Marcus Schrenker's Life Spirals Out of Control

Infamous financier accused of faking own death speaks out from jail.

March 25, 2010, 2:55 PM

March 26, 2010 — -- It was a harrowing experience, said Marcus Schrenker, the Indiana moneyman and pilot who allegedly attempted to fake his own death in January 2009. He put his corporate plane on a course toward the Gulf of Mexico and parachuted out over rural Alabama, trying to escape personal problems and prosecution for financial crimes.

"I blew the cockpit door at twenty-four thousand feet," he said. "It was like someone had popped my lungs. And it felt like my face was just going to explode, my ears, everything...And I knew that was it. It was the end. There's no turning back."

The bizarre and mysterious plunge of the then-38-year-old financier mirrored an even more dramatic descent in his personal life. Schrenker appeared to be a family man who was living the high life with his wife Michelle in the posh Indianapolis suburb of Geist.

"It was wonderful. We had a fantastic marriage, three beautiful children," he said. "Life was all that we ever thought it would be and all we ever dreamed it would be."

A financial advisor, Schrenker owned an investment firm called Icon Group. His family was the picture of wealth -- even doing an ad for a local Lexus dealer. They vacationed with his company's $2 million private plane -- piloted by a man who loved the thrill of being up in the air.

"There's a saying back in college that flying is the most fun you can have with your clothes on," he said. "Flying, to me, was a lifelong dream."

Click HERE to see video of Schrenker as a stunt pilot

But it wasn't all clear skies for Schrenker. While he was charismatic and confident, he was also someone who could turn on a dime and become the neighbor from hell.

"There was also the side you heard about, which was what I would call the angry-neighbor side," said neighbor Tom Britt, who writes the Geist community newsletter. "He didn't like your house because it was too similar in color to his, so he would come and pull up your stakes as you're trying to build."

"I think if you live next to him, you probably lived in fear, and you want to stay on his good side," Britt added.

Schrenker told "20/20" that his mood swings started to scare him.

"I didn't understand why this was happening," he said. "It would go from very calm to not so calm and very combative. And as I aged it got worse and worse."

Schrenker was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, but often didn't take his medications. His therapist told "20/20" that Schrenker's bipolar disorder would swing him through manic highs and deep depressions with talk of suicide. It all took a toll on his storybook marriage.

"[Michelle] really put up with a lot of me that I think was stressful on her," he said. "One minute I would be very calm and the next minute I would be very angry and out of control and not even make, be making sense with what I was saying."

But that's not all that Michelle was putting up with. Schrenker had an affair with a woman who worked at the airport, Kelly Baker. As their relationship escalated, Schrenker's marriage disintegrated, and he became even more volatile. Michelle filed for divorce on Dec. 30, 2008.

At the same time, and unknown to Schrenker, his investment firm was under investigation by the state of Indiana for allegations of bilking clients and fraud.

Authorities raided the Schrenkers' mansion the day after Michelle filed for divorce. Schrenker, who was in Florida with Baker at the time, said he was "completely blindsided."

"I couldn't even understand what was happening," he said. "It was tough to tell what was real and what was not at that point."

Ill-Fated Flight Sets Off Manhunt

His assets were frozen, his business was closed pending a criminal investigation, his family was in tatters -- and, just then. his stepfather died.

"It just felt like I was coming unraveled and almost like my brain was popping. And I just snapped," he said. "I drove home to our house in Indianapolis. And I came inside and there were four plates on the kitchen table and that was obvious. The fifth plate was always me. And she [Michelle] stood up and said, 'You're not welcome here.'"

On the evening of Jan. 11, 2009, Schrenker drove to the airport where he kept his airplane. He revved up the single-engine turboprop, filed a flight plan for Destin, Fla., and began the trip that would make national headlines.

"I didn't call the tower, I didn't call the ground. I didn't have the runway plowed. I just took off," he said. He took, by his account, 10 Oxycontin pain killers.

Schrenker said his idea was simple: commit suicide, make it look like an accident, and have Michelle collect the insurance. To ensure that he would die, he said he disabled the parachute he had with him and "wire tied it shut."

But if Schrenker wanted to commit suicide, why did he need a parachute at all?

"All he would have to do is take the airplane up, stall it, spin into the ground and kill himself, and then it would look like an accident," said Doug Carmody, who runs Executive Flight training in Beaufort, S.C., and trains pilots on the same aircraft Schrenker flew that day.

Instead, Schrenker jumped out of his plane.

"I looked up and the parachute was all tangled," he said. "And it was just, a little piece of it was open. And I was probably going forty, fifty miles an hour."

Schrenker's plane continued on autopilot for 200 miles and crashed on land in swampy Milton, Fla.

Sgt. Scott Haines of the Santa Rosa, Fla., Sheriff's Office led "20/20" to the crash site.

"The plane actually rolled and landed on its roof upside down with the propeller against that oak tree," said Haines. "[There was] no blood, windshields were intact. It was clear to us that the pilot was not in this location. It started unraveling very quickly that we were dealing with something a lot more than just a plane that had crashed."

Schrenker landed in the woods near Childersburg, Ala. He had told air traffic control that he was bleeding, but that was a lie. With barely a scratch on him, Schrenker made his way to a storage facility where a red Yamaha motorcycle -- his motorcycle -- was waiting for him.

He was 500 miles from home. How did the bike get there?

Signs Point to Elaborate Escape Plan

The day before his bizarre flight, Schrenker had visited the storage facility, where he spoke with owner Lova Wood. Calm and friendly, Schrenker gave Wood a phony name and said he needed to store his broken motorcycle for a couple of days.

"He said he had broken down and someone down the road directed him our way and he wanted to rent one of our garages," Wood told ABC News. "Very talkative, very charming. He said he was headed to Florida."

The stored bike would be the centerpiece of Schrenker's deception. He stashed his motorcycle in nearly the exact place where he would fall from the sky the next day.

We asked Schrenker what his plan was when he towed his motorcycle to the facility.

"I didn't have a plan," Schrenker said. "I was so mentally devastated and at that point it was really the divorce that had hit me very hard. And after my stepfather's funeral I just snapped and I started driving."

But U.S. Marshal Frank Chiumento said Schrenker indeed had a plan that was detailed and deliberate.

"It was obvious in gathering all the intelligence and all the information about this flight from Indiana to Florida that he devised an escape plan to fake his own death," said Chiumento. "There was a lot of planning that went into this."

Yet Schrenker still denies that he was planning to vanish.

"If I was trying to fake my death, I would have left my I.D.s and everything in the airplane," he said. "I would have filled out the airplane full of fuel and let it go out over the Gulf or wherever it was trying to go. You know, make sure that the airplane couldn't be found."

This has the ring of another bold lie. In fact, Schrenker had topped off his fuel tank in what appeared to be the perfect disappearance scheme: jump out of the plane and let it keep flying into the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Schrenker would be presumed dead, and no one would find his body.

Instead, the plane crashed just a few miles short of the Gulf, and Schrenker's perfect crime disintegrated.

"Once we went through the airplane and inspected things that were present at the crash site, we found a lot more valuable evidence," said Sgt. Haines.

The discovery of the wreckage, with no pilot, set off a multi-state dragnet.

"The most critical piece of evidence that we received was the fact that a U.S. campground directory was located in the wreckage with the Florida state campground sites ripped out of it," said Chiumento.

In fact, nearly 24 hours after plunging from his plane, Schrenker ended up at a campground in Chattahoochee, Fla.

Inside his tent, Schrenker's lies were about to catch up to him. He was able to go online using a laptop he'd stored with his motorcycle. He got a big surprise.

He learned that his plane had not disappeared in the Gulf of Mexico as he had planned -- and he was now a wanted man. Schrenker recalled the moment.

"When I saw myself on...the Web site, it was over, you know. I had no desire to live at that point...I embarrassed my family so much," Schrenker said.

Chiumento speculated on Schrenker's motivations.

"He probably thought he had a very ingenious escape plan initially and it unraveled very quickly," said Chiumento. "And he may have had an alternate plan that if it didn't work out, he was going to commit suicide."

Getaway Plan Takes Dark Turn

This time Schrenker really was trying to take his life. He slashed his wrist with a camping knife. He lost a lot of blood and came close to death. But authorities were closing in.

Schrenker said he doesn't remember being found at the campsite.

"They said I was as white as a sheet and I wasn't breathing when they got to me," he said.

Schrenker was taken by helicopter to a local hospital. At the campground, U.S. Marshals gathered evidence that Schrenker had outfitted himself for escape and survival.

"In the saddlebags on his motorcycle, he had a lot of MRE's -- meals ready to eat -- military-type food," said Chiumento. "He had extra clothing. He had a quantity of cash, close to $3,000. He had a GPS unit."

But the bizarre journey of Marcus Schrenker was over. His next stop would be a jail cell. He was hit with two federal charges: filing a false distress call and intentionally destroying an airplane.

Schrenker pleaded guilty and now is serving 50 months in prison.

While he admitted in court documents that he deliberately tried to crash his plane in the gulf, he told "20/20" several different versions of the story, saying his bipolar disorder and painkillers left him in a confused fog.

The closest he came to admitting the truth was this: "It absolutely points to a premeditated desire to run, fake the death, crash the airplane, because of the motorcycle, because of the forward planning," he said. "It's hard for me to grasp."

Aside from the disaster in his personal life, Schrenker's business dealings were about to land him in hot water. The state of Indiana was about to charge Schrenker with fraud. On this matter, he was mute.

"20/20" asked him whether he had run his companies above board, or whether there had been anything that could be perceived as fraudulent.

"I'm sorry, I can't answer that," Schrenker said. He said he was innocent of the Indiana charges.

As Schrenker sits in jail, his wife, Michelle -- the divorce isn't final -- and their three children have moved out of the family's mansion. They are struggling to get by.

It's a turnabout that seems to stir the only genuine reaction in Marcus Schrenker.

"My oldest son, Tyler, has been put through hell because of what I did," Schrenker said. "And he is such a good kid. My daughter, Alyssa, she's so beautiful and wonderful. And my younger son, Jayden. I love all of them so much. I am so sorry for the pain I have caused them."