FBI stymied by Appalachian Trail killing

By Courtney Ridenhour

On Aug. 12, hikers discovered the body of a thru-hiker on the Appalachian Trail in Hog Camp Gap, about 10 miles east of Buena Vista in Amherst County.

Scott Lilly, of South Bend, Ind., had been murdered.

The FBI initially focused on five individuals, identified publicly by their trail names. In September, rumors began flying on an Appalachian Trail website, saying that one of the hikers was a suspect.

On Tuesday, the FBI denied that. After two months of investigation, authorities have no suspects.

FBI spokesperson Dee Rybiski said the agency contacted five hikers who may have had contact with Lilly to build a timeline and “help with filling the gaps” on Lilly’s hike. The hikers, however, are not considered suspects.

“There were never any suspects,” added Brian King of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

Since 1974, nine hikers have been killed in six separate incidents on the trail. Lilly’s death is the first trail-related murder since 2008.

In a Sept. 2 press release, investigators announced the trail names of the five hikers who were believed to have met Lilly on the trail.

Adopting a trail alias is a standard practice among thru-hikers – those who hike all 2,180 miles of the Appalachian Trail between Maine and Georgia.

Since the press release, hikers wrote on online forums that “Papa Smurf” – one of the five listed – was a “person of interest” based on reports of thievery. But Rybiski said investigators contacted “Papa Smurf” and the other four hikers to construct a Lilly timeline – a standard practice in investigations of this kind.

“There were three to four different ‘Papa Smurfs’ out there,” she said. “It was simply people that we kind of wanted to touch base with.”

She said the FBI is releasing these few details to help investigators distinguish valuable tips from misinformation. The FBI cannot discuss suspects, she said.

The FBI has said that the Hog Camp Gap area is safe and hikers are not at risk.

But investigators’ response to other recent suspicious activity has been rapid.

In late August, a second body was found near the trail in George Washington National Park.  Although it was later determined to be a natural death, a team of 30 investigators and volunteer hikers descended on the area.