It would have started like any other day. A group of hikers set out for a weekend trek along the Appalachian Trail to make the best of the good weather and drink in the sights of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. But an early morning discovery changed that.
On Friday, Aug. 12, 2011, a group of hikers happened upon a grisly sight: a young man, murdered and lying in a shallow grave near the Cow Camp Gap in the Mount Pleasant Special Management Area, which is part of the George Washington National Forest. Immediately the crime was reported and law enforcement swooped in to begin their work. Because the crime had been committed on federal land, the Federal Bureau of Investigation assumed control of the investigation.
The young man was identified by the F.B.I. as Scott Lilly, 30, of South Bend, Indiana.
Despite the efforts of the federal agents, the Amherst County Sheriff’s Office, Virginia State Police and the U.S. Forest Service, no evidence turned up that would bring Lilly’s killer or killers to justice. Three years later no one has been held accountable, and it is unclear if anyone ever will.
Who is Scott Lilly?
Not much is known about who Scott Lilly was before his tragic death along the legendary long-distance trail. Only two people ever spoke out on his behalf: his sister, Alysen Lilly, and his childhood minister, Craig Clapper.
One of Lilly’s passions was Civil War history, Craig Clapper told WSET-TV. That was what brought the “Civil War buff” to Virginia, and to hike the trail. No surprise then that Lilly went by the nom de guerre “Stonewall” while hiking on the trail, most likely a nod to Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, a legendary commander in the Confederate Army in the Civil War. Stonewall Jackson died as a result of friendly fire in 1863 across the border in Clarksburg, West Virginia.
In fact, Clapper said that he introduced Lilly to the Appalachian Trail and was a hiker himself, with 20-some years of experience with the trail.
Both Clapper and Alysen Lilly said that Scott Lilly had embarked on his Appalachian journey as a path to self-discovery and finding himself.
“He was a 30-year-old man who was living out a dream by traveling the Appalachian Trail and visiting Civil War battlefields,” Alysen Lilly said of her brother to WSET-TV. “He was just really excited about it and I just told him that I loved him and be careful. And he was trying to make us proud.”
So he set out on June 15, 2011, southbound for Springer Mountain, in Georgia, however, Lilly never made it to his intended end goal.
The Mount Pleasant Special Management Area is located in Amherst County, Virginia, north U.S. Route 60 and east of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The area where he was found — Cow Camp Gap — is several miles from the Wiggins Spring Road, which the trail crosses.
Lilly’s Appalachian journey began in Maryland.
The last time anyone had seen or heard from him was around the end of July when he climbed The Priest, only a day or two walk north, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The 4,063-foot mountain is located in Nelson County, Virginia, and the Appalachian Trail crosses it.
Some time may have passed from the minute of Lilly’s death and his discovery, as he was only a jaunt away from Cow Head Gap. It certainly did not attract much attention prior to Aug. 12, 2011.
It was not until a few months later that the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner would release the cause of death. According to the Times-Dispatch, Lilly died as a result of “asphyxia by suffocation.”
Lilly’s blue or purple backpack, Ozark Trail hiking shoes, and other gear were never recovered, the F.B.I. said. Whoever killed him made off with all of his gear, although it was never said whether robbery was the motive for the attack.
WSET-TV reported that U.S. Attorney Tim Heaphy said it was unlikely that the death was connected to several unsolved deaths in the George Washington National Forest.
It has also not been determined whether the killer or killers were fellow hikers or locals.
Clapper, Lilly’s childhood minister, said that in his 20 years of hiking he had never had any problems with fellow hikers.
Anyone with information about the circumstances of Lilly’s death should contact the F.B.I.’s Richmond office at 804.261.1044.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this post stated that the Mount Pleasant Special Management Area is west of the Blue Ridge Parkway. It is located east of the parkway.