May 3, 2022
Blurb: A riveting deep dive into the unsolved murder of two free-spirited young women in the wilderness, a journalist’s obsession—and a new theory of who might have done it.
They must have been followed. That’s the thought I return to after all these years . . .
In May 1996, two skilled backcountry leaders, Lollie Winans and Julie Williams, entered Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park for a week-long backcountry camping trip. The free-spirited and remarkable young couple had met and fallen in love the previous summer while working at a world-renowned outdoor program for women. During their final days in the park, they descended the narrow remnants of a trail and pitched their tent in a hidden spot. After the pair didn’t return home as planned, park rangers found a scene of horror at their campsite, their tent slashed open, their beloved dog missing, and both women dead in their sleeping bags. The unsolved murders of Winans and Williams continue to haunt all who had encountered them or knew their story.
When award-winning journalist and outdoors expert Kathryn Miles begins looking into the case, she discovers conflicting evidence, mismatched timelines, and details that just don’t add up. With unprecedented access to crucial crime-scene forensics and key witnesses—and with a growing sense of both mission and obsession—she begins to uncover the truth. An innocent man, Miles is convinced, has been under suspicion for decades, while the true culprit is a known serial killer, if only authorities would take a closer look.
Intimate, page-turning, and brilliantly reported, Trailed is a love story and a call to justice—and a searching and urgent plea to make wilderness a safe space for women—destined to become a true crime classic.
I was commuting to work in 1996 when the news from the local NPR station came on and with it the reporting of the murders of Lollie Winans and Julie Williams in Shenandoah National Park. The Park, which is around 90 minutes away, is a place my friends I went hiking often, where I took my elderly mother for a scenic drive, where a friend and I even hitchhiked when the destination of our hike placed us too far from our car to walk before night fell. The last thing I expected to ever hear was that two young women were preyed upon there, where I had, as a young woman, always felt safe. To say that the event captured my attention would be an understatement.
Now, Kathryn Miles in her exceedingly well-researched and written Trailed introduces us to Lollie Winans and Julie Williams and their love of the outdoors, to the different types of hikers who use the Appalachian trail, and to the number of young women, and in some cases men, who were murdered at the time in nearby areas in Virginia and whose cases have never been solved.
Along the way, Miles also raises the issue of how much crime, especially murders, are committed in our national parks and which are covered up, just as the head in Shenandoah hoped to do until the news of the murders broke. The knowledge that authorities choose to cover up crime so that it doesn’t affect the number of visitors to the national parks is disheartening to say the least. And for young women, who believe that they are safe walking along trails as long as they respect the wildlife around them, this is especially unsavory.
Miles has obviously spent a lot of time researching the Shenandoah murders as well as the ones that occurred outside the park (the Colonial Parkway murders) as well as the notorious Route 29 Stalker. When she uncovers intentional cover ups, rangers ignoring or rejecting eyewitness accounts, and the like, the reader can’t help but feel dismay, anger, sadness. Perhaps that was the most amazing thing to me as a reader of Trailed was how emotional I felt reading about the apathy, arrogance, and/or ruthlessness of some of the individuals–typically men–involved.
While Trailed would be an obvious fit for any true crime junkie, it should also be enlightening reading for anyone who considers trails in the national parks to be safe places to take a hike. Well written, insightful as well as a beautiful tribute to the two women whose lives were taken too soon, while doing something they loved, Trailed is a gripping read.
I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.