"Trail Group Reacts to Murder"
This is a newspaper article from the Harrisonburg Daily News-Record that reveals how hikers have altered their beliefs of the trail after the 1996 double murders of Julianne Williams and Laura Winans. What used to be considered a "sanctuary" now made hikers paranoid and more cautious.
Subject1996 Shenandoah National Park Murder Victims Julianne Williams and Laura Winans on the Appalachian Trail
RightsHarrisonburg Daily News-Record
"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