He was on his way to becoming a trail legend.
July 3, 2015 3:17 PM   Subscribe

When James Hammes, an accountant who embezzled $9 million from the Pepsi distributor he worked at, went on the run he didn't flee the country or live a life of luxury. He spent six years hiking the Appalachian Trail.

Hammes was featured on episodes of America's Most Wanted and American Greed. An Appalachian Trail hiker who had hiked with Hammes in 2014 saw the American Greed episode and alerted the FBI that Hammes was hiking under the trail name "Bismarck". He was probably able to go undetected so long despite being well-known in the trail community because long-distance hiking has some advantages for someone who wants to disappear.
posted by edeezy (20 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
 
Whoa, freaky. If you search trailjournals he's all over the place, plenty of pictures.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 3:24 PM on July 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


I wonder if he met up with Mark Sanford during his journeys.
posted by hippybear at 3:31 PM on July 3, 2015 [14 favorites]


Fascinating, thanks for posting!
posted by JoeXIII007 at 3:34 PM on July 3, 2015


Hammes faces up to 1,130 years in a federal prison if convicted.
I found this more shocking than his choice of hideaway. Is that strange?
posted by spinda at 3:37 PM on July 3, 2015 [11 favorites]


Jeremiah Johnson made his way into the mountains
Bettin' on forgettin' all the troubles that he knew
He'd embezzled several million
From an Ohio soft-drink bottler
And he was waitin' on the statute to expire...

posted by TheWhiteSkull at 3:49 PM on July 3, 2015 [8 favorites]


This is puzzling to me. Why allegedly steal 8 million dollars and allegedly kill your wife only to do what you could do anyway? It doesn't take 8 million dollars to live on the Appalachian Trail, and you can walk out on your life at any time without killing anybody. I just don't get it.
posted by Floydd at 3:52 PM on July 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


This is puzzling to me. Why allegedly steal 8 million dollars and allegedly kill your wife only to do what you could do anyway? It doesn't take 8 million dollars to live on the Appalachian Trail, and you can walk out on your life at any time without killing anybody. I just don't get it.

That does seem weird to me, especially considering options like renting a beach house in a tropical paradise instead. The main article is really good, though. I suppose that once you make a few bad choices (like embezzlement, arson, and murder), a few more odd choices (like going on a six year hike) aren't a big deal.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:41 PM on July 3, 2015


This is puzzling to me. Why allegedly steal 8 million dollars and allegedly kill your wife only to do what you could do anyway? It doesn't take 8 million dollars to live on the Appalachian Trail, and you can walk out on your life at any time without killing anybody. I just don't get it.

Hiding in plain sight. It's hard to disappear... really hard. Good luck getting a flight out without getting detected. If you're driving odds are you'll get spotted. The feds will look in every city, town, village and hamlet for you. They aren't however, likely to stalk a cross-country trail unless they have good reason to think you're there.
posted by azpenguin at 5:04 PM on July 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


Housing in the trail like that worked for six years, so it wasn't that bad a plan.
posted by happyroach at 5:08 PM on July 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


He was hiding. The plan was not to do this. But he got caught and managed to avoid arrest. He then disappeared. And this does seem like a very good plan in retrospect. He was on most wanted listed and they only managed to catch him because someone recognized him from a tv show.
posted by scunning at 5:09 PM on July 3, 2015


It may be worth keeping in mind that the arson and murder are only speculation. I didn't find any wikipedia entry, but in the FPP article there's no mention of charges, let alone a conviction.
posted by oheso at 5:41 PM on July 3, 2015 [7 favorites]


The stuff sbout his first wife is speculation. The fire was blamed on an electrical fault, and she was found alive but brain-dead from monoxide. They wrap in the idea that she was asking him awkward money questions to come up with a motive. Without something more substantial, I would put that down to a spiteful story from someone in his first wife's family who resented her death and thought he didn't suffer enough for it.

But it's clear he enjoyed walking long before he disappeared, so his choice of hiding out in a life on the Trail make perfect sense to me. It seems likely he did embezzle that much money, but it's possible he spent most of it before he was found out. Going off the grid may have seemed a good, enjoyable way to stretch the rest.

Either way, a ripping yarn!
posted by Autumn Leaf at 6:41 PM on July 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


I have a friend from high school whose husband embezzled $2 million. It was actually much more than that, but that was all the Feds could prove. He spent two years in minimum security federal prison (conjugal visits, too), and then he and his wife retired.

Nice work, if you can get it.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:06 PM on July 3, 2015 [12 favorites]


I don't know the guy but it seems like maybe this is the long end of some crazy shame spiral. He was Catholic, had a baby out of wedlock and hid it, because maybe didn't know how to talk to people about it yet. Met his wife, relationship got rolling fast, didn't know how to bring it up, and just kept hiding it. So maybe embezzling began as a way to get enough money to cover child support payments. And then he kept going with the embezzlement for mysterious reasons. I dunno, a couple of trips to the Bahamas for scuba diving doesn't sound that insanely lavish for a controller. Going alone is weird, though.

I dunno. I don't think he killed his wife. There isn't really any evidence presented that suggests that. I think this is more like an exaggerated "not living an authentic life" and finding oneself on the trail story. He sounded genuinely well-liked.
posted by stowaway at 8:51 PM on July 3, 2015


Also, six years of hiking would be very relaxing.
posted by sneebler at 9:30 PM on July 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


Somewhere there is a bear looking at 8 million dollars...
posted by fallingbadgers at 10:14 PM on July 3, 2015 [7 favorites]


The Kettlemans tried to go camping after embezzling...
posted by stevil at 7:36 AM on July 4, 2015 [4 favorites]


Heeeeeeeere's JOHNNY!
posted by ostranenie at 11:42 AM on July 4, 2015


They wrap in the idea that she was asking him awkward money questions to come up with a motive. Without something more substantial, I would put that down to a spiteful story from someone in his first wife's family who resented her death and thought he didn't suffer enough for it.

My thought is that anyone hurt by his embezzlement might have promulgated that story—maybe even believe it.
posted by Fongotskilernie at 4:38 PM on July 4, 2015


My wife hiked with him a little in 2010. He had a reputation on the trail as a kind, helpful guy. It's a strange world!
posted by Makwa at 12:36 PM on July 7, 2015


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