Scott Lilly was 30 years old in 2011. He was about 5-foot, 8-inch tall and weighed around 150-pounds. He decided to section hike the Appalachian Trail while visiting some Civil War battlefields. According to a February 2012 WSET-TV interview with Scott’s sister, Alysen and his pastor, Craig Clapper, Scott was a Civil War “buff” and his interest in this era of American history drew him to the trail in Virginia. It seemed appropriate that Scott adopted the trail name, “Stonewall,” after the legendary confederate general, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. Scott was not an experienced hiker but decided to go backpacking in an attempt to work through some personal issues and enjoy the history of our country.
Scott Lilly set out on June 15, 2011, to hike SOBO (southbound) from Maryland to Springer Mountain, Georgia. Unfortunately, Scott did not make it to his intended end goal. The last time anyone had seen or heard from him was around the end of July when he climbed The Priest, a 4,063-foot mountain located 20.6 hiking miles north of Buena Vista, Virginia.
On August 12, 2011 Scott was found by fellow hikers in a shallow make-shift grave only a short walk away from Cow Head Gap on the Hotel Trail. It then took a few months later before the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner released the cause of death. According to the Times-Dispatch, Scott died as a result of “asphyxia by suffocation.” The authority declared it a homicide. Up to twelve days may have passed from the time of Stonewall’s death before he was discovered.
Just a half of a mile further south from the summit of The Priest is The Priest Shelter that sleeps eight. I stayed here during my 2014 thru-hike but I chose to tent in the footprint around the shelter. If Scott decided to stay here (and I have no idea if he did or not), then the distance between The Priest Shelter and the Hotel Trail is 16.8 miles (an average day’s hike on the trail). The Cow Camp Gap Shelter is another 0.6 miles off the Appalachian Trail down the Hotel Trail. I could easily see Scott desiring to camp at Cow Camp Gap Shelter with the next day’s plan of hiking the 3.8 miles to US 60 and hitching a 9.3 mile drive into the popular trail town of Buena Vista, Virginia for a resupply.
According to his obituary, Scott was born on May 10, 1981in Mishawaka, IN. His dad, Ted Lilly, preceded Scott in death but he was survived by his mother, Susan, his sister, Alysen, and his brother, Joshua. Pastor Clapper conducted the funeral on August 29, 2011 at the Trinity Evangelical Free Church in South Bend, IN.
A year after the murder, in hopes of generating new leads, investigators looking into Scott’s death offered a $10,000 reward for further information. FBI Agent Steven Duenas said Lilly is believed to have last been seen alive at the shelter on July 31. The body, he said, was found partially buried — not by natural forces, but that someone had tried to conceal it. Scott’s blue or purple backpack, hiking shoes, and other gear were never recovered. The FBI indicated that whoever killed him made off with all of his gear, although it was never said whether robbery was the motive for the attack. It has also not been determined whether the killer or killers were fellow hikers or local residents or drifters.
FBI special agents Duenas and Mike Morehart conducted a thorough investigation and collected more than 100 items of evidence and covered more than 270 miles of trails. They conducted 83 interviews, including two in foreign countries. The evidence and interviews have not led to a solution or arrest.
I post this blog in honor and memory of Scott Lilly, a fallen hiker on the Appalachian Trail. The occurrences of violence on the AT are quite small and the shelters and campsites along the way are usually very safe. It greatly saddens me to hear of such a tragedy along the trail and I hope this tribute honors Scott’s memory.
Postscript: Pastor Clapper shared that he was the one who had introduced Scott Lilly to the Appalachian Trail. The pastor was an avid hiker himself, with 20-some years of experience with the trail. After Scott’s tragic death, Craig Clapper (Hoosier) completed a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail in 2013. He has written a very spiritual book about his adventures entitled Legging It (also available on Amazon – click the image to see more details). After serving as Senior Pastor for over 26 years, Hoosier retired from the full-time ministry in August 2012 and began his adventure on the AT in March of 2013.
Photo of Scott Lilly is an undated F.B.I. photo. Found at https://appalachiantrailnoir.wordpress.com/2014/12/26/the-death-of-scott-lilly/