Skip to comments.Hiker bludgeoned to death, decapitated (Merideth Emerson)
Posted on 01/08/2008 2:27:32 PM PST by beaureguard
Buford hiker Meredith Emerson was bludgeoned to death and then decapitated, an autopsy released Tuesday revealed.
Dr. Kris Sperry, chief medical examiner for the state of Georgia, said Emerson died from "blunt force trauma to the head," after which she was decapitated, according to a statement released by the GBI.
Emerson's body was found at about 7:30 p.m. Monday in the Dawson forest. She'd been missing since New Year's Day. Gary Michael Hilton, 61, remains in custody after being charged with kidnapping and bodily injury, both felonies.
Emerson's family plans to address the media at 3:30 p.m., their first comments since her body was found. The briefing has been called at the Athens home of family spokesman Peggy Bailey.
Investigators resumed their search of Dawson Forest, where the 24-year-old's body was discovered. The area is still being treated as an "active crime scene," Dawson County Sheriff Billy Carlisle said.
Carlisle described the site as part of a remote, 10,000-acre area primarily used for hiking and horseback riding. It's about an hour-long drive from Blood Mountain, he said.
Other cases in area
Over the past 11 years, three other bodies have turned up in the area where Emerson's was discovered, authorities said. They did not make any connections to Emerson's case and the others:
In 2004, Forsyth County hairdresser Patrice Endres, disappeared from her salon north of Cumming. 20 months later, her remains were found a few miles away in Dawson County behind Lebanon Baptist Church, which is across the street from the forest. A cause of death was determined soon after the discovery of Endres' remains, but that information hasn't been released.
In 2003, Cameron Stuart Green, 20, was found in the Dawson Forest Wildlife Management Area by a hiker. Green had been stabbed to death. Joshua Glen Layman was charged with his murder.
In 1997, Levi Frady, the 11-year-old whose disappearance triggered the creation of "Levi's Call," went missing after leaving a friend's house. His bike was found the next morning about a half-mile from his Forsyth County home. Hunters scouting locations for the opening of deer season found Levi's body 22 miles away in Dawson County, on property owned by the city of Atlanta. There have been no arrests and no suspects, despite a $100,000 reward put up by two Forsyth County businessmen.
The forest is a 24,000-acre tract north of Dawsonville and west of Dahlonega on Ga. 52 that contains Amicalola Falls State Park. The park is about 10 miles from where Emerson's bloody clothes and identification were located Friday by Forsyth County deputies.
The forest was once the home to the Georgia Nuclear Aircraft Laboratory, an Air Force testing facility run by Lockheed Aircraft Corp. as an experimental project to develop nuclear-powered aircraft.
Lockheed began an unsuccessful effort to develop nuclear-powered planes in the late 1950s, and the experiment was shut down in 1971. The City of Atlanta purchased the Lockheed site from the Air force in the early '70s for use as a possible second airport.
The Atlanta Regional Commission determined in 1990 that the Dawson site was unsuitable for an airport because too many hills and valleys would have to be leveled, but the 10,130-acre tract is still owned by the city of Atlanta, and is managed by the Georgia Forestry Commission as part of the Dawson Forest Wildlife Management Area.
The GBI has not revealed specifically where in the forest Emerson's body was found. Her body has been moved to the GBI lab in DeKalb County, Carlisle said.
Bond denied for Hilton
GBI Special Agent in Charge John Cagle said following Hilton's appearance in court Monday afternoon, he described to investigators where they would find the body of Emerson of Buford, and he would later lead them there.
Investigators also would not say what transpired between the time Hilton and Emerson were seen hiking together on New Year's Day and Monday.
A Union County magistrate judge denied bond for Gary Michael Hilton during an arraignment hearing for the 61-year-old man.
Officials would not comment on whether Hilton would be charged with Emerson's murder. It's not clear whether his cooperation -- leading authorities to her body -- will have an effect on his charges.
He remained in Union County jail charged with kidnapping and bodily injury, felonies that carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
GBI Director Vernon Keenan said Monday, "There's a lot going on in this case right now." He later added, "There's a tremendous amount of evidence in this case."
Investigators mentioned two other cases that are being studied for possible links:
Authorities already have said they believe there could be a connection between the Emerson case and the disappearance and presumed slayings in October of John and Irene Bryant, an elderly couple from North Carolina. Georgia and North Carolina officials have talked about the two cases. "There's no conclusion been made. There's no linkage that has been made," Keenan said.
Officials also plan to meet with Florida investigators about the death of a Florida woman.
Cheryl Hodges Dunlap's body was found Dec. 19 in the Apalachicola National Forest, just southwest of Tallahassee. A masked person suspected in Dunlap's murder used her ATM card on three separate occasions following her disappearance Dec. 1.
Although other missing persons cases have been discussed, GBI officials said those were the only two cases that they're considering linking to Hilton.
Hilton in court
Hilton faced a judge Monday but made no comment. During the 10-minute hearing in a courtroom packed with spectators and the press, Hilton -- appearing stern-faced and almost frail -- did not respond to questions from the judge.
After Hilton led investigators to the body, Enotah Judicial Circuit District Attorney Stan Gunter would not comment on whether the man investigators described as a drifter would be charged with murder or not.
The search for evidence of Emerson's whereabouts stretched from the mountains of Georgia to DeKalb County. She was last seen in Vogel State Park about 10 miles south of Blairsville in Union County, walking with Hilton on New Year's Day. He was arrested Friday night after a passer-by spotted him cleaning out his van on Ashford Dunwoody Road in DeKalb County.
The search also includes the area around the Dumpster in the parking lot of a Forsyth County QuikTrip where her blood-stained clothes, wallet, Georgia driver's license and University of Georgia ID were found by Forsyth County Sheriff's Office investigators Friday afternoon. Emerson's black Labrador mix, Ella, was found across the street, wandering through the parking lot of a Kroger on Ga. 20.
Emerson's parents, who flew in from Colorado on Wednesday to help in the search, met briefly with reporters at Vogel State Park on Monday afternoon. They had Meredith's dog with them.
Meredith's mother, Susan Emerson, said they wanted to bring the dog out so that people would know Ella was all right. The dog turned a year old Dec. 30.
About 45 spectators filled the small courtroom. Before Hilton entered through a side door with sheriff's deputies, he could be heard telling Union County Sheriff Scott Stephens that he had been treated well since he was brought to the jail Saturday night.
"They got me three blankets and they're taking good care of me," said Hilton, whose only other comment was at the end of the hearing when he turned to his attorney and said "Thank you." His attorney declined to comment on the case before the hearing and could not be reached afterward.
'Thousands' of tips
Union County Sheriff Scott Stephens said his office has gotten "thousands" of phone calls from the public saying they had seen Hilton moving about in North Georgia, apparently living in his van.
"It's our belief he travels around to remote counties," Stephens said. "We've had all kinds of calls from people saying 'I remember seeing him.' He's a drifter. He kind of moves around." DeKalb County police said his vehicle has been registered to two addresses in DeKalb County, but have declined to release those addresses.
The address on the arrest warrant served on Hilton on Saturday has an address on Clairmont Road in Chamblee.
Authorities have so far declined to say exactly what led them to suspect Hilton so soon after Emerson disappeared. GBI spokesman John Bankhead said it was based on witnesses coming forward with information.
There is a videotape of Hilton allegedly trying to withdraw money from Emerson's account at an ATM machine in Canton.
Thanks for the update, such a sad sad story...
Thanks for the update, such a sad sad story...
Ooops sry for the double post
Also prayers going out for the young girl’s family and friends as well as the other victims families too
This is awful. I am praying for her family.
When will women and men learn to :
1. Don’t trust anyone.
2. Carry a gun. (oh that’s right liberals/Democrats won’t let people defend themselves).
Anyone besides me notice the name of the area: “Blood Moutain.”
Think I would hike somewhere else.
What a sick sob he is. Prayers offered for the family of this innocent girl.
Unreal that there is any doubt...
Can’t they check the DNA on the victims of the past and this creep? This story makes me so ill.
I saw the press conference and there is no doubt. They simply refused to answer any questions.
Dear God, how horrible. Prayers of support to her family.
You know something? I don’t think he is “sick” at all. Just an evil human being who doesn’t deserve to walk the earth with the rest of society. I can’t imagine this young woman’s family and...the photos of her with her little dog just break my heart. Literally put an ache in my heart. I am so angry over this kind of thing. It keeps happening and happening and happening and it needs to STOP! It’s not right and this guy needs to be put away for the rest of his life or executed one or the other but never, never, never should he see the light of day except from his cell window! My prayers for the family of this young woman. How DARE anyone take away life from someone else??? How DARE they? Now this family is without probably the light of their lives because some evil person without a soul was lurking.
Prayers and sympathies for the family.
A country that will not punish the few who are guilty cannot protect the many who are innocent. I wrote that nearly 30 years ago when I was a book reviewer for the Baltimore Sun. Unfortunately, it’s truer now than ever. We have become a country that rewards the worst among us. And with the current crop of prez candidates, it ain’t going to change.
What happened to the dog?
Her family has taken it.
Now, somebody please tell me why I am supposed to be concerned that this monster might suffer some discomfort when he is executed???????