With his straggly hair and bandana, Kim Avis was a well-known figure in Inverness where he was a street trader and occasional busker.
From his ‘patch’ in the city’s Eastgate he was a permanent fixture for many years, selling jewellery and other items or cycling around the centre.
Many saw him as a harmless eccentric, a Hippy-type figure who raised money for charity, even swimming Loch Ness to do so.
There is some mystery surrounding his background and he is known by at least three names- Kim Gordon, Kim Vincent and Kem Avis-Vincent. To most people, he is simply Kim the Busker.
Avis is thought to have moved to Inverness in the 1980s and been married twice.
People in the Highland capital initially reacted with surprise and sympathy when it was revealed in February he was missing after going swimming at Monastery Beach in Carmel, California.
He was reported missing on February 25 by his then 17-year-old son who called 911 and alerted police that his father had got into difficulties at a notorious spot for drowning deaths. The area is sometimes known as Mortuary Beach as more than 30 people have died there, prompting authorities to erect a fence and signs warning of the danger.
The case was treated as a missing person, with widespread searches carried out by the local coastguard, a sheriff office drone and a dive team.
It subsequently emerged Avis had failed to appear at the High Court in Scotland to face 25 charges, including rape and sexual assault.
It was also revealed that he had put his Highland home up for sale before he went missing. The house in the hills above Bunchrew, near Inverness, known as the Wolves Den, was valued at £221,000. It was subsequently bought and the new owner said Avis’s wife has left Scotland to move to the USA.
The missing person inquiry became a manhunt for an alleged rapist as sheriff deputies concluded Avis faked his own death in order to avoid the court appearance.
In July 2019 Avis, then aged 55, was traced in Colorado Springs, more than 1,300 miles from where he was said to have disappeared. His discovery was helped by officers following up a report in March that Avis had been spotted in the Big Sur area of Monterey county driving a newer white van.
The search over the intervening five months had involved the local police, The US Marshals Service, Interpol and Scottish authorities to secure an arrest and an extradition warrant for Avis and return him to face justice.
In a statement at the time Monterey County Sheriff’s Office said: “We continued to investigate the case and learned that Avis was out on bail for 24-felony sexual abuse charges pending in Scotland. After speaking with his ex-wife, we became suspicious of the drowning report.”
Avis’s son was re-interviewed and went back to Scotland. He never faced any charges.
John Thornburg, chief deputy at sheriff’s office, told the P&J: “By luck or by design it happens to be a dangerous beach in that it is difficult for swimmers to get out of the water.
“We started search and rescue operations. Our dive team was called out and we launched a drone and the coastguard was also notified along with California State Parks as they have lifeguards and the local fire department.
“We spent a couple of hours searching for him but didn’t locate him. The next day or so we followed up with the son.
“Once we learned who Mr Gordon was, that’s when the allegations in Scotland came to light- that he was wanted on quite a few sexual assault charges.
“We found a backpack at the beach had a work id with a picture – we put that out and got a couple of possible sightings in other parts of Monterey Country and outside also. But none of those panned out.
“During all of this we informed the US Marshals Service whose speciality is looking for wanted fugitives. About a month later they found him in Colorado Springs. He was alive which confirmed what we had suspected about a missing person hoax.
“People asked us ‘ do you think he faked his death to get out of these charges?’ We can never really answer that question – you would have to ask him that. But it would seem on an elementary level that that may have been what he did, but I don’t know. ”
Capt Thornburg added: “We did our part when we thought he was a missing person in the ocean and did everything we could to try to rescue him.
“Then we found out it’s most likely a hoax and he was just trying to evade prosecution which in case it does look like that was what probably he was doing.”
There is no active case against Avis in the US: “The whole goal was to trace him and return him to Scottish authorities so he could face the serious charge.”
Avis eventually went on trial at the High Court in Glasgow in April and was ultimately found guilty of 14 charges.