An alleged child rapist who tried to fake his own death in a kayaking accident was foiled after investigators tracked his electronic ankle monitor to a Walmart on the day he disappeared.
Melvin Emde, 41, was arrested in Georgia on Sunday, six weeks after he was reported to have drowned on the Mississippi River in what authorities say was an elaborate scheme to evade juvenile sexual assault charges.
Mr Emde, from Talihina, Oklahoma, was reported to have drowned after falling overboard while kayaking in Hahnville, Louisiana, around midnight on 7 August, St Charles Parish Sheriff Greg Champagne said in a statement.
He was due in court in Brunswick County, North Carolina, on charges of indecent liberties with a child and statutory rape of a child on the same day.
“We immediately became quite suspicious that this may have been a faked accidental drowning and death in order for Mr Emde to escape charges,” Sheriff Champagne said.
“However, we could not publicly expose our suspicions for fear of tipping him off.”
The St Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office put out a news release seeking information about the “drowning” after Mr Emde’s son told authorities he had been in another kayak fishing when he saw his father fall into the water.
The “hoax” missing person search attracted headlines in local media sites, and reportedly involved a dive team using sonar, a drone, K9 unit and Coast Guard helicopter.
Social media users offered their “prayers” for his safe return.
Investigators learned that Mr Emde was wearing an ankle monitor and had purchased two burner cellphones at a Walmart in Boutte, Louisiana, earlier that day.
Detectives and US Marshall officers traced the prepaid phones and learned he had used them briefly in Oklahoma before apparently disposing of them.
At around 3.30am on Sunday, a Georgia State Highway Patrol officer attempted to pull over a motorcyclist for driving without a licence plate, Sheriff Champagne said.
The motorcyclist tried to evade officers and crashed before trying to flee on foot. He was apprehended shortly afterwards.
The driver initially provided a false name, before he was identified as Melvin Emde through fingerprinting.
“Now it’s time for Mr Emde to face the music for his charges in North Carolina,” Sheriff Champagne said.
Authorities are appealing for anyone with information to contact the St Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office.