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Book: “Trailed: One Woman’s Quest to Solve the Shenandoah Murders” by Kathryn Miles
Publishing Info: Algonquin Books, May 2022
Where Did I Get This Book: I received and eARC from NetGalley.
Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound
Book Description: A riveting deep dive into the unsolved murder of two free-spirited young women in the wilderness, a journalist’s obsession, and a new theory of who might have done it.
In May 1996, Julie Williams and Lollie Winans were brutally murdered while backpacking in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park, adjacent to the world-famous Appalachian Trail. The young women were skilled backcountry leaders who had met—and fallen in love—the previous summer while working at a world-renowned outdoor program for women. But despite an extensive joint investigation by the FBI, the Virginia police, and National Park Service experts, the case remained unsolved for years. In early 2002, and in response to mounting political pressure, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft announced that he would be seeking the death penalty for Darrell David Rice—already in prison for assaulting another woman—in the first capital case tried under new, post-9/11 federal hate crime legislation. But two years later, the Department of Justice quietly suspended its case against Rice, and the investigation has since grown cold. Did prosecutors have the right person?
Journalist Kathryn Miles was a professor at Lollie Winans’s wilderness college in Maine when the 2002 indictment was announced. On the 20th anniversary of the murder, she began looking into the lives of these adventurous women—whose loss continued to haunt all who had encountered them—along with the murder investigation and subsequent case against Rice. As she dives deeper into the case, winning the trust of the victims’ loved ones as well as investigators and gaining access to key documents, Miles becomes increasingly obsessed with the loss of the generous and free-spirited Lollie and Julie, who were just on the brink of adulthood, and at the same time, she discovers evidence of cover-ups, incompetence, and crime-scene sloppiness that seemed part of a larger problem in America’s pursuit of justice in national parks. She also becomes convinced of Rice’s innocence, and zeroes in on a different likely suspect.
Trailed: One Woman’s Quest to Solve the Shenandoah Murders is a riveting, eye-opening, and heartbreaking work, offering a braided narrative about two remarkable women who were murdered doing what they most loved, the forensics of this cold case, and the surprising pervasiveness and long shadows cast by violence against women in the backcountry.
Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this book!
As I’ve mentioned before, I really love visiting National Parks, even if I do so in a way that doesn’t involve camping or roughing it much beyond a hike or two. I’m just not a camper. While I hope to visit a lot of National Parks throughout my life, I am also always compelled by the darker things that have happened there. I actually hadn’t heard of the Shenandoah Murders of Lollie Winans and Julie Williams, two women who were murdered in Shenandoah National Park in 1996 and whose murders are still unsolved today, in spite of some movement in 2002 when John Ashcroft announced that a man named Darrell Rice was being charged with their murders under new hate crime legislation… which quietly fizzled out. So when I saw “Trailed: One Woman’s Quest to Solve the Shenandoah Murders” by Kathryn Miles, I was very interested. National Parks and true crime, two things I really find fascinating. But “Trailed” is more than a typical true crime book, as it not only presents a true crime story, it also looks into very bleak issues when it comes to this unsolved case.
Miles does a really good job of laying out all of the things in this case that made it go cold and stay cold, and how it ranges from a killer in a remote place to prejudice to just a good old fashioned inept group of investigators from the jump. I’ve read a bit about violence, murder, and death in National Parks and on public lands before, and how bureaucracy, lack of funding, and red tape can really slow down investigations when time is of the essence. There is definitely a bit of that here, though there is also rangers at Shenandoah who didn’t want to admit that a violent crime could have happened and dragged their feet. Or the investigators who decided that since these women were lesbians it was obviously a violent dispute between the two of them gone awry. There is also the fact that once investigators zoned in on Darrell Rice, who was charged with the crime but never went to trial, they weren’t interested in looking into anyone else. Even as Miles tries to get information regarding DNA (as Rice’s DNA did not match that found at the scene), or whereabouts of another very probable potential killer, she is met with pushback and hostility from the government and people she had been working with prior. And let me tell you, Miles makes a VERY good case as to why Rice probably didn’t do this, and how a serial killer named Richard Evonitz very well could have (who was murdering women and girls in the area around the same time Lollie and Julie were murdered). I was seething by the end, as Miles is going to great lengths to try and get answers, but is being stopped at every turn.
But Miles also takes care to give a lot of time and space to give the victims, Lollie and Julie, a voice and to let us get to know them as people. One of the very fair critiques of true crime as a genre is that it objectifies the victims of violent crimes by centering the killers instead of those that were killed. In “Trailed” that is already inherently less of an issue because of the fact the crime is unsolved, but in many ways that’s even more horrific because two women’s lives were cut short in a horrendously violent fashion and no one knows who did it. At least not officially. I liked that Miles gave us a lot of information on both Lollie and Julie, as well as their families and friends, and what kind of holes their deaths left in many peoples lives. It felt to me like Miles was very respectful of them as people and was very careful in how she told and framed their stories, and it makes things all the more maddening that these women were so failed in this investigation almost from the start and then repeatedly, even up through the past couple of years as Miles has tried to find something, ANYTHING, that may give them families some answers. And unfortunately, as we’ve seen before in other cases where law enforcement and the justice system would rather double down on a theory that doesn’t hold weight rather than find actual justice, I just don’t see that happening.
“Trailed” is a well researched and compelling true crime story about a justice system failure and the dark realities of violence against women in wilderness and rural settings. Maybe someday Lollie and Julie’s families will get the answers they seek. I sure hope so.
Rating 8: Thorough, heartbreaking, and at times maddening, “Trailed” is a look at justice long overdue and the failures of a system that is supposed to seek justice, but gets caught up in ineptitude, politics, and refusal to admit mistakes.
“Trailed: One Woman’s Quest to Solve the Shenandoah Murders” isn’t on many lists as of yet, but it would fit in on “National Park Non-Fiction Books”.