TAOS, N.M. – Jennifer Wilbanks wasn't just running away from her wedding, she was running toward something — an old paramour with whom she had had a steamy sexual relationship.
The bolting bride set her sights on New Mexico sometime during her three-day cross-country sprint from the altar because it's the home of a short-lived fling, several sources told The Post.
But if Wilbanks harbored hope of reigniting an old passion, she would have been sorely disappointed.
"I would have turned her ass in, no question," former flame Todd Kendrick (search) told The Post.
"And then," he joked, "I'd have asked for the $100,000 reward."
But Kendrick — a polite, soft-spoken CPA who is originally from Wilbanks' Georgia hometown and now lives in this resort town — wasn't laughing when his phone started ringing soon after her April 26 disappearance made national news.
"People from home called, and friends from here, too," he recalled. "They knew we'd dated, that she'd been out here before."
Kendrick said that though "worried" for Wilbanks, he "had a feeling" foul play wasn't involved when she vanished in Georgia four days before her planned lavish wedding to fiancé John Mason (search).
"She's a crazy girl," said Kendrick, who said he had a brief — and sexually charged — relationship with Wilbanks.
"It was a couple dates a couple of years ago," said Kendrick, who spoke to a reporter as he exited a local supermarket — with purchases that included a copy of a recent People magazine with Wilbanks' bug-eyed mug on the cover.
"It wasn't serious. It was what it was."
But when Wilbanks turned up in Albuquerque, just a couple hours south of Kendrick's desert home here, he was apparently aware of the implications it might hold for him.
"When he learned Jennifer Wilbanks (search) had surfaced in Albuquerque, Mr. Kendrick immediately called police," a law-enforcement source told The Post. "He said, 'I didn't have anything to do with this,' 'I wasn't involved,' 'She didn't contact me.'"
Said Kendrick, "When I heard she was here, I thought, 'Oh, God, why not Idaho?' — anywhere else, really."
Arriving in Albuquerque by Greyhound, investigators said Wilbanks hired a cab to take her to a hotel.
"The taxi driver told her that with the Indian ceremonies going on in town, she would have a hard time finding a hotel," Albuquerque FBI spokesman Bill Elwell has said.
Wilbanks, Elwell said, might not have been able to find a room and, out of money, finally gave up and called Mason.
Kendrick insists Wilbanks never called him that night — nor did she contact him from the road or before her escape.
"I haven't talked to her in a long time," Kendrick insisted.
"Was she coming here all along? I know some people are saying that," he said. "But I have no idea. Who knows what's going on in her head?"
Kendrick said he has been interviewed by authorities, including the FBI and police.
In Georgia, local District Attorney Danny Porter, who is mulling charges against Wilbanks, said there was "no evidence" she had any recent contact with her ex-beau.
Kendrick, 41, said he knows Wilbanks, 32, through his younger sister — who was to be a bridesmaid in Wilbanks' jettisoned wedding and had thrown her a bridal shower.
"About three years ago, she and my sister came out to New Mexico together to visit me; I dated [Jennifer] a couple of times," he said.
Like other men who've gone a few rounds with Wilbanks — several firemen, a dentist and gym buffs among them — Kendrick said Wilbanks had a healthy sexual appetite.
"She liked sex," he said.
Nevertheless, Wilbanks' fiancé, Mason, has famously boasted he and his intended had abstained during the 18-month courtship leading up to their planned wedding.
Kendrick found it "very disturbing" that Wilbanks tried to feed police a phony kidnap-and-rape story after she landed in New Mexico after a side trip to Las Vegas.
"She has hurt a lot of people. I just want to be left alone, for this to be over," Kendrick said.
He's apparently not the only one.
Sources said sometime in the weeks before she bolted town, Wilbanks e-mailed another ex-beau — this one married and, at the time, living in St. Louis.
Authorities wouldn't confirm reports of a St. Louis connection, or possible e-mails.
But Kendrick noted dryly: "It's a shorter, straight line from Georgia to St. Louis. Why couldn't she have gone there?"