JAY CARSEY IS MASTER OF THE DISAPPEARING ACT. ON MAY 19, 1982, after 17 years of distinguished service as president of Charles County Community College in La Plata, Md., he suddenly vanished. A day later, his wife, Nancy, received a letter renouncing his claim to their mutual assets. He also mailed a postcard to the dean of the college, John Sine, who had once directed him in the N. Richard Nash play The Rainmaker—an apt collaboration, since Carsey was the college’s chief fund-raiser. The postcard read simply, “Exit the Rainmaker.”
After resurfacing in his native Texas several months later, Carsey eventually married Dawn Garcia, a director of a program for the elderly, and created a new life for himself as an administrator at El Paso Community College. Then, last Dec. 22, he had his morning cup of coffee, blew a kiss to Dawn, headed out the door—and at the age of 57 disappeared again. In mid-January, Dawn, now 49, received a letter giving her power of attorney over their financial affairs. Postmarked in Jacksonville, Fla., it began, “To whom it may concern…” Carsey has not been seen since.
In Exit the Rainmaker, a 1989 best-seller that chronicled Carsey’s first disappearance, author Jonathan Coleman portrayed him as a law-abiding man who shed the baggage of a lifetime—including an anxiety-laden job and a status-conscious wife (he has no children from either marriage)—in an attempt to get a fresh start. “A lot of people would like to do what Jay Carsey did,” he says. But Coleman, who spoke often with Carsey in El Paso, fell he had found contentment and was unlikely to cut and run again. “I didn’t expect it,” Coleman says.
In his book, Coleman depicts Carsey as a character who inherited the vagabond spirit of his father, Homer, a small-town Texas bandleader, and could never quite live up to the high expectations of his domineering mother, Bea. “All his life, Jay had to be the good boy, the dutiful son,” says Coleman. “And maybe he’s been rebelling against that role all this time.”
Carsey and his first wife, Nancy, an elementary school principal he wed in 1968, lived in a 23-room house near Charles County Community College and were invited to all the best parties. “We were Mr. and Mrs. Wonderful,” Nancy, now 56, says wistfully. Meanwhile, Carsey was a gregarious social drinker and began hilling the bottle even more heavily when his golden touch as a fund-raiser began to fail him. Several days before he left town, he was scheduled to lay off 27 employees at the college.
Once in El Paso, Carsey tended bar as Jay Martin Adams—until his new friends recognized his picture in a Sept. 27, 1982, PEOPLE article about his disappearance, and he decided to use his real name again. By that time, he had fallen in love with Dawn, who says she was attracted by his “free spirit. I knew there was something he wasn’t telling all along, but it never bothered me.” When his divorce from Nancy was finalized in 1985, Carsey wed Dawn and seemed happy. “I thought he could allow himself to be vulnerable with Dawn,” says Coleman. “She was much more down-to-earth than Nancy.”
In 1988, Carsey became an assistant to a dean at El Paso Community College, where officials were aware of his past and fell he deserved another chance. But there was a problem. “Our life was like a roller coaster when it came to drinking,” says Dawn. “Sometimes even he would recognize he’d have to dry out.” Last fall, for example, he swore off alcohol to try to cope with his new job as temporary chairman of the math and science department at the college. Then, in mid-December, he flew to Bryan, Tex., to visit his 97-year-old father, a widower whom he had recently settled in a nursing home. While there, Carsey was charged with driving under the influence after an accident in a rented Ford Tempo. When he returned home, Dawn says, “he was the drunkest I’d ever seen him.” Two days later, he withdrew $2,500 from a savings account and disappeared.
Carsey’s father died May 28 and was buried in Bryan. No one knows whether Carsey is aware of Homer’s death or whether, after months of total silence, he is alive himself. But Dawn is confident he will resurface again someday, somewhere. “I’m only sorry he didn’t ask me to run away with him,” she says. “I would have done it.”
TOM NUGENT in Baltimore and PAUL GENESON in El Paso