In May 1996, Julianne “Julie” Williams, 24 years old, and her girlfriend, Laura “Lollie” Winans, 26 years old, along with their golden retriever, Taj, decided to go camping along the Appalachian Trail in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia. The girls had planned this trip for Julianne to spend some free time before she started a new job in Lake Champlain, Vermont.
Julianne and Laura were last seen alive on the trail on the 24th of May.
On May 31st, Thomas Williams (Juliann’s dad), alerted police that the girls were missing. Park rangers quickly began searching for them, and very early on in the search, they found Taj walking around with no lead on.
It was the 1st of June, 1996, when Julianne and Laura’s bodies were discovered.
Laura’s body was found inside of their tent. She had been gagged, her hands had been bound with duct tape – the same duct tape that had been used to gag Julie’s mouth – and her throat had been slit. Laura’s ankles were also tied together.
Julie’s body, along with her sleeping bag and sleeping pad, were found 30-40 feet away from the tent down a little embankment. Julie had also been gagged, and her hands were bound with duct tape. Julie’s throat had also been slit.
Both girls had been partially undressed, but no evidence of sexual assault had been found.
Just over a year later, on July the 9th, 1997, Yvonne Malbasha, a tourist from Canada, was cycling south on Skyline Drive.
Whilst cycling, Yvonne was forced off the road and off her bike by a man driving a truck. The man became enraged, threw a soda can at her, grabbed her chest and yelled: “show me your titties”. The man tried to wrestle Yvonne into his truck, but she managed to fight him off by throwing a water bottle at him and using her bike as a blocking device.
Yvonne managed to run and hide behind a tree, whilst the man entered his truck and tried to run her over. He tried several times, before giving up and speeding away.
Luckily, a ranger appeared with a mobile phone and he managed to send out a text alerting the other rangers of this man.
Park rangers were quick to catch the man, whose name is Darrell David Rice. He was attempting to leave the park when rangers caught him and began searching his truck. Rice had changed his clothes and reattached his number plates. Inside, they found hand and leg restraints.
In 1998, Darell pled guilty to the attempted abduction of Yvonne Malbasha. He was sentenced to 135 months in Petersburg, a federal penitentiary.
Rice was a single man who had no children, and no previous criminal convictions. However, his ex co-workers say that he was fired from his job at Maryland’s MCI Systemhouse in June 1997, due to being incredibly aggressive at work. Incidents included yelling sexual profanities, punching a hole in the man’s bathroom, stealing other workers lunches, taking down one women’s photo and throwing it in the bin, and purposely bumping into workers so they would spill coffee all over themselves.
After his arrest, and having several interviews with police, investigators believed that Rice was responsible for the murders of Julianne and Laura.
They suspected him because his attempted abduction took place close to the location the bodies were found, and because of his predatory behaviour. In his own words, Rice said he preferred assaulting women because they “are more vulnerable” than men. Prosecutors also claim that Rice said Julianne and Laura “deserved to die” because they were gay.
The FBI placed an undercover inmate next to Rice and recorded some of their conversations. In one conversation, Rice stated that he was “sexually inadequate” and that he “substituted pornography for sexual relationships.” One inmate, Gary Barnett, said that Rice was “crazy into porn”, and that one of his magazines featured a woman with a ball in her mouth with tape over the ball.
Darrell David Rice was charged with four counts of capital murder, two counts which state that he chose his victims based on their sexuality. Despite the years of building a case against Rice, he was never sentenced due to the lack of forensic evidence.
In October 2003, a DNA test was done on a piece of hair found at the crime scene. It was not a match to Julianne, Laura, or Darell. Another hair was also discovered on the duct tape that was used to bind Laura’s wrist, but this was determined to not belong to Darell either.
Rice was released from jail in 2011 but remains a suspect in this case.
The FBI is still investigating every lead and is one day hoping to bring justice to the families of Julianne Williams and Laura Winans.
Unsolved, USA, Mystery, True Crime, Murders