Update – January 9h 10:15PM Gary Michael Hilton is a suspect in the murder of a 46 yar old Florida State University nurse who went missing on December 1st. More information in my post here.
Update January 8th 6:15 PM – The autopsy is complete and the results have been released. I have posted them here in the updated entry along with the rest of the updated information
Update – 11:07 PM I just got home from work and saw the news that Meredith Emerson’s body has been located. You can find more updates here as I post them this evening and tomorrow morning.
Update 5:04 PM 1-7-08 According to the Atlanta Journal/Constitution a Union County Georgia magistrate has denied bond for Gary Michael Hilton during and arraignment hearing for the 61 year old charged in the kidnapping of Meredith Emerson.
The Union County District Attorney will be taking the case to the Grand Jury at an unspecified date and time. The grand jury convenes Tuesday but they will not likely turn the case over to them then. The Union County DA said that they will turn it over to them within 90 days. Police have also mentioned that they will continue the search for Meredith Emerson until Wednesday when they will have to go back to normal operations.
Hilton made the court appearance around 2PM this afternoon and didn’t speak during the hearing. The hearing only lasted about ten minutes and Assistant Public Defender Neil Smith answered the judge’s questions to Hilton. Smith is the court appointed attorney for Hilton. District Attorney Stan Gunter said that based on Smith’s limited answers during the hearing he expects Smith to enter an insanity plea for the man. After reading the charge against Hilton Judge Johnie Garmon asked whether the defendant had any questions. Neil Smith answered “not at this time”.
Also according to Gunter he plans on prosecuting Hilton with or without a body. He said that “it’s been done before. We do have blood evidence. If we can match it to Emerson’s DNA, essentially we do have a body”. If only the prosecutor’s in Aruba had those kind of balls two years ago we might have gotten a few answers by now in the Natalee Holloway case.
Update – 3:56 PM Monday January 7th – Police are apparently trying to determine now whether the suspect in the disappearance of Meredith Emerson might be linked to the presumed killings of an older North Carolina couple. I read several different reports about this over the weekend but nothing concrete, which is why I initially left it out of my post. The GBI is apparently comparing case notes with North Carolina investigators looking into the case of Irene and John Bryant. John and Irene are an elderly couple who were found dead after going for a hike in the NC mountains back in late October 2007.
Georgia and North Carolina law enforcement officials are supposed to be meeting at some point today in Cleveland, Georgia to discuss the case according to Georgia Bureau of Investigation spokesman John Bankhead.
Irene Bryant’s body was found on November 9th near their car in the Pisgah National Forest and her husband is still missing. According to newspaper reports in the Asheville Citizen-Times a person wearing a yellow jacket was shown on surveillance video trying to use the Bryant’s credit card at a Tennessee bank. Some of the witnesses in the Emerson case reported seeing a man wearing a yellow jacket with her before she disappeared on New Year’s Day while hiking in Vogel State Park at Blood Mountain. Hilton attempted to use one of Emerson’s credit cards at the Regions Bank in Canton Georgia according to the warrant for his arrest.
Law enforcement officers are supposed to be conducting a ‘target-specific search’ for more evidence in the Emerson case today, whatever the heck that means. Yesterday (Sunday) they were searching for her in Forsyth County near where her dog Ella was found in a grocery store parking lot last week. CNN is reporting that they are also making it a point to look behind churches, mainly as a result of a 2004 case where someone kidnapped and killed a hairdresser in Forsyth County. Her remains were found behind a church. There isn’t any evidence of a connection but Captain Frank Huggins of the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office said that they look behind churches out of an abundance of caution.
Update – 11:02PM Breaking news from CNN is reporting that along with her ID investigators have found blood-stained clothing in the dumpster. According to the authorities it contains a substantial amount of blood and the clothing was consistent with what Meredith Emerson was wearing at the time of her disappearance.
The GBI also recovered a portion of a seat belt with blood transfer stains as well. Hilton made a phone call from a pay phone Friday at the convenience store where they have recovered these items. His 2001 minivan has had the rear seat belt cut out and when agents arrested him on Friday he was attempting to vacuum the vehicle and wash portions of it with a bleach and water solution. The van (and Hilton) was located at a Chevron station at the corner of Peachtree-Dunwoody RD and Johnson Ferry Rd in Dekalb County. Pretty close to the area of Sandy Springs where I grew up actually.
They are also reporting that Hilton attempted to use one of Emerson’s credit cards at a Regions Bank branch in Canton, GA. Officials have pictures of him trying to use her credit card in the ATM.
Photo Courtesy of 11Alive.Com – Missing persons photos posted on the door of the Vogel State Park welcome center.
Update – Sunday 5:06AM As of Sunday morning (the 6th) 11Alive is reporting that Hilton was transported back to Union county to face the kidnapping charges and that he is being uncooperative. Gayle Bachelor, an officer at the Union County jail, declined to allow The Associated Press to speak with Hilton by phone. He is expected to make a court appearance on Monday. From Yahoo’s news report this morning the warrant on Hilton stated that in addition to Emerson’s ID the bloodstained clothing that was found in the dumpster outside the convenience store was three fleece tops.
The search will continue this morning after daybreak but an Emerson family spokesperson, Peggy Bailey stated that “the chances are slim to none that she’s alive” She said that the family was devastated by Saturday’s developments but that “They still want to find her. They’re not going to have any closure until she’s found.”
From the Atlanta Journal/Constitution:
• A portion of an automobile seat belt “with apparent blood transfer stains.” According to the warrant, the rear seat belt in Hilton’s 2001 Chevrolet Astro van had been cut out. The warrant also stated, “Hilton was attempting to vacuum the vehicle and wash portions of it with a bleach and water solution.”
• Emerson’s black leather wallet, which included her driver’s license and University of Georgia student ID card.
• Agents determined Hilton had placed a call from a pay phone at the QuikTrip on Friday.
• Three fleece tops, “found to contain substantial amounts of human blood.”
It was a cold day when Emerson, known for her love of the outdoors, went hiking. Snow had fallen. Friends said she’d been wearing warm clothes, including a fleece jacket.
Forsyth County Sheriff Ted Paxton said it won’t be known for certain whether the garments found in the dumpster belong to Emerson until blood tests come back from the GBI. Authorities felt confident in proceeding with charges because Emerson’s wallet, which had her driver’s license and University of Georgia student ID inside, was in the same dumpster as the blood-stained clothes.
Meredith Emerson just recently moved to Flowery Branch, Georgia (near Buford) from Longmont, Colorado. Her parents flew out here as soon as she was reported missing on Wednesday, January 2nd.
Here is a map showing the areas of interest in the case:
The original story below:
For the last few days I have been trying to stay updated on the Meredith Emerson case. Meredith is a 24 year old hiker who disappeared from Blood Mountain just a few hours north of me. I have hiked the Blood Mountain area several times over the last thirty years and it’s really a beautiful area.
She went missing on New Years Day and reports have been all over CNN as well as my local TV station web sites. Her family has a web site up called Help Find Meredith if anyone has any information that can help out. Volunteers have been passing out flyers in the area where she disappeared since the search teams are all professional search and rescue teams. You can download the flyer from the web site here.
Meredith is an experienced hiker and was out with her black Labrador Retriever Ella when she went missing. She was dressed for the weather and although it can be a tough area to hike in, I have never been where I didn’t pass someone every twenty or thirty minutes.
Yesterday officials named Gary Michael Hilton a person of interest in the case, several people describing him and his dog as someone who had spoken with Meredith on the trail as their dogs played together.
Hilton was arrested yesterday after his white van was spotted at a convenience store in Dekalb County, which is a part of Metro Atlanta. Shortly before he was detained, Ella, the Labrador walked into a Kroger grocery store about 50 miles from where Meredith was last seen. Police also found items belonging to Emerson in a dumpster near the area where her dog was found. So far they have recovered several items from the trail that belonged to Meredith including a water bottle and a leash. While police won’t confirm it her roommate Julia Karrenbauer stated that Emerson’s sunglasses and mittens were found in the area as well.
The GBI is involved in the search now as well and according to WSB Atlanta Gary Michael Hilton has been charged with kidnapping. Let’s hope that’s all it comes to although officials at a press conference stated that it’s not looking favorable that she will be found alive. Hilton is in custody with the U.S. Marshalls on a prior warrant for failure to appear in Federal Court on a charge of abandoning property in a national park. According to what I was reading he had been living in his van.
As of around noon today searchers were looking in a wooded area for Meredith near where her dog Ella turned up. According to 11Alive the items found in a dumpster included her wallet and drivers license.
This video from the AP is from yesterday but it pertains to the GBI being asked to help out with the case and describes Gary Michael Hilton as a person of interest.
Here is some more information from the AP as of around noon on Saturday January 5th.
Nothing that I haven’t already said I guess.
CNN just released more breaking news that I had already seen locally. As I mentioned above Gary Michael Hilton has been charged with kidnapping with intent to cause bodily injury today according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
I don’t really have any more on this tonight except for a question. As more news turns up in the case I will be sure to try and post it here.
My question has to do with the fact that this is getting quite a bit of coverage. Of course my local Atlanta stations are reporting but CNN is wearing it out, and Yahoo & Google are both doing a bit of reporting. There are plenty of other missing hikers around the U.S. so is this another case of Missing White Woman Syndrome?