Photograph by Alan Youngblood
A few months ago I suggested to Charles Bethea that he look into the strange case of Aubrey Lee Price, the fugitive banker who was apprehended in Brunswick after eighteen months on the run. Wouldn’t it be cool, I thought, if we could find out what he’d been doing all that time?
Charles is a writer at large for Atlanta magazine, and over the years he’s profiled some of the city’s most intriguing characters, from Evander Holyfield to the guy behind Antico Pizza. To be successful as a magazine writer requires doing many things very well—writing, sure, but no matter how talented you are at crafting sentences, it means nothing in this business unless you have the reporting to back it up. And of course, reporting is all about getting people to talk. In this regard, Charles has an ability that many other reporters would kill for.
So I suppose I wasn’t surprised when Charles emailed me not long after we first discussed Price to say that he’d just gotten off the phone with the man himself. Price’s disappearance in June 2012—and subsequent arrest on New Year’s Eve last year—had attracted nationwide media coverage. Here was a supposedly successful money manager who’d set out to save a small-town bank, only to disappear, leaving behind jilted investors and a failing bank. Just where had Price been hiding and what had he been doing? No one could say. And now here he was, inviting Charles to visit him at the Bulloch County Jail in Statesboro.
Charles ended up meeting with Price four times in February and March, as well as talking with him on the phone several times. It was after one of those visits that Charles told me something that really did surprise me. “Price is writing a book, and he gave me the first eight chapters. And we can quote from it.”
I should probably say here that Atlanta magazine is in the business of publishing non-fiction, and so our stories go through a pretty rigorous fact-checking process. We call sources to verify information; we dig up documents. On this story, for example, Jessica Keaton-Young, our managing editor, even tracked down a marriage license because the spelling of someone’s name on a police report didn’t look right to her.
So Price’s memoir posed a problem for us: How do we begin to verify a tale that spans continents and involves drug lords? Well, we couldn’t. But we think you’ll agree his tale is worth hearing. Charles and I decided that the best way to tell much of it was simply to let Price do it, in his own words. How much is fact and how much is fiction, we can’t say. But as Charles shows in his remarkable story, one thing is beyond dispute: the emotional and financial wreckage Price left in his wake.