On the latest Crime Stories podcast, Nancy Grace spoke with lawyer Jason Whaley on Friday, about missing Tennessee teen, Elizabeth Thomas, and the man who likely abducted her. Whaley, an attorney for Elizabeth’s father, revealed more shocking details regarding inappropriate contact, special treatment, and outrageous lies told to gain students’ admiration.
Jason Whaley, founder of Whatley & Associates in Columbia, Tennessee, said that Tad Cummins’ relationship with 15-year-old Elizabeth was not really a secret at Culleoka Unit School, where he taught a respiratory therapy health science classes. Witnesses reported that the former teacher, 50, would openly give Elizabeth back and shoulder massages in the school cafeteria.
The pair were also reportedly caught holding hands on several occasions. Even more shocking, a student reported seeing Elizabeth fast asleep on a bed that Cummins had in his classroom. He apparently had a hospital bed in his room for teaching purposes, but allowed Elizabeth the privilege of sleeping on the bed, alone in the room.
In other instances, Elizabeth was allegedly allowed to leave class to visit Cummins, who had a “special seat” by his desk, reserved just for her. Whatley said these actions were all a part of the grooming process that allowed Cummins to gain control of Elizabeth’s mind.
“She was his special student,” Whatley said. “She was allowed to leave class and go to him is what we understood; now we’re trying to confirm that.”
Why did it take so long for the Maury County School District to step in? And when Cummins was finally reprimanded, why was he allowed to still teach at the school? Detectives and attorneys are still working diligently to uncover the answers, but the person who suffered the most was Elizabeth. Allegedly, students and even a few teachers took Cummins’ side after he was reprimanded for having an inappropriate relationship with the teen. Some teachers reportedly called the girl a “whore” and a “slut” behind her back, while a few students said it to her face.
Cummins, according to Whatley, treated students as friends. He let them call him by his first name and told grand, yet likely false stories about being involved in the CIA and having a secret hideaway in Honduras that he could flee to when he “got tired of Columbia.”
The bullying may have caused Elizabeth to run away, but perhaps she didn’t think she’d be gone this long, which may explain why she decided to leave her bag behind when she disappeared. Whatley is in the process of trying to figure why she left and what her intentions were.
“What’s unclear is what her (Elizabeth) plan was that evening…..She told her sister, ‘call the police if I’m not home,’ and she said that emphatically. And I don’t have any doubt that she said those words. But obviously she was with Tad Cummins secretly, so the question is, what did she actually intend? Did she intend to leave and stay away? Did she intend to come back? Was she herself conflicted?”
Meanwhile, two Columbia locals are offering a $5,000 reward for the safe return of Elizabeth, no questions asked. Whatley urged Cummins to send Elizabeth home, stating that it would make things a lot easier in the long run. He also touched on Anthony Thomas, Elizabeth’s father, who is worried sick about his daughter, and is hoping that Cummins will do the right thing and let her go.
Cummins and Elizabeth are still on the run, despite a promising tip from a caller in Corpus Christi, Texas, which is still being investigated. Anyone with any information is urged to call 911, or the Maury County, Tennessee Sheriff’s Office at (931) 375-8654, or TBI at 1-800-TBI-FIND.
[Feature Photo: Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI)]