Man faked disappearance, park officials claim

Saturday, June 21, 2003

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- An elderly man who feigned amnesia when hikers found him in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park fabricated his story to cover his tracks in a child custody scheme, authorities said Friday.

Jack Bowles, 76, of Princeton, W.Va., had not been charged Friday and was not in custody, but the park's Chief Ranger Jim Northup said authorities expect to charge him with providing false information.

The federal charge carries penalties of up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted.

Hikers spotted Bowles on June 12 crawling up an embankment off a trail about 35 miles south of Knoxville.

He was dragging a sleeping bag, a pillow and a few personal belongings. He had no food or water. The hikers called rangers for help.

Fatigued and dehydrated, Bowles told authorities he did not know his name or where he lived. He said he thought he had been abducted, driven in a vehicle for three or four hours, and left at the trail.

He was taken to a nearby hospital, where health care workers on Wednesday identified him from the number of his pacemaker.

On Friday, authorities said Bowles faked the amnesia to prevent them from learning his trip to the Smokies was part of a child custody scheme he arranged with his wife.

"What their initial plan was and what happened are two different things," said Nancy Gray, a spokeswoman for the national park.

The couple believed that, to retain custody of a relative's two young girls, they had to convince child welfare officials that Jack Bowles didn't live in the family home, Gray said.

So the couple drove 220 miles south to the Smokies on June 11 and dropped Jack Bowles off for what they thought would be a week, she said.

He was spotted the next day by the helpful hikers.

"Had they not approached him, had no visitors come up to him, he would have gone about his business trying to be elusive and keep away from everybody," Gray said.

She said his wife confessed when questioned by federal agents.

John Law, spokesman for the West Virginia Health and Human Resources, said he did not know about the Bowles case, "and even if we did, we cannot discuss specifics of these things."

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