Body of missing hiker found

January 7, 2008 6:58:43 PM PST
Authorities found the body of a missing hiker Monday, hours after a judge denied bond to the man accused of kidnapping her in the mountains of northern Georgia.

Investigators were also examining whether the death and the disappearance of two elderly hikers in October in North Carolina were related.

A source close to the investigation, who was not authorized to speak publicly and requested anonymity, said the remains of 24-year-old Meredith Emerson had been found. The disclosure came after authorities scheduled a "major announcement" in the case in Dawson County, south of where Gary Michael Hilton, 61, appeared in court.

Family spokeswoman Peggy Bailey confirmed to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the body had been found. "We did find out just now, not that it was unexpected," Bailey said.

Hilton is charged with kidnapping with intent of bodily injury, and more charges could be added, Enotah Judicial District Attorney Stan Gunter said. Gunter said he expects Hilton to be indicted within 90 days.

Hilton did not speak during his first appearance before Union County Magistrate Judge Johnie M. Garmon. Hilton's attorney, Neil Smith, did not enter a plea on Hilton's behalf.

Investigators said Hilton, who was detained Friday, was the last person seen with Emerson on the trail. He had tried to use Emerson's credit card, according to his arrest warrant.

Three bloody fleece tops 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 tried 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, said Georgia Bureau of Investigation spokesman John Bankhead.

Gayle Bachelor, an officer at the Union County jail, declined to allow The Associated Press to speak with Hilton by phone.

Authorities said they are exploring whether the disappearance of a couple in North Carolina is related to that of Emerson. John and Irene Bryant, both in their 80s, had gone hiking in the western North Carolina mountains in October.

Irene Bryant's body was found in November; authorities say she was killed with a blow to the head. Her husband remains missing but is presumed to have been killed.

Sheriff David Mahoney of North Carolina's Transylvania County agreed that there are similarities "that we're certainly wanting to look more closely at - nothing that we can release at this point."

Mahoney did note that authorities in both cases were looking for someone wearing a yellow jacket, and that an ATM transaction was made with the Bryants' card about 50 miles from the area of the Georgia investigation.

Hilton was a drifter well known in the area and was often seen with his dog, Dandy, and a police-style baton, Union County Sheriff Scott Stephens said.

Emerson was last seen hiking with her dog in Vogel State Park, about 90 miles north of Atlanta. 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 hiking route that stretches from Georgia to Maine.

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On the Net:

Meredith Emerson search: http://www.helpfindmeredith.com


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