Severin Beckwith and Anna Brettmann, a younger couple from Ithaca, New York, have been climbing from Georgia to Virginia on the Appalachian Trail since late September. In western North Carolina, after a few days of laborious rain and little sleep, they determined to take a break from the woods. A shuttle delivered them to the Lodge at Fontana Village Resort, a rustic retreat two miles off the path, the place they ate lunch and lay down for a noon nap. Knocking awoke them. There was a muffled voice exterior their door. It burst open earlier than Beckwith might unlock it.
“Next thing I see is a bunch of guys with riot shields with ‘U.S. Marshals’ written on them,” Beckwith mentioned. “Handguns pointed at my face.” Brettmann was nonetheless in mattress. A marshal helped her dress as they handcuffed Beckwith, nonetheless in his underwear, and took him out to the hallway. He had a hunch why this was taking place. “I really hoped I was right,” he mentioned.
Beckwith resembles Brian Laundrie—the fugitive and individual of curiosity in the killing of his fiancée, Gabby Petito—in the way in which that almost all white male long-distance hikers resemble Laundrie: skinny and pale, with a shaved head and a beard. The preponderance of such males, maybe, has made the Appalachian Trail a locus of the manhunt among the many beginner set. There’s additionally the truth that Laundrie has been recognized to hike the path, and that it’s regarded, principally by those that’ve by no means hiked it, as a place to go if you wish to disappear. An engineer from Florida was “99.99 per cent sure” that he noticed Laundrie trying “wigged out” close to the path.
Days earlier, another person had clocked Beckwith as resembling Laundrie. But the marshals had seen greater than a passing similarity. One of them touched the aspect of Beckwith’s head and famous that he had, as Beckwith mentioned, “a notch in the upper part of my inner ear just like his.” On high of that, Beckwith and Brettmann had booked their room with a bank card linked to a New York I.D.—Petito was from New York—“which, I guess, was good enough motive to come in.”
But Beckwith didn’t have Laundrie’s hand tattoos. His I.D. didn’t have Laundrie’s identify on it, both. The marshals fingerprinted Beckwith (“They had to use our hotel Wi-Fi password,” Beckwith mentioned, “because they were having trouble with their Bluetooth fingerprint thing”) and urged that he shave his beard—which he did however “immediately regretted,” he mentioned, “because I have much less of a chin than Laundrie does.” They informed the couple that they now had a good story to inform. Then they left.
Who had alerted the marshals to the presence of a Laundrie look-alike? Beckwith remembered a second earlier that day on the Fontana Lake marina, the place they’d gone to name the shuttle. An worker had responded surprisingly to his request to make use of the phone. He’d additionally, it turned out, taken Beckwith’s image and handed it alongside to the authorities. A marshal confirmed the image to Beckwith after kicking in his door.
“They had a little side-by-side,” Beckwith mentioned. “It was Brian and then me on the phone calling to get the shuttle.”
For their distinctive troubles, the lodge gave Beckwith and Brettmann a free night time’s keep—in a room with a working lock—and free breakfast. “It was a buffet,” Beckwith mentioned. “We took as much as we could.”
Just a few days later, Maria Guzman, who runs Standing Bear Farm Hostel, a week’s stroll down the path, in Tennessee, met Beckwith and Brettmann whereas out for a hike. They informed her the story.
“He does look like Laundrie,” Guzman mentioned later. “But so do thousands of people.” A fellow-hiker tried to provide Beckwith a path identify, as is customary for long-distance hikers: the Fugitive. This was, Beckwith felt, “a bit too on the nose.” Instead, he went with Not Brian, which, he mentioned, “basically covers it.” Guzman promised the couple a free pizza in the event that they stayed at her hostel, which they ended up doing. Their luck was turning.
Guzman talked about the Laundrie look-alike to her pals Tina Simerly and Xander McDouall, a native couple who have been additionally looking out for the fugitive. Simerly and McDouall are neither beginner sleuths nor authorities brokers: they run a native bounty-hunting outfit known as Predator Hunter Nation. (Duane Chapman, a.okay.a. Dog the Bounty Hunter, was additionally on Laundrie’s path lately, till he injured his ankle.)
“Mostly pedophiles,” Simerly mentioned, describing their quarry. “But not exclusively.” She went on, “There are sightings all over Hartford” —a close by city. “And nobody is paying attention.” She added, “Our friend Hunter, he saw him at the Citgo in Hartford, in a brown Ford Escape.” The bounty hunters mentioned the reward being provided for info resulting in Laundrie’s seize. “Last I heard, it was a hundred and seventy thousand,” Simerly mentioned.
“One-eighty now,” McDouall mentioned. “That’s half the reason people are even looking. But not us. We’re looking for this guy because he’s a predator.” He paused, and went on, “He’s a pretty generic-looking dude, though, really. People say I look like him, too.” ♦