Man Charged with Hikers’ Deaths

Belle writes: WINA is reporting that a federal grand jury in Charlottesville has indicted a Maryland man for the murder of two hikers in Shenandoah Natioanal Park. 34 year old Darrell Rice is charged in deaths of Julianne Williams and Lollie Winans who were murdered in May, 1996. The charges against Rice are classified as hate crimes. The investigation has been of particular interest to gay-rights groups.

This case was also of particular interest to those of us hiking the Appalachian Trail in 1996.

16 Responses to “Man Charged with Hikers’ Deaths”


  • Is this a federal “hate crime” because the crimes were committed in a national park (per the Hate Crime Sentencing Enhancement Act; 28 U.S.C 994)?

    And the WINA says that the victims were allegedly killed because of their gender. I thought the suspicion was that the killer was motivated by hatred for these gals’ sexual orientation.

    Anyone know anything, or recall any specifics of the case?

  • I pulled up several links on Yahoo when I typed in “hikers” + “lesbians” + “murder.”

    This site has some information about the murders.

  • Here are ten stories, from various newspapers, about the killings.

    And here are two more.

  • From the AP news-wire:

    The indictment charged Rice with the slaying of each woman, and said that in each case the defendant “intentionally selected” the victim “because of the actual or perceived gender or sexual orientation.”

    Rice had been held in jail in Charlottesville since 1999 in connection with an unrelated abduction case, authorities said.

    So, what do we think: a jail-house snitched ratted a talkative Rice out; or was it some sort of DNA match that broke this case?

  • For roughly a week in July of 1996, I hiked with the prime suspect in the case. His name was Phillip. He was filthy (moreso than the average thru-hiker :), carried a beat-up old rucksack and a huge bright orange sleeping bag. A trail bum. He claimed to have been hiking since Springer Mountain, but had no knowledge of any area south of roughly Damascus, Virginia, the southernmost AT town in Virginia.

    The folks that I was hiking with at the time became suspicious of him. (It should be noted that we were all pretty paranoid after the murders. A lot of people — mostly females — left the trail that June out of fear. Those of us left tended to hike in groups and carry large knives.) We called the FBI (I had a cell phone) and spent a while explaining the situation.

    The FBI chewed it over for awhile and decided that this could be their man. The problem, however, was that they couldn’t really investigate him. It would be impossible for them to get an agent that could blend in with hikers — it would simply be impossible for them to quickly train somebody to have all knowledge of the first 500 miles of the A.T. So we volunteered, and the FBI accepted.

    We had pretty specific instructions. We should never be alone, always in groups of 2 or more. Don’t hike with him in the sense of step by step, but try to be near the shelters that he was at. Stay alert. Carry cellphones. (It turned out that most of us had them in our bags for emergencies.) Gather information, but don’t play detective. Check in with them daily.

    After a week, we had a pretty good hunch that this was the guy. He carried a huge, huge knife. He could start a fire in seconds. He was fiercely anti-social, definitely insane, and had quite a temper. He was obviously hiding, and figured the AT would be a good place to do so. We arranged a meeting with the FBI in the next town, on the condition that they buy us breakfast. (Hey, we’re hikers. :)

    It turned out that Phillip was, in fact, a wanted murderer. Just not the wanted murderer. He’d escaped from an Oregon insane asylum, where he’d been placed for murdering somebody…I think his mother or sister or something. They arrested him and dragged him back west, and our role in the investigation ended.

    And that’s my story.

  • Interesting…the articles seem unclear as to whether the hate crime angle is because of their gender or their sexual orientation. If it’s the latter, it seems reasonable to assume that the killer must have known these two woman and hunted them down, unless he simply assumed that two woman hiking a trail must be lesbian by default.

    As for gender hate crimes, are all rapes prosecuted as hate crimes?

  • Wow, that’s really crazy. I wouldn’t believe it if, well, it wasn’t you.

    I think you can take the liberty of modding your own comment as “interesting.”

  • Suspect Indicted in Hikers’ Deaths

    Wed Apr 10, 1:26 PM ET

    By LAURIE KELLMAN, Associated Press Writer

    WASHINGTON – Law enforcement authorities believe they solved the nearly 6-year-old case of two female hikers slain in a federal park, based in part on statements a man made while serving time on another charge.

    Darrell David Rice was indicted Tuesday for the 1996 slayings of Julianne Williams and Laura “Lollie” Winans, the Justice Department (news – web sites) announced, saying the defendant targeted them because he believed they were gay.

    The bodies of Williams, 24, of St. Cloud, Minn., and Winans, 26, of Unity, Maine, were found bound and gagged near the Appalachian Trail on June 1, 1996, at a secluded creek-side campsite in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park.

    Already incarcerated on attempted abduction charges in Petersburg, Va., Rice made statements in prison that he intentionally selected women to assault “because they are more vulnerable than men,” according to government court documents filed in Charlottesville, Va.

    Prosecutors also charged in the papers that Rice “hates gays” and that he said Williams and Winans “deserved to die because they were lesbian.”

    Federal authorities had automatic jurisdiction in the case because the slayings took place on U.S. government land. A federal hate-crimes law covers race and religion, but not sex or sexual orientation; an effort to add those categories failed two years ago.

    The Justice Department was able to push for a hate-crimes type of indictment in this case, however, because sentencing guidelines permitted a harsher punishment if a crime was motivated by sexual orientation.

    Rice was charged with four counts of capital murder. Attorney General John Ashcroft (news – web sites) said that if convicted of any of the charges, Rice could face the death penalty.

    “The volatile, poisonous mixture of hatred and violence will not go unchallenged in the American system of justice,” said Ashcroft, after meeting with the families of the victims.

    The indictment charged Rice, a former computer programmer, with capital murder and with intentionally selecting and murdering the victims “because of the actual or perceived gender or sexual orientation.”

    The government is prepared to present evidence that “the defendant’s killing of the two women was part of an ongoing plan, scheme or modus operandi to assault, intimidate, injure and kill women because of their gender,” according to court filings.

    John Brownlee, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Virginia, said he had evidence of Rice’s “numerous physical and verbal assaults upon randomly selected women, including … acts of road rage, physical assaults, demeaning sexual comments and threats of injury and death.”

    Rice has been held in a federal prison in Petersburg, Va., since July 9, 1997. He pleaded guilty in 1998 to an unrelated abduction charge in which he was accused of verbally and physically assaulting a female bicyclist in the Shenandoah National Park. She avoided being forced into his truck, so he “tried to kill her” by running her over, authorities charged. Investigators later discovered hand and leg restraints in Rice’s vehicle. He was sentenced to 136 months in prison on that conviction, according to court filings.

    It was there, as investigators tracked down more than 15,000 leads and contacts in the Williams and Winans murders, that Rice made comments relevant to the case, authorities said.

    “Interviews subsequent to his arrest indicated that he may have been involved,” Brownlee said.

    The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (news – web sites) had pressured the FBI (news – web sites) to investigate whether the slayings were a hate crime.

    Williams was a graduate of Cathedral High School in St. Cloud and Carleton College in Northfield.

    Winans, a Michigan native who was majoring in outdoor recreation leadership at Maine’s Unity College, and Williams, who had a degree in geology, were experienced hikers. They had met while studying to become trip leaders at Woodswomen Inc. in Minneapolis in 1995, and had been living in Burlington, Vt.

  • Pretty good story. Do a follow-up and tell us whether he got convicted of whatever it was.

  • Waldo’s “urban legend”……..

  • “As for gender hate crimes, are all rapes prosecuted as hate crimes?”

    No, they aren’t.

    I’m kind of hazy on how “hate” is quantified in the whole hate-crimes thing, anyway. I mean, how do we differentiate between your hate-crime hate and your garden-variety nasty criminal hate?

  • I have absolutely no idea. I knew nothing factual about him save that he was from Oregon, his name was Phillip (I don’t think I ever found out a last name), and that he’d escaped from an asylum. I believe that he was convicted years before, hence his being in an institution, but maybe I was just assuming that.

  • From the Washington Post:

    [The suspect, Darrell D.] Rice does not yet have an attorney in this case. Lloyd Snook, who handled the 1997 case [for attack, attempted abduction] for Rice, said his former client was questioned extensively about the 1996 killings but that Rice has said he has witnesses who would give him an alibi.

    At the time, FBI and National Park Service investigators “had a lot of questions, but they didn’t have answers,” Snook said. “I don’t know what has changed.”

  • Here’s the relevant law:

    The Hate Crimes Sentencing Enhancement Act

    Originally introduced as separate legislation by Rep. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), this measure was enacted into law as Section 280003 of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. The provision directed the United States Sentencing Commission to provide a sentencing enhancement of “not less than 3 offense levels for offenses that the finder of fact at trial determines beyond a reasonable doubt are hate crimes.” The provision defined a hate crime as “a crime in which the defendant intentionally selects a victim, or in the case of a property crime, the property that is the object of the crime, because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender, disability, or sexual orientation of any person.” This measure, the Federal counterpart for state hate crime penalty-enhancement statutes, applies, inter alia, to attacks and vandalism which occur in national parks and on other Federal property.

    Virginia code is much the same:

    18.2-57 (B) Assault and battery

    However, if a person intentionally selects the person against whom an assault and battery resulting in bodily injury is committed because of his race, religious conviction, color or national origin, the person shall be guilty of a class 6 felony.

    It is interesting that the federal law has the “actual or perceived” phrase, which is lacking in the VA code; some folks in C’ville (see Commonwealth’s Attorney Chapman’s comments in the recent press) have exploited this difference to explain that because the UVa victims were a racially diverse group, the CHS attackers couldn’t have been motivated by racial hate and thus not open to hate crime charges.

    Chapman (and others) have never talked about how the thugs selected their victims — but the news that the attackers used cell-phones to coordinate their crimes (and select their victims?) makes we wonder if his office really hasn’t dropped the ball. In the stories about the hate crimes/murders on the Trail, we read that the gender of the victim in a prior attack is admissable evidence as to the suspect’s targeting/motivation. I find it curious that prosecutors in C’ville haven’t tried to use similar evidence to prosecute the CHS thugs for their run of six attacks.

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