10 Mysterious Trips Into The Wilderness That Went Horribly Wrong

The Murders Of Julianne Marie Williams And Laura “Lollie” Winans

2 Murder
On May 19, 1996, a young lesbian couple traveled to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia for a hiking trip. The women were named Julianne Marie Williams and Laura “Lollie” Winans; Winans also brought along her pet golden retriever. Nearly two weeks later, after neither of the women’s families had heard from them, the authorities were notified.

When park rangers launched a search on June 1, they came upon a campsite and discovered that Williams and Winans had been brutally murdered. Both women were bound and gagged before their throats were slit. Winans’s golden retriever was also found wandering around the area, unharmed. Given the women’s sexual orientation and the brutal and calculated nature of the murders, authorities wondered if they were victims of a hate crime.

In 2002, an incarcerated man named David Darrell Rice was charged with murdering the two women along with two counts of committing a hate crime. Rice was already serving an 11-year sentence for attacking another young woman in Shenandoah National Park in 1997 and was known for expressing his hatred toward women and homosexuals. It was believed that he deliberately targeted Williams and Winans because of their sexual orientation. Two years later, the charges against Rice were dropped once it was determined that DNA and hair samples from the crime scene did not match him.

However, suspicion eventually turned to a serial killer named Richard Evonitz. In June 2002, Evonitz was about to be arrested for an unrelated crime but shot himself when police tracked him down. Forensic evidence eventually linked Evonitz to the unsolved murders of three teenage girls from the mid-1990s. Since these crimes also occurred in Virginia around the same time Williams and Winans were murdered, Evonitz is considered a suspect but thus far nothing has connected him to the crime.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park Disappearances

1 Smokies
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park borders Tennessee and North Carolina and is the most visited national park in the US. Therefore, it’s probably inevitable that the park has its fair share of unsolved disappearances.

On June 14, 1969, six-year-old Dennis Martin went on an outing to the park with his family. Dennis and three other boys split off in separate directions to play a prank, but Dennis did not return and a massive search of the area turned up nothing. A nearby witness recalled hearing a frightening scream sometime that afternoon before he saw a rough-looking man running through the woods.

Years later, a man found what appeared to be the skeletal remains of a child in the park but did not inform the authorities because he was hunting illegally at the time. When he finally reported it during the 1980s, the remains could no longer be found. No one knows if either of these events had any connection to Dennis Martin’s disappearance.

Another unsolved Smoky Mountains disappearance involved 16-year-old Trenny Gibson who vanished during a school trip to the park on October 18, 1976. While the students were hiking, Trenny somehow became separated from them and disappeared, never to be seen again. On September 25, 1981, 58-year-old Thelma Melton was hiking through the park on Deep Creek Trail with two friends when she got way ahead of them and disappeared after walking over a hill. No one could find her afterward.

More recently, 24-year-old Derek Joseph Leuking went missing on March 17, 2012. His vehicle was found in the Newfound Gap parking lot. All his gear had been left behind, but there was a note on the windshield which read: “Don’t try to follow me.” No trace of Leuking could be found anywhere in the park, adding his name to the list of people who have mysteriously disappeared into the Great Smoky Mountains.

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