National News

Missing Hiker Case May Be Connected to N.C. Couple's Disappearance

Posted January 7, 2008

— Authorities believe the disappearance of a female hiker may be connected to the presumed killing of an elderly couple from North Carolina last October, a newspaper reported Monday.

Gary Michael Hilton, 61, who investigators said was the last person seen with 24-year-old Meredith Emerson on the trail, was awaiting his first court appearance, scheduled for Monday. He was served Saturday with a warrant charging him with kidnapping with bodily injury.

Georgia Bureau of Investigation Director Vernon Keenan said there could be a connection between the Emerson case and the disappearance and presumed killing of an elderly couple from North Carolina - John and Irene Bryant - last October.

Irene Bryant's beaten body was discovered in the Pisgah National Forest. Her 79-year-old husband was never found.

"We are working with the authorities in North Carolina and exchanging information with them," Keenan told reporters Sunday, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "There are some similarities" between the Emerson and Bryant cases, he said.

Emerson is believed to be dead, so authorities have changed the search to a recovery effort, not a rescue mission. The search was to resume Monday, but it was to be scaled back. Only law enforcement and trained searchers, not volunteers, were set to participate, officials said.

A vigil was held for Emerson Sunday in Holly Springs, N.C., where she once lived.

Caroline Beavers, who said Emerson was her best friend growing up, called her an "amazing person, just (a) fun spirit, great family, an all-American girl. She was one of a kind."

“Terrible things happen to great people. She was one of those few bright lights and great girls, and to see someone like that taken so early in her life, it’s really hard,” Beavers said.

Neighbors said Emerson grew up in a tight-knit community and was an important part of the neighborhood. Her family moved early in her high-school years.

"Her middle name was Hope. Meredith's middle name was Hope. Until they find the body, you're always hoping that there will be a miracle," said family friend Maria Cardone.

Hilton was detained Friday. He had tried to use Emerson's credit card, according to the warrant.

Some bloody fleece tops believed to be Emerson's 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, the warrant stated. Hilton had attempted to vacuum and wash portions of his 2001 Chevrolet Astro van, which was found without the rear seat belt, according to the document.

Hilton was not cooperating with authorities, bureau spokesman John Bankhead said.

Officer Gayle Bachelor in Union County, where Hilton was being held in the Towns-Union County Jail, declined to allow The Associated Press to speak with Hilton by phone.

Search teams focused again Sunday on a 5-square-mile area of mountainous terrain about 90 miles north of Atlanta in the Chattahoochee National Forest, near where Emerson's car was discovered Wednesday, Bankhead said.

The search had been focused on Vogel State Park, at the base of Blood Mountain, where Emerson was last seen on New Year's Day hiking with her black Labrador retriever, Ella.

The dog was found 50 miles away Friday in a grocery store parking lot in Cumming, a suburb north of Atlanta, and identified using an implanted microchip.

Vogel is one of Georgia's oldest and most popular state parks. The area includes a segment of the Appalachian Trail, the famous hiking route that stretches from Georgia to Maine.


Associated Press writer Greg Bluestein contributed to this report.


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  • richard2 Jan 7, 2008

    Sad and un-necessary.

  • JAT Jan 7, 2008

    Shadow - a little confused as to your reply. I have no problem with striving to lessen threats; however, too many people continue to willingly put themselves in dangerous situations and then wonder why bad things happen to them. I don't go shopping in dark places at night alone; I don't go hiking alone; I don't give all my info to strangers I know only online; I don't do things that will obviously isolate myself from the public just in case there is some weirdo/creep out there. Should I be able to do all those things without fear? Of course, but that isn't the way society is. So, you have to look out for yourself and don't do things that are stupid.

    I'm all for the death penalty by the way - you shouldn't get a second chance to kill or molest a child or rape a woman or alot of other things that people do wrong. But the civil liberties folks say they have RIGHTS and society caves in and they're free to hurt/kill/harm again.

  • atozca Jan 7, 2008

    What a tragedy Tarheel_For_Life. I also noticed that reeves has been on death row for 15 years.... that is ridiculous! This guys should have been dead a long time ago.

  • Chill Will Jan 7, 2008

    This creep needs to have a "waterboard" bath and maybe he'll start cooperating with the authorities to find out what happened to this young lady and maybe the elderly couple. We might even solve some other cases too. This old guy didn't just start this bad behavior last week. We cannot let "liberal" trial lawyers and other kooks keep allowing these sub-humans to prey on us.

  • monkey_boy09 Jan 7, 2008

    i mean, a tracking device type chip, sort of like something you would see on MIP:2 , plus everything you see in movies is real. I think if she had a chip, and if she could eat through steel, and chop through a rock with her tae kwon do hands she would be found. I saw that on tv too, but Im sure its real.

  • whatelseisnew Jan 7, 2008

    If convicted, they need to terminate this clown immediately.

  • whoisititsme Jan 7, 2008

    Let me get this right!
    He was due in court because he was suspcted of the crime against the other NC couple?????? They must have had some evidence. Why was he loose?
    What was he doing out of jail or at least under surveilance.
    In most cases these days you are guilty 'till proven innocent.
    At least if I had a problem,that is the way it works.
    Shame he was "on the loose". This girl might be alive today, if he had been locked up till court day.

  • hollylama Jan 7, 2008

    I'm going to buy a gun TODAY!

  • Shadow213 Jan 7, 2008

    JAT- just because the reality is that there is danger in the world doesn't mean we can't strive to lessen it. i dont necessarily think that packing a gun so I can go shopping safely is the answer. I think we should focus on harsher punishments for crimes like these. i definitely support the death penalty (perhaps GA as well as all other states should install a 'fast lane' as they have done in texas?). if you're inhumane enough to brutally murder someone, why should we be humane in the way we kill you? also, it's cheaper than feeding, clothing, and housing a criminal for life in our already overcrowded prisons. Crimes like these are pretty low in Singapore, where the penalty for drug trafficking is death. Looks like such harsh punishments help to deter would-be criminals from committing a crime (and eliminating those that do).

  • Aries82 Jan 7, 2008

    I'm still holding out hope that maybe she's being held somewhere.