Thinking About Taking a Hike? Remember These Appalachian Trail Murders Before You Pack

"The trail was designed to have no end, a wild place on which to be comfortably lost for as long as one desired."

Jennifer Tisdale - Author
By

Feb. 27 2024, Published 6:32 p.m. ET

Appalachian Trail sign
Source: Getty Images

The Appalachian Trail is a source of wonder and strife for more than 3 million people each year. It stretches from Katahdin, Maine, to Springer Mt. in Georgia, and spans over 2,000 miles. While most people dip in and out of its many points of entry, some traverse the entire length of the trail. Emma Gatewood started in May 1955 at the age of 67, and finished 146 days later. She was the first woman to do it, said Ben Montgomery about his great aunt while speaking to the Knoxville Mecury in February 2017.

Article continues below advertisement

Nearly two decades after Emma began her journey, the first murder occurred on the Appalachian Trail in 1974. Since then, there haven't been as many as one might assume there would be (13 murders have been reported), but it's still a terrifying notion. Let's take a look at some of the more gruesome Appalachian Trail murders. If this makes you nervous, we won't judge you if you feel the need to take a hike. As Ben wrote, "The trail was designed to have no end, a wild place on which to be comfortably lost for as long as one desired."

Man hiking alone in woods
Source: Getty Images

Joel Polson — 1974

According to Outside magazine, 18-year-old Margaret McFaddin Harritt was waiting tables at a restaurant in Manhattan when Joel Polson walked in. The two formed an unlikely friendship based on his infectious enthusiasm for life. He convinced Harritt to join him on a hike of the Appalachian Trail. Things took a terrible turn when they met a drifter named Ralph Fox who shot and killed Polson and kidnapped Harritt. He let her go three days later and was arrested after she reached police. It was not his first murder and it landed him in prison for life.

Article continues below advertisement

Janice Balza — 1975

Janice Balaza and Paul W. Bigley
Source: YouTube/Worlds End (video still)

Janice Balaza and Paul W. Bigley

A headline in the Greenbay Press-Gazette reads, "Green Bay Woman Slain in Tennessee." That woman was 22-year-old Janice Balza, who was struck down by a hatchet-wielding man who turned himself over to Tennessee police. Per the outlet, she was "hiking alone along an isolated section of the Appalachian Trail near Elizabethton, Tenn.," when she was killed by Paul W. Bigley. He had previously been convicted of aggravated assault in 1972 after violently beating a woman with a washing machine wringer. He was also being treated by a psychiatrist and wanted police to arrest him for fear he would do it again.

Article continues below advertisement

Laura Susan Ramsay and Robert Mountford — 1981

In May 1981 Laura Susan Ramsay and Robert Mountford, both 27 years old, were killed while hiking the trail as part of a fundraiser. The Roanoake Times reported that the two social workers were "found dead near the Wapiti Shelter along Dismal Creek, over the mountain from Pearisburg" in Virginia. Mountford had been shot three times while Ramsay was stabbed over a dozen times. Witnesses later testified they saw Randall Lee Smith speaking with the couple at the shelter. He would later be found guilty and sentenced to two concurrent 15-year sentences.

Article continues below advertisement

Rebecca Wight — 1988

In March 1997, Claudia Brenner spoke at her alma mater about a moment that changed her life forever. She and her girlfriend Rebecca Wight were students at Virginia Tech when they decided to go camping for a weekend along the Appalachian Trail in May 1988, per the Roanoake Times. The couple encountered Stephen Roy Carr several times on their hike. The last time he shot at them both, hitting Brenner five times and Wright twice. Sadly, Wight succumbed to her wounds. It was later deemed a hate crime and Carr was sentenced to life behind bars without possibility of parole.

Article continues below advertisement

Geoffrey Hood and Molly LaRue — 1990

Molly LaRue and Geoffrey Hood
Source: YouTube/Worlds End (video still)

Molly LaRue and Geoffrey Hood

In July 2022, Paul David Crews died of natural causes at the age of 70 in a Pennsylvania prison, reported Penn Live. One secret that he took to his grave is his motive for killing 26-year-old Geoffrey Hood and 25 year-old Molly LaRue in September 1990. The couple was "halfway through their 2,180-mile trip from Maine to Georgia when they paused to rest in Pennsylvania," per the outlet. LaRue was "found tied, raped, and stabbed, including wounds to her back and neck," while Hood had been shot three times.

Advertisement
More from Distractify

Latest Human Interest News and Updates

    Opt-out of personalized ads

    © Copyright 2024 Distractify. Distractify is a registered trademark. All Rights Reserved. People may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website. Offers may be subject to change without notice.