THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT Copyright (c) 1996, Landmark Communications, Inc. DATE: Wednesday, June 5, 1996 TAG: 9606050359 SECTION: FRONT PAGE: A1 EDITION: FINAL SOURCE: STAFF AND WIRE REPORT LENGTH: 134 lines
You meet a hardy lot along the Appalachian Trail, some of whom are intent on braving all the perils of 2,159 miles of woods and mountains on a hike from Maine to Georgia.
But the slayings of two women - both accomplished backpackers and campers - just off the trail in Virginia's Shenandoah National Park has shaken people who sought peace and challenge in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
``I'm definitely going to be looking over my shoulder on this hike,'' said Cindy Clymer, 42, of Charlotte, who was hiking with her husband and their 21-month-old son near Dark Hollow Falls off the scenic Skyline Drive. ``I don't know who's going to get me out there.''
Park rangers found the bodies of Julianne Williams, 24, of St. Cloud, Minn., and Lollie Winans, 26, of Unity, Maine, Saturday in a backcountry campsite off a side trail within three miles of the popular Skyland Lodge.
Autopsies revealed that the women died after their throats were cut, but investigators refused to say whether they had been sexually assaulted. A golden retriever named Taj, which had been with the women on the trail, was found unharmed in the woods nearby.
Knowledgeable hikers said it's important to keep the murders in perspective.
The Appalachian Trail Conference, an organization based in Harpers Ferry, W.Va., that maintains and manages the trail, says4 million people visit or hike the trail each year, yet there have been only nine murders on or near it in 22 years.
``There is an expectation sometimes that the trail is a sanctuary from the creeps of the world, and it's not,'' said Brian King, a spokesman for the group.
``People should always keep their street smarts with them,'' King said. ``I think if people take normal precautions about strangers, that will serve them well.''
The enormously popular trail draws hikers from all over the Eastern seaboard, including Hampton Roads.
``We have a very, very active hiking community here,'' said Lillie Gilbert, owner of Wild River Outfitters, an outdoor-supply store in Virginia Beach.
Local hikers are ``extremely concerned'' about the murders, she said.
One of her employees, Kenny Harrah, is on the trail now. He set out from southwestern Virginia in early May, bound for the trail's northern end at Mount Katahdin, Maine.
Harrah telephoned Gilbert on Tuesday from northern Pennsylvania. He hadn't heard about the murders in Virginia.
But ``he said it would not change his attitude about hiking the trail,'' Gilbert said. She said Harrah told her: ``You've always got to be careful, stay alert and be aware of what's around you.''
Reese Lukei, past president of the Tidewater Appalachian Trail Club, said violence on the trail attracts disproportionate attention because it is so unusual.
``The reason, I guess, it gets so much attention is that it's the last place in the world you'd ever expect something like this to happen,'' he said.
Both victims were trained wilderness camping and hiking guides.
``They wanted to help other people learn to be in the outdoors,'' said Peggy Willens, spokeswoman for Woodswomen, a Minneapolis, Minn.-based adventure-travel vacation organization for women.
The women worked as interns for the group last summer, leading outdoor programs in Minnesota.
``They were both very experienced outdoorswomen,'' Willens said.
Cindy Clymer was so frightened and angry about the slayings that she and her husband decided not to camp in the Shenandoah National Park on Tuesday night.
``That person could still be lurking around,'' Clymer said.
Porter Teejarden, 23, of Providence, R.I., and two of her girlfriends thought twice about continuing their hike in Virginia when they heard about the slayings.
``For women it's real depressing because men don't have to worry about this half as much,'' Teejarden said.
Park officials and trail organizations already have begun receiving calls from people worried about loved ones on the trail.
``I've gotten calls mostly from parents who are nervous. This morning I got a call from a man in Vermont who was very worried about his 18-year-old daughter, who is hiking the trail alone,'' said Wilson Riley, director of administration of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club.
Nobody has canceled reservations for primitive cabins the club maintains along the trail, but hikers are much more safety-conscious, Riley said.
``People are asking us, `What should we do,' and we tell them to take whatever precautions they feel are necessary,'' Riley said. ``You are alone and out of sight of others and if someone has criminal intent, there's really no one around to witness it.''
Murder usually comes in pairs along the Appalachian Trail. Of the nine people killed on or near the trail since 1974, all but three died in double slayings, according to the Appalachian Trail Conference. In another case, two women were attacked but one survived.
In 1990, hikers were warned to stay off the trail in Pennsylvania after a young couple ``through-hiking'' - walking the trail's entire length - were slain in a mountaintop shelter in Perry County, Pa. Paul David Crews of LaRue, S.C., is awaiting execution in Pennsylvania for those killings.
Two years before, a man frightened two women off the trail and shot them in Michaux State Forest in south-central Pennsylvania. One woman died.
Stephen Roy Carr was sentenced to life in prison without parole in the shootings.
In May 1981, a man and woman through-hiking from Maine to Georgia were killed in a remote lean-to near Pearisburg, Va. Randall Lee Smith, who pleaded guilty to lesser charges in the deaths, is due for mandatory release from a Virginia prison in September.
A Wisconsin woman hiking the trail was hacked to death by a hatchet-wielding man at a Tennessee shelter in April 1975; her attacker died in prison. A 26-year-old man was killed at a shelter in Georgia in May 1974.
The ``A.T.'' occasionally has presented other perils. In 1990, through-hikers were warned not to camp along a 14-mile stretch of the footpath in Tennessee after fish-hook booby traps appeared there, apparently the work of local landowners embroiled in a dispute with the federal government. A trail shelter was burned to the ground along the same stretch of trail that summer.
Last year, there were 15 homicides in national parks, which cover 83 million acres, said National Park Service spokeswoman Anita Clevenger. MEMO: This story was compiled from reports by staff writer Bill Sizemore
and The Associated Press. ILLUSTRATION: Autopsies revealed that hikers Julianne Williams,
left, and Lollie Winans died after their throats were cut.
MURDERS ON THE APPALACHIAN TRAIL
The trail stretches 2,159 miles from Maine to Georgia.
May 1974: Joel Polsom, 26, killed.
April 1975: Janice Balza, 22, killed in a Tennessee shelter.
May 1981: Susan Ramsey, 27, and Robert Mountford, 27, killed in a
May 1988: Rebecca Wight, 29, of Blacksburg, Va., frightened off
trail and shot.
Sept. 1990: Molly LaRue, 25, of Shaker Heights, Ohio, and
Geoffrey Hood, 26, shot
May 1996: Julianne Williams, 24, of St. Cloud, Minn., and Lollie
Winans, 26, of Unity, Maine, killed at a campsite off a side trail.
Source: Appalachian Trail Conference
KEYWORDS: MURDER APPALACHIAN TRAIL by CNB