Crimes of Serial Killer Gary Michael Hilton

Trail of Death in Georgia, Florida, and North Carolina

Gary Michael Hilton
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Gary Michael Hilton is an American serial killer convicted of killing and beheading four hikers in Florida, North Carolina, and Georgia between 2005 and 2008. He leaves behind a trail of death. Although convicted of four deaths, he is believed to have committed many more. He is sometimes referred to as the "National Forest Serial Killer," most of the killings and his trail of bodies are found in national parks.

He remains on death row. A judge delayed Hilton's appeal in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court decision in January 2016 declaring Florida's death penalty law unconstitutional.

Trail of Death

In January 2008, Hilton was sentenced to life in prison in Georgia for the death of Meredith Emerson, 24, of Buford, Georgia. After that conviction, authorities from Georgia, North Carolina, and Florida began piecing together evidence from a trail of bodies left in Hilton's wake. 

In April 2011, he was handed a death sentence in Florida for the death of Cheryl Dunlap, 46. Two years later, in 2013, he was sentenced to four life sentences in North Carolina for the 2007 deaths of John Bryant, 80, and Irene Bryant, 84.

Hilton had once helped develop a plot to a murder movie that had similarities to the crimes that he was convicted of. An Atlanta attorney who also produces movies said Gary Michael Hilton helped him come up with the plot of "Deadly Run" in 1995.

Meredith Emerson Case

On New Year's Day 2008, 24-year-old University of Georgia graduate Meredith Emerson went hiking on Blood Mountain in the Chattahoochee National Forest with her dog Ella as she had done many times before. She failed to return home from the hike. Witnesses remember seeing her talking with a gray-haired man in his 60s who had a red dog named Dandy.

Emerson used her wits and her martial arts training to fight off her attacker for four days, desperately trying to save her life. She suffered a blow to the head and was decapitated in the north Georgia mountains. 

Investigators working on the case had surveillance photos of Gary Michael Hilton trying to use Emerson's ATM card.

In February 2008, Gary Michael Hilton was indicted, pleaded guilty, and sentenced to life in prison all within one court day.

Cheryl Dunlap Case

On April 21, 2011, Hilton, convicted of killing a Florida Sunday School teacher and leaving her beheaded body in a national forest, was sentenced to death. A Tallahassee jury of six women and six men deliberated one hour and 20 minutes before unanimously recommending a death sentence for a serial killer who avoided execution in Georgia. Gary Michael Hilton was convicted in February of kidnapping, robbing, dismembering, and killing Cheryl Hodges Dunlap, 46, of Crawfordville, Florida, in Apalachicola National Forest.

Hilton had avoided the death penalty for killing Meredith Emerson. Despite Hilton's fight against extradition to Florida, he was extradited to face charges for the death of Dunlap. 

John and Irene Bryant Case

In April 2013, Hilton was sentenced to four additional life sentences in federal prison for kidnapping and murdering a North Carolina couple in a national forest. Hilton had pleaded guilty. Hilton camped out for victims before he ambushed the Hendersonville couple, who were in their 80s, as they hiked in Pisgah National Forest in the Appalachian Mountains of western North Carolina on October 21, 2007.

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

Federal authorities were involved with the prosecution of Hilton after autopsy results showed that John Bryant died of a gunshot to the head with a .22 magnum firearm, according to an autopsy. Mr. Bryant's body was found in Nantahala National Forest. A day later, on October 22, 2007, Hilton used the Bryants’ ATM card in Ducktown, Tennesee, to withdraw $300.

Other Possible Slayings

He is believed to have killed Rossana Miliani, 26 and Michael Scot Louis, 27, among others. On December 7, 2005, Rossana Miliani had disappeared from hiking in Bryson city. A witness told the police that she came into her store, very nervous, with an older man that looked to be in his 60’s. The witness told the police that all they bought was clothes and that the man told her that he was a traveling preacher. They found out later that Hilton had stolen her bank card and was trying to use it. Rossana died from being beaten to death. 

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