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Missing hiker's body found

POSTED: January 23, 2008 7:51 a.m.

 

DAWSONVILLE (AP) -- Just hours before authorities launched another search for the body of a missing hiker, a drifter accused of kidnapping the woman told them where to look, investigators said.

Gary Michael Hilton, 61, had been charged Saturday with kidnapping with intent of bodily injury. He appeared on Monday before a judge who denied his request for bail.

Hours later, he led investigators to a spot in a wooded area in north Georgia where they found the body of Meredith Emerson, said John Cagle, special agent in charge of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation's Field Division in Cleveland, Ga.

The 24-year-old woman had been missing since New Year's Day. Hilton was the last person seen with Emerson on the hiking trail and had tried to use her 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 outside a convenience store where Hilton had used a pay phone, the warrant stated. He had tried to vacuum and wash portions of his 2001 Chevrolet Astro van, which was missing a rear seat belt, according to the document.

Authorities declined Monday night to say whether Hilton would face murder charges.

Local residents had reported seeing Hilton's van in the woods where the body was found. A search of the area had been planned, miles from where Emerson was last seen, before Hilton told authorities where to look, Cagle said.

Authorities would not describe how Emerson had died.

Peggy Bailey, a spokeswoman for Emerson's family, told Atlanta television station WAGA that the family was taking the news of her body being found "as you would expect." But the family was relieved to now know what had happened to Emerson, Baily said.

"This is what we wanted," she said. "We wanted finality to help us move on."

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

Authorities also said they are exploring a possible link between the disappearance of Emerson and the presumed killing of a couple from North Carolina in October.

Bureau director Vernon Keenan said there could be a connection between the Emerson death and the case of John and Irene Bryant, a couple in their 80s who disappeared in October while hiking in the western North Carolina mountains.

Georgia officials met with North Carolina authorities Monday to discuss the case, bureau spokesman John Bankhead said.

"It's up to North Carolina now to assess the situation," he said.

The body of Irene Bryant, 84, was found covered with leaves in November. John Bryant, 80, is still missing, and authorities said he may have been kidnapped so he would provide the couple's bank account security number.

Someone used the Bryants' ATM card in the days following their disappearance, investigators said. The ATM transaction took place in Ducktown, Tenn., about 50 miles from the area of the Georgia investigation.

 

Associated Press writer Errin Haines contributed to this report

 

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