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"Talk of The Trail"
By DEREK BARR News-Record Staff Writer
Daily News-Record (Harrisonburg, VA) - June 10, 1996.
Hikers Step Up Their Guard In Aftermath Of Slayings
By DEREK BARR News-Record Staff Writer SHENANDOAH NATIONAL PARK -- The slaying of two female hikers in Shenandoah National Park isn't keeping people from the park, but it was definitely the main topic of conversation among visitors Wednesday.
"We're normally a little paranoid, now we'll be very paranoid," said Dan Braun of New York City, who was traveling through the park with his wife Mary and their young son.
Authorities Wednesday weren't releasing much new information on the deaths of Julianne Williams, 24, of St. Cloud, Minn., and Lollie Winans, 26, of Unity, Maine. The women were found Saturday with their throats slashed at their campsite off Skyline Drive near milepost 42, close to Skyland Lodge.
Terry Lewis of the Bureau of Land Management, serving as information officer for the incident, said officials still weren't releasing any details such as the time of death, whether the women were robbed and whether the condition of the site indicated a struggle. Medical tests are still being conducted, he said.
"It's a wide-open investigation," said Lewis.
The area near the women's campsite was still cordoned off Wednesday, and a ranger was posted nearby to discourage any curious onlookers. The woods were being combed by agents of the FBI and National Park Service, but none would comment on the case.
Lewis said flyers bearing the women's pictures were being prepared and will be handed out to park visitors in the hope that someone who may have seen them will provide new information. Williams and Winans were last seen May 24; their camping permit, obtained May 22, indicated they were to leave the park May 27.
Anyone with information on the women is urged to call toll-free 1- 888-856-2467. The Park Service had initially given an incorrect number, Lewis said.
The women were traveling with a golden retrieverLabrador mix named Taj, who was found unharmed in the area and is being cared for by the Park Service, he said.
The Brauns were camping Sunday night between Luray and Front Royal. After hearing of the killings, they had decided to refrain from camping, but they were haggling over that decision Wednesday.
"If we do camp, it will be where there's a lot of people," Mary Braun said.
Although officials have said there is nothing to indicate the slayings are anything other than an "isolated incident," Lewis said no conclusions should be drawn either way. The park hasn't been closed, but officials are concerned about hikers, he said. Authorities have not said whether they have any suspects or whether they believe the apparent killer -- or killers -- remains in the park.
Extra security has been brought in to inform visitors, and notices were posted throughout the park citing safety tips for back-country users.
Lewis said he expects some back-country users are worried, and he hopes that will make them cautious.
"I'm sure there is (concern among hikers). I hope there is," he said.
Shenandoah National Park officials have been in contact with other national parks for information on any similar incidents, said Lewis, but he added that no links had been found.
Hilary Bralove and Ina Szwec, both of West Palm Beach, Fla., had planned to ride bicycles and hike through Shenandoah National Park, but news of the slayings effectively canceled those plans.
"We'd feel much better about hiking if this hadn't happened," Bralove said Wednesday.
"I keep hearing that music from `Deliverance,' " Szwec added.
Bralove said that she let Szwec get ahead of her on a trail, then she used a deep voice and yelled "Hey!" With that, Szwec jumped into the air, Bralove said.
Al and Char Appel are from Minneapolis, in Williams' home state. They just got to the park Wednesday and spotted a bear. They said they're not concerned about the slayings, but added that they're not camping in the park.
"We're not worried," Appel said.
"I got more scared when we saw the bear," his wife said.
Park officials recommend that back-country users hike in groups of two or more; tell family and friends of your itinerary and timetable; be cautious of strangers, especially inquisitive ones, and tell no one of your route or planned camping location; and do not set up campsites near roads or developed areas.
"Trail Group Reacts to Murder"
By DAN McCAULEY News-Record Staff Writer
Daily News-Record (Harrisonburg, VA) - June 10, 1996.
Hikers who find recreation in the outdoors are saying last week's throat-slashing killing of two women in Shenandoah National Park has brought out a sense of violation and the loss of a place that had seemed free of crime and violence.
Daily News-Record (Harrisonburg, VA) - June 10, 1996
That's the sentiment of Bryant King, spokesman for the Appalachian Trail Conference, an organization headquartered in Harpers Ferry, W.Va.
"There's a sense of intrusion or invasion," King said. "What's being violated is the expectation that's deeply rooted in outdoor recreation people -- and that's the believe that this is a sanctuary."
Last week, the bodies of Julie Williams, 24, and Lollie Winans, 26, were found in a campsite near Skyland Lodge in the national park. Discovery of the bodies started a week-long investigation into the women's death and a printing of a poster offering a $25,000 reward leading to the arrest and conviction of whoever is responsible.
King said trail hikers are giving whatever information they have to law enforcement officials investigating the killings.
Meanwhile, investigators are reportedly looking into statements made by employees of Skyland Lodge that they saw the women just two days before the bodies were found in the camp.
The sightings would indicate the women were alive nearly a week later than the May 23 that authorities have said was the last time that Williams and Winans were last seen. The women had been due to leave their campsite May 26, but authorities have not indicated when they were killed.
"I definitely remember the brunette (Williams) because she was so pretty. I'm sure it was her," Becky Knighting, a server at the Skyland Lodge restaurant, told The Washington Post.
She said she was "almost certain" she saw the women in the restaurant on May 30 or 31.
Debbie Taylor, another server, said she saw two women resembling Williams and Winans as she headed for her evening shift at the restaurant May 30. She said the two women and a dog were standing next to a group of eight to 10 backpackers who had gathered outside the restaurant.
Terry Lewis, a park spokesman, said Friday he could not verify the witnesses' statements given to the FBI.
King, meanwhile, said he thinks the two women's death has brought a realization to hikers that their trail also is accessible to others and it may not be as safe as once thought.
"It's a clash of expectations with reality -- the reality that the trail is as accessible to jerks or creeps as it is to people who truly enjoy the trail and the outdoors. That's something a lot of people probably hadn't thought about.
"I'm constantly amazed at how deep-rooted that expectation is. People who go hiking or walking in the woods for any reason might make an assumption that the national parks are safe from the problems and threats in everyday life," King said.
The killing of Williams, a Minnesota resident, and Winans, a Maine resident, prompted the National Park Service to issue advisory statements to hikers and back-country campers about ways to reduce their risks of being victims of crime.
But King repeated that feelings of being violated are stronger for hikers than fears of being attacked and killed.
"It's not fear, as we keep seeing in some headlines," he said. "Yes, there's a little more apprehension and people are hiking in larger groups. But mostly, they're just bummed out that there is another bit of peace and sanctuary lost.
"An analogy I heard the other day is about the fellow that went into the mosque in Israel and shot everybody up. That was instinctively more of a violation than if he had done the same thing on the sidewalk outside. And if these two women had been murdered in downtown Harrisonburg, would we be talking it the way we are?" King said.
While trail hikers may be discussing the killings as they walk the Appalachian Trail, park and law enforcement officials hope to get the message about the two women to a large group through a poster that has been printed.
The poster features photographs of the two women and their companion dog, Taj.
It is still being distributed to places where hikers may go such as visitors center in the park, area restaurants and other stops along the Appalachian Trail, said Lyn Rothgeb, spokeswoman for the park. She said the posters probably will not be distributed over a wide area until next week.
Posters have been placed in both Skyland and Big Meadows lodges -- private businesses in the national park -- and managers there said the posters are being noticed by guests, but little or no comments are being made about the incident.
Beth Good, manager of Skyland, and Nick Smith, Big Meadows manager, both said news of the killings has not prompted anyone to stay away this weekend.
"Business is pretty much normal for this time of year," she said.
King said most of the hikers who were in the Skyland area last weekend and during the week to see the investigation by national park rangers should be getting to the Appalachian Trail headquarters by this weekend. Having them there could prompt discussions of what happened to Williams and Winans.
So far, King said he has not heard a great deal of discussion of killings.
"It's not excessive. It's not overwhelming," he said, "but it's there."
Meanwhile, a homosexual rights group is pressing the Justice Department to investigate the possibility that two women hikers who died of slashed throats were victims of anti-gay violence.
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force said a letter sent Friday to Attorney General Janet Reno suggested that the killers of Julianne Williams and Lollie Winans may have believed them to be lesbians.
"We are asking for your help to insure that the FBI and the National Park Service are diligent in investigating all aspects of these crimes, including the possibility that the murders were motivated by anti-lesbian bias," wrote Melinda Paras, director of the task force.
Associated Press material is included in this story.
I definitely remember the brunette (Williams) . . . I'm sure it was her. Skyland employee
"Gay Group Wants Bias Angle Known"
Daily News-Record (Harrisonburg, VA) - June 17, 1996
By RICHARD PRIOR News-Record Staff Writer
A homosexual advocacy group is not looking for "special treatment" in the investigation of two slain women hikers, but wants to make sure the public is aware that anti-lesbian bias may have motivated the killer, a spokesman said Wednesday.
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in Washington, D.C., has gotten no response to a letter sent Friday to Attorney General Janet Reno, asking her to consider that the deaths of Lollie Winans and Julianne Williams may have been hate crimes, task force spokesman Tracey Conaty said Wednesday.
Searchers found the bodies of Winans and Williams, who were hiking together, June 1 near the Appalachian Trail in Shenandoah National Park. Both women's throats had been cut.
"We're not asking for any special treatment, but if the motivation is bias, we do want that revealed; we don't want that aspect ignored," Conaty said.
The organization was spurred to send the letter after reading statements in the media that anti-lesbian bias might have initially been ruled out.
"If that's the case, we want to know why," Conaty said. "We're not saying it was (a hate crime). We just have the responsibility to make sure that possibility's not ignored."
An FBI agent said Wednesday that investigators have "ruled out no motive" in the case.
According to The Associated Press, a Presbyterian minister in Burlington, Vt., identified Winans and Williams as lesbians. The Rev. Rebecca Strader, whose congregation reportedly welcomes homosexuals, was quoted in The Washington Blade, a newspaper that serves the gay and lesbian community.
Strader has an unlisted telephone number and has been unavailable for comment.
The women met through an outdoors organization and arranged their hiking trip several weeks ago.
"One of the important reasons for getting these crimes designated accurately is that we need to know the extent that they're happening," Conaty said. "People need to know the risk is out there.
"When they don't get talked about honestly, people are misled into believing they're not a problem."
At least one of the mothers of the latest victims learned of her daughter's lesbian lifestyle only after her death, news reports indicated.
Anti-lesbian bias has been blamed for at least one other killing along the Appalachian Trail, the AP has reported. Claudia Brenner reportedly survived five shots, but her companion, Rebecca Wight, died in a hail of gunfire in 1988 near Gettysburg, Pa. They were shot after reportedly performing a lesbian sex act alongside a stream.
They were shot several times by a man who observed the act. He is is now serving a life sentence for the attack. He reportedly lived in a cave near the scene of the shooting.