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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.

Lescoe didn’t mention his time in jail or the molestation investigation. Nicholls offered him dinner, fed him two hamburgers and a cold Snapple. He let Lescoe do a load of laundry. He asked if Lescoe would like to sleep inside, in a spare bed. He showed him a videotape entitled “Hell’s Best Kept Secret.”

“I shared the Gospel,” Nicholls says. “The plan of salvation, that we’re all sinners, that we’ve all broken God’s laws, that we all need to come to Christ. I shared the simple plan of salvation. I was tempted to ask if he’d pray together. But I didn’t. I said, ‘Here’s what I’d do: I’d confess my sins before God.’”

That’s what Lescoe says he did–he confessed. He says he asked for divine guidance, turned his life over to Jesus. He says he felt an immense peace, a surge of joy he had never imagined. Later, after he was caught, after his numerous offenses against others, many would ask how he had managed to lie so convincingly about that night. But those people don’t understand Lescoe–and don’t comprehend the disconnect between belief and action that seems to animate his life.

The next morning, Nicholls remembers, Lescoe was smiling so much he said his mouth hurt. He confessed that the night before, before Nicholls had arrived home, he had stolen two tomatoes from a patch in the yard and eaten them “whole, just like apples.” The two men laughed at that. Nicholls was so moved by Lescoe’s apparent transformation that he invited his neighbors, a couple named Norma and Karl Stehle, over to witness the miracle. As Lescoe talked, all four wept.

Nicholls offered to drive Lescoe back home to reunite with his family. “What an answer he gave,” Nicholls wrote in an email that he sent to friends, “Without hesitation, Dave said he appreciated my offer…but right now the most important thing for him to do is to be alone with God, communing with Him and reading the Word as he continued on the trail…It would take about 2-3 weeks to get home, but that could be quality time in which he wanted to grow spiritually.”

It would be easy to dismiss Nicholls as a scripture-quoting sucker, so caught up in religious fervor that he couldn’t spot a con man scrounging in his tomato patch. But Lescoe possesses a talent for instilling belief. Once, he broke into a rural store in Tennessee and was rummaging around when the owner happened to enter through the front door. Lescoe convinced him that he had accidentally wandered in, and was just waiting for the owner to greet him.

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