LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga. – Runaway bride Jennifer Wilbanks (search) wanted to vanish because she feared she could not be the perfect wife. She picked Austin, Texas, as her original destination after seeing actor Matthew McConaughey talk about his hometown on TV. And she funded her odyssey by cashing a cell phone rebate check and emptying an old bank account.
Those were some of the details that emerged Tuesday from investigation reports by the FBI (search) and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation that detailed Wilbanks' flight. The reports portrayed the 32-year-old nurse as a naive woman whose mother did her banking for her.
Wilbanks also discussed her ordeal in an NBC interview Tuesday night, saying she was suicidal when she fled.
"I had a bottle of pills or I had the bus ticket," she said.
Wilbanks' disappearance four days before her scheduled 600-guest wedding gained national attention. Hundreds of officers and volunteers — including members of the wedding party — searched for her for three days before she called her fiance from Albuquerque, N.M., early in the morning of her planned wedding day, claiming to have been abducted and sexually assaulted. She soon recanted her story, saying she fled because of personal issues.
Wilbanks told investigators that she didn't know about the extent of the search because she didn't see any television or listen to any radio while on the run. The one time she glanced at a newspaper, she "did not see her picture on the front," FBI agents wrote after interviewing Wilbanks on May 4, days after she returned from her cross-country bus trip.
"Wilbanks stated that she felt very humbled that so many people had been searching for her, but she did not feel like she had done anything wrong and she just wanted to disappear," the report said.
Agents said in the report that Wilbanks "was scared to marry (fiance) John Mason (search) because she is afraid of an imperfect world. Wilbanks stated that she could not be the wife that her fiance John Mason needed. Wilbanks wanted to disappear without a trace."
The report from Georgia investigators said she broke off an earlier engagement to another man, and — even though she had been in a relationship with Mason since August 2004 — she kept "I love you" text messages on her cell phone from another man she dated in 2003.
Wilbanks pleaded no contest earlier this month to telling police her phony story and was sentenced to two years of probation and 120 hours of community service. She also was ordered to continue mental health treatment and pay the sheriff's office $2,550. The city of Duluth spent nearly $43,000 to search for her; Wilbanks has repaid $13,249.
Wilbanks originally wanted to flee to Austin after seeing McConaughey on TV, the FBI report said. After doing research on the Internet, she "thought it looked like a nice place to visit because of Austin's ranches and national parks," the report said.
A week before she disappeared, she purchased a ticket for a Greyhound bus that left April 26 from a station near the Atlanta airport.
Because her mother did her banking for her, Wilbanks scraped together a little more than $240 for her journey in a various ways, the report said. She cashed in a $100 rebate check for her cell phone. She received less than $100 after closing an old account at a credit union.
The night she disappeared, she withdrew $40 with her ATM card. She dared not use her card anymore because "her mother would be able to track her down," she told the FBI.
Then, after a bath and dinner, she left home for a jog, telling Mason that she would "run until she was tired." She instead ran a few blocks away to the city library, where a taxi took her to the airport. She then boarded the bus.
"Wilbanks realized during her travel on Greyhound that the Greyhound bus traveled to really rough areas for their bus stations," the FBI agents wrote.
After eating a meal during a stop in Dallas, she felt safer to be on the bus, the report said. She had no lodging arrangements in Austin and "was scared it may stop in a bad area," the report said, so she spent $107 of her money to continue on to Las Vegas.
She tried to get a room at three different hotels near the bus station in Las Vegas but they were all too expensive.
She told investigators that she then remembered a street full of hotels in Albuquerque, a city the bus had passed through on the way to Las Vegas. With only about $80 left, she bought a $76 ticket to Albuquerque.
Wilbanks arrived the next day. She asked a taxi driver to take her to a hotel where she had a travel coupon advertising rooms for $19.99. However, she only had enough money to pay for a taxi ride for part of the way. Out of money, she finally called her fiance collect.