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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.

He says he is innocent, but "I was accused of things and I was scared." So he fled. What better place than the trail? He had always loved the outdoors. By the time he was 16, he had completed all the requirements to become a Eagle Scout. He had spent much of his childhood in the woods near Nanticoke, spending so much time outdoors with his brother that dinner was usually cold when they finally came inside. "David could do anything," says Sincavage. "He was handsome, he was a hard worker. He could charm anybody." Says Andrew, "He was a normal kid until he got involved with the drugs and alcohol."

After dinner, at night, he dreamt of a city. He wore a suit, carried a briefcase alongside other men with suits and briefcases, all advancing with purpose down the wide, glittering sidewalks of Manhattan. He had no idea where he was going, but he knew he was going somewhere. In the dream, he was happy. And now, monsters in mirrors. What could cause such a thing? Was it the drugs and alcohol? Having been molested? Was it that he met his father exactly one time, when he was six, and for the rest of his life had no idea whether the man was alive or not? To chart a bold line from a boy's troubles to a man's misdeeds is as satisfying as it is presumptuous. Men more ravaged than Lescoe have risen to lead nations. Other little boys, beloved, kill.

He left the Chevy toting a frayed and battered backpack, a jar of peanut butter, a box of crackers, and an 8-inch bowie knife with which he says he planned to cut his wrists. That he didn't is just one of the questions, or inconsistencies, or mysteries, or murky instances of illogic, or flat-out lies that suffuses Lescoe's narration of his wanderings on the AT. He also carried a notebook. One page was divided into two columns, labeled Things to Do and Things Not to Do. He wanted to convince other thru-hikers that he belonged. In the Things Not to Do column was "Be too eager to share shelter."

He told people he met on trail that his name was Injun, a nod to his Sioux/Cree heritage. Nearly all long-distance AT hikers take on trail names. Not surprisingly, the men and women who go by Fang and Borealis and Slurps Like Ground Sloth as they trudge between Maine and Georgia are generally more attuned to the notion of getting away than to fitting in. "There'll always be people out there who are thinking things over," says ranger Todd Remaley, the only full-time law enforcement officer now assigned to the AT. Remaley hiked the entire trail in 1990, when he was "at a crossroads. People use this as a place to change direction, to heal spiritually."

What hiker would not want a trail name? The monikers strip away the trappings of civilization so many want to leave, if only for a little while. They also allow fugitives to wander with a little less anxiety.

Fourteen days after he began his journey, Injun came upon a sign atop a ridge near the New York/New Jersey border, not far from a town called Hewitt.

"I own a log cabin east of here, down the ridge," the sign said. "You hikers are welcome to use an outdoor, rustic, but with privacy, hot/cold shower stall."

The man who had posted the sign was 61-year-old Dan Nicholls. Nicholls, like Lescoe, was not a simple man. A born-again Christian, but divorced. A believer in law and order who corresponded regularly with and often visited David (Son of Sam) Berkowitz–one of this nation's most notorious serial killers, born-again himself. Nicholls is a great samaritan who offers free showers and food to weary hikers–then tries to convert them.

Nicholls had been at the wake of a friend, and it was near dark when he arrived at the cabin. As he pulled up, he saw movement behind an oak tree in the yard and was alarmed, until he saw Lescoe's pack. Then he relaxed; hikers had never bothered him. In fact, hungry, cold, and tired, many were excellent candidates for some old-fashioned religion.

Lescoe told Nicholls he was hungry, that he had recently killed and eaten a rattlesnake on the trail. He showed Nicholls the rattle to prove it. He said he was tired, depressed, spiritually adrift. He said that he had long wrestled with drug addiction and alcoholism, that his family had forsaken him. He said he was planning to kill himself. In a strange way, this cheered Nicholls. The hiker seemed ready to surrender his life to God.

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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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