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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.

"When I had money and food," Lescoe says, "I kept my eyes on the Lord and I was reading my Bible, hiking every day. Then I started running out of food, took my eyes off the Lord, and started worrying about my earthly needs. Took control from the Lord and put it back into my own hands. Trusted in my own resources, trusted in my old nature instead of trusting in the Lord."

Translation: Saved started stealing. His trust in the Lord seems to have wavered most fiercely in Wintergreen, Virginia, a ski resort town filled with second homes. At one, he shattered sliding-glass doors with a rock to get in. At another, he clambered into a crawl space, then kicked through drywall until he broke through to a closet. By the time Lescoe left town, he had broken into four homes. At each, he drank liquor, gobbled food, grabbed clothes and camping equipment.

"I said to him," says Wintergreen police investigator Steve Southworth, "'You were only there for a few days, it looks like a small army was here.' He said he was starving."

On September 10, his last day in the town, Lescoe came upon a house with a green 1968 VW Beetle parked in front. "The whole time I was walking to the house," Lescoe says, "I was telling myself I wasn't gonna do it. I can't do it. But after so many miles, what else you gonna do? You can't live on tree bark." He left with a North Face tent, trekking poles, a backpack, eight pounds of crabmeat, and a set of car keys.

Later, when he was imprisoned, and insisting that this time, locked up, he was really saved, I asked him why anyone would believe him after what happened in Wintergreen. He told me I had him all wrong. He had been saved in Wintergreen. He had been following God. But he'd been hungry. That's when I started to understand the many people who had been so enraged and frightened and confused by Lescoe. I believed him.

Lescoe drove the Beetle 50 miles to an AT trailhead at the James River Foot Bridge, just north of Lynchburg. Southworth suspected the thief had come from the AT, because of the stolen camping gear and the missing car. And he had a grainy security picture from Wintergreen's Nature Center, one of the places Lescoe had asked directions. It showed a white man with dark hair and a light beard.

Southworth called the National Park Service, and ended up talking to Todd Remaley. By late September, based on Southworth's leads, Remaley surmised that the hiker was on Forest Service land. So he called USFS officer Teddy Mullins. They calculated the hiker was walking 8 to 10 miles a day. That meant he'd be just south of Pearisburg, Virginia. That's where Mullins found him, on the trail, on October 2.

Mullins carried a .40 caliber Glock, but he knew that Lescoe had a knife and might be suicidal, and he was under orders not to attempt an arrest by himself. So he made small talk. The hiker said his name was Saved, and when pressed, offered his real name. They talked about the storm that had just swept the area. Mullins said he was investigating damage on the trail. Then Mullins wished him well, hiked up to a mountaintop, called for backup from his cell phone, went back to his car, and drove eight miles down the trail. He waited four and a half hours.

Lescoe had seen the Glock, and later told Southworth that no officer investigating storm damage would be carrying a weapon like that. He continued hiking, but when he heard people talking ahead, he scrambled off-trail and hid in bushes until he was sure they had left.

A short time later, he came upon a hunting cabin. He broke in, grabbed some food and clothes, and fled. He would break into three more cabins and steal two more cars (including one in Tennessee), which he would use to drive farther south along the AT. Remaley knows that thru-hikers are not the kind to get into others' business. He also knows that the trail often beckons powerfully to people who aren't exactly model citizens. But by mid-October, even among the drifters and the live-and-let-livers of the AT, Lescoe was getting to be a nuisance.

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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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