Appalachian Trail Histories

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Double Murder on the AT

Appalachian Trail Marker in Shenandoah National Park

Appalachian Trail Marker in Shenandoah National Park

Murder is sadly a common, everyday occurence in civilized society. According to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting statistics, a total of 15,696 murders occured within the United States during the year of 2015 alone. However, there have only been eleven murders along the Appalachian Trail since the early 1970s. Considering that approximately 3 to 4 million people step foot on the Appalachian Trail each year, the number of murders on the trail over the past   40 years has been quite low compared to the rest of the United States. Yet, while murder along the Appalachian Trail is quite rare, there have been quite a few brutal murders that have made trail-goers just a bit more cautious and aware of their surroundings. Listed below are a few of the most recent murders along the Appalachian Trail.

  • In 2011, a hiker named Scott Lilly was found dead on Virginia's portion of the Appalachian Trail. His cause of death was determined to be asphyxia due to suffocation. This murder is still unsolved.

One murder in particular that had a profound effect on hikers was the murder of Julianne Williams and Laura Winans. Julianne "Julie" Williams and Laura "Lollie" Winans were two lively, outdoors-savvy women who chose to hike the Appalachian Trail in Virginia's beautiful Shenandoah National Park in late May of 1996. The two women and their Golden Retriever, Taj, were last seen alive on May 24, 1996. When Julianne Williams failed to return home, a search began in hopes of finding the women alive. However, on June 1st, 1996, the bodies of Williams and Winans were found just a 1/2 mile from the popular Skyland Resort, and only 1/10th of a mile from the main Appalachian Trail. Both of the women's throats were slit. Neither appeared to be sexually assualted. Their dog was found unharmed, wandering the area nearby. 

Though a man named Darrell David Rice was considered as the primary suspect, he was later ruled out as the murderer because of DNA evidence pointing towards an unknown male. This tragic case still remains unsolved twenty years later.

This case prompted an increase of safety and awareness while on the trail, as well as contributed to the promotion of legislation that would help state and local law enforcement investigate cases considered to be hate crimes and prosecute criminals responsible for these types of crimes to the fullest extent of the law. While the murders of Williams and Winans created paranoia and discouraged many hikers, such as women and gays, from going to the trails, the case still positively affected the United States in terms of safety precautions and advanced legislation that would benefit many people like Julianne Williams and Laura Winans in the future.