Read more about author Jonathan Coleman

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'Rainmaker' Abandons Another Life

By Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 28, 1993; Page B01
The Washington Post

EL PASO -- -- To his wife of eight years, Jay Carsey scribbled only this: "To whom it may concern: This provides power of attorney to my wife, Dawn Carsey. J.N. Carsey, 10 Jan 1993."

That handwritten note arrived last month at the couple's two-bedroom apartment in the cracked brown hills of Sunset Heights. It had been three weeks since Carsey had disappeared, and Dawn, playing a dreadful hunch, had found their Dodge van abandoned in the El Paso airport parking lot.

The note came in an envelope, postmarked from Jacksonville, Fla., that also contained Carsey's one-line letter of resignation from his administrator's job at El Paso Community College.

To whom it may concern. . . . The same words he used last time, to end his last life.

Dawn Carsey was stunned. The Rainmaker was gone again.

Jay Carsey disappeared the first time in 1982, when he walked away from his first wife, their 23-room mansion and a life of leisure and prestige as president of Charles County Community College in Southern Maryland.

He drove a school car to National Airport and boarded a flight to Texas, disappearing without warning. He took $28,000 in cash from joint accounts and left a "To whom it may concern" note to his wife, Nancy, giving her sole control of the remainder of their assets. They have not spoken since.

To his closest friend, the college dean, he sent a postcard making reference to a play that they had appeared in years before. It said: "John -- Exit the Rainmaker. Good Luck, Jay. pls. handle."

"Exit the Rainmaker" became the title of a best-selling book by Jonathan Coleman, recounting Carsey's decision to shed an entire life the way a snake sheds its skin.

According to the book, Carsey was aching privately despite his successful outward appearance. Coleman said Carsey's marriage was cold and failed, the college was facing difficult budget reductions, and Carsey had begun drinking heavily -- even hiding bottles of vodka in the woods near his home, a manor called Green's Inheritance.

Carsey's answer was to walk away, to vanish without a trace, to drop a guillotine, as he later described it, and sever all ties to his hunt country life in Charles County.

Five days after he left Maryland, Carsey was bumming around El Paso, a crowded city wedged hard against the Sierra Madre on the Mexican border. More than 1.5 million people live in the untamed towns of El Paso and Juarez, Mexico, its mirror across the Rio Grande, and Carsey found it easy to exist here without questions about his past.

Within a few months, he met Dawn Garcia, and they were married on March 15, 1985. Carsey tended bar, owned a small bar for a while and eventually began teaching and working as an administrator at the community college.

His friends said Carsey enjoyed his new life. They said he found El Paso less stuffy than Charles County, and he found Dawn more warm and supportive than his first wife, from whom he was divorced.

In "Exit the Rainmaker," Carsey told Coleman that his dramatic dropout from Charles County was successful: "The results are so satisfying to me -- I've got a marriage and a job I enjoy -- that the method worked."

Back in Maryland, Nancy Carsey, who has sold Green's Inheritance and now lives in Baltimore, only laughed when asked her reaction to her ex-husband's disappearance from El Paso.

"I guess he has some weaknesses and they're coming out," she said. "I don't think he knows what he wants. I think he needs professional help."

Carsey's second wife said she feels sad that her husband left without a word.

"Most people at the college are infinitely more upset about it than I am, but that's because I know him better than anyone and I understand it," Dawn Carsey said.

"The first day, I was surprised. But I'm not angry; I'm sad. And mostly I'm sad for him. I'm surrounded by friends and well-wishers and family. I'm in a good place, and I have an extremely healthy ego. Jay has none of that now."

Dawn Carsey, 48, was curled in a chair in their living room one evening last week, drinking wine and smoking -- a habit she picked up again to calm her nerves after Jay left. Occasionally she stopped to pet their small dog, Sodie Water.

The apartment is small, half of a one-story stucco duplex whose back yard overlooks Juarez and the mountains beyond. Two photos of Jay Carsey hang in the narrow hallway. One is his "resurfacing" photo, the one he sent to friends in Maryland late in 1982, showing 47-year-old Jay in jeans and a flannel shirt, drink in hand, reborn in El Paso.

The other shows the more recent Jay, 57 years old, with a gray goatee and mustache, a mischievous smirk on his face and his arms around Dawn, who looks at the camera with a campy, vampish gaze. In the corner, a yellowed clipping reads, "Only once in your life will you meet that one person who will change you forever."

If Dawn Carsey knows why her husband bolted just before Christmas, she's not saying. When she speaks about it, she is deliberately enigmatic. The part-time college sociology and statistics teacher said that she understands what motivated Carsey to leave -- this time and last -- but that she's not about to lay it out for the world.

It's private, she said, something that belongs only to her husband -- a man she said she still loves, and to whom she still feels protective and loyal, even though she believes "he will never come back here, just like he would never go back" to Maryland.

"When people kept asking me about it after he first failed to show up, I kept saying, 'It's like Jay always said, easy come, easy go,' " she said. "I know Jay better than anyone, so I probably don't mean that the way some people will take it. I mean it in a 'Jay' sense."

Although Dawn is elusive about her husband's innermost motivations, she is quick to point out that he had been depressed about several things in the months before he left.

He was legally blind in one eye, losing sight in the other and worried that he wouldn't be able to renew his driver's license, she said. His hearing was failing; Dawn said that she found brochures for hearing aids around the house, but that Carsey would never acknowledge his hearing problem.

Dawn said he also was unhappy about recently placing his 97-year-old father in a nursing home in the east Texas town of Bryan.

The week before he left, Carsey had flown to Bryan to see his father and ended up in trouble over his drinking, according to police. Dawn said Carsey went "on the wagon" a couple of times a year, and he had not been drinking for several months before his trip to Bryan.

But on Dec. 19, according to prosecutors in Bryan, Carsey allegedly drove a rented Ford Tempo into another car and drove away without stopping. When police stopped the car about 10 minutes later, about 4 p.m., Carsey was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol and failing to stop after an accident, prosecutors said.

The rental car was impounded and Carsey was released on bail, according to the prosecutor's office.

When Carsey flew back to El Paso the next day, Sunday the 20th, he had been drinking heavily, and he continued drinking on Monday, Dawn said. "I had not seen him drink like that in a long while," she said.

On Tuesday morning, Dec. 22, Carsey left home about 6:30 a.m. and never turned up for work. His van, locked with the keys inside, was found in the airport's short-term parking lot, and the ticket showed that he arrived at 6:49 a.m.

Before he left, Carsey emptied their joint savings account, taking $2,000 with him, Dawn said. With the letters he sent three weeks later, he included a check to Dawn for part of that amount. Then, about two weeks ago, another envelope, postmarked from South Carolina, showed up with another check, but no note, she said.

Dawn said both checks total more than the amount he took. Both were drawn on the checking account of his father's estate, for which Carsey is the executor, and both contained the memo "estate management expenses," she said.

Dawn said she finds the mailings significant. "They're neither necessary nor part of the pattern," she said. "He hasn't totally cut the cord."

Dawn and almost everyone Carsey knew in El Paso had known about his Rainmaker past for years. Shortly after he arrived, someone spotted a People magazine story about him; then the book came along in 1989.

Yet no one seemed to care much about it. And despite his abandonment of his wife and friends in Maryland, Carsey enjoyed a kind of pedestal admiration and loyalty from his new friends and co-workers in Texas.

"Even though he's mysterious and you don't really get into the man, you have great trust in him," said Raul Ramirez, the college's acting vice president for academic affairs, Carsey's boss and one of his closest friends.

"I had 100 percent trust in Jay," Ramirez said.

Ramirez said he was disappointed when Carsey left. "I was hoping that whatever was happening, he could overcome and come back. But I think the letter of resignation tells us he's not coming back."

Ramirez's office is next door to a small, locked office behind a door that says, "Jay Carsey, assistant to the vice president." Dawn came and cleaned out most of his personal effects, except for a Washington Redskins pennant on the wall and the old black typewriter he loved.

Bertha Soto, Carsey's secretary for three years, said Carsey greeted her outside that office every morning with "Good morning, Sunshine," right up until the day before he left. She said he never hinted that he might be unhappy or planning to leave.

Soto said that she and others at the college still feel loyal to Carsey, and that no one is angry. "I just hope he's okay," she said.

Soto said the only question in her mind is why Carsey would leave Dawn. "I never thought he could leave her," she said.

On the last pages of "Exit the Rainmaker," Coleman recorded an exchange between Jay and Dawn a couple of years after they were married. She challenged him to explain why their marriage was different from his marriage to Nancy, and why he wouldn't abandon her the same way some day:

"He stopped pacing and went over to where Dawn was sitting. He took her hand, and then, looking straight at her, answered her question.

" 'Because you're completely different from any other woman I've ever met. If it ever came to that point -- and I hope it doesn't -- I think we'd have a long discussion about it.' "

Carsey left El Paso without even taking his shaving kit.

© Copyright The Washington Post Company

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