Activity On Cole Thomas’ Email Account “Unfortunate Coincidence”

Benson Police Chief Kenneth Edwards released new information late-Monday on email activity on Cole Thomas’ account days after he disappeared last year in the Town of Benson.

Thomas, 22, of Florida was last seen alive on November 25th.  A search warrant that had been sealed by a judge for 90 days disclosed last week there was activity on Thomas’ email account after he disappeared but Chief Edwards called the activity an “unfortunate coincidence.”

Below is the Press Release issued Monday afternoon by Benson Police:

On November 25, 2016, Christopher Cole Thomas was reported as a Missing Person to the Benson Police Department. In the days, weeks, and months that have followed, the Benson Police Department, with assistance from the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, the Johnston County District Attorney’s Office, and other local and state agencies, has been conducting a comprehensive investigation into the circumstances surrounding Cole’s disappearance.

Recently, media outlets reported that an email address associated with Cole Thomas had been accessed and used, after his disappearance.  The NC State Bureau of Investigation and our Police Department became aware of this email activity earlier this year, after reviewing emails from the account of Cole Thomas.  The following is a synopsis of what was learned:

  • On December 8, 2016, a User Account with ETS (Educational Testing Service) was established, with an email address associated with Cole Thomas.
  • On December 8, 2016, the aforementioned ETS account was used to register for a GRE (Graduate Record Examination) General Test, with a testing date of December 30, 2016, in Princeton, NJ.  The $205.00 fee for the test was paid at the same time.
  • Also on December 8, 2016, the aforementioned ETS account was used to register for a GRE Mathematics Test, with a testing date of April 8, 2017, in Ewing, NJ.  The $150.00 fee for the test was paid at the same time.

After ETS was notified about the use of the email account associated with Cole Thomas, they conducted research into the matter, and provided the following information:

  • On December 8, 2016, ETS was conducting training for prospective employees, who were actually employed by a “Temporary Service” at the time of the training.
  • The trainees were learning the ETS software, and were using computers connected to a “non-public” portion of their system.  Essentially, they were in a training environment; not a live one.
  • The trainees were encouraged to use fictitious identities during the training, as they learned how to register attendees for the GRE tests.  According to ETS though, trainees frequently use celebrities, or other known persons of notoriety.
  • One of these trainees created a User Account, using an email address associated with Cole Thomas, and then used this account to register for the two tests.
  • Once the User Account was created, and the tests registered for, the ETS system sent out confirmation emails to the listed email address.
  • ETS was unable to conclusively identify which trainee had set up the account, because there were 22 trainees that day, and they all used a generic login to access the ETS system.
  • ETS confirmed that the test date for the GRE General Test, as well as the test date for the GRE Mathematics Test, were both fictitious.  No tests were scheduled for those dates, at the locations selected.
  • ETS confirmed that the credit card number used to pay for the tests was an “in-house” virtual credit card, and was not associated with Cole Thomas in any way.

ETS subsequently provided a listing of the trainees to investigators, who researched their current situations and backgrounds, and no connection was established between Cole Thomas, and any of the trainees.

Based upon the explanation and information provided by ETS, and the investigative worked conducted locally, it is believed that the use of an email address associated with Cole Thomas was simply an unfortunate coincidence.  There was no indication that Cole Thomas did, or intended to register for either GRE test, and no indication that any trainee possessed any specific information regarding the disappearance.

An application by an SBI agent for the search warrant earlier this year indicated authorities were investigating a possible murder.

Anyone with information on the whereabouts of Cole Thomas is asked to contact Benson Police at 919-894-2091.