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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.

A lot of people in the AT community knew then that a southbound-hiking thief was in their midst. Not only that, but the reprobate had been peddling a story of salvation. And not only that, but many in the community had known enough to do something, but hadn’t. That bothered Janet Hensley, owner of a trailside hostel in Erwin, Tennessee, near the site of his last car theft.

“The news headlines said, ‘Appalachian Trail hiker steals car, evades police,”’ Hensley says. “In one episode, he managed to damage everything we had worked on for years. Some of the older people [near Erwin] automatically believe that everyone is capable of this, and now they have reason to be afraid of the hikers.”

Hensley was upset, so she posted a message on the hiker bulletin board Its heading was one word: “Thief!”
“It is with a certain amount of anger and sadness that I feel that I have to start letting the AT community know about a situation,” she wrote. She included Lescoe’s description and trail name.

An outdoorsman who knew Dan Nicholls saw the posting and contacted the man who had helped save Saved. “And I put two and two together,” Nicholls says. He sent a photo to Hensley, who passed it on to others.

“The clubs were key in helping track David down,” Remaley says. “The ATC, the trail angels, the friends of the trail, the trail neighbors, the businesses along the trail all came together to catch a pretty wily, pretty seasoned criminal.”

Eventually, the photo ended up on Southworth’s computer. Southworth showed the photo to Mullins.

“That’s the guy,” Mullins said.

Southworth called Pennsylvania cops, who had Lescoe’s prints on file from his troubles there. When the prints arrived in Wintergreen, Southworth compared them to prints lifted from the break-ins. On November 10, 2004, police issued a warrant for Lescoe’s arrest.

By then, Lescoe was in Georgia (he had hopped a freight train near the Tennessee border). On Sunday, October 24, just 17 days before the warrant was issued, Lescoe had shown up at Lizella’s Baptist church. He was tired and dirty and hungry. He told parishioners about his hike. He told them about his salvation. He told them he yearned to walk with the Lord. He didn’t mention the child-molestation investigation in Rhode Island, or the meeting with Teddy Mullins in Virginia, or the stolen crabmeat and VW Beetle.
The pastor, Doug Davis, introduced the hiker to two congregants, Sandy and David Langalier. They invited him to Sandy’s mother’s place for lunch.

When they showed up at the home of Wanda and John Henry Clance, Wanda looked Lescoe over. “I said, ‘Son, you can eat at my home any time, but you have to wash up. You’re nasty.'” Lescoe went inside to clean up, and he came back outside to behold what surely must have seemed like a vision of heaven on earth.

Lescoe had arrived at the Clance house on the day of their annual barbecue. Everything was made from scratch. Wanda and her husband had butchered the hog themselves, as four generations of Clances before had been butchering hogs. “That boy ate and ate and ate,” Wanda Clance says. “I know he ate five barbecue sandwiches with homemade red sauce. Cole slaw and potato salad, too. He just ate.”

And thus began the happiest and most peaceful time in Lescoe’s recent life. The Langaliers helped him find a job at Carter’s Woodworking, and, after he complained that he wasn’t being paid enough, at Rogers Gutters & Windows. The Clances rented him a trailer next to the Langalier house. Lescoe spent many afternoons in the woods with David, 35, looking for deer to shoot, blazing new paths to hunting blinds, talking about everything and nothing. He played in the yard with the Langalier children, Stacy, 5, and Joshua, 1. He cooked and cleaned for Wanda, who was recovering from bypass surgery. “Well, of course I did,” he says. “She wasn’t up to it. She had just had a heart attack.”

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