|Thursday, May 15, 2008|
A once-notorious southwest Virginia man died in jail Saturday night, a day after he was charged with shooting and wounding two campers on the Appalachian Trail, not far from the isolated area where he killed two hikers in 1981. Randall Lee Smith, 54, was hospitalized with multiple injuries last Tuesday night after crashing a pickup that heâd stolen from one of the victims during a police chase. Smith was jailed on Friday after being discharged from a hospital in Roanoke. He faced several felony charges, including attempted capital murder. Although it appears that he didnât commit suicide, heâd earlier told officers that he was ready to die. An autopsy will be performed to determine the cause of death. The shootings brought back memories of the spring 1981 discovery of two bodies in shallow graves near Pearisburg, Virginia, a town near the Appalachian Trial, about 270 miles southwest of Washington. Susan Ramsay and Robert Mountford Jr., 27-year-old social workers from Ellsworth, Maine, had been hiking and camping on the popular trail. Ramsey was stabbed more than a dozen times in the back. Mountford was shot three times in the head. Smith was captured about two weeks later in a wooded area of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, by a dozen police officers and FBI agents. He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and spent 14 years in prison. By all accounts, Smith had led a quiet, if at times impoverished, life since his release in 1996, and was off probation. In early March, Smith left home with his dog and headed into the woods. The Appalachian Trail was directly behind his house. On Tuesday, May 6th, Smith befriended two campers on the trail, spending about three hours talking and sharing a meal around a campfire with Scott Johnston, 37, and Sean Farmer, 33, both from Virginia. Around 8 p.m., Smith "just got up from his chair around the fire and said, 'I gotta go,'" Hamlin said, recounting what the victims had told investigators. "Then he stood up and starting popping them [with a gun]. It was like firecrackers. Pop, pop, pop, pop, pop." Johnston was shot in the back and neck; Farmer, in the face and chest. Both are currently doing well in the hospital. Smith was captured driving Johnston's pickup.