Mike Reed found a killer campsite in the Giles County national forest.
The question is: was it the campsite of a killer.
First, a little history.
Reed, the founder of Youtube’s Mike Reed Outdoors, recently published a video alluding to a decades-old double murder along the Appalachian Trail near the Giles/Bland County line.
In the video, Reed showed the simple wooden “Wapiti” AT shelter where Maine residents Robert Mountford Jr. and Laura Susan Ramsay, both 27, were killed in May 1981. An online commenter, though, disagreed and said the slayings happened at another Wapiti shelter that no longer exists.
In a follow-up video, Reed set out to solve the mystery, and – in the process – possibly ended up solving another one. (To clarify, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy told Reed the murders happened at the shelter’s current location).
Armed with an old topographic map on Aug. 9, Reed found a roadside spring near the first Wapiti shelter where the AT used to go.
“I was trying to prove there was shelter there,” said Reed who remembered that steps once led up the ridge toward a possible shelter site.
Walking up an incline and coming to a flat spot, Reed spied the remnants of a disheveled tent. Further exploration revealed a rock fire pit, homemade hand-stitched sleeping bag, beanie, broken fishing pole and some rechargeable batteries.
In his video, Reed wondered aloud whether he’d found the campsite of “infamous killer” Randall Lee Smith, a Giles County loner sent to prison in the ‘80s for shooting and stabbing the Maine hikers.
Smith, though, didn’t stay behind bars and was released on parole in 1996.
Fast forward to May 2008.
Smith, who returned to his Giles County residence after his release, went missing.
Scott Johnston and Sean Farmer found him in the forest.
According to news accounts, the two Bluefield men were fishing and camping near Dismal Creek close to the scene of the 1981 killings when Smith, who had just shared a meal and their campfire hospitality, pulled out a gun and shot them.
They – after a harrowing escape -- survived, but Smith, who took one of their vehicles and wrecked it in a police chase, died soon after in jail. He was 54.
While probing this second shooting, police combed the national forest looking for evidence.
“(We) thought he (Smith) had a campsite somewhere but we never found it,” said retired Giles County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Tommy Gautier.
Deputies did, however, found a bizarre cache further away from the shooting scene.
In addition to holding items directly tied to Smith, the trash bags hidden beneath leaves contained everything from fishing supplies and soap to sunglasses and women’s underwear.
“I mean it was all kinds of junk,” Gautier said.
Reed said he went back to the campsite again after his first video and found what appeared to be another cache dug into the earth near the fire pit. It, though, was empty.
Gautier said “anything’s possible” when asked if Reed’s discovery could be Smith’s hideout. Reed said it would take about 15 minutes to walk from the camp to where the two fishermen were shot.
Speaking of “walking,” Reed returned to the Wapiti shelter on Thursday to make another video and encountered two hikers with an interesting tale.
The men, who were staying in tents outside the shelter, reported hearing footsteps and seeing a shadow when the fire’s glow had given way to darkness. One man even looked outside. There was nothing there – nothing he could see anyway.
“So guys, I’ll let you all decide,” Reed concluded. “Go up and camp at the shelter one of these evenings and see if you think it’s haunted.”
Jeffrey Simmons can be reached at 228-6611, extension 572, or email@example.com.