Kim Avis: Jail for rapist who faked his death at 'Mortuary Beach'

By Steven McKenzie
BBC Scotland Highlands and Islands reporter

Published
image copyrightUS Marshals
image captionAvis following his arrest by US Marshals

A rapist who tried to evade justice by fleeing Scotland then faking his own death at one of California's most dangerous beaches has been jailed for 15 years.

Kim Avis, a market trader from Inverness, was eventually tracked down more than 1,000 miles away in Colorado, then brought home to Scotland - where he was convicted of rape and sexual abuse offences committed in the Highlands.

The Scot had been on bail when he flew into Los Angeles International Airport on 16 February 2019, and was using the name Ken Gordon-Avis.

Nine days later, his son reported him missing at Monastery Beach, telling the local sheriff's office that his dad had gone for an evening swim.

The beach is near Carmel-by-the-Sea, a city of about 3,800 people on the Big Sur - a rugged and mountainous stretch of Californian coastline.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionAvis was reported missing at Monastery Beach on California's Big Sur

Monastery Beach is renowned for its beautiful sand - and notorious for its water's dangerous strong undertow and treacherous high surf conditions.

Deaths of swimmers and divers led to it being nicknamed Mortuary Beach.

Mary Schley, who has been a reporter on the Carmel Pine Cone newspaper for almost 23 years, said that nickname was "well entrenched".

"The beach is full of posted warnings," she said.

"Numerous people, including experienced divers, have drowned there."

The authorities were initially unaware of Avis' background and an extensive three-day search of the shore and sea was carried out.

However, from the start some things did not seem quite right.

"The water is very cold, so it's unusual for someone to go swimming only in a pair of shorts in the evening in late February, when it's nearing dark, as Avis was said to have done," said Ms Schley.

"The water that night was unusually flat and calm, and therefore not nearly as dangerous as when the surf is high, and the weather was clear."

The search, which was co-ordinated by the Monterey County Sheriff's Office, included forestry and fire protection personnel, a dive team, a coastguard helicopter and a drone which swept the area.

image copyrightMonterey Sheriff's Office
image captionSgt David Murray, of Monterey Sheriff's Office, had felt that something did not add up

But Commander Derrel Simpson said one of his officers, Sgt David Murray, felt something did not add up.

Avis appeared to have taken all his personal belongings - including his passport - with him on the swim.

The sheriff's office was also told that the father and son had been staying in hotels and been camping, but they had no equipment for a hiking trip.

Sgt Murray found out that the hotel where Avis was said to have stayed had no record of him as a guest.

When he contacted one of Avis' relatives in Scotland, he learned that the missing man was facing charges of sexual attacks against women and girls in the Highlands.

Commander Simpson, a 30-year sheriff's office veteran, said: "We have had a lot of deaths at Monastery Beach, but I can't think of anyone using it as a ploy before."

image copyrightKSBW
image captionSearch teams looking for Avis at Monastery Beach in February 2019 in an image from TV new station KSBW

The investigation was turned over to the US Marshals Service, which has responsibility for catching wanted criminals.

Over the next few months, Monterey sheriff's deputies worked with US Marshals, Interpol and the Scottish authorities to secure an arrest and extradition warrant for Avis.

They established that Avis had entered the US through Los Angeles International Airport, using a different name.

It also emerged that his bank account had been used in Colorado after his disappearance in California.

Commander Simpson said the most valuable tip-off they received was that Avis had been seen driving a white Ford van in the Big Sur area.

Five months after he disappeared, that piece of information helped US Marshals trace Avis in Colorado Springs - more than 1,300 miles (2,092km) away from where he was reported missing.

The following week, on 27 July 2019, he was arrested.

image captionKim Avis ran a stall selling jewellery in Inverness

Commander Simpson said bringing Avis to justice was a team effort.

"It was impressive how everyone played a part, including the Scottish authorities - and how the US Marshals tracked him half way across the country," he said.

Avis was returned to Scotland, where he was held in prison until his trial.

Last month, a jury at the High Court in Glasgow found the 57-year-old market trader guilty of raping three women.

He was also found guilty of attempting to rape one of them when she was 12, and guilty of sexually assaulting a girl when she was 11.

He was further convicted of failing to appear for the previous trial.

'Controlling personality'

In total, Avis was found guilty of 14 charges from between 2006 and 2017. He had denied all the charges.

On Friday, Avis was jailed for 12 years for the sex crimes he committed in the Highlands, and three years for failing to appear in court.

Judge Lord Sandison said Avis had been a well-known street trader in Inverness for many years, busking and selling jewellery from his market stall - and even receiving a good citizen award.

But the judge said there was another side to Avis, with a background report describing him as "a controlling and dominant personality".

He said Avis had manipulated, managed and coerced his victims.

Fraser Gibson, of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, said it had been a "difficult and complex" investigation.

He said: "Kim Avis went to great lengths to evade justice for his crimes.

"Thanks to the efforts of police and prosecutors, working together with US law enforcement, he has been brought to justice and sentenced today."

Police Scotland praised his victims for the "courage, strength and dignity" they had shown throughout the investigation and court case.

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