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Man who killed hikers in '81 suspected in shootings
Thursday, May 08, 2008 - 12:09 AMUpdated: 06:57 AM
By REX BOWMAN
TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER
A Giles County man paroled from prison after serving 14 years for killing two hikers on the Appalachian Trail in 1981 now is suspected of shooting two campers just off the trail in Giles on Tuesday.
Randall Lee Smith, 54, was in a Roanoke hospital yesterday after crashing a pickup truck in Giles, Sgt. Michael Conroy of the Virginia State Police said.
The truck belongs to one of the two wounded men, both of whom were airlifted to a hospital.
One, identified as Scott Johnston of Bluefield, was in serious but stable condition at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital, hospital spokesman Eric Earnhart said. The condition and location of the other victim, identified as Sean Farmer of Tazewell, could not be determined last night.
Investigators said the two men were at a campsite just off the Appalachian Trail at Dismal Creek in the Jefferson National Forest when Smith opened fire on them Tuesday night.
Smith drove off in the truck, and the two wounded men drove another car at the campsite, known as the Lion's Den Campground, to a house in neighboring Bland County, where they called a rescue squad, investigators said.
The campsite is not far from where Smith killed two Maine hikers in 1981. The two hikers were walking the trail to raise money for retarded and troubled youths.
Laura Susan Ramsay, 27, was stabbed more than a dozen times and bludgeoned to death. Robert Mountford Jr., 27, was shot three times. The murders served as the basis for the 1984 novel "Murder on the Appalachian Trail."
In 1982, Smith pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree murder -- the chief prosecutor was uncertain he had enough evidence for a first-degree murder conviction -- and, as part of an agreement, he was sentenced to 30 years in state prison. He was paroled in 1996 after serving about 14 years.
After prison, Smith returned to Pearisburg, where he moved in with his mother, who died eight years ago, according to neighbors. Yesterday, Sherman Smith, an unrelated neighbor on Virginia Street, said Smith kept to himself.
"Nobody would hire him, so he never had a job," Sherman Smith said. "I'll miss the dog more than I'll miss him."
Yesterday, authorities closed a 25-mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail from Pearisburg to state Route 606 in Bland. Roger Holnback, head of the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club, which maintains 136 miles of the trail, said volunteers were shuttling hikers around the closed area.
"I just hope this doesn't reflect bad on the trail," Holnback said. "It was quite traumatic and sad news, and when something happens in proximity to the trail, people start to think it's unsafe."
Contact Rex Bowman at (540) 344-3612 or email@example.com.
Pull your heads out, people. When bad things happen on the trail it IS unsafe!