The runaway bride case was the case of Jennifer Carol Wilbanks (born March 1, 1973), an American who ran away from home on April 26, 2005, in order to avoid her wedding with John Mason, her fiancé, on April 30. Her disappearance from Duluth, Georgia, sparked a nationwide search and intensive media coverage, including some media speculation that Mason had killed her. On April 29, Wilbanks called Mason from Albuquerque, New Mexico, and falsely claimed that she had been kidnapped and sexually assaulted by a Hispanic male and a white woman.
Wilbanks gained notoriety in the United States and internationally, and her story persisted as a major topic of national news coverage for some time after she was found and her safety was assured. Many critics of the mass media attacked this as a "media circus". Howard Kurtz, an influential media critic for the Washington Post and CNN-TV, wrote that the runaway bride had become a "runaway television embarrassment," and he compared the story to a TV soap opera.
Wilbanks's repeating of the false claims to investigating police officers resulted in a felony indictment against her of giving false information to the police, a charge that could have resulted in up to five years of imprisonment. On June 2, 2005, Wilbanks pleaded no contest to this charge. As part of her plea bargain, she was sentenced to two years of probation and 120 hours of community service, and she was also ordered to pay $2,250 in restitution to the Gwinnett County Sheriff's Department. Also as part of the plea bargain, a misdemeanor charge of filing a false police report was dismissed. Wilbanks's criminal record will be expunged if she successfully completes her period of probation.