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On a warm evening in May 1996, Kristin Smart decided to step off the California Polytechnic State University campus for a party. Then, just hours later, she left in the company of three fellow students – walking straight into a mystery that continues to this day. But nearly a quarter of a century on from Kristin’s puzzling disappearance, police may have finally gotten to the bottom of the case – and an arrest could just be on the horizon.

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The eldest child of teachers Stan and Denise, Kristin had actually been born in Augsburg, Germany, as back in 1977 the couple had been working with the children of servicemen and women in Europe. In time, though, the Smarts would return to the United States and settle in Stockton, CA.

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According to Kristin’s parents, the future Cal Poly student was adventurous and ambitious from a young age. And when her younger brother and sister came along, she apparently showered them with affection. Devoted to her family, the young woman developed a passion for travel, and she enjoyed planning trips for her parents and siblings to enjoy.

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Then, as she got older, Kristin began using her vacations to get out and experience more of the world. During high school, for example, she traveled to Venezuela, where she worked on improving her Spanish skills. And in the summer of 1995 – the year before her disappearance – she secured her perfect job as a counselor and lifeguard at a camp in Hawaii.

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That June, Kristin also received her diploma from Stockton’s Lincoln High School – a step on the way to college. Then, later that year, she traveled some 250 miles south to San Luis Obispo, where she began her studies at Cal Poly. At the time, she was a young woman with her whole life ahead of her – but her dreams and ambitions were about to be cut tragically short.

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On Friday, May 24, 1996, America was gearing up to celebrate the Memorial Day weekend. And even though Kristin normally waited until Sunday nights to call her parents, she decided to get in touch a few days early. Then, when the Smarts did not answer, the college student left a message. Listening to her words would mark the last time that Stan and Denise heard their daughter’s voice.

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That evening, Kristin also headed out with three friends in search of a party. But while the friendly 19-year-old was keen to head to a certain off-campus venue, her companions were less enthused. Eventually, then, she left her buddies a few blocks away from the property, where a fellow student was holding a celebration for his own birthday.

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At that point, according to her friends, Kristin had not touched a drop of alcohol. Witness reports from the party are less clear, however. According to some, the young student drank vodka throughout the evening. Others claim, by contrast, that she remained sober during the celebrations.

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Whatever the case, it certainly seems as though Kristin became intoxicated at some point. At around 2:00 a.m., two students, Tim Davis and Cheryl Anderson, found her lying unconscious on the lawn of a neighboring property. Then, between the pair, they got Kristin to her feet and resolved to help her back to her dorm.

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Yet Anderson and Davis did not get far before they were joined by Paul Flores – another student who lived near Kristin. Sometime later, it would emerge that he had already been in trouble with local law enforcement for supposedly trying to break into a woman’s apartment. For some reason, though, campus police at Cal Poly had not been told about the disturbing allegation.

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Together, the four made their way back to the dorms, with Flores propping up Kristin as they walked along. Then, once the group reached campus, Davis left the others to return to his car. And according to Anderson, that’s when things started to get strange. Apparently, Flores repeatedly encouraged her to go on ahead and leave him alone with the intoxicated Kristin.

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After this, the trio reached Anderson’s dorm, where she said goodnight to the pair. And from that point onwards, nobody knows what happened to Kristin. Flores, for his part, has since claimed that he walked with her to his own accommodation before leaving her to cover the short distance to her room alone.

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But while Kristin never made it back to her dorm, her friends were not initially concerned about her welfare – even though they wondered why she hadn’t appeared for breakfast two days running. In fact, the alarm wasn’t raised until May 27, when Kristin’s roommate Crystal Calvin returned after spending the weekend away.

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Reportedly, Calvin had been alarmed to discover that Kristin’s everyday belongings were exactly where she had left them on Friday night. Most worryingly of all, though, the 19-year-old was still nowhere to be seen. So, with her concerns mounting, Calvin began to ask around the dorm – but no one could recall having seen Kristin in days.

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Calvin subsequently contacted the campus police, although the Memorial Day weekend meant they were slow to get moving. As students often escaped on impromptu vacations, you see, the officers assumed that Kristin had done the same. But when investigators contacted Denise and she confirmed that her daughter had not been home, they finally realized that they were dealing with a missing person case.

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The very next day, Kristin’s family and friends launched a campaign to find the missing teenager. The police both on campus and in San Luis Obispo also started an official investigation, although they only began interviewing students almost a week after the party. Among the people questioned were Anderson, Davis and Flores.

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At the time, it was clear that Flores had a black eye. He would go on to tell police that he had received the injury during a basketball game – a claim that a teammate later denied. But despite these suspicious circumstances, the campus authorities failed to mount a thorough search of the student’s room.

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Then, weeks later, the college police admitted defeat and asked the San Luis Obispo district attorney for help. And as the investigation intensified, Flores only appeared more suspicious. On a number of occasions, he told a different story about how he had received his black eye; he was also notably reluctant to submit to a polygraph test.

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As the investigation into Kristin’s disappearance continued, however, Flores left San Luis Obispo to spend the summer with his parents. And in his absence, police subsequently brought in cadaver dogs to look around his room. Allegedly, the animals paid particular attention to the mattress, suggesting perhaps that something sinister may have taken place within the Cal Poly dorms.

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Another piece of damning evidence had been discovered in Arroyo Grande – some 17 miles south of the Cal Poly campus. There, Flores’ parents reportedly owned a property that had been empty at the time of Kristin’s disappearance. In the intervening weeks, though, a new tenant had moved in. And one day, she discovered an earring abandoned on the driveway of the home.

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Likely aware of the connection between the property and the missing girl, the tenant took the earring to the police. Frustratingly, however, the item would then be mysteriously mislaid. Listening to a description of the piece of jewelry, Denise was sure that it had belonged to her daughter. Yet no matter how much the family pressured law enforcement, the crucial piece of evidence was never found.

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Then, in November 1997 – some six months after Kristin’s disappearance – her family accused Flores of wrongful death in court. In his defense, the young man continued to deny playing any part in the strange case – and no charges were ever brought against him, either. So, as the years passed and Kristin failed to come home, Denise and Stan made a heartbreaking decision. In May 2002 the Smarts had their daughter legally declared dead.

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By then, a new law known as the Kristin Smart Campus Security Act had been passed that mandated better communication between college police and local law enforcement. Unfortunately, that policy came too late to save what many believe to have been a bungled investigation. And despite plenty of evidence and rumors, Kristin’s disappearance remains unsolved.

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Then, 17 years after the introduction of this law, investigators finally announced a new lead. And with the help of cadaver dogs, officers subsequently conducted a search of an area close to Kristin’s dorm. But even though several items of interest were reportedly found, the full details of the results of this operation have yet to be released.

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In September 2019, however, the case came into the spotlight once more thanks to Californian musician Chris Lambert and his podcast Your Own Backyard. During an episode of the show, Lambert discussed rumors that the missing woman was buried under concrete in one of the homes belonging to Flores’ parents. Apparently, witnesses had even heard a beeping emanating from the yard of the Arroyo Grande property at around the same time that Kristin’s alarm used to sound.

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Worryingly, Lambert also uncovered multiple reports from women claiming to have been assaulted and harassed by Flores. And with the case suddenly in the public eye once more, suspicion surrounding the potential suspect grew. Then, in January 2020, Kristin’s family received some startling news.

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That month, Stockton, CA, newspaper The Record claimed that Denise had been contacted by the FBI, who had informed her that she “might want to get away for a while.” Apparently, a big break in Kristin’s case was imminent, and the Smart family were understandably fraught with anticipation as they awaited the news.

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“I wish I knew when [the break is going to come], because it’s very anxiety-producing,” Denise was quoted as saying in the article, which was published on January 18. “It’s like, ‘Can you give me the flight plan?’ When is this happening?” Just days later, though, Kristin’s family released a statement that seemed to contradict the previous claims.

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In the message, the Smarts clarified that it had been a retired FBI agent known to the family who had reached out rather than the bureau itself. Furthermore, they claimed that no new announcement was expected in relation to Kristin’s disappearance – an assertion that was backed up by the authorities.

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But only seven days later, all that changed. On January 29 the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office issued a press release confirming an apparent development in the case. Now, law enforcement were said to be in possession of two trucks that had belonged to Flores’ family at the time of Kristin’s disappearance.

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In the release, officials acknowledged that they were holding the trucks as evidence, although they did not say when they had taken the vehicles. Yet they did go on to give further insight into how the investigation had developed since a new sheriff had taken over in 2011. According to the sheriff’s office, as many as 18 search warrants had been executed in relation to the case over the previous nine years.

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The statement also confirmed that police had visited nine different locations to search for physical evidence that may solve Kristin’s disappearance. At the same time, they had conducted a thorough re-examination of everything currently held on record. Interestingly, this included submitting 37 items for DNA testing – technology that has improved vastly since the early days of the case.

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According to the release, this process has resulted in the acquisition of 140 additional pieces of evidence since 2011. On top of this, investigators have logged over 360 new reports and conducted more than 90 interviews. Altogether, then, officials estimate that some 7,500 hours – and around $62,000 – have been spent on the case.

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So, although the official statement did not contain any dramatic revelations, many began to suspect that a big announcement was forthcoming. Then, on February 5, the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office issued a second public message. This time, it confirmed that it had executed search warrants pertaining to four different areas in Washington State and California.

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On that occasion, the sheriff’s office was unable to confirm the exact address of any of the locations being investigated. Nevertheless, local news station KCAL-TV soon added another telling dimension to the story. Apparently, one of the locations was a home in San Pedro, CA – the current residence of the now 43-year-old Flores.

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And that wasn’t all. The station reported that officers had also detained a man matching Flores’ description outside the San Pedro property. Led to a vehicle in handcuffs, he was reportedly held in custody for two hours before eventually being released. Meanwhile, some 200 miles away in Arroyo Grande, the authorities had also descended on the home of Flores’ mother, Susan.

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According to San Luis Obispo newspaper The Tribune, investigators sealed off the property with caution tape while a small crowd gathered to watch. Perhaps inspired by Lambert’s podcast, some individuals even began heckling, allegedly yelling “Dig her up” from the sidelines. And later that day, officers were spotted leaving the house with several pieces of potential evidence, including a computer and a storage container.

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Mere hours on, San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Tony Cipolla confirmed that “some items of interest” had been recovered during the searches. In a February 2020 interview with The New York Times, he added, “We will now analyze those and see how they relate to the case. We would like nothing more than to bring closure to the Smart family in this case.”

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To Kristin’s parents, meanwhile, Lambert and his podcast have played a crucial role in these latest developments. In fact, even before the events of February 5, Stan and Denise released a statement thanking the musician for his input into the case. The pair said, “Your Own Backyard has been instrumental in renewing interest in Kristin’s investigation and generating many new leads.”

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Cipolla was quick to point out, though, that the sheriff’s office has always remained dedicated to solving the mystery of Kristin’s disappearance. In a statement issued on February 5, he explained, “This has always been an active investigation; it’s never been a cold case.” But were these recent searches just the latest in a long line of twists and turns? Or is a resolution finally on its way? For the grieving Smart family, they can only wait and hope.

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Geraldine Largay’s nearest and dearest were also left with many questions when the active senior went missing on the Appalachian Trail. And for two years, no one knew exactly what had happened to the adventurer – although her family may have feared the worst. In 2015, though, a visitor to the area finally managed to discover the truth.

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Deep in the woods of Maine, a forester is calculating the number of trees that sprawl thickly across the landscape. Then, as he walks on, he suddenly ventures upon the remains of an abandoned campsite. And while there’s a damaged tent at the location, there are no people in sight. Unknowingly, the man has uncovered the fate of a hiker who has been missing for two years.

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Largay – known as Gerry – was 66 years old when she disappeared, and she had always wanted to traverse the Appalachian Trail. It is one of the world’s most famous hiking trails, after all, and it extends from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine.

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For much of her life, in fact, Gerry lived near the southern end of the trail in Nashville, Tennessee. There, she spent her days working as a nurse and bringing up a child with the love of her life, George. And after their daughter, Kerry, became an adult, the couple went on to relocate some 250 miles southeast to Atlanta, Georgia.

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In Atlanta, Gerry found many outlets for her passionate personality; she joined the Nature Conservancy, for one. The mom also attended a local newcomers’ group where she took part in all manner of activities, including hiking and quilting. All in all, then, Gerry was an active and engaged member of the community.

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And Gerry also had a spiritual side. Having previously taken up George’s Catholic faith, she often prayed during her adventures in the great outdoors. At other times, though, she enjoyed simply wandering through the woods, using a guidebook to identify the flora and fauna that she found.

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Kerry went on to have children of her own, and Gerry loved to take her grandkids out on hikes, too. But her own sights were set on something bigger: the more than 2,000 miles of the Appalachian Trail. And, ultimately, it seems that the temptation of the trek became too great, as the grandmother went on to plan the ultimate adventure.

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Although the grueling nature of the Appalachian Trail hike did not appeal to George, he was supportive of his wife’s ambition. And so the couple later sold their Atlanta home before moving in with Kerry and her family in Brentwood, Tennessee. It was while Gerry was residing with her daughter, in fact, that she began meticulously plotting every step of the long journey ahead.

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Gerry even found a way around a potential obstacle in her path. Sometime before, you see, she had injured her back, making it impossible for her to carry a heavy pack. So, George agreed to regularly run supplies to his wife as she made her way along the trail. And after a number of challenging practice treks, the enthusiastic hiker was ready to make a start.

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On April 23, 2013, Gerry started out from Harpers Ferry in West Virginia with her friend Jane Lee. The pair are said to have intended to move north from the center of the trail to its terminus at Mount Katahdin before catching a ride back to their starting point. Then, they would hike the southern half of the trail all the way down to Springer Mountain.

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And, to begin with, things went about as smoothly as the two women could have hoped. Seemingly not deterred by the rain along the way, Gerry was upbeat when writing in her journal about the abundant flora she had encountered. She even adopted the trail name of Inchworm, and her sociable personality led her to befriend other hikers.

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In late June, however, things changed. After receiving word of a major family issue back home, Jane was forced to leave the trail, and Gerry, behind. Undaunted, the solo hiker continued on, sleeping in makeshift shelters when the location was too remote for George to whisk her to a campsite or motel.

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And by July 21, Gerry had successfully conquered some 900 miles of the northern section of the trail. In fact, she was only 200 miles or so from Mount Katahdin at that point. But before she could reach George and pick up more gear for the last section of the trek, she faced a 22-mile hike on difficult ground.

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As she expected this section of her hike to take two nights, Gerry packed a tent in preparation. Ultimately, though, she slept in a shelter at Poplar Ridge on the evening of July 21. Then, the following morning, she waved goodbye to a fellow hiker and set out once more – not knowing what fate had in store for her.

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On July 22 Gerry left the trail in search of a secluded space in which to relieve herself. In the process, however, she apparently walked onto land that had been logged a dozen years earlier and which had now become a mishmash of discarded trees and foliage. And, at this point, the hiker realized that she had become lost.

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Disorientated in the thick woods, Gerry therefore sent a text to George to say that she was experiencing some difficulties; she also asked her husband to contact the Appalachian Mountain Club for assistance. The message read, “In some trouble. Got off trail… Now lost. Can you call AMC to see if a trail maintainer can help me. [I’m] somewhere north of woods road.”

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Sadly, though, there was no cell phone signal in the area, and so Gerry’s message remained unsent. Hoping to find a spot with service, the hiker subsequently set off in search of higher ground. But despite fighting her way through the logged trees, she did not succeed. Eventually, then, Gerry decided to set up camp in the area.

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The following day, Gerry tried to send another text to her husband, asking him to contact the police. And, once again, the message did not go through. Meanwhile, George was waiting in the designated spot for his wife to arrive. Because the weather was bad, however, he was not overly concerned when she missed their original rendezvous.

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But when Gerry had still not arrived the following morning, George notified the authorities. And before long, the Maine Warden Service launched a massive search and rescue operation. Along with hundreds of volunteers, wardens began scouring the countryside around the trail.

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At first, the search crews focused on the stretch of trail north of Poplar Ridge, knowing that it was part of Gerry’s intended route. But then misinformation began to cloud the rescue mission. Apparently, one tip-off claimed that the hiker had been seen in Spaulding – even though she had never made it that far. Some boys also reported seeing a woman who matched Gerry’s description further along the path.

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And although searches still continued in the region of Poplar Ridge, the operation expanded to cover other locations. In the meantime, Gerry was struggling to make her meager food rations last through the long days. Hoping to attract the attention of rescue planes, she also took steps to make her makeshift camp more visible from above.

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Relocating her tent to a spot where the canopy was less dense, Gerry cut her silver emergency blanket into strips and dangled them in the trees. But as the days passed, she remained alone. And while she eventually heard the planes and helicopters of the rescue operation passing above, they tragically did not spot her.

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To occupy her time, Gerry made notes in her journal and read a novel she had brought with her several times. Apparently, the hiker also practiced complex sewing patterns with a piece of dental floss. Then, on August 6 – 15 days after leaving the trail – she attempted to send another text message to George. Sadly, though, there was still no signal to be found in the vicinity.

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In the interim, the search and rescue mission had covered an area of 23 square miles – including some of the region’s most remote terrain. However, on July 30, with no trace of Gerry having been found, the authorities were forced to call off the search. And for more than two years afterward, the mystery of the grandmother’s disappearance would haunt the Appalachian Trail.

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Then, on October 14, 2015, a forester working near the trail came across an abandoned tent. And close by, the man unearthed something shocking: what seemed to be a body wrapped up in a blue sleeping bag. He went on to call the find in, with a small team assembling to investigate the situation the following day.

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Among the group of wardens and law enforcement officers was Kevin Adam, who had headed up the search for Gerry years before. The team were joined by a crew who were filming an episode of North Woods Law. And as the crowd neared the spot where the remains had been seen, the difficult moment was captured on film.

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After two hours of hiking, the group had arrived at the place where the forester had discovered the abandoned camp. And there, they discovered what none of them had wanted to find. Inside the sleeping bag was Gerry’s body – easily identified by the ID that she had stashed in a resealable bag.

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For those who had been a part of the hunt for the lost hiker, it was a distressing find. Warden Kris Maccabe told the Animal Planet network, “There’s nobody that wanted to bring her home more than we did. I really feel for the family.”

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Alongside Gerry’s body, they also found personal effects including her cellphone. And the messages that she had attempted to send to her husband remained unsent. Apparently, she had also cut up her credit card and buried the pieces so that nobody could steal the details.

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Most heartrending of all, however, was the journal that Gerry had left beside her. In it, the hiker had left a message that indicated that she had known that she was going to die in the woods.

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“When you find my body please call my husband George and my daughter Kerry,” the message read. “It will be the greatest kindness for them to know that I am dead and where you find me – no matter how many years from now.”

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The last entry in the journal was dated August 18 – a full 27 days after Gerry had wandered from the trail and 18 days after the search had been called off. And after looking at the diary’s detailed passages, investigators were able to piece together the lost hiker’s activities as she waited in vain for help to come.

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Eventually, though, Gerry had succumbed to the elements – perishing from exposure and a lack of water and food. And, heartbreakingly, she had actually been found surprisingly close to a public path. According to a 2016 report by The Boston Globe, Gerry’s camp had only been situated some 2,300 feet as the crow flies from the Railroad Road trail.

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Gerry’s final request had been for her eventual rescuers to send her possessions on to her surviving relatives. She had written, “Please find it in your heart to mail the contents of this bag to one of them.”

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But while Gerry’s family mourned her death, they remained full of praise for those who had dedicated huge amounts of time and energy in an attempt to bring her home. They said in a statement, “Gerry was doing exactly what she wanted to do. As the warden’s report indicates, she was lucid and thinking of others – as always – until the end.”

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Fittingly, Gerry may continue to help people even after her tragic death. In June 2019, you see, Maine-based writer Dee Dauphinee published When You Find My Body: The Disappearance of Geraldine Largay on the Appalachian Trail. And through this book, the author believes, others will learn about the potential pitfalls of the popular hike.

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“I spoke to the trail culture on the Appalachian Trail. You know, the trail is so well marked that the Appalachian Trail culture and hikers – many of them insist that you don’t need a map and compass or any of the wilderness survival skills,” Dauphinee told Maine Public in 2019. “So, I really spoke to that in the book. And I wasn’t sure how the Appalachian Trail community was going to respond to that. But, overwhelmingly, it’s been great.”

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“I’ve had several hundred emails from people [who] have read the book [and] said, ‘I went out and bought a compass,’ you know, and things like that,” the author continued. “So, I think, Gerry was such a caregiver that I think that, were she alive, she’d be happy to know whatever she did on the Appalachian Trail was [contributing] to somebody’s safety down the road, potentially.”

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For Gerry’s family, however, the loss has been difficult to bear. Particularly painful, according to George, was the realization that his wife had survived for so long before finally succumbing to her ultimate fate. In a 2016 interview with The Boston Globe, George explained, “That was gut-wrenching. I knew [Gerry] was one tough cookie; I just didn’t realize how tough she was.”

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Then, ten days after Gerry’s body was discovered, her family hiked to the campsite where the wife and mother had spent her final days. And at the spot, they put up a homemade cross covered in messages from the hiker’s beloved grandchildren. One day, Kerry even hopes to return with her own kids to the remote location that remains a testament to one woman’s strength.

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Later, controversy also emerged surrounding hiking fanatic Warren Doyle, who currently holds the record for the greatest number of treks along the Appalachian Trail. Apparently, you see, Gerry had attended one of his training courses before embarking on her adventure. Unfortunately, though, Doyle claimed that the lessons hadn’t covered survival techniques. And in 2016 the instructor told website Central Maine that although Gerry’s case is an unusual one, it will likely serve as a cautionary tale for many years to come.

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