It was feared Kim Gordon, a familiar figure on the streets of Inverness, had drowned after last being seen at Carmel Beach on Monday.
However, after a three-day search local investigators say they now believe Gordon, also known as Kim Avis, faked his own death and have issued a public appeal in an attempt to find him.
It is understood Gordon, described as being in his 50s, recently flew to California with his 17-year-old son, who is understood to have returned to Scotland after being interviewed twice by the investigation team.
US investigators are understood to have first become suspicious after Gordon’s teenage son was inconsistent with his answers over why the pair had travelled to Monterey County in the first place.
Commander John Thornburg of the Monterey County Sheriff’s Agency said agents were now on the hunt for Gordon.
Speaking to local news broadcasters, Commander Thornburg said: “They’re looking for this individual. It’s their speciality, they’re very good at it.
“We can’t show how they got here. Facts don’t start to match up, more questions start to get asked and that’s how this really started to fall apart for them.” Dive team supervisor Michael Dalington said: “The son didn’t actually see his father go in the water. We don’t have a witness that saw him go in. It’s kind of like a needle in a haystack.”
A spokeswoman for Police Scotland confirmed that Gordon is due in court in Scotland on 11 March on a separate matter.
She said: “We are currently making enquiries.”
A spokesman for the Foreign Office said: “Our staff are assisting the family of a British man who is missing in the United States and are in touch with the local authorities.”
Gordon, who has played guitar and flute as a busker, has previously been described as an ambassador for Inverness when applying for a trader’s licence.
He is said to have raised thousands of pounds for charities like Barnardo’s, Highland Hospice, Oxfam and Save the Children.
It has been reported that Gordon was once hailed an everyday hero after saving a young man who was ready to jump from a roof in Inverness.
It it thought he first lived in a caravan on the outskirts of Inverness after arriving there around 30 years ago. He is reported to have built his own house at Daviot, a village five miles south-east of the city.