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Trail of a Killer: First of Two Parts

Blood on the Mountain

In 1981, Randall Lee Smith murdered two hikers along the Appalachian Trail in a crime that stunned the nation.

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By Wil Haygood
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 8, 2008

BRUSHY MOUNTAIN, Giles County, Va.

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High on the mountain, the sun has to fight its way down through the thick forest. The light takes on a spectral elegance, as if yellow diamonds are falling to the ground.

The two campers loved so much about the mountain. How it gave to its visitors, how generous it seemed: There's another deer; listen to that owl; the trout are running.

But a murderer was in these woods, too. And he brought darkness to the light.

When Randall Lee Smith rose from a meal with Scott Johnston and Sean Farmer at their campsite along the Appalachian Trail here in southwestern Virginia in May, he politely thanked them for the fried trout and beans. Then he pulled out his .22 pistol and calmly turned from one to the other.

The first bullet hit Sean in the temple.

The second hit Scott in the neck.

The third hit Sean in the chest.

The fourth hit Scott in the back of the neck.

Blood gushed against the moonless night. Scott had bolted into the woods. But the gunman was not finished. Sean had lumbered across the grass to his truck, parked a few yards away. When Randall reached him, he raised his gun again.

* * *

Twenty-seven years earlier and little more than a mile away, Randall Smith had sat for a similar evening meal with two other campers, Susan Ramsay and Robert Mountford Jr. He murdered both. Then he buried them with his bare hands.

CONTINUED     1                 >

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