It is not uncommon for the police to receive calls about people in distress at Monastery Beach in California — known locally as Mortuary Beach because of its deadly undertow and steep drop into the ocean.
So when a teenager told the authorities that his father had not returned from a late-afternoon swim there in February 2019, the authorities got to work, sending divers, a helicopter and a drone to search the chilly waters off Carmel, just south of Monterey Bay. But the reported disappearance of Kim Avis, a 57-year-old man from Scotland, struck investigators as off from the beginning.
And they were right.
After an investigation that lasted months and spanned states and continents, Avis was sentenced last week in a Scottish court to 15 years in prison on charges of rape and sexual assault, an end investigators said he had tried to avoid by faking his death on the coast of one of California’s most scenic beaches.
A lawyer for Avis did not respond to a request for comment.
The waters were cool on the evening that Avis’ son called 911 to report that his father had gone missing, according to Cmdr. Derrel Simpson of the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office. The teenager told investigators that he and his father had traveled to California about two weeks earlier for vacation.
On that day, the son said, they had planned to check into a hotel late, so he stayed on the shore while his father had gone for a swim wearing shorts and a neck lanyard holding his passport, Simpson said.
But as officials combed the area over the next few days, parts of the story began to fray.
The hotel where the son said they had stayed had no record of them. The son said that after they stayed at the hotel, they had camped, but Sgt. David Murray, one of the investigators, said they had no suitable gear. The son also told investigators that he had been looking after their belongings on shore and did not see his father wade in.
“Nobody actually saw him go in,” Murray said. “We didn’t know the ‘why.’ Many scenarios were possible.”
Swells and currents are at their worst in the winter at Monastery Beach, named after the Carmelite monastery across from it on Highway 1.
A turning point in the investigation came about when the authorities contacted Avis’ relatives in Scotland. They were told by relatives that he was on bail and facing a March 11 trial for charges of rape, Murray said.
“We knew definitely that there was motive for staging his death,” he said.
So on Feb. 27, what had started as a “missing persons” search veered into another category: a “suspicious circumstance” report.
Investigators initiated a message to be on the lookout, alerting state and federal authorities that Avis was in the wind. Tips rolled in with purported sightings.
“We assigned some people to handle all the calls we were getting,” Murray said. “He was like the Loch Ness monster. Like Sasquatch.”
On March 5, 2019, a week after Avis’ son reported his father missing, a critical lead came from a woman who had a casual meeting with Avis in the Big Sur area. She learned from news reports that the man being sought was the same one she had referred to as the “crazy Scotsman” when she entered his telephone number in her cellphone.
She described the vehicle he had been driving, Simpson said.
Investigators also traced bank transactions, and the work hopped state lines into Colorado.
For a while, Avis managed to stay ahead of the pursuit. He claimed to have traveled to more than 10 states in the Western and Southern regions of the United States, wearing disguises, sleeping in different locations and hiding in the mountains, the U.S. Marshals Service said in an email.
But more than 1,000 miles east of the beach where he had faked his death, his accent gave him away.
On July 23, 2019, a Colorado Springs resident reported to the police that a man with a “British or Scottish accent” had been acting suspiciously and using a false name. A photograph and description of the Ford Transit van that he was driving sealed the link.
Three days later, five months after he was initially reported missing, Avis was tracked to a motel room in Colorado Springs.
There, in the parking lot, he was arrested without incident by U.S. Marshals while walking to his van, although Avis later admitted he had considered running from them before being handcuffed.
Avis was extradited to Scotland, where this past April a court found him guilty of 14 charges, including rape and sexual assault. Judge Craig Sandison said Avis, who used to sell jewelry from a market stall, had exhibited a controlling and dominant personality.
“You manipulated, managed and ultimately coerced women around you into becoming objects for your own sexual gratification,” he said as he delivered the 15-year sentence.
In the United States, the Coast Guard had long since ended its investigation. “Case closed,” its file on Avis says. “Hoax.”