Appalachian Trail Histories



Robert Mountford Jr. and Laura Susan Ramsay

Robert Mountford Jr. and Laura Susan Ramsay, both murdered in 1981 on the AT.

Randall Lee Smith

Randall Lee Smith, convicted murder photographed in 1973.

Randall Lee Smith

Randall Lee Smith in 2008 after sustaining injuries in a car crash following another attempted double-murder on the AT.

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 killed by Paul David Crews near Duncannon, PA.
  • 1996: Julianne Williams and Lollie Winans were killed in Shenandoah National Park near the Skyland Resort, but not on the Appalachian Trail. 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:┬áMeredith Emerson was abducted on a side trail on Blood Mountain in Georgia, by Gary M. Hilton, who killed her several days later.
  • 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.