'81 Killer Dies in Jail After 2 Campers Shot

By Bill Brubaker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A once-notorious southwest Virginia man died in jail Saturday night, a day after he was charged with shooting and wounding two campers on the Appalachian Trail, not far from the isolated area where he killed two hikers in 1981, authorities said.

Randall Lee Smith, 54, was hospitalized with multiple injuries Tuesday night after crashing a pickup -- stolen from one of the victims -- during a police chase, Lt. Ron Hamlin of the Giles County Sheriff's Department said yesterday. Smith was jailed Friday after being discharged from a hospital in Roanoke. He faced several felony charges, including attempted capital murder.

About 5 p.m. Saturday, he was found unresponsive in a cell in the medical ward of New River Valley Regional Jail in Dublin, Va., officials said. He was pronounced dead an hour later at a hospital.

Smith apparently did not commit suicide, Hamlin said. But he seemed to have a death wish, the deputy sheriff added.

"He had some shoulder injuries, a laceration to the head and a lower back injury," Hamlin said. "We interviewed him on Friday, and he said he was ready for death. He said what else was there for him? He said death was the only thing for him to do. He looked pretty frail, and he looked like a man on a mission. And the mission was that he wanted to die."

An autopsy will be performed by the Virginia medical examiner's office in Roanoke, Hamlin said.

The victims in Tuesday's shooting were treated at a Roanoke hospital and released. "They're both doing fine," Hamlin said.

The shootings brought back chilling memories of the spring 1981 discovery of two decomposing bodies in shallow graves near Pearisburg, Va., a town near the Appalachian Trial, about 270 miles southwest of Washington.

Susan Ramsay and Robert Mountford Jr., 27-year-old social workers from Ellsworth, Maine, had been hiking and camping on the popular trail. Ramsey was stabbed more than a dozen times in the back. Mountford was shot three times in the head.

Smith was captured about two weeks later in a wooded area of Myrtle Beach, S.C., by a dozen police officers and FBI agents. He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and spent 14 years in prison.

By all accounts, Smith had led a quiet, if at times impoverished, life since his release in 1996, according to Hamlin, one of several investigators who interviewed the suspect Friday.

"I understand he was a model inmate when he was in prison, and he was off probation," Hamlin said. "He had been living in his mother's house in Pearisburg. His mother died [in 2000], and he told me he lived off his mother's inheritance for a while. Then he ran out of money. The comment he made to me was, 'That pushed me out of society.' "

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