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Georgia Hiker Meredith Emerson

Meredith EmersonMeredith Emerson was an active 24 year old University of Georgia student who was last seen hiking with her black Labrador retriever, Ella, on New Year’s Day 2008. Emerson was a blue belt in martial arts and an experienced hiker who had jogged the Trail near where her car was found in Vogel State Park several times with a partner.

Located about 90 miles north of Atlanta, Vogel State Park lies within Chattahoochee National Forest in Union County, Georgia. One of Georgia's oldest and most popular state parks Vogel is at the base of Blood Mountain and boasts over 120 campsites, 35 cabins, picnic shelters, and hiking including a section of the Appalachian Trail.

Meredith was last seen alive on the Freeman Trail talking to an older  man. Authorities soon developed Gary Michael Hilton, 61, as a suspect. Hilton was a drifter known to hike in the area with his dog and was known to carry a police-style baton.

Ella was found the following Friday, 50 miles away in a grocery store parking lot in Cumming, Georgia. Bloody clothes, wallet and other items belonging to Emerson as well as bloody seatbelt were found in a nearby garbage can. Ella was identified using an implanted microchip.

Hilton was caught while cleaning out van with a bleach and water solution.

Hilton only agreed to cooperate after prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty against him in the case. He was charged with murder after he led investigators to Emerson's body in Dawson Forest Wildlife Management Area, southwest of Dawsonville.

Residents had reported seeing Hilton's white Astro van in the Dawson Forest Wildlife Management Area and the wooded area where the body was later found had previously been searched. According to Dr. Kris Sperry, Georgia's chief medical examiner, Emerson was alive for three days after she went missing, then she was struck on the head and killed, before she was decapitated.

Gary Michael Hilton was sentenced to life in prison.

Authorities are exploring whether Hilton could be connected to the disappearance of North Carolina a couple, John and Irene Bryant. Both in their 80s, The Bryant's had gone hiking in the Nantahala National Forest in the mountains western North Carolina in October 2007. Irene Bryant's body was found in November 9, 2007 near the Pink Beds Picnic Area in Pisgah National Forest, killed by a blow to the head. John Bryant remains weren't discovered until February 2008 when a hunter spotted his remains in an area known for illegal dumping. Mr. Bryant had been shot in the head.

Hilton is also considered a suspect in the case of Cheryl Hodges Dunlap. Dunlap's body 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 December 1.




Related Links & Resources:
● Meredith Emerson Died of Blow To Head
Vogel State Park Map
Vogel State Park
Killer Of Georgia Hiker May Have Other Victims


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