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???????
I think she had her dog with her. Poor girl probably thought she was protected. The perp is clearly insane. Prayers for the victim’s soul and her family. How awful they have to live with how she died
It’s a historical name. “Before the coming of white settlers, the Creeks and Cherokees fought a disastrous and bloody battle in Slaughter Gap between Slaughter and Blood Mountains”.
WSBTV just reported that the GBI thinks that Meridith wasn’t killed untill 3 days after she was abducted - that would have been on Friday, the 4th - which was the day Hilton was arrested.
The sick sob kept her somewhere...
Oil up the wheels on the gurney...
"Drifter" always seems to be synonymous with serial killer. This guy has probably been preying on people for years.
It’s just a matter of which charges wil be filed, and if they seek the DP. Sometimes authorities will make a deal to take it off the table if the killer leads them to the remains. I’m thinking there may be such a deal here.
It’s been reported she and her killer were allowing their dogs to play together on the trail. Perhaps she had seen him before or even talked to him. He doesn’t look dangerous and I bet he kept his dog to ‘draw ‘em in’.. while you are right, she should have had the means to blast him to hell, who knows that she would have.
My thoughts and prayers for her family. I can’t imagine the grief they are feeling and for that I’m thankful.
May God bless them.
I would like to have a minute alone with the accused, provided he is found guilty. Just me and my .45.
Prayers lifted for those in sorrow.
She was from Colorado and recently moved to Georgia, I understand.
More an more...I think we’ve all got a front row seat to hell.
Such a tragic end to a beautiful young life...
Too bad the equivalent of Burt Reynolds in “Deliverance” mode didn’t appear on the scene with his hunting bow.
RIP, Meredith Emerson.
Our rights are God-given and “inalienable”. No one can take them away. We have allowed the government to tell us what our rights are. We need to organize like the Civil Rights Movement and exercise our right to keep and to bear arms. They can’t arrest or kill all of us. If they do, we fight and die for what God granted us. Dishonor and cowardice will be theirs forever.
The local Fox affiliate is reporting that she is from Longmont.
I agree, it is a very sad story. I bet she was an awesome person.
There is a very important lesson here: Never , no matter how safe you think you are, hike in the wilderness by yourself. A dog doesn’t count as a companion. This girl died needlessly because she was naive and trusting. Also, cell phone, anyone???
"Hilton, 61, remains in custody after being charged with kidnapping and bodily injury, both felonies."
Bodily injury? That's quite an understatment!
I know and I keep thinking about her and those three days.
May she RIP. Prayers for her family and loved ones.
The elderly couple whose deaths Hilton is suspected in had each other. Cell phones often don’t work real well in the mountains - I can’t get a connection most of the time in the sizable town my family is from.
Concealed carry - sounds better all the time.
While I agree with you, the criminal is ultimately the one who is responsible. Sadly, people like this have been around since creation and unfortunately, evil seed will continue to spawn as time goes on.
It is a beautiful area in the Chattahoochee National Forest.
I was telling my brother who is a detective, she went hiking in a popular place, not desolate at all. You have your dog and you see and elderly man with his dog. Most people would not feel threatened by an old man with a dog. Dog people are notorious for striking up conversations with other dog people. Witnesses saw them talking and the dogs playing off leash in an open space. Even the fact that the old guy had the baton can be easily written off. Many people walk their dogs with sticks or other things to ward off other animals. Even a gun or pepper spray would not have saved her if she did not feel threatened, all she had to do was turn her back on him to put the leash on her dog for instance and he hit her in the head.
I am sick about this whole thing. How evil this man is. I believe I would have spoken to him as well. I think we will find out he is a serial killer.
Prayers for her family and may Meredith rest in peace.
I can see you're an amateur at this....
A .45 is too impersonal, fast and relatively kind to the corpse...
For a guy like this, a baseball bat, swung at full force to every part of the body EXCEPT the head ---- is a lot more suitable, painful, drawn out, gratifying and gives the perp a LOT of time to realize and contemplate what's happening and why.
Plus a lot can be said for the positive aspects of the exercise it provides to the "batter"....