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Runaway bride who faked her own kidnapping due to ‘wedding pressures’ in 2005 is now divorced

A runway bride who made headlines in 2005 for faking her own kidnapping to get out of her 600-person wedding has since taken the plunge and said ‘I do’ to someone else — but now, after 11 years, she has gotten a divorce.

In April 2005, just days before she was set to marry John Mason, then-32-year-old Jennifer Wilbanks went missing, setting off a $60,000 police search.

Three days later, she turned up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where she claimed that that a ‘Hispanic man’ and white woman kidnapped her, sexually assaulted her, and held her captive. 

She ultimately admitted it was a hoax and she and her jilted groom went their separate ways, leaving Wilbanks to marry Georgia landscaper Greg Hutson a few years later.

But according to People, that romance didn’t work out either — and in April, she and Hutson divorced after 11 years together.  

Update: Jennifer Wilbanks, the runaway bride who faked her own kidnapping in 2005, has since married another man — but they’ve just divorced after 11 years

Gone: In April 2005, just days before she was set to marry John Mason, then-32-year-old Jennifer Wilbanks went missing, setting off a $60,000 police search

Gone: In April 2005, just days before she was set to marry John Mason, then-32-year-old Jennifer Wilbanks went missing, setting off a $60,000 police search

Wilbanks’ real-life faked-kidnapping plot came seven years before Gone Girl captivated readers.

She was set to get in a lavish affair with 600 guests and a 28-person bridal party, but apparently got cold feet — yet instead of calling the wedding off, she made up en elaborate story.

On April 26, she went out for her evening jog, but when she failed to return home hours later, her fiancé called the police.

This set off a search for Wilbanks, with 250 people looking for her — and the city of Duluth, Georgia spending an estimated $40,000 to $60,000.

Wilbanks’ family went on TV, pleading for her safe return and offering a $100,000 reward for help finding her. They also set up public vigils, while Mason had to undergo a polygraph test to rule him out as a suspect in a criminal investigation.

Then, on April 29, her fiancé received a call from her on a pay phone in Albuquerque.

‘I was crying, I was laughing, I was trying to stay calm to talk to her to keep her calm,’ he told CNN at the time.

Family heartbreak: Wilbanks' family went on TV, pleading for her safe return and offering a $100,000 reward for help finding her. Her fiancé (left) had to undergo a polygraph test

Family heartbreak: Wilbanks’ family went on TV, pleading for her safe return and offering a $100,000 reward for help finding her. Her fiancé (left) had to undergo a polygraph test

Wilbanks told him she had been abducted by a ‘Hispanic man’ and white woman in a blue van, who drove her across the country, sexually assaulted her, and abandoned her. 

Wilbanks also called 911, and local police picked her up.

She continued to share details of her alleged kidnapping with police, claiming that her armed abductors tied her up with rope before the man raped her and the woman forced her to perform sexual acts.

CBS News reported that Wilbanks described the van in detail, claiming there was Spanish music playing.

But her story didn’t hold up, and under FBI interrogation, she admitted that it had all been a hoax — and she’d really just wanted to get away for ‘personal issues,’ so she’d taken a Greyhound bus out of town, first to Las Vegas and then on to Albuquerque. 

‘She left Georgia because of the pressures of the wedding,’ officer Michael V. Medrano said. ‘The list of things she needed to get done and no time to do it made her feel overwhelmed.’

‘It turns out that Miss Wilbanks basically felt the pressure of this large wedding and could not handle it,” Duluth Police Chief Randy Belcher added.  

Three days later, she turned up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where she claimed that that a 'Hispanic man' and white woman kidnapped her, sexually assaulted her, and held her captive

Three days later, she turned up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where she claimed that that a ‘Hispanic man’ and white woman kidnapped her, sexually assaulted her, and held her captive

Yikes! But her story didn't hold up, and under FBI interrogation, she admitted that it had all been a hoax ¿ and she'd really just wanted to get away for 'personal issues'

Yikes! But her story didn’t hold up, and under FBI interrogation, she admitted that it had all been a hoax — and she’d really just wanted to get away for ‘personal issues’

The story quickly made headlines, and news outlets discovered that she had a history of criminal behavior, including three separate shoptlifting charges in the 1990s. In one case, she allegedly stole $1,740 in merchandise from a mall.

Her two other shoplifting charges were for $37 in merchandise in 1996 and $98 in merchandise in 1998. The second charge came with a sentence of two weekends in jail.  

Charges were soon brought against her for the kidnapping hoax, and she pleaded guilty to a felony count of making a false statement.

She was sentenced to two years’ probation, counseling, and 120 hours of community service. She also agreed to reimburse the city of Duluth for $13,249.09 in costs incurred in the search.

Yet Shannon Shafer, who volunteered taking phone tips during the search, told the New York Times that the people who searched for her deserved a public apology.

‘I just feel she really owes that to all the people who spent so much time looking for her,’ she said. 

Meanwhile, she and her fiancé called off their engagement, but remained together for another year, finally breaking up in May of 2006. 

Trouble: Charges were soon brought against her for the kidnapping hoax (pictured in June 2005)

Trouble: Charges were soon brought against her for the kidnapping hoax (pictured in June 2005)

Court: She  pleaded guilty to a felony count of making a false statement (pictured in June 2005). She agreed to reimburse the Duluth for $13,249.09 in costs incurred in the search

Court: She  pleaded guilty to a felony count of making a false statement (pictured in June 2005). She agreed to reimburse the Duluth for $13,249.09 in costs incurred in the search

Penalty: She was sentenced to two years' probation, counseling, and 120 hours of community service. (pictured in August 2005)

Penalty: She was sentenced to two years’ probation, counseling, and 120 hours of community service. (pictured in August 2005)

A few months later, in October of 2006, Wilbanks sued Mason for $500,000 dollars, which she claimed included her share of the price of their home and the amount they made for selling their story.

She also claimed that Mason defrauded her out of her share of their assets, including a ladder, a gold sofa, and wedding presents, and alleged he abused the power of attorney she granted him to handle their financial affairs. 

But Wilbanks moved on, and five years later, the New York Post reported that she was in a longterm relationship with a twice-divorced landscaper named Greg Hutson, with whom she enjoyed ‘togetherness, friendship and most of all … unconditional love.’ 

‘Everybody needs somebody to love … I’m so glad I have that someone!” she wrote on Facebook.

They even owned a dog together named Lady.

They since tied the knot, but People reports that Hutson filed for divorce in March, and it was finalized a month later.  

Wilbanks currently lives in Gainesville, Georgia, where she works as a Human Resources Director.

Meanwhile, her ex-groom Mason married a woman named Shelley Martin in 2008. 


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