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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


LOWELL THOMAS AWARD WINNER
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.

Sandy Langalier was frightened when they came to arrest the friendly hiker, then annoyed, and then, like so many people whose lives were touched by the strange man, profoundly confused.

It was Friday, almost midnight, a chilly night in a drowsy Georgia town. Langalier was sleeping when she heard car doors slam, then loud, demanding voices. There was pounding on her door, lights flooding her house. She cowered under covers until she saw badges thrust up to her window.

By then, U.S. Marshals had arrested and handcuffed the nice young man who'd been staying in the trailer next door. His name was David Lescoe, and Langalier knew there must have been a mistake. Lescoe, 33, had been living in the trailer since he had wandered into Lizella just three months earlier, dirty, smelly, famished, telling tales of a miraculous conversion in the wilderness. He was from up north–Pennsylvania–and he had laughed right along with the people in town who made fun of his Yankee accent. Later he would say that he had been seeking love and acceptance and that in Lizella, he had found it. The first building he'd entered was the Baptist church, and he returned there every Sunday morning.

In the days before he was taken away, he had been preparing a talk for the church youth group. It was a saga of salvation on the Appalachian Trail (AT), an epic account of suffering, and some sin, and the gentle light of forgiveness that was right there waiting if only a man was humble enough to walk toward it. It was a story as old as history, forever fresh. Once, in the woods of New Jersey, he had been lost. Now, in Lizella, he was saved.

Sandy Langalier told the men with badges as much. She told them they had the wrong guy. They told her to go back to sleep. That was two years ago. Since then, she has thought often of the man who so quickly insinuated himself into the life of her family, then just as abruptly left. She has wondered about the nature of good and evil, the promise of redemption, and the high cost of blind faith.

He is in prison now, serving a 10-year sentence for crimes to which he readily admits, while adamantly denying the accusation that drove him onto the trail in the first place.

Is Lescoe a good man who fell on bad times, or a bad man who preyed on the goodness of others? Was he drawn to the Lizella Baptist Church because he needed to confess his sins, or because he wanted to hide from those he had sinned against? Did the AT provide a weary and beleaguered man the bracing tonic of the wild, or a leafy hideout? For his entire life, Lescoe seems to have provoked troubling questions in the people who knew him. During the summer and fall of 2004, Lescoe provoked love, too. And burning anger. Men and women from New Jersey to Georgia sought his capture. Others prayed for his soul. Some did both.

He left Woonsocket, Rhode Island, on July 14, 2004, drove his Chevy Cavalier to a patch of dirt north of New York City, and started hiking. He says he was "possessed," that he had been recently plagued by nightmares, "two actual demons coming through a mirror reaching out to grab me."

He never knew his father, and never got along with his stepfather. His aunt and godmother, Shirley Sincavage, says Lescoe was molested when he was seven. He had his first beer at about 12, his first hit off a crack pipe a few years later, and at 32, when he first set foot on the AT, he had been in and out of three drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers, and jailed at least a few times–for offenses ranging from breaking and entering to failing to pay restitution to people whose property he had destroyed. Each time he left rehab, or jail, he vowed he was changing his ways. "David has said to us more than one time that he's been saved," Sincavage says. "He uses that God and Bible thing a little too much," says his younger brother, Andrew.

They say that now, but back then, they believed him. His grandfather gave him the air-conditioning business he'd spent 30 years building. Lescoe's mother cosigned for thousands of dollars' worth of new equipment that he wanted to buy. She also cosigned on a home for her troubled son. Shortly thereafter, he left town, leaving her holding the debt on both.

He blames drinking and addiction to crack cocaine for many of his woes. He blames an ex-girlfriend who took out a Protection From Abuse order against him in his hometown of Nanticoke, Pennsylvania, forcing him to move away to Rhode Island, so, he says, she wouldn't be able to falsely accuse him of violating the order. He blames his family for "abandoning" him. What he doesn't mention is that the law was after him. Woonsocket investigators called Lescoe in the summer of 2004 and told him they wanted to interview him about a six-year-old girl's statements that he had had sex with her. Lescoe said he was going to contact an attorney and would get back to them.



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READERS COMMENTS

Dan
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

Andrew
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.

Eric
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.

Wiill
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.

Teej
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!

wes
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!

Marsha
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.

Luc
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.

Becky
Oct 23, 2008

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

Julie
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.

Anonymous
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.

Ray
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.

Jeff
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.

Scott
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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