1. Meet Geraldine A. Largay
Geraldine Largay, known to her friends as Gerry, was a 66-year-old woman who always dreamed of hiking the Appalachian Trail. She had a loving husband, named George, and she was also adored by her children and grand-children. She was very meticulous and detail-oriented. Family and friends say she had an infectious personality and easily made friends. Unfortunately, she over estimated her abilities, which led to her tragic fate.
2. She Loved Hiking
Geraldine loved to hike. Her husband, George, told newspaper The Tennessean “She loved outdoors,” and the Appalachian Trail was “the ultimate hike for someone who really loves hiking as she does.” Geraldine had planned to make the nearly 1,000 mile hike with close friend, Jane Lee. Geraldine and Jane made a plan to begin the hike in late April 2013. Sadly, neither had the foresight to see what was about to happen.
3. She Was Prepared
The 66-year-old was a retired air force nurse and had hiked many times before, near her home in Tennessee. She had even taken a course on hiking the Appalachian Trail. She was very excited about the trip. Her husband told the Brentwood Home Page that she was always lively, “We’d kid that she put the ‘joie’ in ‘joie de vivre.’” It seemed as though Gerry was completely prepared for her journey.
4. The Plan
Jane and Geraldine were to leave from Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, on April 23, 2013. Geraldine’s husband would meet the couple at designated, prearranged spots along the trail. He would meet them with more supplies, and sometimes take them to motels for showers and to spend one night indoors. They originally planned to hike the whole trail together. However, Jane had to leave.
5. The Hiking Pair Splits Up
On June 30, 2013, while the pair was hiking through New Hampshire, Jane had to cut her hike short. She had learned of a family emergency and had to return home. Geraldine wanted to keep hiking and insisted she would be fine alone. Although Jane did not feel it was a good idea, she let Geraldine continue. She later told investigators “that Geraldine had a poor sense of direction.” She also discussed how Geraldine had taken a few wrong turns on the trail.
6. Last Picture Taken
Geraldine spent the night of July 21-22 in the Poplar Ridge lean-to (pictured), in Western Maine. She was less than 200 miles from the end of the trail. The New York Times reported, “a fellow hiker, Dottie Rust, asked to take her picture. In the photo, she is beaming and wearing her backpack, her socks pulled high, as hikers do to ward off scrapes and blisters.” That was the last time Geraldine was ever photographed.
On July 22, Geraldine left her overnight accommodations at 6:30am. It was the last time anyone saw Geraldine. Investigators believe by 11am Geraldine was lost. They came to this conclusion after they found a text message she tried to send to her husband – a text that was never received by George, due to bad reception along the trails.
8. The Last Text Message
Around 11am on July 22nd, Gerry tried to text message her husband. The message read “In somm trouble, Got off trail to go to br. Now lost.” She also asked him to call the Appalachian Mountain Club “to c if a trail maintainer can help me. Somewhere north of woods road. Xox.” Gerry knew she was in trouble and tried to get help, but unfortunately, it was too late.
9. Missed Meeting
The next day, on July 23, Geraldine and George were supposed to meet at one of their prearranged spots (at Route 27 in Wyman Township) to pick up supplies.He slept in his vehicle, at the meeting spot, hoping she was just delayed. She never showed. The next day, George reported her officially missing. The search began the following day, July 24, which also began the beginning of the 2 year long mystery.
10. Why Didn’t George Hike With Her?
In 2013, George said to the Brentwood Home Page “Hiking the Appalachian trail and sleeping in tents and wearing the same stuff for three and four days in the rain – not on my bucket list, but she needed to be supported on the hike, because she had limits on what she could carry.” Therefore, it was decided that he would just meet her along the way, rather than hike with her and Jane.
11. The Search
Multiple agencies and volunteers joined in the search for Geraldine. People looked on foot, on horseback and in helicopters. Police questioned hikers who may have seen Gerry and even tested DNA on a discarded band-aid. Unfortunately, they were unable to locate her. However, they soon began recieving an exuberant amount of tips of where she may be.
12. So Many (False) Leads
After media learned of Geraldine’s disappearance, the public soon began flooding tip lines with possible leads. Some people called in to say she was murdered, or she fell into the river. While others say they think they may have spotted her on the trail but weren’t positive. Psychics even called in and said they had visions of her and they saw she was alive, but had broken her ankle. None of the tips led to Gerry’s discovery.
13. More Leads & More Dead Ends
The investigators followed every lead that was called in. The Central Main Morning Sentinel reported, “There were many leads over the next 26 months, ranging from persons of interest for possible criminal activity related to Gerry’s disappearance, identity theft involving Gerry’s personal information, geographic information by psychics, sightings in different states, to information suggesting Bigfoot was responsible for her disappearance.” Unfortunately, these leads were also dead ends.
14. Search Scaled Back
Unfortunately, after months of looking, on August 4, 2013 the search was drastically scaled back. However, periodic searches still continued. Unfortunately, she was never found until recently. Searches covered roughly a 23-mile area, between where she was last seen and the intersection of the trail and her last scheduled meeting point. Only 3 dog searches were able too be conducted, as there weren’t enough volunteers physically fit enough to handle the difficult terrain.
15. Campsite Discovered
Two years would pass before anyone would discover what happened to Gerry. A logging company surveyor happened to be walking on the outskirts of the trail, when he stumbled upon a camping site. The campsite was surrounded by a mixture of hardwood and evergreen, with a tree canopy covering 75% of the campsite from above. Therefore, it would be very hard to see by helicopter.
16. Other Campsite Discoveries
The campsite also included a tent laid on a bed of sticks and pine needles. There was a shiny silver blanket hung up between two trees, as well as multiple burn marks on surrounding tree. Lt. Kevin Adam, of the local Warden service later said “It looks like some sort of fire was attempted on those trees.” Unfortunately, after not finding any campers, the surveyor looked inside the tent. He had finally solved the 2 year mystery.
17. Gerry Found
We would like to report that Gerry somehow survived the 2 years in the wilderness.Unfortunately, this was not the case. Gerry’s remains were found in her sleeping. However, there were also other things left behind. She left her cell phone and a notebook. The notebook journaled her last days in the wilderness. It showed she had true bravery until her final day.
18. Other Items Found
Gerry’s remains were discovered on October 14, 2015. Her campsite remained completely neat. Along with gear she had carried, other items were found. Investigators found a blue and white bandanna, a rosary, birthday candles, lighters, dental floss, a sewing kit and two water bottles, one still containing water. But, the most prominent discovery was still the notebook she left behind.
19. Bag Of Belongings
After investigators arrived at the site, they went through Geraldine’s things. They found everything in ziploc bags, and her possessions neatly folded and placed around the site. However, it was the notebook she really wanted returned to her family. A note on top of the book read “George Please Read XOXO.” The notebook showed she was lucid until the very end.
20. Her Final Wish
The notebook chronicled the days following her disappearance. Sadly, she had one wish for anyone who were to find her. She wrote “When you find my body, please call my husband George and my daughter Kerry. It will be the greatest kindness for them to know that I am dead and where you found me — no matter how many years from now.” It had been two years.
21. She Was So Close To The Trail
Geraldine’s campsite was found less than 2 miles from the trail. A volunteer in the search party said “You step off the trail 20 or 50 feet and turn around, it’s very difficult to see where the trail was. If you didn’t know which way the trail was, you could easily walk in circles for hours.” But, why could search parties find her? Investigators believe that Gerry had zipped herself up in the tent. Therefore, much of her scent was blocked off from searching K-9s.
22. One Of The Largest Searches Ever
After Gerry’s remains were discovered Warden Kris Maccabe, who was at the scene, said ‘There’s nobody that wanted to bring her home more than we did. I really feel for the family.” The original search for Geraldine was one of the largest and most extensive search operations every run by the local warden services. Officials said the search was “one of Maine’s most unique and challenging search-and-rescue incidents.”
23. Autopsy Reports
Although she was found in October 2015, her official autopsy report was not completed until January 2016. The medical examiner ruled her death accidental. The official cause of death was inanition. He believed she somehow got lost off the trail and died of lack of food, water, and prolonged environmental exposure.
24. Family’s Wishes
Once the autopsy reports were concluded, the family released a statement to the media. About the autopsy, the family said “these findings are conclusive in that no foul play was involved and that Gerry simply made a wrong turn shortly after crossing Orbeton Stream. Now that we know her death was an accident, we again ask all media for the respect of our privacy as we continue our grieving process with this new chapter of closure.”
25. Investigators’ Findings Released
After the local authorities finished their investigation a file with 1,579 pages was released. The investigators believe Gerry wandered off trail to use the bathroom, but couldn’t find her way back. The area she chose is extremely wooded and so remote that it is used by military for survival and evasion training. The file also aid that Largay had attempted to text her husband on multiple occasions.
26. Her Last Entry
Investigators say she made her way to higher ground in hopes to get better cell service. The last attempted text on her phone was August 6, 2013. Her last journal entry was dated August 18. If her dates were correct, Gerry survived nearly a month in the wilderness alone. It was through smart thinking and cunning techniques that she was able to survive for so long.
27. She Was Smart
In the file, investigators also discussed how Gerry was very smart with her camping location. The knoll she chose was close to a stream. They also described how they believe she attempted to make a flag out of a branch and shirt, which she set on fire. She hoped it would signal her location. She also built a latrine away from her tent, and kept the wrappers from the food she had.
28. Final Family Statement
Another statement was issued to The Boston Globe by a family spokesperson, “Gerry was doing exactly what she wanted to do. She’d hiked a thousand miles – after 200 miles of training hikes the year prior – and as the warden’s report indicates, she was lucid and thinking of others, as always, until the end. Her final days were a testament to her bravery, resourcefulness, and her faith.”
29. Family Memorial
Two weeks after her body was originally found, her family went to the campsite. They had a personal memorial and left a white wooden cross that was decorated with messages etched in black marker. One of the messages, written in a child’s handwriting, read, “I wish you were here.” Although they are sad to learn of the loss, the family is happy to have some closure. Gerry will always be remembered a brave, happy, and vivacious soul.
30. What To Do If You Get Lost Hiking
Gerry was very smart in her survival instincts. She tried to create a fire, decided to stop rather than wander farther, and used all her equipment wisely. Other tips are conserve your energy. The less energy you use, the less food and water needed. If you do not have a tent, find shelter. Caves are always a good options. Finally, don’t wander to far from your site, but scout the area for any local water sources, or anything other hikers may have left behind.