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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.

Many mornings, before work and on weekends, he would show up at the Clance back door. "Hey, Mamma," he would yell after knocking, and when Wanda yelled back, he'd walk inside. There, the 55-year-old grandmother of 19 and the 33-year-old hiker/criminal/lost soul would talk. He made Clance a shadowbox, which still hangs on her kitchen wall, and a serving tray. "I was trying to start over," he says. "I was trying to do the right thing."

Lescoe now says he didn't realize he was wanted by the law. Even from as consummate a storyteller as Lescoe, that seems hard to believe. On the other hand, Lescoe isn't an unintelligent man, and if he did suspect authorities were searching for him, would he have been so stupid as to do what he did next?

He had promised Pastor Davis that he would share his miraculous tale of salvation with the church's youth group on an upcoming ski trip. To get the most vivid details of his conversion story right–he knew how detail could juice a tale–he emailed Dan Nicholls, asking him if he would mind sending some of the journal entries and messages that Lescoe had mailed from the trail. To send the email, Lescoe used Sandy Langalier's computer and email account. Langalier worked at the Crawford County courthouse as a deputy clerk, and the next day, she opened her email and saw a message from Dan Nicholls.

Nicholls had been in contact with Southworth for months. He had offered to have his phone tapped, if that would help catch Lescoe. "We were really skeptical of Dan Nicholls at first," Southworth says. The cop knew Nicholls's connection with Lescoe, about his deep belief in salvation, about his relationship with David Berkowitz.

Southworth's skepticism was, as he admits today, wrongly placed. Because Nicholls, in addition to believing in a higher power, has strong opinions about the laws of man. "I was upset," Nicholls says. "I just felt he had a Christian testimony to uphold and he failed in that area. What he did was basically spitting in the face of his Savior."

So, after consulting with Southworth, Nicholls emailed back and asked for an address, which Sandy Langalier provided. The same day, she told Lescoe about the peculiar exchange she had just had with the man from New Jersey. It had been almost three months since Lescoe had wandered into Lizella. He had found a measure of peace. And now, it was about to be taken away.

Wanda Clance says she caught a glimpse of Lescoe that third week in January that she had never imagined.

"One morning before he was caught," she says, "he had come over. But I think for some reason he wasn't expecting me to be there. He didn't knock. He didn't call out my name. He just walked into the house, very quietly. And I think he was surprised to see me. He started explaining very fast why he was there, almost like he was covering up something, or planning something.

"He was a completely different person. He was very quiet. He was almost scary that morning, as if something was fixing to happen. He kept warning me about being careful about letting people into my home."

Sandy sent the email on January 18, 2005. The U.S. Marshals pulled into the Langalier's yard three days later.

"I woke up, and I didn't know why," Lescoe says. "I got up, turned the TV on, and then all of a sudden a vehicle pulled into the driveway, and they parked. And I got up off the couch and I walked to the door, and they asked if I was David Lescoe and I said yeah."

He spent two weeks in the Bibb County jail before Southworth and Remaley showed up in Lizella. Remaley drove from Pennsylvania to Virginia, and the two men rode together to Georgia.

"The Langaliers were shocked," Southworth says. "Mr. Langalier said he wouldn't believe it until he had a chance to go to jail and talk to Lescoe. Which he did and then he came back and said, 'How can I help you?'"

Before transporting their prisoner to Virginia, the cop and the AT ranger stopped at Circuit City and bought a digital recorder. The drive from Lizella to Wintergreen took seven hours, just Southworth and Remaley and a man called Saved. Lescoe confessed the whole way.

He was eventually convicted of 16 felonies in Virginia: eight burglaries, three counts of destruction of property, three grand larcenies, and two car thefts.

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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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