A Bristol, Tennessee, business owner said Monday that he had an unusual encounter earlier this month with the man who is now accused of killing one hiker and injuring another on the Appalachian Trail over the weekend.
James L. Jordan, 30, of West Yarmouth, Massachusetts, was arrested after one male hiker was stabbed to death and a female hiker was seriously wounded near the Smyth and Wythe county line in Southwest Virginia.
Jordan has been charged with one count of murder and one count of assault with intent to commit murder in U.S. District Court in Abingdon.
On May 5, one week before Jordan’s arrest, the man apparently stopped at the University C Mart at the corner of King College Road and Cedar Street around 1 a.m. Mike Brown, the store’s owner, said he stopped to fill up his gas tank. After turning off the pump, Brown said he suddenly heard the sound of a can being kicked. He turned around and saw a dog wearing a service vest.
“I then saw the man dressed in camouflage,” said Brown, adding that the man, believed to be Jordan, was also carrying a military backpack, a fishing pole and a guitar.
Brown said he did not know who the man was as they talked. The man told Brown he was looking in the dumpster for something to eat. Brown, who thought Jordan was a veteran due to a tattoo on his arm, said he went back inside the store and retrieved a sandwich and a bottle of water.
The more the men talked, the more concerned Brown became for his own safety.
Brown said the man talked about being in a “special force” and told him he was a “suburban assassin” and that his target drove a large white truck, similar to one that Brown had parked at the gas pump.
“He said he had to kill his target and open two gates to start the situation up,” said Brown, who then called 911.
Two Bristol Tennessee Police Department officers responded to the store.
“The officers did have an interaction with who they believe was James Jordan on May 5,” Maj. Matt Austin confirmed Monday. “The officers were checking on him because of a complaint of a suspicious person.”
Austin added that the officers talked with the man and found no reason to detain him.
Brown said the officers left, allowing Jordan to stay in the area. He was gone the next morning when Brown said he went to the store.
Brown said he believes officers should have detained the man.
“I had the worst feeling about this man,” he said.
On Monday morning, alongside U.S. Marshals, Jordan appeared in federal court in Abingdon before Magistrate Judge Pamela Sergeant, who ordered the man to undergo evaluations for competency and sanity.
During the hearing, Jordan also asked about the whereabouts of his dog. Prosecutor Zachary Lee said the dog is at a no-kill animal shelter in Wythe County.
The judge permitted Jordan to make arrangements for someone to pick up the dog. The government said they had no reason to keep the dog, which had been hiking with Jordan before his arrest. Jordan thanked the judge as she left the bench.
The case began at 1:33 a.m. Saturday along the Appalachian Trail, according to information provided by the Wythe County Sheriff’s Office. At that time, Bland County 911 received a call from a woman reporting that a hiker chased her and her husband. The woman was near the Ceres community and said they needed help. She didn’t know the hiker’s name, but his trail name was “Sovereign.”
At 2:21 a.m., the International Emergency Response Coordination Center contacted Wythe County 911 and informed dispatchers they received an S.O.S. from another hiker. That person said a hiker named “Sovereign” offered to give him a knife and tried to start a fight.
By 2:41, Bland County said the two hikers said they were being chased by a person with a machete.
At 3:12 a.m., a woman called Wythe County 911 and advised she had been stabbed multiple times and she was in the Davis Hollow section of Smyth County, the information states.
“She advised she was beaten and stabbed and played dead until he ran off looking for his dog and chasing other hikers,” the information states, adding that the woman referred to the man as “Sovereign.”
Within the next few hours, authorities found the injured woman, developed Jordan — who had been arrested in April in Tennessee after hikers there said he threatened them — as a suspect and found a man who had been stabbed to death. The S.O.S. apparently came from the man’s phone, the information states.
Special agents with the FBI and U.S. Forest Service subsequently led the investigation, which determined Jordan approached four hikers on the trail in Smyth County. The hikers said he was acting disturbed and unstable and was playing his guitar and singing.
The four hikers went north on the trail and set up camp in Wythe County.
Jordan began randomly approaching their tents, making noises and threatening hikers, according to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court. It said Jordan spoke to the hikers through their tents and threatened to pour gasoline on their tents and burn them to death.
The hikers decided to leave, but Jordan approached them with a knife, the complaint states. Two hikers were able to run from the scene, and Jordan returned to the campsite, where he approached the woman and man.
The woman told authorities Jordan began stabbing the man. When the man fell to the ground, she attempted to run. Jordan caught up. She said she turned to face Jordan and raised her hands to surrender, but Jordan began stabbing her, the complaint states.
Once Jordan left, the woman said she was able to seek help, which she received from two other hikers. The woman was taken to Bristol Regional Medical Center, where she was listed in stable condition, according to the Wythe County Sheriff’s Office.
Authorities have declined to identify the man and woman who were stabbed.
Jordan, who is being held at the Southwest Virginia Regional Jail in Abingdon, has a lengthy criminal record. In Barnstable County, Massachusetts, Jordan has a history of assault, disorderly conduct, indecent exposure and trespassing charges and convictions.
Jordan was also arrested in Unicoi County last month after authorities were told a man named “Sovereign” had been threatening other hikers. He was found guilty of criminal impersonation, public intoxication and possession of Schedule VI drugs and given probation.
Jordan is being represented by attorney Nancy Dickenson.