By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Autopsy performed on Ga. hikers body; authorities say other cases may be linked
Missing Hiker NY127 5283164
Gary Michael Hilton, left, talks to to his public defender Neil Smith, right, following a first appearance in Union County Magistrate Court in Blairsville, Ga. on Monday, Jan. 7, 2008. Hilton is charged in the disappearance of disappearance of a female hiker, Meredith Emerson. - photo by Associated Press
    DAWSONVILLE, Ga. — An autopsy was performed Tuesday on the body of a hiker who was found after a drifter accused of kidnapping her told authorities where to look, officials said.
    Gary Michael Hilton, 61, had been charged Saturday with kidnapping with intent of bodily injury. He appeared on Monday before a judge who denied his request for bail.
    Hours later, he led investigators to a spot in a wooded area in north Georgia where they found the body of Meredith Emerson, said John Cagle, special agent in charge of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s Field Division in Cleveland, Ga.
    The 24-year-old woman had been missing since New Year’s Day, when she went hiking with her dog. Hilton was the last person seen with Emerson on the hiking trail and had tried to use her credit card, according to his arrest warrant.
    Emerson’s body was brought to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s crime lab where an autopsy was done Tuesday morning. Authorities would not describe how Emerson had died.
    Authorities also said they are exploring a possible link between the disappearance of Emerson and the presumed killing of a couple from North Carolina in October, and the December death of a woman in Florida.
    Bureau director Vernon Keenan said there could be a connection to the case of John and Irene Bryant, a couple in their 80s who disappeared in October while hiking in the western North Carolina mountains.
    Georgia officials met with North Carolina authorities Monday to discuss the case, bureau spokesman John Bankhead said.
    The body of Irene Bryant, 84, was found covered with leaves in November. John Bryant, 80, is still missing, and authorities said he may have been kidnapped so he would provide the couple’s bank account security number.
    Someone used the Bryants’ ATM card in the days following their disappearance, investigators said. The ATM transaction took place in Ducktown, Tenn., about 50 miles from the area of the Georgia investigation.
    Georgia officials also plan to meet with Florida investigators about the death of a woman there, Bankhead said Tuesday.
    The body of Cheryl Hodges Dunlap was found Dec. 19 in the Apalachicola National Forest, southwest of Tallahassee. Authorities say a masked person suspected in Dunlap’s death used her ATM card three times after her disappearance Dec. 1.
    Sgt. Rob Reisinger, spokesman for Leon County, Fla., Sheriff’s Office, said his agency has requested information about the Georgia case. But he said it is too early to determine whether there is a connection.
    Residents had reported seeing Hilton’s van in the Dawson Forest Management Area, where the body was found. A search of the area had been planned, miles from where Emerson was last seen, before Hilton told authorities where to look, Cagle said.
    Three bloody fleece tops and a bloodstained piece of a car’s seat belt were found in a trash bin beside a convenience store where Hilton had used a pay phone, his arrest warrant stated. Hilton had tried to vacuum and wash portions of his 2001 Chevrolet Astro van, which was found without the rear seat belt, according to the document.

Sign up for the Herald's free e-newsletter