Solved: National Parks Serial Killer (2005-2008)

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This case is about Gary Michael Hilton, the National Parks Serial Killer who murdered and beheaded 4 hikers in Florida, North Carolina, and Georgia between 2005 and 2008.

 

Gary Hilton was sometimes referred to as the “National Forest Serial Killer” since most of his victims’ bodies were found in national parks. Although convicted in only four cases, he is believed to have committed many more killings.

In January of 2008, Gary Hilton was sentenced to life in prison in Georgia for the death of Meredith Emerson, 24 of Buford, Georgia. After that case, police from Georgia, North Carolina, and Florida began piecing together evidence left behind by a trail of bodies that fit Gary’s modus operandi. He was charged with and convicted of 3 additional murders.

In April of 2011, Gary received a Florida death sentence for he murder of 46 year old Cheryl Dunlap and then 2 years later in 2013, he was sentenced in North Carolina to 4 life sentences for the 2007 deaths of John Bryant, 80 and Irene Bryant, 84.

On New Years Day in 2008, University of Georgia graduate Meredith Emerson went hiking on Blood Mountain in Chattahoochee National Forest with her dog Ella, she had done this multiple times. This time, however, she failed to come home from the hike. Witnesses remembered Meredith talking with a gray-haired man who appeared to be around 60 years old and had a dog named Dandy.

Meredith used her wits and martial arts training to fight off her attacker for 4 days as she tried to save her life. She eventually suffered a major blow to the head that incapacitated her. Gary Hilton killer and left her decapitated body in the Georgia Mountains.

After Meredith Emerson’s disappearance, investigators working the case found surveillance photos of Gary Hilton trying to use Emerson’s ATM card. In February 2008, Gary Hilton was indicted, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison all in one single day.

On April 21, 2011, Gary Hilton was convicted for the February kidnapping, robbing, murder and dismemberment of Cheryl Hodges Dunlap, she was Sunday school teacher from Crawfordville, Florida. Cheryl Dunlap’s decapitated body was discovered in the Apalachicola National Forest.

Despite efforts to fight, Gary Hilton had been extradited to Florida to now face charges for Cheryl’s murder. He’s avoided the death penalty in Georgia but would not be so lucky at his second trail. A jury of 6 woman and 6 men only took 1 hour and 20 minutes before unanimously recommending a death sentence for the serial killer who’d avoided execution in Georgia.

In April of 2013, Gary Hilton pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 4 additional life sentences in federal prison for kidnapping and murdering an elderly North Carolina couple in the Pisgah National Forest in the Appalachian Mountains of Western North Carolina.

Gary Hilton had been camping and scouting for potential victims before selecting the Hendersonville couple who were out for a hike on October 21, 2007.

He killed Irene Bryant using blunt force, her body was later found by police several yards from where the couple had parked their car. Gary Hilton then kidnapped her husband, took his ATM card and coerced him into providing his personal identification number to access money from a local ATM.

Mr. Bryant’s body was found in Nantahala National Forest. A day later, on October 22, 2007, Gary Hilton used Bryant’s ATM card in Ducktown Tennessee to withdraw $300. Federal Authorities became involved with Gary Hilton’s prosecution after autopsy results showed that John Bryant died of a gunshot to the head for a .22 Magnum firearm.

Gary Hilton is also believed to have killed Rossana Miliani, 26 and Scot Louis, 27 and there are others that are not mentioned.

On December 7, 2005, Rossana Miliani, who appeared very nervous and came into her store with an older man who looked to be in his sixties. The eyewitnesses reported to police that they purchased clothing and that the man told her he was a traveling preacher. It was later learned that Gary Hilton had stole Rossana Miliani’s bank card and was trying to use it. Rossana Miliani was beaten to death by Gary Hilton, but he was never charged.

On December 6, 2007, the decapitated and dismembered body of Michael Scot Louis was found in Tomoka State Park near Ormond Beach, Florida.

Hilton remains on death row to this day. A Judge delayed his appeal in the wake of U.S. Supreme Court decision in January 2016 declaring Florida’s death penalty law unconstitutional.

It came to light that Gary Hilton had been once involved in the development of a murder movie that bore similarities to the crimes for which he was eventually convicted of. An Atlanta attorney, who also produces movies, revealed that in 1995, Gary Hilton helped him come up with the plot for the film Deadly Run.

Sources:

Crimes of Serial Killer Gary Michael Hilton (thoughtco.com)

Gary Michael Hilton | Murderpedia, the encyclopedia of murderers