to pursue the possibility of Carringer’s involvement … in Kristi’s disappearance,” GBI spokesman John Bankhead said. Two days later Carringer killed himself outside a Buckhead Mellow Mushroom.

Carringer also emerged as a person of interest in the botched abduction of a Ranger, N.C., woman by someone speeding away in a silver Nissan Xterra. Investigators believe that incident and Cornwell’s slaying are related, Bankhead said.

Perhaps the most damning evidence implicating Carringer, arrested in 2000 in North Carolina for assault to inflict serious injury, was his removal of a brush guard that had been on front of his Xterra soon after Cornwell went missing.

Agents impounded two Xterras from Carringer’s Young Harris home, not far from where Cornwell disappeared. He had three Xterras altogether, officials said Monday.The former appraiser and home builder also was suspected in the attempted abduction of a 10-year-old girl from a church parking lot in Montgomery, Ala., on April 4.

Cornwell, 38, was talking to her boyfriend on the phone the night she disappeared. She said that a car was following her and the boyfriend, Douglas Davis, of Carrollton, told investigators he heard Cornwell scuffling with her abductor, pleading, “Don’t take me.”

The former prison guard’s shoes and eyeglasses were found nearby and her cell phone was located a few miles away. Evidence was otherwise scarce.

Cornwell’s family maintained an exhaustive search, renting airplanes to scout for her and sending some 80,000 fliers with information about the case to communities in Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee.

That search was down to a single family member by Saturday.