The manhunt for Brian Laundrie is being conducted in the wrong place, and the FBI needs to search in a more likely location.
I’m not a psychic. Nor a detective, at least not in the licensed sense. But I am an outdoorsman and a solitary camper. I am also a writer, accustomed to walking in someone else’s shoes to understand their thinking.
Laundrie has been missing for nearly a month. He is a “person of interest” in the death by strangulation of his girlfriend Gabbie Petito, 22, whose body was found in a camping area of Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, where the two had been traveling together.
But Carlton Reserve in southwest Florida, where the FBI is searching, is not where Brian Laundrie, 23, would have gone if his intention were to hide out. It is an inhospitable place where temperatures in the 90s, crushing humidity, hungry insects, and predatory creatures would drive out anyone trying to live there at the time that Laundrie’s parents claimed he entered the reserve.
If his car was left at the Carlton Reserve just as a diversionary tactic, where, instead, did he go?
Because his distinctive physical build and profile is now familiar to millions, he could not follow the tried and sometimes true route of other fugitives by crossing the border into Mexico, or blending in with masses in the homeless enclaves of New York or Los Angeles or San Diego. He would stand out, and someone would turn him in for a reward.
He would, therefore, have to remain on his own, somehow isolated, but with the ability to survive without leaving a trail. That would entail disposing of anything traceable back to him or his whereabouts, including credit cards and cell phones, which apparently, he has done, since his wallet and phone were left at home prior to his departure.
He would have needed as much cash as he or his family could scrounge, along with all the clothing and camping gear he could stuff into a hiking or cycling backpack.
Then logic would dictate that he flee to the considerably larger, easier to get lost in, and considerably cooler and more habitable wilderness of north Florida.
An individual seeking solitude in remote locations can avail himself of “dispersed” camping, free of charge, anywhere he wishes in the vast interior of the national forests of Ocala, Osceola, or Apalachicola.
The Apalachicola National Forest would be the best choice, since it is northern-most, with comfortable, insect-unfriendly nighttime temperatures in the 60s. It also has unlimited fresh water in springs, lakes and rivers, and it sprawls across four counties, encompassing 600,000 acres, which is 25 times larger than the Carlton Reserve.
And Apalachicola involves only a single day of travel, whether he went by bus or was driven by a friend or relative.
With a four-piece fishing rod, water purification tablets, and enough of the right kind of food (nuts, dried fruit, oatmeal) for three weeks or more, Laundrie, astride a mountain bike, could keep to empty forest roads, where he could turn off at any point, plunge deeply into the forest, and set up an undiscoverable campsite.
Whenever necessary, he might bicycle back into a perimeter town to replenish his supplies and subsequently re-locate his campsite.
Eric Rudolph eluded the FBI for five years in the mountain wilderness of North Carolina, until he was finally arrested for murder and the bombing of the 1996 Summer Olympics. He was caught only after he left his sanctuary to visit a grocery store.
Laundrie, likewise, could stay hidden in the belly of Apalachicola for months or years, avoiding capture, especially if no one is searching for him.
Presently, no one is. At least, not in the right place.
David McGrath is a former Hayward resident, an emeritus English professor at the College of DuPage in Illinois, the author of "South Siders," and a frequent contributor to the News Tribune Opinion page. He can be reached at email@example.com.