The Appalachian Trail is usually known as a quiet, serene, and blissful place where ordinary people can go to escape the rigors of urban society. Many different people from all walks of life populate the trail and occasionally interact with each other. As with any congregation of people in the world, undesirable elements of society eventually make their way to the trail and sometimes commit terrible acts. Although murder does not often occur on the trail, there are several notable historical incidents:
- 1974: Joel Polson from South Carolina was murdered in Chattahoochee National Forest near the Low Gap Trail Shelter by Ralph Fox.
- 1975: Janice Balza from Wisconsin was thru-hiking when a man named Paul Bigley killed her with a hatchet for her backpack.
- 1981: Robert Mountford Jr. and Laura Susan Ramsay were killed by Randall Lee Smith (pictured).
- 1988: Rebecca Wright was killed and her partner Claudia Brenner was injured in Pennsylvania State Park when Stephen Roy Carr shot them eight times with a .22 rifle.
- 1990: Geoffrey Hood and Molly LaRue were both tortured and killed by Paul David Crews in Duncannon, PA.
- 1996: Julianne Williams and Lollie Winans were mysteriously killed in Shenandoah National Park. The killer was never found.
- 2001: Louise Chaput from Quebec was killed by an unknown assailant with unknown motives. The killer was never found.
- 2008: Randall Lee Smith, released from jail on his prior AT murder conviction, attempted to murder two fishermen on the AT but was unsuccessful. Smith died from wounds suffered in a car crash while trying to evade authorities.
- 2011: Scott Lilly was suffocated to death by an unknown assailant and for unknown reasons. The killer was never found.
Though horrific, incidents of murder on the Appalachian Trail are extremely rare. The trail sees an annual average of about 4 million visitors which makes the murder rate on the trail substantially lower than that of regular society. Hiking with a partner is always recommended for safety purposes.
To explore the famous 1996 murders of Julianne Williams and Lollie Winans, please visit our other exhibit titled "Double Murder on the Trail."