Crime

Teacher And Teen Allegedly Lived, Had Sex At Commune

| by Kathryn Schroeder

The 15-year-old from Tennessee who was allegedly kidnapped by her teacher spent 10 days with him at a clothing-optional commune in Northern California.

According to the Daily Mail, 50-year-old Tad Cummins took Elizabeth Thomas to Black Bear Ranch near Cecilville in Siskiyou County. The mountain community does not require residents to wear clothes and does not have cellular phone service or internet connectivity. It can only be accessed from a 15-mile-long dirt road.

Cummins and Thomas went under the assumed names "John" and "Joanna" while at the commune, claiming that they were 44 and 24 years old. They told commune members they were married and left Colorado where "John" had worked as a emergency medical technician and as a kayak instructor.

Sophia, a longtime resident of Black Bear Ranch, told the Daily Mail that not everybody bought the story: "From the beginning we could tell we didn't really want them here, something was off, something was weird, strange," she said.

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April Showers, 24, gave Cummins and Thomas a tour of the property when they arrived.

"When they showed up they seemed really scared and apprehensive, his hands were shaking," she said. "But soon they settled down and he said, 'This looks like home forever.' They were clearly hoping to stick around for a long while."

Residents could allegedly hear Cummins having sex with Thomas in the attic room of the main house from the communal area downstairs.

"We knew they were definitely having sex because we could hear them, we kind of thought she was young, even though she said she was 24," Sophia said. "It didn't seem right."

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"A few people said, 'wow, she's really young.' He told us he was 44, which was still a lot older than her. We were getting really weird vibes from them, they weren't integrating with the group, they were going off by themselves, they were asking for their own cabin, but we were like, 'no it's too soon,'" she added.

Showers thought Cummins and Thomas seemed to be in love.

"They were always attached to each other, they seemed genuinely in love, like lovers ... She didn't say much, but you got the impression he was more like a doting father, rather than a dominant force. He carried a pocket-knife around with him and said he wanted to protect her and look after her," she said.

After 10 days, the pair were kicked out of the community: "[Cummins] didn't offer to help out, they did help with the chickens one time and did the dishes a couple of times, but they seemed lazy, they didn't want to do anything," Sophia said, noting that commune rules require residents to work a minimum of four hours per day.

Religion and conservative views were also an issue.

"[Cummins] said they were Christians, but we made clear there is no religion at the commune, we're not about that," Sophia said. "They were really conservative in their views and prudish about any nudity, which is something we enjoy, and would even shower with their shorts on," she added. "And they were just not integrating or connecting with anyone, they had to go."

At the time that the commune took in Cummins and Thomas, only about five people lived at Black Bear Ranch.

The commune has had "outlaws, felons, runaways and even a KKK member" visit since opening, Showers said.

The Black Bear Ranch website crashed under overwhelming traffic due to an incorrect report that Cummins and Thomas were found at the property.

"The pair was actually found in Cecilville, California near a cabin where they had been staying that has no connection with Black Bear Ranch," the community's website says.

The statement on the website's holding page also states that those interested in "connecting with or visiting Black Bear" should "check back later when things have quieted down."

Cummins and Thomas were found in the cabin in Cecilville after the property's caretaker notified police of their whereabouts.

Cummins is facing state charges of aggravated kidnapping and sexual contact with a minor and a federal charge of taking a minor across state lines for sexual intercourse, The Associated Press reports.

If convicted on the federal charge, he could be sentenced to at least 10 years in prison, according to U.S. Attorney Jack Smith.

Whether Thomas left Tennessee willingly with Cummins will not affect the case.

"At the end of the day she's 15 years old. She's 15 years old; she's a young girl that's with a grown man that's 50 years old. He needs to be held accountable for kidnapping this girl," Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director Mark Gwyn said.

Sources: Daily Mail, Black Bear Ranch, The Associated Press via Sacramento Bee / Photo credit: docentjoyce/Flickr

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