The Appalachian Trail has long been a mecca for hikers, some of whom accept the challenge of making the entire 2,180-mile trek from end to end (via The Patriot-News). The trail winds through mountaintops and down into river valleys, giving those who are up for the challenge a beautiful and serene environment that is perhaps only rivaled by its ruggedness.
Though picturesque, the trail has been dangerous for at least some of the people who have made the journey. Nature itself can be cruel, with exposure to the elements and even bear attacks claiming several lives. The number of those who have perished along this trail is relatively small, however. Though the Appalachian Trail Conservancy keeps no official statistics, Rusticaly reports that there are no more than an average of two to three deaths each year. But nature hasn’t been the only danger to some of the unfortunate souls who have braved the trail.
Since 1974, there have been 13 known murders along the Appalachian Trail. Joel Polson was the first victim, killed while near a shelter at the Chattahoochee National Forest by assailant Ralph Fox (via Appalachian Trail History). The most recent victim was Ronald Sanchez Jr., who was found stabbed to death in 2019 (per The Washington Post). And though every murder along the trail has been tragic, impacting the lives of the countless loved ones connected to the victims, there was one double murder that occurred on the trail over 30 years ago that is perhaps the most brutal in its history.
The murdered couple had promising futures
Molly LaRue and Geoff Hood were not novice hikers. Hood was an experienced rock climber and taught the skill to Boy Scouts at Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico. LaRue was an experienced outdoors person in her own right, even providing wilderness therapy to youths in Arizona (via Outside Online). The couple met in Salina, Kansas, and were dedicated to helping troubled and disadvantaged youths. The Patriot-News reports that the couple had both recently graduated with degrees in the arts and were beginning their post-college careers together. The news outlet revealed that LaRue was an Outward Bound instructor and a licensed EMT. These skills, coupled with her wilderness experience, made her a safe bet to survive along almost any rugged trail. Paired with Hood, the two made a perfect match in the outdoors.
The couple was not only dedicated outdoors persons but also committed to making a difference in the lives of those who did not have many advantages. LaRue’s father, in an interview with The Patriot-News, claimed that the couple had just embarked on a backpacking trip out west with troubled kids. He further stated that the young couple had planned to attend graduate school together the following January, each wanting to pursue degrees that would help struggling children.
As LaRue and Hood settled in for the night at the Thelma Marks shelter in the Pennsylvania wilderness, they were unaware that they were being watched by a ruthless killer who would soon put a stop to their promising futures.
LaRue was sexually assaulted before her murder
On the morning of September 13, 1990, Molly LaRue and Geoff Hood were viciously murdered (via The Patriot-News). Later that same evening, another pair of hikers looking to bed down in the shelter for the night found the bodies of the slain couple. The sight that they stumbled upon sent them hiking back to the state police in fear.
When the authorities arrived, it was well past dark. The beams of the flashlights they carried revealed the gory crime scene inside the lean-to. They noted that Hood’s body was in one corner of the shelter, his head on a pillow. It was later revealed that he had been shot three times (via Outside). On the other side of the shelter was the body of LaRue. She had been tied up, her hands bound behind her back and a rope secured around her neck. An autopsy determined that the woman had been stabbed a total of eight times, with wounds in her neck and back. It was also discovered that whoever had murdered her had also viciously sexually assaulted her beforehand.
The double homicide sent shockwaves into nearby residents and into the minds of those on the trail, particularly those who had become acquainted with the slain couple. Who would harm the pair in such a savage way, especially considering the level of selflessness they exhibited at every turn? Though their killer was soon apprehended, the motive behind their murders remains a mystery.
If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN’s National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).
The couple’s killer was wanted for another murder
Eight days after the murders, police detained a man by the name of David Casey Horn (via The Patriot-News). He had been picked up near Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, after several hikers along the trail reported that a man with an oversized backpack was behaving bizarrely (per The Baltimore Sun). Police responded and performed a search of the pack secured to Horn’s body. In it, they discovered items stolen from Molly LaRue and Geoff Hood and the weapons he used to murder them — a .22 caliber revolver and a long-bladed hunting knife (via Green Belly).
As the investigation unfolded, officials learned that the man they detained had given them a false name. His real identity was Paul David Crews, a fugitive from the state of Florida. The Baltimore Sun reports that Crews had an outstanding warrant from the Sunshine State after being implicated in the 1986 murder of Clemmie Jewel Arnold, a woman who had given the drifter a ride. After her mutilated body was discovered, he fled the state and settled in South Carolina, where he worked off and on as a laborer.
He had been hiking the trail for an undetermined amount of time when he happened upon LaRue and Hood. Whether or not the couple exchanged any words with their killer before they were attacked in their sleep is not known. What was revealed is that Crews murdered them while they were bedded down for the night in the shelter and robbed them of some of their possessions.
Crews had a checkered past
Paul David Crews had a checkered past, but one that revealed that he had at least made some attempts at leading a normal life. Outside reports that he had been abandoned as a child and adopted by a married couple in Burlington, North Carolina, when he was 8 years old. The outlet reveals that his childhood was troubled even after having been placed in a stable home, with Crews running away frequently.
In 1972, Crews joined the United States Marines, perhaps signaling that he was trying to develop some structure in his life. He even married and became a father in 1973, but these steps toward functionality were short-lived. In 1974, following a suicide attempt, Crews went AWOL from duty. This led to his military discharge and his 1974 divorce. Crews found his way to Indiana, where he met and married his second wife. This marriage, too, wasn’t meant to last. After cruise held a knife to his new bride’s throat one night, she filed for divorce.
The Los Angeles Times reports that those who knew Crews the longest were well aware of his mental issues. “He had mental problems. He had signs of being manic-depressive,” his adoptive mother, Susan Crews, told the outlet. Lehigh Valley Live reports that during Crews’ trial, his defense team put a psychiatrist on the stand who revealed that the man suffered from “schizoid personality and suffered from an organic aggressive syndrome aggravated on the day of the killings by the consumption of alcohol and cocaine.”
If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.
Crews died in 2022
The motives behind the killing of Molly LaRue and Geoff Hood remain largely unknown. Though he demonstrated that he was suffering from mental health deficiencies and drug and alcohol addiction, Paul David Crews offered little to authorities on why he committed the murders. He gave very short responses when questioned by police, and he refused to testify in his trial (via Outside).
The jury in Crews’ trial found him guilty on two counts of first-degree murder and sentenced him to death by lethal injection. Lehigh Valley Live reports that the state dropped the death penalty in 2006 so that it could save the taxpayers money on the multiple appeals that Crews had been inundating the system with. Rather than face the needle, Crews had his sentence commuted to two consecutive life sentences, ensuring the public that he would be behind bars for the rest of his life. That promise was fulfilled on July 6, 2022, when Crews died of natural causes at a state prison in Fayette, Pennsylvania. Even after he was incarcerated, he never spoke of why he chose to kill that early morning on the Appalachian Trail.