Maine author investigates 1996 murders of hiker couple in ‘Trailed’
Six years ago, journalist Kathryn Miles was commissioned to do an article for Outside magazine that she thought was fairly simple, about the unsolved murder of two women killed while hiking in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia in 1996.
The hook for the story was that the FBI had just put out a call for more information. He was looking for leads that would help solve the murders of Laura “Lollie” Winans, 26, a student at Maine’s Unity College, and his girlfriend, Julianne Williams, 24. They had been bound and gagged and their throats slit.
Authorities had arrested a suspect, Darrell Rice, and in 2002 Attorney General John Ashcroft made headlines when he announced he would seek the death penalty for Rice under new federal hate crimes legislation. September 11th. But two years later, the government suspended his case and he seemed to cool down.
Miles, who lives in the Belfast area, thought she would write about 2,500 words on the case with the latest updates and that would be the end of her time on the story. Instead, she found a story she connected with deeply and couldn’t let go. She spent over four years poring over case files and evidence, talking to lawyers, family, friends and anyone she could find to shed light on the mystery.
The result is Miles’ latest book, “Trailed: One Woman’s Quest to Solve the Shenandoah Murders” (Algonquin). It will go on sale May 3. Printing: A bookstore in Portland plans to host a book conference with Miles, but details are still being worked out.
“It’s a story that shook me from the start. I was around the same age as them and I think our stories merged,” said Miles, 47.
Miles grew up in Peoria, Illinois, where his two godparents worked for the local newspaper, the Journal Star. By the time she was a junior in high school, she was working as a part-time reporter at the Journal Star, having made a deal with her high school to let her spend half her days there.
“I think they were happy to get rid of me,” she said. on school officials.
She continued to work summers at the newspaper as she pursued a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Saint Louis University and then a master’s and doctoral degree in English from the University of Delaware. She sued the latter to give her the flexibility to teach, report, and write longer plays. She came to Maine in 2001 to teach environmental studies and writing at Unity College in Unity, near Waterville.
She left Unity in 2015 to write full-time, including for magazines. Her previous four books include “Adventures with Ari,” about trying to see the world through her dog’s eyes; “All Standing,” the story of a “coffin ship” carrying Irish people trying to escape their country’s famine in the 1840s; “Superstorm”, about Hurricane Sandy in 2012; and “Quakeland,” which explores seismic threats in the United States.
Miles arrived at Unity, a small, environmentally-focused college, about five years after Winans and Williams were murdered. So she heard about Winans first hand and saw the pain his unsolved murder caused among the teachers and students there.
But as she told the story, she felt a deeper connection to both victims. Like them, she had been the victim of a sexual assault – what she describes as a “date rape” type of assault that occurred as a teenager and which she discusses in the book. She said Winans and Williams were sexually abused earlier in life and both found solace and strength outside. Miles too.
“I assumed I had done something wrong, so I didn’t tell anyone for a long time. One of the ways I dealt with it was to hike, learn about my body as a place of competence,” Miles said.
Winans and Williams had met as interns at Woodswomen, an outdoor education program run for and by women in Minnesota and both had organized nature trips. Williams was from St. Cloud, Minnesota, and attended Carleton College in that state, while Winans grew up in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, and studied at Sterling College in Vermont before transferring to Unity College around 1994. to study outdoor recreation.
Williams and Winans started a hiking trip in May 1996, in Shenandoah National Park, and they took Winans’ golden retriever. In late May, after Williams did not return home as planned, her father alerted the authorities. The dog was found wandering in the woods and the women’s bodies were eventually found at their campsite.
A vibrator and various essential oils were found at the murder site, and Miles and others believe the killer was trying to make a statement about the women and their romantic relationship. Miles thinks it’s likely the killer had a gun and it was used to subdue the women before binding and gagging them with duct tape.
“It was an incredibly horrific scene. Everything that was done was precise and sophisticated,” Miles said.
A SOLVABLE CRIME
But the suspect investigators focused on, Rice, was acting in ways that weren’t precise or sophisticated, Miles said. He had been spotted in the park a year after the murders throwing bottles at a woman on a bicycle, shouting profanity at her and running her off the road with his truck. The police arrested him for trying to abduct this woman.
During her reporting, Miles became convinced that the case had been mishandled and that far too much time had been spent on Rice.
Miles pored over the evidence and spoke at length with Deirdre Enright, Rice’s former attorney and founder of the Innocence Project at the University of Virginia School of Law. Enright said when Miles first called, she ignored her. She felt that most reporters were not interested in diving deep into the facts of the case. But Miles convinced Enright that she was ready for it.
“She revealed to me that she had the facts. She had read the whole court filing, which was not easy. And she wasn’t coming to it with presumptions,” Enright said.
Over the course of her reporting, Miles has come to form a strong opinion about who the prime suspect should be, a theory she shares with Enright. The two name Richard Evonitz, a serial killer who died by suicide in 2002, as the likely killer of Williams and Winans.
A few months after his death, police in Spotsylvania County, Va., announced that hair and other evidence proved Evonitz had killed at least three girls, ages 12 to 15, who had been abducted from their home in 1996 and 1997. But before he died, Evonitz called his sister and told her he had committed more crimes than he could remember. Miles said Evonitz was known to have a “murder kit”, which he carried with him, including supplies like duct tape, gloves, restraints and lubricants.
Miles and Enright claim that the FBI did not use the full power of DNA testing technologies now available to see if Evonitz could be linked to the Winans and Williams murders.
“The crime is so solvable,” Miles said.
The FBI issued another appeal for information about the murders last year, on the 25th anniversary, with posters and online queries. At present, the investigation is “active and ongoing,” said Dee Rybiski, public affairs specialist and congressional liaison for the FBI in Richmond, Va., in an email to the Press Herald. With the investigation still open, the FBI will not comment on the details of the case.
“Over the years, our office has received and thoroughly investigated leads generated by FBI publicity on this investigation and will continue to do so until the person(s) responsible for these murders are brought to justice.” , wrote Rybiski.
Miles hopes the book will bring attention to murder and wilderness safety, as well as wrongful arrests and convictions. She admits that dealing with the disturbing facts of the murders has not been easy.
“The number of people telling me they’ve never hiked since the murders (of Willams and Winans) is obscene,” Miles said. “I can never get rid of the crime scene footage. Reporting this has been expensive. »
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