Yellow tape marking off a crime scene around an RV in a wooded campground.

5 True Crime RV Stories

It can seem like true crime stories are everywhere these days. They are chilling real-life tales of murder, kidnapping, robbery, disappearances, and other mayhem. They can take place anywhere, from busy city streets to secluded country hideaways — with, unfortunately, RV parks included.

Recently, there have been a few notable instances of high-profile RV crime. But how concerned should you actually be about crime in RV parks if you’re planning a trip? Let’s open up the evidence file and separate the sensational stories from real-life experiences.

Are RV Parks Safe?

In many cases, RV parks will reflect the area around them. Parks in a seedy area of town may be more likely to experience random crime than luxury resort-style campgrounds on the beach.

Generally speaking however, RV parks tend to be very safe places. You’re extremely unlikely to be a victim of a crime. 

How Common Is Crime in RV Parks?  

It can be challenging to get a complete picture of the RV crime statistics. Authorities may lump crimes in RV parks or campgrounds with general crime statistics. Meanwhile, national parks or boondocking incidents will likely include non-RV campers and travelers.

Still, it’s safe to say that you’re generally no more likely to be a victim of a crime in an RV park than anywhere else. Additionally, in some cases, you’ll be much safer!

In general, despite a recent uptick, your chances of being a victim of a crime in any situation are close to historical lows. This means, with a little common sense, safety shouldn’t be a primary concern for RVers. 

5 Real-Life RV Crime Stories 

Despite the relatively safe nature of RV life, some truly brutal and chilling crimes have taken place among or victimizing RVers. Here are some of the most notable examples.

#1 Texas Beach Camping Murders

Full-time RVers James and Michelle Butler were camping along the South Texas shoreline in October 2019 when relatives lost contact with them. Just over a week later, their bodies were found buried in the sand.

Investigation into missing New Hampshire couple found buried on Texas beach.

It was not far from their last known camping spot. The area, “The Bowl,” is close to Padre Island National Seashore and the U.S.-Mexico border. 

Convicted felon Adam Curtis Williams and another suspect, Amanda Noverr, were crossing the border with the Butlers’ RV. They were later arrested in Mexico. Both later pleaded guilty to the killings, with Williams receiving several consecutive life sentences and Noverr sentenced to 20 years.  

#2 Wells Gray Park Murders

This harrowing story takes place north of the border, near Canada’s Wells Gray Provincial Park in eastern British Columbia. In August 1982, Bob and Jackie Johnson, their two middle-school-aged daughters, and Jackie’s parents went missing after camping just outside the park. An extensive search began, finding six spent bullet shells at the campsite. 

The horror of the “Wells Gray Murders” forty years ago still haunts investigators involved in the case.

Eventually, it turned up a gruesome discovery weeks later on a nearby logging road. It was one of the group’s burned-out cars, filled with charred bones and other human remains belonging to the family. Another of the family’s vehicles, a truck camper, remained missing for more than a year until individuals found it burned up in another remote spot near the killings. 

Suspicion eventually turned to a local man, David William Shearing, who police had gotten a tip might have non-public information about the crime scene. Shearing had been initially interviewed but not thought of as a suspect.

Under questioning, he eventually admitted to the killings, even producing the murder weapon and claiming he’d only intended to rob the family. Shearing pleaded guilty and received six consecutive life sentences. The parole board denied his parole several times.

The most disturbing details only emerged after his conviction, when Shearing admitted he hadn’t killed the girls immediately as he’d initially said. Instead, he’d kidnapped and sexually abused them for nearly a week at his farm before murdering them.

Among the most horrifying elements of the story was that a prison guard who stopped at the home could have discovered the girls and rescued them. 

#3 Arches National Park Murders

Just a short time before they went missing in August 2021, a recently married Utah couple told friends and family of a “weirdo” who was camping near them in Moab, Utah, near Arches National Park. Days later, Crystal Turner and Kylen Schulte were found dead from gunshot wounds, not far from where people last saw them. 

Suspect identified in Grand County double murder.

Initially, there were a few suspects and clues beyond messages from the two mentioning a “creeper dude” who had frightened them while at the campsite. The trail ran relatively cold for nine months as potential leads dried up and authorities cleared persons of interest.

Finally, police identified a man they considered the likely suspect. He was Adam Pinkusiewicz, who reportedly told someone he had killed two women and shared details only known by investigators.

Pinkusiewicz was not arrested because he committed suicide almost a month after the bodies were found. There’s no known motive for the murders, and the case is not considered closed.

#4 Maquoketa State Park Shooting

Another senseless and terrifying killing occurred in late July 2022 at Maquoketa State Park in eastern Iowa. Police say 23-year-old Anthony Sherwin shot, stabbed, and strangled three members of the Schmidt family, including 6-year-old Lulu, seemingly at random. Only their 9-year-old son was able to escape and survive.

Sherwin had been camping with his parents at the park when he disappeared shortly before the shootings. Authorities later found him dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Investigators believe Sherwin had no connection to the Schmidts, and we may never know the motive for the massacre. 

#5 The Grand Teton Homicide 

One of the highest-profile instances of nomad or RV crime is the killing of Gabby Petito in August 2021. Petito and her boyfriend Brian Laundrie were several months into a long-planned van-life excursion around the country when she went missing near Grand Teton National Park.

The Gabby Petito Story: An American Tragedy | 60 Minutes Australia

Suspiciously, her parent reported her missing more than 10 days later, rather than Laundrie, the last person who saw her. In fact, he’d already driven their van back to his home in Florida and refused to talk about her whereabouts.

As the search continued for Petito, Laundrie himself also disappeared from his family’s home. Days later, authorities found Petito’s remains in Bridger-Teton National Forest. An autopsy later revealed the cause of death was strangulation. The investigation revealed the police were called about the couple for a domestic incident weeks earlier. The circumstances were unclear and neither opted to press charges. 

The search continued for Laundrie for more than a month before authorities found his body in a wildlife preserve near his home. A self-inflicted gunshot wound was the cause of death. Journals recovered from the site reportedly contain his confession to killing Petito.

It included claims about the circumstances experts say the evidence doesn’t support, leaving the true events a mystery. The case also caused outrage over the role of Laundrie’s parents, who were with their son for the crucial period between Petito’s disappearance and Laundrie’s death. 

How to Stay Safe While Traveling in Your RV 

You don’t need much more than common sense to stay safe while traveling in your RV. Keep your doors locked at night, and take inside any outdoor valuables if you’re concerned about them. 

Do your research about potential campgrounds to check out the surrounding area and any amenities (including on-site security.) Most RV parks are typically very safe. However, some travelers may want to exercise caution when staying at other types of places like big-box store parking lots or truck stops. In any case, it’s always a good idea to let someone know your itinerary in case something should happen. 

A travel trailer with a bright exterior light shining through the darkness of light in a wooded campsite in the forest.

Once you arrive, trust your gut. If something or someone seems off, it’s better to head down the road and find another place to stay. After all, this is one of the significant advantages of RV life — the ability to move on if needed. And you’ll likely have a better time and get a better night’s sleep anyway!

Is Overnight Parking At Walmart Still Safe in 2022?

Can Someone Easily Break Into An RV? 

While most RVs are reasonably secure, it’s important to remember that they’re nowhere near as substantial as a typical home or apartment. This means that, relative to most accommodations, they’re easier to break into.

Those concerned can upgrade their locks and install other anti-theft or break-in features. Still, it’s important to remember that RV break-ins are relatively rare, especially for rigs used regularly or parked in an RV park with other campers. 

Should You Be Worried About RV Crime During Your Trip? 

The stories above prove there’s always a chance of crime, even a potentially serious one when camping or RVing. Still, you shouldn’t worry about crime in RV parks too much. Cases like the gruesome killings above are exceedingly rare, not just in RV parks, but generally speaking. 

Most of the crime in RV parks is due to minor property crimes or other non-violent offenses. And tens of thousands of RVers hit the road every year without ever running into trouble.

So while true-crime stories might make for a juicy podcast or page-turning book, they shouldn’t keep you from getting out and exploring in your RV or camper.

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