"Guys, I got to get out of here."
Randall Lee Smith is an American murderer who was active along the Appalachian Trail in southwestern Virginia.
When he was already six months old, Smith's parents divorced, and, excluding the fifteen years he would later spend in prison, he lived with his mother Loretta, a nurse's aide, until her death in 2000. The Smiths lived in multiple small homes in the unincorporated community of Ingram, located in Pearisburg, Virginia, before settling in a four-room, single-story home, which would become Smith's permanent residence until his death. For the first few years of his life, Smith's mother forced him to wear girls' clothing for unexplained reasons. As a child, Smith kept to himself and never played with the other children. He developed a hobby of collecting arrowheads and spending time out in the wilderness. He attended the local Giles High School, but never played sports or participated in any other school- or community-related events. He later left while in the eleventh grade and traveled between Ingram and the city of Newport News to work as a shipyard welder. Smith often told acquaintances wild and unbelievable stories to others, fabricating, among others, his marriage and family.
1981 Murders and ReleaseEdit
On May 19, 1981, Smith murdered two 27-year-old social workers from Maine, Robert Mountford, Jr., and Laura Ramsay, by stabbing them to death. Their murders were the first double homicide to occur in the Appalachian Trail. At the time, Mountford and Ramsay were hiking the trail to raise funds for the mentally ill. Smith's motive for killing them currently remains in dispute:
- The late prosecutor who led the prosecution against Smith during his trial, along with an acquaintance of Smith's, theorized that Smith, through his virtual lack of inexperience of women, became romantically obsessed with Ramsay because she was friendly to him when they met in a store along the trail. He attempted to flirt with her, but was interrupted by an intervening Mountford. Smith then followed the two back to their camp and killed them.
- A 1985 book written about the murders, Murder on the Appalachian Trail, theorized that Smith was delusional and living a fantasy life because of a troubled childhood. Still, he felt lonely and craved companionship, yet he would lash out at anyone who got too close to him, which could have led to Mountford and Ramsay's deaths.
- Another theory offered by Murder on the Appalachian Trail described Smith as being motivated to attack Mountford and Ramsay because they, as social workers, saw how troubled he was and tried to draw him out, provoking him instead. Some, including a psychology professor, did not find this theory to be credible.
- More recently, researchers believed Smith committed the murders because of how drawn he was to the area. A neighbor recounted that Smith viewed hikers in the Appalachian Trail as "interlopers", and that Smith would make extraordinary efforts to clean litter around the nearby creek.
Regardless of the motive, Smith made efforts to conceal evidence of the murders. After burying Mountford, Ramsay, and their possessions, he traveled along the trail to remove, from multiple shelters, log books that are signed by hikers in the trail. During the investigation into their disappearances, police were pointed to Smith, who was seen with Mountford and Ramsay when they were last seen, and who would tell other hikers that he knew what had happened to them. They later found Mountford and Ramsay's bodies, and identified Smith after they found his fingerprint inside one of Ramsay's paperback novels. Investigators searched his home and found, among other things, a note claiming he had been abducted by two people who were going to kill him. He was eventually tracked down in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Police tricked him into identifying himself via signature, by claiming the bug bites on him were serious and that he required medical attention. While in custody, Smith was noted to be exhibiting dissociative behavior and having forgotten everything about his past, though psychological testing ultimately concluded that he was faking it.
Smith was transported back to Virginia and charged with two counts of murder. On the day before the trial, Smith unexpectedly accepted a plea bargain in which he would plead guilty to two counts of second-degree murder in exchange for a sentence of thirty years in prison. The sentence was met with outrage from the community, especially police officers and the hiking community; hikers protested outside the courtroom the day after, while a spokesman for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (then the Appalachian Trail Conference) said that Smith is the "first person convicted of murdering a hiker who has had the opportunity to leave prison". The election for the local district attorney was affected as a result of the sentencing. During his imprisonment, Smith received only one or two visits from his mother and no one else, and never seemed to make any friends or connections inside the prison. In 1996, fifteen years into his sentence, he was released on mandatory parole for good behavior, which outraged Mountford and Ramsay's families. He returned to Ingram to live with his mother, and wore an electronic monitoring anklet as part of his ten years of supervision.
Later Crimes and DeathEdit
After his mother's death in 2000, Smith's neighbors attempted to befriend him, but they were unsuccessful. In fact, he rarely interacted with anyone in the neighborhood since his parole. Whenever he did talk to others, he continued to make up tall tales about himself. He also resumed doing odd jobs. As time went on, Smith became more and more reclusive, though he continued to interact with hikers on the Appalachian Trail. Eventually, in 2008, as he began to run out of money, he left his home, taking with him only a few belongings, his fishing gear, and his dog. Six weeks later, neighbors finally noticed his absence. Concerned about what Smith might be planning on doing, police put up missing-person posters around town. Meanwhile, on the morning of May 6, Smith and his dog approached 39-year-old fisherman Scott Johnston at Brushy Mountain, equipped with a .22-caliber pistol that he had somehow obtained, and introduced himself as Ricky Williams. Johnston gave him some fish he caught, then pointed him to his campsite, which was coincidentally in the same area where Mountford and Ramsay were murdered.
Two days later, Smith and his dog went to Johnston's campsite and met his friend, 33-year-old Sean Farmer. He befriended both men and ate dinner with them, during which he claimed that he graduated from Virginia Tech and wrote papers for NASA, though Farmer and Johnston did not believe his story. When darkness fell upon the trail, Smith abruptly stood up, walked behind Farmer, and shot him in the head. Then, he turned and shot Johnston in the neck. As Smith was busy shooting Farmer in the chest at point-blank range, Johnston fled; Smith fired at him and hit him in the back of the head, but Johnston escaped. Farmer then fled in his truck while Smith was busy reloading. Farmer picked Johnston up and, with great difficulty, drove themselves over to another home, where Johnston got the owners to call 911. Both men were ultimately transported to Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital, and survived their injuries. One of the homeowners recognized Smith after Johnston described his shooter, and had his grandson retrieve one of the missing-person photos of him from the grocery store. Police interrogated Farmer and Johnston, and Johnston identified Smith as his shooter after being shown the photo.
Meanwhile, Smith had hijacked Johnston's truck and fled back to his own campsite, but was unable to find some of his belongings in the night darkness. He then went back to the road, where he was spotted by a state trooper. After a short car chase, Smith ran off the road and flipped over. He was transported to the same hospital where Farmer and Johnston were at, and placed under constant police surveillance for the next two days while receiving medical attention. During his hospitalization, Smith claimed he shot Farmer and Johnston in self-defense. Afterwards, he was taken to the medical wing of the New River Valley Regional Jail in Dublin. Coincidentally, the assistant superintendent of the jail was once a member of the investigative team that had discovered Mountford and Ramsay's bodies, and also the first officer to respond to Smith's original arrest in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, as he (in another coincidence) had gone there to take a break from the case in the first place. On the evening of May 10, four days after the double shooting, Smith was found unconscious in his room. Despite attempts to revive him, he died at the age of 54; an autopsy ruled that he died of natural causes.
During the 1981 double homicide, Smith shot Robert Mountford, Jr., in the head with a .22-caliber pistol, and stabbed Laura Ramsay repeatedly with a knife and a long nail. Beforehand, Ramsay was bludgeoned with a piece of iron. Afterwards, he placed their bodies in their own sleeping bodies, and then buried them. During the 2008 double shooting, Smith shot Sean Farmer and Scott Johnston twice each with another .22-caliber pistol, without warning, after befriending them and lowering their guard.
- May 19, 1981: Robert Mountford and Laura Ramsay:
- Robert Mountford, Jr., 27 (shot in the head)
- Laura Susan Ramsay, 27 (bludgeoned with a piece of iron, then stabbed thirteen times with a knife and a long nail)
- May 6, 2008: Sean Farmer and Scott Johnston (attempted, but survived; both were non-fatally shot twice each with a pistol):
- Sean Farmer, 33 (shot twice in the head and chest)
- Scott Johnston, 39 (shot twice in the neck)