View Full Version : Crime on the AppalachianTrail

09-05-2002, 09:29
I wonder just how prevalent crime of any sort is on the Appalachian Trail. There has been at least 10 murders and one attempted murder on the Trail since the mid-70's which I imagine (hope?) is a low rate per hiker. While it should not alarm us unduly we should at least be aware of its possibility and past frequency. Any thoughts?

And what about lessor crime not involving loss of life, from simple robbery to attempted murder or rape, which can be almost as devastating as murder?

09-05-2002, 14:52
My husband had a pair of sunglasses swiped from a pounch in his pack at the summit of Mt. Greylock, but we didn't really attribute that to "trail crime" becasue up there is such a public place...our fault for letting our guard down and leaving the pack unattended in a busy spot. Otherwise, we felt safe and unthreatened on the entire trail....

09-05-2002, 19:27
Ive left my pack unatended several times along the trail, for various reasons, and have never had a problem with crime. i usualy only travel in large groups however which im sure is a deterent.

09-06-2002, 07:38
Maybe I'm more trusting. I left my pack at various places all along the trail, and never had it touched. I'd leave it outside stores that I went into. I'd leave it outside restrants. I'd leave it at side trails. No problems.

Hiking the AT restores you faith in mankind.

The Weasel
09-06-2002, 09:04
Well, I'm a little more paranoid. If I went to a restaurant, I sat where I could see my pack, or a store, I'd leave it by the register. Even careful at hostels, especially after a US Marshall came into The Place in Damascus looking for 2 credit card frauds who were cheating their way SOBO (they were caught 3 days later), and who had been there when I first came in.

The Weasel

Hammock Hanger
09-10-2002, 06:49
Highway: As a solo woman the posiblity of rape was never far from my mind, in the begining. As I traveled during peak thru-hiker season the first time I felt protected by the amount of hikers and my trail family. This year I hiked many weeks alone but that fear seemed to have disappeared. I felt safer up on the trail then I did in town. I was raped many years ago, it was on a very busy street, during the early evening hours and I was with another person. It can happen anywhere, it happens less on the trail then in towns/cities.

I knew of one hiker to have his pack stolen, again in a town not on the trail.

As the trail becomes more and more popular I can forsee there possibly becoming an increase in crime. However, the trail is hard work, it is easy to rob, abuse, etc those in town.

You don't need to give every passing hiker your itinerary. If you think that a hiker is strange, move on. Listen to your instincts and inner voice.

For now I can comfortably say the AT is a safe place at least for me.

09-24-2002, 08:32
Highwayman, murders on Appalachian Trail should be no more than 7 or 8, but no less than 4, if I remember correctly. Number 10 is wee bit overstated. :) That's all right; I will check for official figure on AT history of crime that was committed.

Right now, I am reading, The Whole Truth? A Case of Murder on the Appalachian Trail by H.L. Pohlman. It is a by-account of two Lesbian couple in the wood of South Mountain, near Gettysburg, PA. The survivor, Claudia Brenner declined to be interviewed for that book, forego to her own, entitled Eight Bullets: One Woman's Story of Surviving Anti-Gay Violence, written with co-author Hannah Ashley. It was true that this incident begun at Birch Run Shelter, when they were only begun to camp and decided to moved south mid-morning, in hoping that this armed homeless man who were harassed two women, believing this guy Roy Carr would evenly drift away onward AT southbound. Those women-who were deeply in love-took blue blaze Rocky Knob Trail which is off-trail to hike and to tent.

True enough, mistaken were made yet the crime was describe enough-so graphic with horror-which could be avoid easily with their guard down unnecessarily. Why did the couple move on and come back, or go northward to Pine Grove Furnace State Park? But that tragic crime did happened through, it managed to moved me and I pause it from reading, but I was already 74 pages on my first night read. Most continuous and moving book I ever read, into dark Pennsylvanian night which remind me of California night in mist of redwood forest alone. Very moving, and I would want to hear the survivor's version. In any rate, I plan to put memorial flower where the murder took place, through it is unmarked site over at Rocky Knob Trail. My duty to honor this unfortunate tragedy, and make known that it should never happen again.

Now, it is imperative for us to be eyes and ears along AT, in and off trailway corridor. Hammock Hanger's comment on fear is duly noted as I want to hike solo, she also gave me reminder listen to yourself-your instincts to go on; through the Weasel confirm to my paranoid that I share with him of leaving my house-my pack-when my hearing aids does not stay on lookout for my lazy ears; and EarlyRiser is smart to mingle in pack as I plan to travel in group.

Thanks HighwayMan for start this thread. Best of all, I love what Peaks had said, Hiking the AT restores you faith in mankind, precise the purpose to hike AT stands for me. Everybody need to institute their own wisdom and seek what works best. ;)

09-24-2002, 10:11
With a great deal of regret, the number is correct, or at least it was the amount I found when I developed the interest and began searching a few months ago. Excerpts of what I found, copied and pasted, are below:

Facts about Appalachian Trail Murders
Since the 1970s, an estimated 3 to 4 million people a year have been on the Appalachian Trail somewhere for some length of time — so, in the last 30 years, that would be 90 to 120 million visits.

In that time, 10 hikers have been murdered (plus one attempted murder as victim survived) in seven incidents between 1974 and 2001.
In all cases, the killers were caught by local and/or federal authorities (USDA Forest Service or National Park Service) within a relatively short period of time and convicted.

In other words, experience indicates a visitor to the A.T. has a one in 13 to 17 million chance of meeting a violent death. The risks are far higher for a fatal traffic accident en route to the Trail.
Those are, of course, simply statistics — meaningless if you are friend or family to a loved one lost this way.

November 2001 — [Backpacker 0402] Hiker, Louise Chaput, 52, a psychologist from Sherbrook, Quebec, was found stabbed to death about 200 yards from the Glen Boulder Trailhead at the foot of New Hampshire’s Mt. Washington. Chaput began a solo hike in the area on November 15, 2001, and when she failed to return, officials launched a 3-day manhunt. Searchers located her body about a mile south of the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Pinkham Notch Lodge, where she’d scheduled a reservation but never showed up. Police continue to seek Chaput’s backpack, a dark blue internal frame containing a green down sleeping bag, and the keys to her Ford Focus station wagon.

May 1996 — Two women hikers were found slain June 1st, just off the Appalachian Trail near Skyland Lodge in Shenandoah National Park. The bodies were found on National Trails Day by park authorities that had been alerted a day or so before that the women were overdue from a backpacking trip. Killed were Julianne Williams, 24, of St. Cloud, Minn., and Lollie Winans, 26, of Unity, Maine. They were camped about 1.5 miles from Skyland Lodge, in a spot about 25 yards off the trail near a brook. Their dog, a golden retriever/lab mix named Taj, was found nearby, apparently unharmed. A roll of film found among their belongings was developed, and pictures from that roll have been used in posters seeking information from the public. Investigators said the women's throats had been cut but officials would not say if the women were sexually assaulted. In a story published Saturday, July 20, the Washington Post reported that FBI officials are considering the possibility that the women were killed by two or more assailants, not one. New details emerged Saturday that revealed the women's wrists were bound. The Post quoted Stanley Klein, special agent in charge of the FBI's Richmond office, who said one body was found inside their tent and the other was found outside. The women were last seen in the park on May 23, but an autopsy report concluded they died on or after May 27. Investigators have ruled out robbery as a motive.
By Laurie Kellman
Associated Press
April 11, 2002
WASHINGTON — Six years and 15,000 tips after the murder of two women near the Appalachian Trail sent a chill through hikers everywhere, federal prosecutors say they have the killer and will prosecute the case as a hate crime.
Darrell David Rice of Columbia, Md., was indicted for the 1996 slayings of Julianne Williams and Laura “Lollie” Winans, the Justice Department announced Wednesday. Already jailed on an unrelated kidnapping charge, Rice told authorities the women “deserved to die because they were lesbian (expletives),” according to prosecution documents filed in court.
The bodies of Williams, 24, of St. Cloud, Minn., and Winans, 26, of Unity, Maine, were found bound and gagged June 1, 1996, at a creek-side campsite in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park, about a half-mile off the Appalachian Trail. Their throats had been cut.

September 1990 — Thru-hikers Molly LaRue, 25, from Shaker Heights, Ohio, and her boyfriend, Geoffrey Hood, 26, from Signal Mountain, Tennessee, were killed as they woke up at a shelter just off the Trail south of Duncannon, Pa., by fugitive P. David Crews (now under death sentence in Pennsylvania). She was stabbed to death; he was shot. Crews, carrying some of their gear, was arrested eight days later by National Park Service rangers on the A.T. bridge above the Potomac River from Maryland into West Virginia.

May 1988 —On May 13, 1988, Stephen Roy Carr, a so-called mountain man living in Michaux State Forest in south central Pennsylvania, shot two female hikers while they were making love at a campsite near the Appalachian Trail. He proceeded to stalk them as they moved their campsite to a spot off a side trail and shot at them with a rifle from the woods. Rebecca Wight (of Blacksburg, Virginia), 29, died at the scene. Claudia Brenner, 31, of Ithaca, New York, despite five bullet wounds, survived to testify against her attacker. Carr was arrested about 10 days after the crime and sentenced to life in prison.

May 1981 — Thru-hikers Susan Ramsey and Robert Mountford, both from Ellsworth, Maine, and 27, were killed near a shelter in southwest Virginia, 20 miles from Pearisburg, during the night, by Randall Lee Smith, who pleaded guilty to lesser charges and was paroled by Virginia in September 1996. Mr. Mountford was shot at the shelter, and Ms. Ramsey was stabbed to death a short distance away. Although he had made an effort to hide the bodies, Smith was arrested and charged within a matter of weeks.

April 1975 — Thru-hiker Janice Balza, 22, of Madison, Wisconsin, killed by a hatchet wielded by hiker/tree surgeon Paul Bigley, 51, after breakfast at a shelter in northeast Tennessee. He died in state prison in Nashville. He killed her for her pack, a brand he coveted, testimony revealed.

May 1974 — Joel Polsom, 26, of Hartsville, South Carolina, was killed at a shelter in Georgia by Michigan fugitive Ralph Fox, who continued to walk south and then caught a bus to Atlanta, where he was arrested.

The Appalachian Trail is generally a very safe place, but, it is not immune to crime. Hikers may encounter problems, especially near towns and roads.
Two hikers were murdered in Perry County in 1990 and another was killed in Adams County in 1988. A hiker was raped in Franklin County in 1998.

The above info all came from internet sources, some from ATC, the newest from Backpacker. Little info on AT crime is available readily, without searching public records of each county the trail passes through, but since I only wanted an idea I have not taken the time to do so. I am sorry for the gruesome facts, I have edited some, though
:( :(

09-24-2002, 10:30
Just north of Santa Fe is the town of Espanola and just outside that town , on west side, on the way to Colorado,is a small roadside stand, covered in dried chili wreaths for sale, that has the distinction of having the best homemade, corn-wrapped tamales ever put together by human hands!.

I love mexican cooking and there are NO Mexican restaurants in the east. There are many that claim to be, but I have found none that really are. In fact few even know how great Mexican cooking can be because they have never really tasted it. Its a shame . I think they are all in New Mexico:) You are lucky enough to live there and can have it every day.

If you ever go by there, please stop and try one, they are only a dollar, and just tell me about it.

09-24-2002, 20:03
I think that calling the unfortunate death near the Glen Boulder trailhead an AT murder maybe stretching things a bit. Granted, the Glen Boulder trailhead can be used to access the Wildcat Ridge Trail (AT), but I think that most of the hikers who park there probably hike take the short hike to Glen Ellis Falls or the Glen Boulder Trail up Mt. Washington. From the write up from the newspaper and elsewhere, there is no indication that she ever put a foot on the AT.

12-09-2002, 20:26
Just bringing this topic out of the inactive in 30 day

12-12-2002, 03:33
Just looking for any advice regarding safety. My husband and I are planning a thru-hike in 2003. Our paces are very different. I figure that this will change later in the trail, but I know that I will be doing a significant amount of hiking alone in the beginning. I am a tad bit nervous about safety for myself. I am not afraid of animals, since I know that they are more afraid of us than them. But I am a little apprehensive about people with ill intent. Any suggestions?

12-12-2002, 08:50
If there are "people with ill intent," they are mostly found near road crossings. So, if you are nervous, just hang back in the woods a short distance and wait for hubby. Or, have hubby wait for you at all road crossings assuming he is ahead.

The basic rule to staying safe is to listen to your instincts and trust them. If something is creepy, move on.

12-12-2002, 09:13
There are some shelters which are pretty close to roads and that can draw some unsavory characters at times. Many people skip such shelters, although I have had good luck at such places. Many times, the people who come up from the road have a cooler of beer or bottles of wine, etc, and are more than happy to let you share in their cheer.

12-12-2002, 11:29
In addition to my 25 pound pack, I carry claymore mines, an M16, and two frag grenades. Keeps me safe from the onslaught of murderers & rapists... *cough* *sarcasm* *cough*

You have a far greater chance of tripping and smashing your head like a pinata into a million pieces than getting murdered or raped. I suppose you could carry pepper spray, but come on, really...

I had a GPS unit I was messing around with get snatched out of my bag in a shelter. And I was assaulted by a crazy grape-nuts eating hippie when she saw me preparing a bloody hunk of beef for dinner as I made "Moo" sounds. of course I'm tall and wide, so most people won't mess with me anyways. And if anyone did try and stab me, they better get it right the first time, or their going to die a slow painful death as I tear them apart and wear their skin in triumph (that was sarcasm too...).

12-12-2002, 17:12
"In other words, experience indicates a visitor to the A.T. has a one in 13 to 17 million chance of meeting a violent death. The risks are far higher for a fatal traffic accident en route to the Trail."

Yes, but...

For every 1500 thru hikers that spend about 6 months hiking from Maine to Georgia, one thru hiker is murdered by a complete stranger.

Rick B

12-13-2002, 01:28
That Stranger guy posts on this site! Don't know if he is the complete one though.

Blue Jay
12-26-2002, 15:14
Most criminals are lazy, they don't want to work so they steal. They don't want to take the time to develop a serious relationships with women so they attack them. They are not always stupid however. They go to places where there are easy victims. The AT is the last place they want to go. 1 - There are few women there to begin with. 2 - The women that are there are not the victim type, they are strong (and smelly), they will not submit easily. The scum of the earth know this and go to cities where there are far more easy opportunities for their crimes. 3 - There is Trail Majic. If you treat people with kindness, you will be safe, every thing comes back. 4 - After about a month, you can always drop your pack and run, only another thruhiker could possibly catch you and we're not going to drop our packs (we're like bears, we only want your food).

12-27-2002, 21:52
Blue Jay, you mention at the start of your post that most criminals are lazy, yet another reason that few of them are likely to do more than haul some camping gear more than a few miles into the woods. I'm much more concerned about day hikers or people at road crossing than I am about hikers.