Hilton cut a plea deal with Georgia law enforcement for a life sentence in return for leading the police to Meredith Emerson’s body in the forests of the north Georgia mountains. Her nude and decapitated body revealed that she had been the victim of a brutal, violent crime. It’s often difficult to review such crimes, however we can learn a few things from her experience and that of his other victims which may serve us in the future.
Confession of Emerson’s Murder
The 61-year-old Hilton has a hatred for people in general and women in particular. He described the murder with no emotion, and a flat voice devoid of any sympathy or feeling for the young woman. He admitted that he targeted Meredith because she was a woman and he wanted money. Once he acquired her ATM card, he grew more and more impatient and beat her when she refused to give him the correct password for her account.
He coldly commented that he “never had any intention of letting her go.” She fought him off for four days as she tried desperately to survive. Hilton described Meredith’s heroic battle in detail. “She…grabbed the knife. I lost control of the knife and then I produced the baton. She fought that and I lost control of the baton–and I’m good too…I had to hand fight her and I still couldn’t get control of her. She would, uh, feign or pretend that I was in control and then start fighting again. So I had to hit her a number of times.”
Hilton chained the woman to his van and kept her there for three to four days, and commented, “As to what extent she was injured, uh, her two eyes were somewhat blackened. She may or may not have a fractured nose. I checked with her a number of times. She was not in any pain other than a headache. I offered her and gave her aspirin.” Then he beat her to death and decapitated her.
The details of other murders surfaced soon after the law detained Hilton in Georgia. Some of it appeared to be misinformation attempting to tie together unconnected murders near the Florida-Georgia state line, but Cheryl Hodges Dunlap, a 46-year old Florida State Nurse went missing near Tallahassee, Florida on December 1, 2007. Two days later authorities found her abandoned car with a flat tire. A few days later someone hid his face as he attempted to use her ATM card three times.
The Leon County Florida Sheriff’s Office considered Hilton a possible connection to the Dunlap disappearance because he was in the area at that time. On December 14, 2007 her body was found in the Appalachicola National Forest outside Tallahassee. She had been decapitated.
Hilton is also suspected in at least the following murders:
John and Irene Bryant, who were two elderly hikers who disappeared in the Pisgah National Forest in western North Carolina on October 21, 2007. Irene’s body was found 25 yards from the couple’s vehicle. An autopsy revealed that John died of a gunshot wound to the head. Since this homicide took place in a national forest and involved a gun used in the crime, federal gun laws could come into play and involve Federal Authorities.
Rossana Miliani was a 26-year-old woman from Florida who was hiking in western North Carolina when she disappeared on December 7, 2005. A witness said that she came into her store with a white man in his 60’s. Rossana appeared nervous when they bought a backpack and clothes for him. He told the clerk that he was a traveling preacher.
Michael Scot Louis was found north of the Tomoka State Park near Ormond Beach, Florida on December 6, 2007. He had been decapitated and dismembered, with the body parts wrapped in several garbage bags.
Extradition to Florida
On June 6, 2008 Gary Hilton was extradited to Florida to face charges of murder and decapitation of Cheryl Hodges Dunlap from Crawfordville, Florida. Hilton fought the extradition to Florida aggressively but to no avail. Although Georgia made a bargain for a life sentence in return for his confession, Florida is under no obligation of any kind to keep Hilton alive in prison at the taxpayer’s expense.
Since 2007, Florida has executed 64 individuals and presently has 397 prisoners awaiting execution on Death Row in Starke, Florida. Those have the option of choosing death by electrocution (electric chair) or lethal injection. Death penalty crimes include the following:
First degree murder,
Capital drug trafficking, and
Capital sexual battery.
Once the Hilton trial begins, the Florida prosecutors will most likely make their case against the murderer stick and then pursue the death penalty.
Ted Bundy and the State of Florida
The authorities expressed surprise that Ted Bundy went to Florida after his last escape from the Glenwood Springs, Colorado jail. Florida prosecutes murderers relentlessly with the threat of the death penalty. Bundy studied the law and surely he was aware of that fact. As his crimes became more brutal, perhaps he wanted to get caught and stopped before he degenerated further into his own criminality. At any rate, he certainly fought the charges but after the guilty verdict, Florida denied all his appeals, and executed him in the electric chair in 1989.
A strange footnote to the already bizarre Gary Michael Hilton case is that this accused serial killer once was involved in developing a plot to a murder movie with similarities to his own crimes. An attorney in Atlanta said that Hilton helped him work out the plot to “Deadly Run” in 1995.