FBI IDs Serial Rapist as Suspect in Grisly National Park Double Slaying


The FBI revealed Thursday that one of the nation’s most infamous serial rapists is considered the lead suspect in the mysterious double murder of a gay couple who’d been hiking inside Shenandoah National Park in 1996.

Authorities said that convicted rapist Walter “Leo” Jackson bound his victims’ hands with duct tape and sexually assaulted them before he slashed their throats and hid their bodies.

The brutality of the murders reverberated across Virginia and the nation as fears spread that Julianne M. Williams, 24, and partner Laura S. “Lollie” Winans, 26, were victims of a hate crime.

Hikers canceled trips to Shenandoah in droves while cops chased dead end after dead end in their probe, which went cold a year later.

The FBI said it revisited the case in 2021—something Kathryn Miles, the author of a 2022 book on the slayings, said should have happened far sooner. Forensic tests and DNA advancements were credited with cracking the case.

“For an entire generation of hikers and backpackers, particularly women and people who identify as queer, the impact of this crime was such that it sort of fundamentally removed the wilderness for them and made them very afraid,” she told The Washington Post.

The FBI initially arrested another man in the killings, filing capital murder charges against Darrell D. Rice in 2002. They pinned the crime on him using circumstantial evidence—he’d twice entered the park around the time of the killings, and he attacked a woman in the park a year after the murders. Rice faced the possibility of being sentenced to death if convicted, but his charges were dropped a year later. He always denied the allegations, was ultimately vindicated this week.

Loved ones of Williams and Winans are finally receiving a sliver of closure three decades later, but Jackson won’t face any additional punishment for the crime—he died aged 70 inside an Ohio prison in 2018, where he was serving out a slew of lengthy prison terms for kidnappings, rapes, and assaults.

Christopher Kavanaugh, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Virginia, emphasized that crime was “brutal,” but said there was no evidence to suggest the double slaying was a hate crime. The FBI added that Jackson “was an avid hiker and was known to visit Shenandoah National Park.”

“I want to again extend my condolences to the Winans and Williams families and hope today’s announcement provides some small measure of solace,” Kavanaugh said in a statement.

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