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Media Barrages Alabama Storage Facility While Missing-Pilot Story Unfolds

An Alabama business manager learns to deal with massive media attention as a self-storage related crime story unfolds and involves her property.

Yesterday was a day like no other for Wanda Brooks, manager of 280 Mini Storage in Harpersville, Ala. When she arrived at work, a CNN news team was there to greet her at to her office. Reporters wanted to film the storage unit that had been rented, be it ever-so briefly, by a wanted man.

Very few newspapers, wires and TV stations could resist such a story: An investor facing fraud plots to fake his death in a plane crash, parachutes to safety, then rides off into the sunset on a motorcycle, which  he had cunningly stashed away at Wanda's storage facility a couple days earlier in hopes of making his big getaway.

Wanda thinks the GQ-guy-turned-thug had originally planned to parachute from the plane to safety in a nearby field or golf course, not far from the Interstate 280 that runs right through town and for which the storage facility is named. But there was just enough wind that night to swoosh him three miles down the road, she says.

When he wandered into a convenience store with a tale about having survived a canoeing accident that left him stranded, the store owner phoned police to assist him. The police obliged his request of giving him a ride to a Harpersville self-storage to meet friends, but when there were no cars at the meeting spot, dropped him at a nearby hotel.

It was an odd request to begin with, mused Wanda Brooks, since it was the wee hours of the morning. "Had he not mentioned [the self-storage facility] at all, they might not have caught him."

When the news of a plane crash surfaced later on, investigators began putting two and two together. AndWanda and her husband found a lock with a key on the ground outside a storage unit that had been rented to someone storing a red motorcycle days earlier. "It seemed strange," she said. "We never find a brand-new lock with a key still in it just lying around.

Wanda's husband, a local police officer, poked inside the nearby dumpster while Wanta opened the unit. There was no motorcycle, but the dumpster had a pair of pants, shirt, socks and hiking boots.

And so the story unfolded that the man, Marcus Shrenker, had foiled police, dumped his dirty clothes and retrieved his shiny-red Yamaha at 280 Mini Storage, and was on his way to Mexico—or anywhere but back home in Indiana, where his investment career was crumbling, along with his marriage.

For Wanda, the news-breaking crime became a media spree at her site. After the CNN crew passed through, a slew of reporters and camera-persons paraded onto her property. "We had NBC, ABC, Fox, the Associated Press and the New York Post," she laments. "From 8:30 in the morning to 2 o'clock in the afternoon I dealt with them." She finally went home, too tired for more.

I asked Wanda what she had learned from the experience. Did the facility have a plan of action for dealing with media in these type of situations? "No," she said, "but I've been thinking that the best thing to do after something like this is to issue a statement from the business to the media, so you wouldn't have to deal with them all day long, like I did."  

The statement, she said, should include all the details of what actually happened, because she has had to repeat the story over and over again. (Wondering how you might handle a media blitz at your own facility? Consultant/contributor Jim Chiswell has ideas on the subject in his column, Thoughts From the Road.)

Wanda says she likes to watch FBI crime shows on TV, but never expected she'd have to participate in an investigation herself. All the media attention can be exhausting, she concluded. "I could do without the fame." 

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