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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.

Many mornings, before work and on weekends, he would show up at the Clance back door. “Hey, Mamma,” he would yell after knocking, and when Wanda yelled back, he’d walk inside. There, the 55-year-old grandmother of 19 and the 33-year-old hiker/criminal/lost soul would talk. He made Clance a shadowbox, which still hangs on her kitchen wall, and a serving tray.
“I was trying to start over,” he says. “I was trying to do the right thing.”

Lescoe now says he didn’t realize he was wanted by the law. Even from as consummate a storyteller as Lescoe, that seems hard to believe. On the other hand, Lescoe isn’t an unintelligent man, and if he did suspect authorities were searching for him, would he have been so stupid as to do what he did next?

He had promised Pastor Davis that he would share his miraculous tale of salvation with the church’s youth group on an upcoming ski trip. To get the most vivid details of his conversion story right–he knew how detail could juice a tale–he emailed Dan Nicholls, asking him if he would mind sending some of the journal entries and messages that Lescoe had mailed from the trail. To send the email, Lescoe used Sandy Langalier’s computer and email account. Langalier worked at the Crawford County courthouse as a deputy clerk, and the next day, she opened her email and saw a message from Dan Nicholls.

Nicholls had been in contact with Southworth for months. He had offered to have his phone tapped, if that would help catch Lescoe. “We were really skeptical of Dan Nicholls at first,” Southworth says. The cop knew Nicholls’s connection with Lescoe, about his deep belief in salvation, about his relationship with David Berkowitz.

Southworth’s skepticism was, as he admits today, wrongly placed. Because Nicholls, in addition to believing in a higher power, has strong opinions about the laws of man. “I was upset,” Nicholls says. “I just felt he had a Christian testimony to uphold and he failed in that area. What he did was basically spitting in the face of his Savior.”

So, after consulting with Southworth, Nicholls emailed back and asked for an address, which Sandy Langalier provided. The same day, she told Lescoe about the peculiar exchange she had just had with the man from New Jersey. It had been almost three months since Lescoe had wandered into Lizella. He had found a measure of peace. And now, it was about to be taken away.

Wanda Clance says she caught a glimpse of Lescoe that third week in January that she had never imagined.

“One morning before he was caught,” she says, “he had come over. But I think for some reason he wasn’t expecting me to be there. He didn’t knock. He didn’t call out my name. He just walked into the house, very quietly. And I think he was surprised to see me. He started explaining very fast why he was there, almost like he was covering up something, or planning something.

“He was a completely different person. He was very quiet. He was almost scary that morning, as if something was fixing to happen. He kept warning me about being careful about letting people into my home.”

Sandy sent the email on January 18, 2005. The U.S. Marshals pulled into the Langalier’s yard three days later.

“I woke up, and I didn’t know why,” Lescoe says. “I got up, turned the TV on, and then all of a sudden a vehicle pulled into the driveway, and they parked. And I got up off the couch and I walked to the door, and they asked if I was David Lescoe and I said yeah.”

He spent two weeks in the Bibb County jail before Southworth and Remaley showed up in Lizella. Remaley drove from Pennsylvania to Virginia, and the two men rode together to Georgia.

“The Langaliers were shocked,” Southworth says. “Mr. Langalier said he wouldn’t believe it until he had a chance to go to jail and talk to Lescoe. Which he did and then he came back and said, ‘How can I help you?'”

Before transporting their prisoner to Virginia, the cop and the AT ranger stopped at Circuit City and bought a digital recorder. The drive from Lizella to Wintergreen took seven hours, just Southworth and Remaley and a man called Saved. Lescoe confessed the whole way.

He was eventually convicted of 16 felonies in Virginia: eight burglaries, three counts of destruction of property, three grand larcenies, and two car thefts.

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