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Backpacker Magazine – April 2007

The Long Trail to Jail

Is he a pilgrim, a victim, or a thief? The Appalachian Trail provides a path and refuge to all sorts of seekers. Few are as baffling as the man they called Saved.

by: Steve Friedman

David Lescoe in VA's Dillwyn Correctional Center  (Michael Darter)
David Lescoe in VA's Dillwyn Correctional Center (Michael Darter)
Photos taken November 15, 2006 (Michael Darter)
Photos taken November 15, 2006 (Michael Darter)
Dan Nicholls with Lescoe - July 29, 2004
Dan Nicholls with Lescoe - July 29, 2004
Lescoe (left) with his mother and brother Andrew in 1975
Lescoe (left) with his mother and brother Andrew in 1975

This article was the recipient of the Gold Award for Travel News/Investigative reporting at the Society of American Travel Writers Foundation's 2008 Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Competition.

A lot of people in the AT community knew then that a southbound-hiking thief was in their midst. Not only that, but the reprobate had been peddling a story of salvation. And not only that, but many in the community had known enough to do something, but hadn't. That bothered Janet Hensley, owner of a trailside hostel in Erwin, Tennessee, near the site of his last car theft.

"The news headlines said, 'Appalachian Trail hiker steals car, evades police,''' Hensley says. "In one episode, he managed to damage everything we had worked on for years. Some of the older people [near Erwin] automatically believe that everyone is capable of this, and now they have reason to be afraid of the hikers."

Hensley was upset, so she posted a message on the hiker bulletin board Its heading was one word: "Thief!" "It is with a certain amount of anger and sadness that I feel that I have to start letting the AT community know about a situation," she wrote. She included Lescoe's description and trail name.

An outdoorsman who knew Dan Nicholls saw the posting and contacted the man who had helped save Saved. "And I put two and two together," Nicholls says. He sent a photo to Hensley, who passed it on to others.

"The clubs were key in helping track David down," Remaley says. "The ATC, the trail angels, the friends of the trail, the trail neighbors, the businesses along the trail all came together to catch a pretty wily, pretty seasoned criminal."

Eventually, the photo ended up on Southworth's computer. Southworth showed the photo to Mullins.

"That's the guy," Mullins said.

Southworth called Pennsylvania cops, who had Lescoe's prints on file from his troubles there. When the prints arrived in Wintergreen, Southworth compared them to prints lifted from the break-ins. On November 10, 2004, police issued a warrant for Lescoe's arrest.

By then, Lescoe was in Georgia (he had hopped a freight train near the Tennessee border). On Sunday, October 24, just 17 days before the warrant was issued, Lescoe had shown up at Lizella's Baptist church. He was tired and dirty and hungry. He told parishioners about his hike. He told them about his salvation. He told them he yearned to walk with the Lord. He didn't mention the child-molestation investigation in Rhode Island, or the meeting with Teddy Mullins in Virginia, or the stolen crabmeat and VW Beetle. The pastor, Doug Davis, introduced the hiker to two congregants, Sandy and David Langalier. They invited him to Sandy's mother's place for lunch.

When they showed up at the home of Wanda and John Henry Clance, Wanda looked Lescoe over. "I said, 'Son, you can eat at my home any time, but you have to wash up. You're nasty.'" Lescoe went inside to clean up, and he came back outside to behold what surely must have seemed like a vision of heaven on earth.

Lescoe had arrived at the Clance house on the day of their annual barbecue. Everything was made from scratch. Wanda and her husband had butchered the hog themselves, as four generations of Clances before had been butchering hogs. "That boy ate and ate and ate," Wanda Clance says. "I know he ate five barbecue sandwiches with homemade red sauce. Cole slaw and potato salad, too. He just ate."

And thus began the happiest and most peaceful time in Lescoe's recent life. The Langaliers helped him find a job at Carter's Woodworking, and, after he complained that he wasn't being paid enough, at Rogers Gutters & Windows. The Clances rented him a trailer next to the Langalier house. Lescoe spent many afternoons in the woods with David, 35, looking for deer to shoot, blazing new paths to hunting blinds, talking about everything and nothing. He played in the yard with the Langalier children, Stacy, 5, and Joshua, 1. He cooked and cleaned for Wanda, who was recovering from bypass surgery. "Well, of course I did," he says. "She wasn't up to it. She had just had a heart attack."

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Reader Rating: Star Star Star Star Star


Jul 25, 2010

i pray he has been healed
i miss my cousin
he is an honest to goodness man who made mistakes and payed for them to,let us not judge

Apr 02, 2010

Im related to him and miss him and love him from the bottom of my heart,,,,JR!

Trail Angel in Lizella
Nov 25, 2008

I knew him for the brief time he was here before he was arrested. He obviously wrestles with demons, maybe in the form of mental illness. He has a heart of gold and a servant's attitude, but he does need to pay for his crimes. We pray that once he has served his sentence he will indeed walk in the ways of Jesus.

Oct 25, 2008

It was an interesting article...for another magazine. Just bring us the usual great information about backpacking that you have done so well.

Oct 25, 2008

I hike with my kids, so I'm glad the perp is in jail and off the trail. As far as people saying only God can pass judgement, that's a bunch of bull. Imagine a world without any accountability. I hope the guy changes his ways, but let him work on that for 10 or so years away from other people. Bottom line, it's good to be friendly to passing hikers on the trail, but you don't know them.

Oct 23, 2008

I remember reading this article. It was very interesting and different from what I am used to reading in Backpacker. Good to see it was honored with an award. Keep up the good work.
Now back to the boot reviews!

Oct 23, 2008

And, most who read this mag are worried about bears?
I figured it for crap before reading the article, but with lines like "why is it that the people who offer the most meaningful answers to the most difficult questions are so often men like Lescoe?
REALLY??? Horse shit!

Oct 23, 2008

What ever happened to "Don't judge lest you be judged"? No one knows what happened except him and God. Let God be his judge.
It's a great story about how the "trail" can do miraculous things for people searching or running. It doesn't matter. Maybe he really did find his answer. We will never know.

Don Asper
Oct 23, 2008

God does change the heart and lives of individuals if we are truly repentant. I emphasize true repentance. Even with a change of heart we are still responsible for the consequences of our actions. Time will tell if there is a true change.

Oct 23, 2008

this article goes nowhere. what is the point? is it just about a refugee that traveled the AT and then got caught? hmm.

Oct 23, 2008

This guy is user and still convincing people that God is in his heart. Rediculas.

Oct 23, 2008

Just like all crooks he is looking for away to find a communities weakness. He used religion to work his way into a small town so he could hide. I don't think this story has anything to do with the AT other then it was an escape route.

Oct 23, 2008

What a waste of space in such a good magazine. He is still conning and you have fallen for it by providing this space. When he is released from prison he will use and steal from people again and you will be partly responsible.

Oct 23, 2008

I thoroughly enjoyed this article. I am a fairly cynical person who is not surprised by the actions of a person like Lescoe. One of the few things that keep me from abandoning altruistic behaviour is the realization that only a small subset of the population is capable of such insidious acts. Granted, what the “right” thing to do under strenuous circumstances is sometimes debateable but most people agree on what should be tolerated. This article not only explores a rather interesting personality it also shows me that the problems caused by this individual are not normal within the community that surrounds the AT. The next time someone breaks my trust when extending a helping hand I can remember articles like this one which illustrate that people like these are the exception rather than the rule.

Oct 23, 2008

I disagree, this is a powerful story, which does take the time to repeatedly point out the healing power of being alone and hiking in the wilderness. As a mental health professioanl, it is my opinion this man has anti-social personality disorder, and it rarely changes. Given his early life, experiance and choices, what used to be called a psychopath or sociopath. But that's not as important as how there may just be truth that his time on the trail did make enough of an impact to his future after he is released.

John Kozma
Oct 23, 2008

Looks like you were conned by him too.

Oct 20, 2008

What is it with all the stories of crooks and low character folks on the trail? Award or not I don't enjoy reading stories like this.


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