Hikers Molly LaRue, 25, and Geoffrey Logan Hood, 26, reached the end of their trail in a shelter in the woods about four miles from Duncannon, Pennsylvania, about 10 miles from Harrisburg.
Around 6 p.m. on September 13, 1990, Appalachian Trail regulars Cindi and Brian Bowen walked towards the same shelter known as Thelma Marks Shelter. They hoped to spend the night in the rustic wooden building, one of many along the famous American Walkway.
Brian reached the entrance first, then backed away in horror and yelled at his wife not to go any further. “Someone was murdered,” he told her.
He had discovered LaRue’s body, her hands bound and her face covered in blood. The Bowens, known to the trail as The Lone Moccasins, rushed to Duncannon to call the police.
LaRue had been raped and stabbed eight times in the back, neck and neck. Hood had been shot three times. An autopsy revealed the killings took place sometime before dawn.
Avid hikers, the couple attempted a through hike, an ambitious trek along the 2,100+ mile Appalachian Trail that stretches from Maine to Georgia.
They left Maine in early June and were halfway through their journey. Despite the bugs, the heat and the strenuous hiking conditions, they were clearly having fun. LaRue’s notes in the logs at the shelters along the trail were full of humor, including a poem about snails.
“She has probably never been happier in her life,” her father James, a minister in Shaker Heights, Ohio, told the Associated Press.
The couple met while working as consultants for a wilderness program in Salina, Kansas, taking struggling teenagers on outdoor adventures.
They were serious, hardworking and in love. Those who knew them described the couple as good kids who would make a difference. In high school, LaRue, an artist, won a competition to design a new US postage stamp. The theme was family unity. Hood, from Signal Mountain, Tennessee, received a teaching degree from the University of Tennessee.
They shared a dream: to walk the entire length of the Appalachian Trail before settling down.
Hikers recalled seeing a scruffy character — a “miner,” whom some called him — in the area around the time of the murders. He carried two red duffel bags with white Marlboro logos and a green army-style dress bag. Serious rangers said he was outstanding. He wasn’t of the Wandering Clan.
Police distributed a composite sketch throughout the area and issued warnings to avoid that part of the trail.
More than a week after the murder, detectives located a suspect more than 100 miles south near Harper’s Ferry, W. Virginia. He said he was “David Casey” Horn of Loris, SC
Trail regulars showed him to police for not handling the backpack like a seasoned hiker would. He was also wearing Hood’s boots and was carrying his victim’s expensive green backpack when they arrested him.
Horn’s fingerprints, appearance and a tattoo on his shoulder matched a man on Florida’s most wanted list for the 1986 murder of a 56-year-old woman. Her throat had been slashed six times, nearly leaving her decapitated. Through this connection, Pennsylvania detectives learned that their prisoner’s real name was Paul David Crews.
“He had mental health issues,” Susan Crews told reporters. Crews was the nurse who adopted him in 1961 after his biological father abandoned the boy’s mother and seven siblings. Paul was 9 years old at the time.
As a child, he was bitter and angry, and it got worse as he got older. His high school football coach described him as “irritable.”
By 1972 he had married and joined the Marines, but neither lasted long. His unstable feelings led to his being kicked out of the military. His wife, who was his high school sweetheart, couldn’t deal with his depression. She divorced him two years after the wedding.
From then on he wandered from job to job and place to place. A second marriage didn’t last. His new bride was afraid of him.
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At his trial in May 1991, Crews’ attorneys tried to blame the murders on his excessive use of cocaine and whiskey. People who knew him scoffed at the idea. “He could drink two quarts of Georgia Moonshine and still shoot pool right away,” his ex-wife told The Sentinel in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
Circumstantial evidence was all the prosecutors had, but they forged a strong chain. Hikers in the area at the time said they saw him on the trail. Bullets that killed Hood came from a gun Crews was carrying when he was arrested. Genetic analysis of semen found on LaRue’s body showed a similarity to DNA from the suspect’s blood.
The jury found Crews guilty of two counts of first-degree murder. A week later he was sentenced to death by lethal injection, but the sentence was never carried out.
Appeals to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court dragged on for 15 years. Eventually, prosecutors said they would reduce the death penalty to life without parole if he didn’t appeal again.
At Crews’ re-sentencing, James LaRue, Molly’s father, read a letter forgiving the monster that killed his daughter. Molly, he said, was just as dedicated to working with troubled children as Crews was.
“She believed that if these kids could be helped when they were young, they wouldn’t have become violent,” LaRue said. “She would have wished that for you.”
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