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New book sheds light on Shenandoah Park murders

 Julie Williams (L) and Lollie Winans at Shenandoah National Park
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
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Julie Williams and Lollie Winans were expert backpackers, killed in Shenandoah National Park 26 years ago.

Kathryn Miles is an expert on humans and their relationship to the natural world, and she felt a strong connection to Lollie Winans and Julie Williams when she heard the news from Shenandoah National Park.

Trailed
Algonquin Books
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Author Kathryn Miles says the national parks need more funding to protect the public.

“I was a contemporary of theirs in terms of age and experience. I was also a sexual assault survivor and had really found a sense of strength and identity as a backpacker,” she says.

So Miles decided to investigate and to write a book about the case. She begins by explaining just how difficult it was for police to gather evidence.

“So many law enforcement officers are trained to investigate urban crime. For instance a homicides the first thing they’re supposed to do is secure the premises, secure the door," she explains. "So much of the training that occurs does not apply to a place where weather is a dominant factor.”

Miles also documents how too little funding had left the park with too few rangers who were not well equipped to protect the public, and she faults park management for failing to warn people, worried perhaps about Shenandoah's reputation.

Kathryn Miles
Amy Wilton Photography
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Kathryn Miles is a journalist and college professor who studies how humans are influenced by the natural world.

“This was perhaps the most shocking thing that I found while researching was this internal decision at Shenandoah to deliberately withhold news of the double murder and the fact that a murderer could still be in the park on one of the busiest weekends of the year – Memorial Day weekend.”

Today, Miles says, the situation is no better, and she worries about the safety of the park. She notes the difficulties park rangers had in working with the FBI – a very different law enforcement organization – and she faults that agency for its dogged pursuit of a single suspect – Darrell Rice.

"He had assaulted and threatened a cyclist who was making her way down Skyline Drive, and the fact that he had targeted a female in the park I think was very interesting to law enforcement officers. When they detained him he had asked about the murders that occurred in May of ’96, so that immediately made him a primary suspect in a case that has almost gone cold.”

Miles says Rice was mentally ill, living a chaotic life, and like UVA’s Innocence Project, she concluded he did not commit this crime.

“What I heard from a lot of forensic psychologists, former FBI profilers, is that everything about the crime scene where Lollie and Julie were murdered was so sophisticated. It was so planned. It was technical. It was logical, and what everybody told me – including some of the investigators in this case – was Darrel Rice, by his own account and by the account of the psychologist who interviewed him – was coming completely unraveled.”

There was no forensic evidence linked to Rice, but prosecutors spent years building a case against him. Then, a hair found at the crime scene was tested, and DNA ruled Darrell Rice out.

The following year, another suspect appeared – Richard Evonitz.

“He had abducted a young woman, she managed to get free," Miles recalls. "This resulted in a high-speed police chase across multiple states. At the end of that high-speed chase he took his own life.”

He would be linked to the murders of three young women in Spotsylvania County, and Miles believes he was responsible for the deaths of Winans and Williams.

Her book – Trailed – goes on sale May 3rd.

Sandy Hausman joined our news team in 2008 after honing her radio skills in Chicago. Since then, she's won several national awards for her reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Society of Environmental Journalists, the Radio, Television and Digital News Association and the Public Radio News Directors' Association.