tv Dateline MSNBC January 10, 2021 11:00pm-1:00am PST
toughness? >> from her. >> from maribel. >> yeah. >> that's all for this edition of "dateline." i'm craig melvin. thanks for watching. you have to be aware of your surroundings because you just never know. >> it started with a frightening horror flick from the '80s. >> the movie is we're going to take some women into the woods and then poof, they're going to be hunted down. >> then decades later, something truly frightening. it was happening for real. a strange vanishing in the forest. >> immediately we knew something was wrong. >> then -- >> your heart just broke. >> sheryl, then meredith. two women missing and two desperate efforts to find them.
>> she could be alive and we just can't let up. >> could this old movie be the key to these cases? >> a little blood, a little sex, a little violence. >> a film fantasy turns chilling reality. >> if someone has her, she's afraid. >> who could be behind this, and how would this real-life story end? >> she was a blue belt in judo. if anyone could survive it was meredith. if anyone could fight, it was meredith. our national forests are places of refuge. there are folks that want to get away from the city and have a sense of peace, commune with nature. but you have to be aware of your surroundings all the time because you just never know.
>> the splendors of america's national parks and forest lands are poems just waiting to be written by each new visitor. from the cathedrals of the rockies to the quiet glades and old growth of the appalachians. it's here in the parks we have the promise of stepping out of the hubbub of our chat kreterin daily routine. that was the kind of serenity meredith emerson saw on a crisp new year's day in the north georgia mountains. not more than foothills really for a young woman who loved to trail climb her native rockies. it was 2008 as the young sales assistant set out from buford, georgia with her dog ella. her roomie julia karenbauer from college days had slept in that morning. >> she had left me a little note on the chalk board, taking ella. went hiking. not where, not when, not when i'm going to be back. it wasn't really anything out of the ordinary. >> meredith, like roomie julia, was a dog person. she doted on ella, her black lab mix, since finding her at a
rescue shelter. >> she had two dogs growing up and she wanted one of her own. she just kind of talked about it and researched what she wanted and definitely wanted to rescue a dog. and finally found one, went out, loved her and brought her home. it really was the light of her life. >> julia the roommate didn't know meredith and ella were heading 40 miles north to blood mountain in the chattahoochee national forest. despite the creepy teen slasher movie name, blood mountain is one of the most popular places to hike in the southeast. the famous appalachian trail to maine takes off from just south of here. back in buford, the roommate spent her new year's day with friends and didn't notice that meredith hadn't come home until the next morning. a back to work day. >> she would leave ella in my room and i would take care of her in the morning. and i'm like oh, ella's not here. that was a little strange to me. and i called her cell phone and it went straight to voice mail. i kind of thought maybe she was at work. >> when did you become anxious?
>> when i got to work, she worked with a good friend of ours. and the friend called me and said meredith didn't show up for work. and meredith was always at work. she was the first one at work. >> reliable meredith wasn't where she was supposed to be. julia called the sheriff's office. then she and some of meredith's other friends assembled a search party. maybe she'd twisted her ankle hiking and taken a tumble. they started with that note on the chalkboard. do you know where "i'm going hiking" would naturally be? >> we had a few ideas. we took some books she had and places she'd highlighted and kind of just started driving. >> the friends split up, looking for meredith's car at trailheads she'd marked in her hiking guides. >> there was four of us in the car, trying to call park rangers, anybody that may have seen her or her car. then a friend of hers found her car, called us and said i found it. there was snow on it. >> the car was in a parking area at the base of blood mountain. >> we just drove as fast as we
could there and just knew, you know, just that sinking feeling when you first see it. >> the friends raced up the blood mountain feeder path to the appalachian trail, but no trace of meredith or ella. so by nightfall the search became all the more urgent as a cold front moved in and temperatures on blood mountain plunged below zero. at daybreak, thursday now, the friends were joined by deputies from the local sheriff's office. john kegel, just shy of retirement, was the agent in charge for the georgia bureau of investigation, the state's top cops. >> we received a request from a local agency to help with a missing hiker. >> the case of the hiker missing for two days didn't look good to the seasoned detective because of some disturbing items that had been recovered on the trail. what were the things found out on the trail area that you thought were alarming? >> a couple of water bottles, a dog leash and a police expandible baton. >> this is a piece of professional gear. >> it is. it's just a metal pipe that is
expandible. you see almost every uniformed police officer in the nation carrying these things. >> did those artifacts, the water bottle, the baton, found together tell you a story at all, or suggest something ominous? >> yes. we found those items in an area where the ground had appeared to have been disturbed. we became concerned that possibly a struggle took place there. >> meredith's water bottles, ella's leash, and signs of a struggle. nothing about the scene looked good to the veteran lawman, especially that expandable police baton that was found. he called in help. >> we eventually partnered with over 18 or 19 police agencies to help in the search for meredith. >> her friends were naturally beside themselves. >> you know, your heart just broke because you think something happened, somebody had a weapon, and her stuff was there. >> so you're thinking at the very least she's been abducted. >> right. and it was so hard because it
wasn't something we could talk about until we could actually prove that. >> the cops commandeered a park building as headquarters. >> we began getting information pretty quickly. >> from people who had hiked the trails that day? >> right. >> remembered her? >> remembered her. and we began to get disturbing news of a strange-looking individual with meredith who also had a dog. >> thumbnail description of this other person. what were you hearing? >> strange-looking, just a wiry kind of guy. >> older guy. >> older guy. we even developed a vehicle description, a white van. >> the lead on the van came from this photo taken by a hiker in the blood mountain parking lot the night before meredith emerson went missing. a "be on the lookout" advisory went out for the guy driving a white van accompanied by his reddish dog. >> it is going to be a white male between the ages of 50 and 60 years old, approximately 160 pounds. it was described as he has bad
dental. he had a dark reddish colored retriever. >> we put out that information through the media in atlanta and actually got a call from somebody who said, i think i know who this is. >> coming up -- this mysterious stranger would prove to be stranger than anyone expected. >> i just turned white at one point. i felt the blood leave my face. >> meredith emerson had not been the only one missing in the forest. >> if she's still alive and someone has her, she's afraid. >> when "mystery on blood mountain" continues. do we really need a sign to live, laugh, and love? -yes. -the answer is no. i can help new homeowners not become their parents. -kee-on-oh... -nope. -co-ee-noah. -no. -joaquin. -no. it just takes practice. give it a shot. [ grunts, exhales deeply ]
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meredith emerson and her lab ella were two days missing on georgia's blood mountain early in a freezing january of 2007. her friends had alerted the authorities and people from all over the greater atlanta area were scouring the hiking trails. so many volunteers they couldn't use all of them. >> people just showed up and
just said, i have a daughter who likes to hike, i have a sister who could have been meredith easily. and they just volunteered their time. >> but the search in the national forest had become something more ominous than a lost hiker incident. meredith had been last seen in the company of an unsavory-looking stranger, and law enforcement was about to identify him. the tip came from john tabor, an atlanta businessman. he was watching the continuing news coverage of missing meredith during his morning workout. >> when they started giving the description of the person of interest, my ears really perked up. i think i just turned white at one point. i felt the blood leave my face. >> tabor the businessman thought this has got to be gary hilton. hilton was a guy who worked on and off for him for years. first as a telemarketer then as an independent contractor in a siding business. he even lived for a while in this little house tabor owned. what was the thought that's
taking shape as you're listening to this? >> the first thing that got my attention is where the event happened, where she went missing, blood mountain. i knew that was a place he liked to hang out. that he had a dog with him. and most importantly was the evidence that they had found at the scene. i knew hilton always had an expandable police baton with him. >> the tip and a name quickly led to a georgia driver's license for 61-year-old gary michael hilton. investigators showed the photo to hikers who i.d.'d him as the scruffy mystery man seen with meredith on blood mountain. the manhunt was on. >> we put that name and face out. >> it's plastered all over the metro atlanta area. >> it is. >> the apb went well beyond the georgia border. hilton's name and picture were all over the regional news. light bulbs began going off to the south around tallahassee, florida's capital, when people there saw his photo on tv. the search for gary hilton was about to widen. the mystery man person of interest in the meredith emerson
case looked familiar to people who thought they'd seen him just about the time they'd learned of the sad case of another woman who'd gone missing. sheryl dunlap, a nurse and mother. when sheryl didn't turn up for church one december sunday in 2007 and then missed her sunday school class, red flags went up. next-door neighbor and friend tonya ladd. >> sunday morning at church i'd turned around and looked at her usual spot and she wasn't there. >> and she didn't teach her class? >> she didn't. >> and immediately we knew something was wrong. because that's just not like her. >> everyone who knew her agreed. 46-year-old sheryl was reliable, a woman solid in her faith and set in her habits. her fellow nurse, friend and prayer partner, laura walker. >> she always liked to hear what we call our praise reports, like something good that happened with a patient or a co-worker. >> when monday morning rolled around and tonya still hadn't been able to reach sheryl, she walked next door. >> i went back down to her house and saw the dog was at the house
but the car was gone. so i called her office several times and they hadn't seen her. >> sheryl's daughter-in-law tabitha called the sheriff's office to report her missing. >> when tonya said she didn't show up work, i knew there was a problem. >> after that missing persons report was filed, the friends heard about a car that looked like sheryl's spotted on the side of the highway leading into tallahassee. they headed up there. >> it was sheryl's car and immediately they sent a deputy up there and just took over from that point. >> are you apprehensive? >> yeah. i was very uneasy. i knew there was something wrong. >> sheryl's car was parked well off the highway. florida department of law enforcement agent annie white. >> it was pretty clear from the beginning that's not some place that she would have parked it. as well as the tire looked like it had been purposely flattened on the vehicle. >> an abandoned car, a slashed tire. >> lord, where is she? >> searchers, law enforcement, volunteers began fanning out into the adjacent 57,000-acre
apalachicola national forest. all of them with dread in their hearts. >> i would be devastated if something like this happened to my family. and so that's why i want to be out here and try to help as much as i can. >> there were massive searches in town, thousands of people showed up to comb the woods looking for her. it was clear very early on that this was unusual for her. she would not have gotten in the car with someone. she just was not the person who would have disappeared. >> "tallahassee democrat" senior writer jennifer portman covered the story. >> we're talking about north florida in the panhandle area. people are bound by their schools, by their family, their churches. >> and sunday school teachers with children and a grandchild don't go missing. >> that's exactly right. >> her friends and family were as baffled as the police by sheryl's disappearance. law enforcement was trying to put the pieces together. when they looked into sheryl's background, nothing jumped out at them. two sons, a long settled divorce, no boyfriends. then on tuesday, four days after she was last seen, the cops got her bank records. something was up.
>> we found where some atm activity occurred in leon county. >> so that's a big break. >> yes, sir. and then upon viewing that video in leon county it was clear it was not her. this was a male subject using her card. he was disguising his face. so we knew at that point definitely that it it was probably not going to be a good outcome for miss dunlap. >> the disguised man made three separate withdrawals of $700. the atm he tapped was in downtown tallahassee near the campus of the state u, miles from where cheryl's car was found. >> so you and the team stake out the atm machine. >> we stay there several days, day and night, watching the atm. and he never came back to that one. >> the search for cheryl stretched on for weeks. >> a lot of us went out on our own and searched the woods and went to places we thought she could possibly be. >> but the more time goes on inevitably, the fear sinks in. >> i just remember sleepless nights, just -- because i'm
thinking, if she's still alive and someone has her, she's afraid. >> mid december 2007, two weeks after cheryl disappeared, some hunters out training their dogs in the national forest noticed a vulture circling in the sky above them. >> and they went to check it out and discovered the body. >> a female body missing its head and hands, a grisly fact not released at the time. you'd think that this is someone trying to conceal the identity. >> very much. >> it took a dna sample from her toothbrush to identify the remains as those of cheryl dunlap. >> someone called and said, laura, they found a body. we pulled over on the side of the road and just -- you know, just -- >> that was it, huh? >> yeah. >> the awareness was there. >> it was surreal. you know, the thing you hear about in movies. it was so close to home that in our small community that something like this could happen. >> now, with cops in florida looking hard at gary hilton in the dunlap murder, and counterparts in georgia
convinced that he had taken meredith emerson, authorities started hearing about yet another national forest homicide, this one in north carolina. >> so then you've got to be saying to your team of investigators what do we have here? >> that's right. so now we're really wondering who we have here and where is he. and more importantly, where's meredith? >> coming up -- >> do we have a killer running around loose in the national forest? >> concern for meredith deepens, but her friends know something that man on the mountain couldn't. >> a blue belt in aikido and a blue belt in judo. if anybody could survive, it was meredith. >> when "mystery on blood mountain" continues. blood mountain" continues. but the right pad can. only always ultra thins have rapiddry technology and, they absorb 40% faster. the gush happens fast. that's why always absorbs faster. wthe natural light is amazing. hardwood floors.
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where was meredith hope emerson? could she still be alive somewhere out there in georgia's chattahoochee national forest? and did the 24-year-old hiker have a prayer if she were indeed in the clutches of mystery man gary hilton? the search on blood mountain went into a third day. >> we had the hope. i mean, we were there from sunup to sundown, plus. we were there through the night in the cold and all the searchers. but if anybody could survive, it it was meredith. and if anybody could fight somebody like that, it was meredith. >> meredith's parents had flown in from colorado and joined the searchers. peggy bailey, a family friend, was their spokeswoman.
>> let me tell you something. meredith emerson could do anything. she is fighty. she is strong. she is tiny and petite, 120 pounds. but let me tell you, i have any hope -- she can run those mountains. she is a strong person. if anybody can survive this, she can. >> the missing woman was deceptively strong, not just an experienced hiker but an accomplished martial arts enthusiast as well. >> a blue belt in aikido and a blue belt in judo. >> to take her on at your peril. >> absolutely. she would fight you. she would actually come home and tell me, you know, i threw this 220-pound man, i beat him up today in class. >> by now, with half of georgia looking for this gary hilton, authorities outside tallahassee, florida to the south were wondering about his connections with the missing woman there. it was then that the detectives got solid information about another killing in a national forest. >> we were in our command post and a detective walked in and
said that they had a case, took place in north carolina, involving a husband and wife, that the wife had been murdered in the piska national forest. >> that detective was working an unsolved case that had cops in north carolina bewildered. david mahoney, a sheriff of transylvania county, a beautiful place wan ominous name that has nothing to do with fangs dripping blood. >> we have some wonderful attractions here, all of those things along with a slower pace of life is what brings folks and keeps folks here. >> folks like john and irene bryant, who after raising a family retired here, far from the brutal winters of upstate new york and close to the hiking trails they loved. holly bryant is the youngest of their four children. >> they loved the outdoors. when they were first married, they used to go out hiking in the mountains. they would take us hiking. and as they got older, they'd take the grandchildren out hiking, too.
>> the bryants had a lifetime of outdoors experience, had hiked all over the world. >> my father completed the appalachian trail, which is 2,000 miles, from georgia to maine. they traveled extensively to new zealand and all through europe, all through america, especially the southwestern and northwestern united states. >> in late october 2008, two months before meredith emerson disappeared, the couple set off on a day hike in the 500,000-acre pisgah national forest. no one heard from them for two weeks. >> they always let us know if they were going on one of their many trips, so it was totally unlike them to just disappear. >> their son bob flew in from texas. >> the newspapers were around the doorstep. he broke into the home and found their breakfast was still out on the table, obviously many days old. and he knew something was
terribly wrong. my brother searched, he went up and down every little back road throughout the park. >> he found their car at a trailhead in the national forest. by then, sheriff mahoney's office was involved. >> the rescue squad began a search, assuming that there had been some medical problem or some illness that had fallen upon them. >> in my heart, i knew that wasn't the case. there's just no way they would both be hurt like that. they were very, very experienced. >> unfortunately, it was not very long after we began that search that we discovered the body of ms. bryant. >> it was a sense of finality. i knew she was gone already, but that little glimmer, particle of hope was extinguished when they found her body. >> irene bryant's remains were located 30 yards from where her son had come upon the car. she had been bludgeoned to
death. but where was the husband? >> we began an even more extensive search for mr. bryant. that search really involved the entire area of the pisgah national forest. >> within hours of discovering irene bryant's body, detectives learned $300 had been withdrawn from the bryants' accounts using an atm card in duckstown, tennessee. they had a picture from the machine. >> the man that had concealed his head and face that was able to successfully use the bryants' atm. >> whoever was making the withdrawal, it it wasn't 79-year-old john bryant. but time and geography were working against the lawmen. >> we spent weeks everywhere in that entire area. we did everything from vehicle patrol, atv patrolling, horseback, on foot, everywhere. >> john bryant had seemingly vanished from the face of the earth. the fbi posted a $10,000 reward for information, but the bryant case went cold.
until meredith emerson loomed on the lawmen's radar. >> our lead investigator began following that case, and immediately there were some similarities that we saw between the two cases. both of these incidents occurred on forest service land. we really felt like that the two were probably connected. we may go years without a homicide. this was very, very different. do we have a killer running around loose in the national forest? >> in georgia, the searchers looking for meredith emerson and her dog ella on blood mountain were hoping and praying that they weren't dealing with a homicide. >> do everything we can do to make sure that she -- if she's up there we get her out of there, get her out of there safely. if she's not up there do everything we can to eliminate that as a possibility and continue the investigation from there. >> georgia authorities were compositing a profile of gary hilton who was starting to look like a person of interest not
only in the meredith emerson disappearance case but in it at least two unsolved murders in the national forest. their findings were deeply troubling. coming up -- might a movie hold the key to this case? >> the premise of the movie is we're going to take some women into the woods and then, poof, they're going to be hunted down. >> maybe once investigators learn who was behind it. >> is gary involved in this? >> gary is helping me throughout. >> when "mystery on blood mountain" continues. continues. needles. essential for sewing, but maybe not for people with certain inflammatory conditions.
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good evening. i'm dara brown. new details on the deadly insurrection at the capitol. nbc news has exclusive reporting that both the fbi and nypd warned capitol police about the possibility days before the attack. the fbi visited extremists and urged them not to go to the capitol. and speaker pelosi announced the house will attempt to pass a resolution calling on vice president pence to invoke the 25th amendment and remove trump. they will then move forward with impeachment if pence does not fall in line. now back to "dateline."
on blood mountain, there was still no trace of meredith emerson. her friend julia and the other searchers found no news to be good news. >> i think it might be a good thing, that she might be somewhere warm with her dog, you know, and somebody might just have her. or something like that. kind of makes me feel a little better knowing that we haven't found anything here yet. >> while hundreds of volunteers and deputies scoured the forest for clues, detectives were trying to get it a handle on gary are hilton, the suspect in her disappearance and who was by now a person of interest in at least two murders. john tabor, hilton's former boss, gave investigators what background he had on his eccentric loner employee. tabor had known him for nearly a decade. >> the only interests he had in life seemed to be his dog and going out camping for extended periods of time in the
wilderness with his dog. he seemed to like that type of isolation. >> hilton's dog dandy had been at his side since he started working for tabor. the former boss had come to regard hilton as a hair-triggered nut case. >> he often told stories of going to parks with his dog and he would end up in altercations with other pet owners. it was always the same story. he would reprimand the other dog owners' behavior, then the other dog owner would get angry at him and verbally or physically assault him. so he was always the victim. >> for the first nine years hilton worked at his siding business. tabor recalled him as a good employee. then something seemed to snap. >> things started to change quite dramatically starting in 2007. >> what happened then? >> he just wasn't doing any work. i decided to go and just see what was going on over there. it was a very bizarre scene. >> how so? >> his physical appearance was quite different. he immediately smiled to show he was missing several teeth and he
went on to say that he had actually taken a pair of pliers and removed some of his teeth. and he said he enjoyed doing that because it frightened people. >> he seemed to enjoy showing himself in that manner, that kind of ghoulish presentation? >> yes. he was very animated, very talkative. >> tabor fired hilton who then turned around and claimed tabor owed him money. by mid-summer 2007, the siding guy said he feared for his safety. >> he finally threatened to kill me. he made it very clear. >> tabor took those threats seriously. >> i immediately armed myself with a glock 9 millimeter and an ar-15 assault rifle. started driving a rental car so he wouldn't know what vehicle i was in. >> he was your bogeyman. >> absolutely. it was terrifying to not know what was happening, pull into the driveway and somebody jump out of the bushes and assassinate you. >> when the former boss went to the police with his story, it seemed to do the trick. >> within a day or two, he had packed up all of his belongings and moved on. >> put all of his stuff in the van and took off. >> yes. >> john tabor was relieved to
see hilton in his rear-view mirror but he was nonetheless puzzled by the change that had come over the man. >> when you're around someone for nearly ten years and it's uneventful, nothing ever happens that suggests a demonic violent personality that apparently materialized somehow. >> tabor had part of the gary hilton picture. a veteran atlanta criminal defense lawyer added more. sam rail had defended hilton years back on some minorish beefs. >> we did a jury trial on a drug case, possession. he was accused on a misdemeanor of acting like a charity and he really wasn't a charity. he would raise money to help the little children. of course, he pocketed it. >> did he have a job to speak of or anything he did professionally? >> his job was scamming. that's what he did mostly. >> you knew him as a con man basically. >> right. he was a little con. >> and when he got tripped up, he'd go call on you.
>> he did. >> rail, the lawyer, wears two hats. he's also a movie producer, not hollywood but more of the direct release to video school. his low-budget titles are more often seen in asian night market stalls than your local multiplex. this is his 2004 release. >> i can't do that! >> don't do it. >> shoot me! >> horror, gory? what's the genre? >> try not to make it gory, but at the end of the day a little blood, a little sex, a little violence can't hurt. >> as it turned out, cops on the meredith emerson case were particularly interested in rail's first movie, deadly run. he made it back in 1985 with the assistance of his scam artist client gary hilton. >> the premise of the movie is we're going to take some women into the woods and then we're going to befriend those women and then poof, they're going to
be hunted down and killed. >> is gary involved in this, as a script writer or anything that formal? >> gary is helping me throughout and then helping the star figure out how to be a serial killer. >> these are ideas you're knocking around? >> gary has a dark side sometimes here and there. he wants to get involved in the movie, but he wants to make it darker and more horrible. he'd like to have more blood, more gore, have rape, more killings, things like that. i thought we toned it down and made a better movie. [ screaming ] he suggested we do it up in the woods. he helped me find some of the locations. we found the cabin. >> that cabin used in the movie happened to be in the chattahoochee national forest. just north of where meredith emerson went missing. he's around the table, as you guys collaborate on this film. how is he behaving around your group of movie people? >> when the movie was being made, he's animated but interesting.
>> so he's not a loner? >> no. he's a loner. he's a psychopath. he's a sociopath. he's always trying to get one step ahead of the law. he's always doing something a little bit wrong but all my clients, they do that, too. >> it sounds like you're talking about kind of a charming guy. >> he was charming. he was personable. he was a fellow that you'd want to meet. >> which are all skills you need to be a successful con man if you're going to keep an edge. but the lawyer and movie producer had a falling out with hilton over of all things a dog. >> dogs seem to to be very important with him. >> they were. dogs were very important with him. he wound up with my dog. >> what do you mean? >> i had a dog, nice little golden retriever. we had him in the back yard. all of a sudden i come back one day, the dog is gone. of course i'm very upset about it. then i find out that gary took the dog. >> he stole your dog? >> yeah. >> as their profile of hilton
became clearer and became more troubling, investigators looking for him and meredith were desperate for any lead on his whereabouts. and they were about to get one. >> i answered my cell phone and i heard his voice. couldn't believe it. coming up -- a trap is set to lure gary hilton from his hiding spot. >> i was trying to play it cool. >> and a dramatic new lead. could it lead police to meredith? >> she could be alive, and we just can't let up. >> when "mystery on blood mountain" continues. tery on blo mountain" continues. life doesn't stop for a cold. [man] honey... [woman] honey that's why there's new dayquil severe honey. it's maximum strength cold and flu medicine with soothing honey-licious taste. dayquil honey. the daytime coughing, aching, stuffy head, fever, power through your day medicine.
police were convinced the missing hiker meredith emerson was under the control of gary hilton somewhere in north georgia. the more they learned about the survivalist oddball who was the person of interest in two murders in national forests elsewhere, the more they feared for her. a friend of meredith's family appealed directly to hilton. >> i hope that if he realized that this would be helpful, that his heart would be softened and turned to come forward with information. so please, please have the courage to come forward. we need you. >> their next lead, the big one, came from an unlikely source, the suspect himself. three days into meredith's disappearance, gary hilton called his old boss, tabor. >> i answered my cell phone, and i heard his voice. couldn't believe it.
he pretended -- acted as though nothing was wrong. >> he didn't let on that he was the subject of a manhunt? >> absolutely not. he acted like he knew nothing about it. which apparently he had no idea. he apologized at length for his past behavior and on the terms of which he left, he said that he was ill and that now he felt better and he realized the errors of his ways and he was ready to get back to work. >> startled but thinking fast, tabor tried to lure hilton to an agreed-upon location with the promise of money. >> i was trying to play it cool, as though i didn't know anything about what was going on. i told him that i would give him a check for $800. and we discussed a place to leave the check. >> were you baiting that place he knew to come and show up? >> it was certainly my objective to get him to a place where authorities could apprehend him. >> the trap was set at a building owned by tabor where hilton had lived for a while. the s.w.a.t. team was dispatched. would hilton fall for the "pick up some money" ruse? and what about the missing woman? in your gut, did you think
meredith was still alive? >> you know, meredith's name was meredith hope emerson. and we all hoped that she was alive. but you know, the longer these things carry on, as time passes, you continue to hope but it diminishes after time. >> as the manhunt continued, there was a glimmer of hope. friday morning january 4th, 2008, four days after meredith vanished, the u.s. marshal's service traced activity on meredith's bank cards. >> the card was used at a local bank, 15 miles from the abduction site, and then again 50 miles south of the abduction site and then the next day 80 miles. these were attempts, where no money was taken. >> which suggests what? >> suggested that meredith wouldn't give him the right pin. >> which also suggests maybe she's still alive. >> that's right. >> investigators, meanwhile, had been able to trace the phone
gary hilton used earlier to call his old boss john tabor, who'd set that trap for him. that call was made from a restaurant about 50 miles from blood mountain. hilton it seemed was moving south toward atlanta. metro pd s.w.a.t. concealed themselves in and near tabor's building. that was the drop point where his old boss had promised hilton he'd leave him $800. >> you stake out the location. you're surveilling it. and? >> he didn't show. >> no-show. >> no-show. we're still looking and wondering where could this guy be. now we have this guy 50 miles from blood mountain. >> the veteran agent working his last case before retirement was talking constantly with meredith's parents, her father dave emerson. >> i appeal to everyone to search their hearts and memories for anything they can remember and do to help us find meredith. >> after i met the emersons, i knew that i had to tell them everything. i couldn't hold back any information from these two people. they were terrified. >> why did you take it personally? >> this case was a little bit different because not only me
but the other investigators recognized the fact early on that we have to embrace this family and tell them everything, even though what we were telling them was not good news. >> hilton, meredith, her lab ella. the tip line kept ringing with leads good and bad. then four days in, a friday afternoon, a shopper called to say that she'd found a black lab mix wandering around a supermarket parking lot. >> surprised to see any dog running loose in the parking lot. then to find out it's the one that meredith was -- was her dog, you know, was a pretty big surprise and shock. >> she took the dog to an animal clinic where the vet was able to read an identity chip implanted in her. sure enough, it was ella. but where was her owner, meredith? now events were moving quickly. right away came another tip. >> we get a call from a female acquaintance of hilton stating she had just hung up the phone. he had called her and wanted money.
she commented that she -- she said, don't you know the world's looking for you? and he hung up. >> hilton called from a pay phone at a convenience store near where meredith's dog had turned up. you have a living pet, a missing owner and a phone somewhere in the vicinity of this guy you believe is her abductor. >> yes. while the agents are searching in the area of the convenience store, they look in a dumpster. and it was in the dumpster we found meredith's identification, her purse, bags of bloody clothing. at that point, we felt that this was not going to turn out as we had hoped. >> the purse, three bloody fleece tops. agent kegel and his boss gave meredith's parents the grim update. then, around 8:00 that night, still friday, not far from where tabor had set the trap for hilton, more than one eagle-eyed citizen noticed a man emptying a white van. >> at the gas station up here, there is a white van and a red dog wandering around. >> calls lit up 911. this one lasted for 12 minutes.
>> dekalb, 911. what's the exact location? >> i have the person of interest in that missing woman case is at this chevron gas station on asher dunwoody. >> the van is there? >> the van is here. the dog is here, the red dog. and i saw the man's face. i've been watching the news and i know it's him. i know it's him. he's emptying all the stuff out of his van, looking around like he's guilty as sin. i can go take him down if you want. >> no, sir. stay right there. >> here comes the cops. yes. yes. >> police are there? >> they've got him now. two cruisers pulled up on him. >> gary hilton was under arrest. detectives swarmed over the filthy astro van and inventoried his possessions looking for any clue to meredith's fate. a gbi spokesman updated the media. >> it's a missing persons investigate investigation right now. that's how we're pursuing it. important key might be any
knowledge that mr. hilton has. >> take me inside your situation room when you get the news atlanta's got him. >> we're very pleased with the fact that now we have this man. but we can't lose sight of the fact we don't have meredith yet. and the possibility that she could be alive and we just can't let up. and so we attempt to interview him. he refuses. >> no statements. i'm waiving no rights. i want an attorney appointed to represent me. i want to speak with that attorney and i want that attorney present during questioning. >> cops had their man but not meredith. could they crack him, get from him the story of what had happened in the national forest? coming up -- in your decades as a law enforcement agent have you ever had a session of interviews like this one? >> no. he was very straightforward and was very nonchalant. >> when "mystery on blood mountain" continues. jessie one more. is the
saturday morning, five days after meredith emerson vanished on blood mountain, gary hilton was charged with a crime against her, kidnapping with bodily injury. hilton was in custody but he was uncooperative, zipped up, giving his interrogators nothing on meredith's whereabouts and what he'd done with her. >> meredith's middle name is hope, and that's exactly what the lord gives us for her. so we are hoping that we're talking of meredith in the present tense and that we will be finding her and that she will safely come home to us. >> the searchers in the field, meanwhile, shifted their focus from blood mountain to these woods called dawson forest about 30 miles to the south. it was from around here that hilton had made those phone calls to his ex-boss. remember, by then meredith's bloody clothing had been retrieved from a dumpster, not a good sign at all. but as long as there was the most remote chance she was still alive, the search was going to continue. but lead agent john kegel knew
these vast woodlands very well, and he knew the odds of finding needles in haystacks. as he saw it he had only one option, repugnant as it was. and that was to cut a deal with gary hilton. >> sunday morning we got him a lawyer and i went up and had a talk with the lawyer and essentially laid out our case. >> hilton's lawyer then conferred with his client. the district attorney was brought into the loop and a deal went down. hilton would plead guilty to murder, because that is what it had been, and then he said he would lead investigators to meredith's body in exchange for taking the death penalty off the table. nobody in law enforcement likes to make deals without holding their nose. >> we had to do it. you know, we needed to find meredith, and given the circumstances i would do the same thing now. >> i'm guessing, agent, the situation in your interview room is, gary, you told us what did to her. now where did you put her?
>> yes. and he told us. >> a manacled hilton was loaded into a vehicle and he led lawmen down a trail in dawson forest. >> the body will be approximately 40 yards or 120 feet covered by leaves and brush. the head will be missing. >> where's the head? >> the only reason by the way the head was removed was forensically. >> yeah, right. >> a clearly shaken agent kegel told atlanta about the tragic outcome. >> at approximately 7:30 this evening the body of meredith emerson was discovered in a wooded area. the specific information given as to the location of the body was given to me by gary hilton. >> the kidnapping charge was anted up. >> mr. hilton is charged with one count of murder of meredith emerson. he has been taken into custody and brought to our detention center, where he's being housed.
>> coming up -- police learn what happened to meredith in grim detail. >> she went quick with her hands and had no hesitation about grabbing weapons. >> and were there more victims? >> he would not talk about anybody to us other than meredith. >> when "mystery on blood mountain" continues. crafting our authentic fragrances begins with ingredients from the earth ... to create fragrances infused with natural essential oils.
with powerful cybersecurity solutions. and stay productive with 24/7 support. make this year's resolution better solutions. bounce forward with comcast business. get started with a powerful internet and voice solution for just $64.90 a month. plus, for a limited time, ask how to get a $500 prepaid card when you upgrade. switch today. in your decades of law enforcement, agent, have you ever had a session of interviews like this one? >> no. no. he was very straightforward and was very nonchalant about the whole thing. >> so you get down to the point where -- well, like meredith. i had $40. money. and several days' food. i have to kill somebody in that -- in that period of time. >> after his initial confession, gary hilton, the man of stony silence, became a chatterbox,
spilling out a story that sickened detectives who thought they'd heard everything. he began with meredith's abduction here on a hiking trail on blood mountain. he said that he ambushed meredith and her dog ella as she came down the trail. it was a struggle and meredith with her martial arts skills, as hilton tells it, very nearly got the best of his. twice she disarmed him, first taking away his wife and then his police baton. >> i lost control of both the knife and the bat. she's real quick with her hands and had no hesitation about grabbing weapons and everything. not only that, she was hard to subdue. fought like hell, man. >> hilton said they scrapped so hard they tumbled off the trail. separated by a few yards from that dropped police baton and meredith's water bottles, the dog's leash, objects importantly very soon to be recovered. meredith meanwhile kept right on hilton. >> she started fighting again. i had to fight her again for several minutes. and her doing that is what got me caught. because if i had been back to
the crime scene just a few minutes sooner, just several minutes sooner, i would have beat those people that found the bat and i would have picked it it up. >> he talks about fighting. >> yes. >> with meredith. >> mm-hmm. >> that she almost took him. >> i don't really believe everything he says, but that part i believe. there's no doubt that she fought. you know, maybe it's a little bit that kind of gives you a little smirk to know she almost got him. she gave him a run for his money and i'm sure that he may have thought i maybe should have chosen somebody else. >> eventually hilton wore meredith down. by then they were way off the main trail. hilton tied his captive to a tree and doubled back to that site where he had been stripped of his weapons. the bayonet was gone, lost on the forest floor. and a hiker had already picked up the police baton. hilton returned to meredith. >> i told her i had a gun and, you know, i was going to shoot
her ass now. >> skirting the main trail, he led meredith to his van in the trailhead parking area. there he secured her with chains in the back of his vehicle and then proceeded to steal her bank cards. hilton drove off to an atm in blairsville, georgia. he told detectives meredith had given him her p.i.n. numbers back on blood mountain. did meredith suspect it would be all over for her if she gave him the correct numbers? in any case, she had given him bad information. >> and it didn't work? >> none of it worked. she's still telling me, it's going to work, it's going to work. must be the wrong bank. >> hilton next tried to use meredith's cards at a bank 50 miles south in gainesville, georgia. again, no dice. he made camp that night with his captive in a remote spot in the forest. the next morning, hilton attempted to use meredith's bank card still again at an atm in canton, georgia. nothing. they returned to his hidden
campsite. he held meredith all together in the woods for four days. and what nature of man is gary hilton? well, listen to the confession tapes to what he says about meredith's dog, ella. hilton says he knew the pet had that identifying chip when he let the dog go in the supermarket parking lot. >> if i wanted to ensure that no one would associate the dog with her i would have killed the dog. but there's no way i could do that. he was too much of a softy to kill the dog as he explained it. but poor meredith, ella's owner, never had a chance. >> she was dead from the beginning. yeah, she was. >> why? >> because i just told you, once you've done, it you're either going to kill her or get caught. there's no other solution. and if that sounds cold and cruel, yeah, it was. >> in his unbelievably cold recollection of the crime, hilton said he told meredith he was going to let her go after four days of captivity. >> we're pack up and i told her i'm going to release her.
>> instead, hilton went to the van, came back with a tire iron and bludgeoned meredith emerson to death. in an attempt to thwart investigators, he decapitated and poured bleach over the body. this is gruesome beyond belief. >> yes. >> for what reason? >> i don't know. >> hilton had confessed to killing meredith emerson. but what about those other cases in the national forests? a woman in florida, the elderly couple in north carolina. >> he would not talk about anybody to us other than meredith. >> because you have to wonder when the switch was thrown in this man. >> i know. >> how many decades does this maybe go back? >> i don't know. do people just wake up when they're 61 and start to do these kinds of crimes the way he did them? you know, i would think not. >> meredith emerson went missing new year's day 2008. less than a month later gary michael hilton appeared in a georgia courtroom and pleaded guilty to her murder. meredith's parents were there. her mother, susan, addressed
hilton. >> i believe he is nothing more than a bully and a weak-minded coward who preys on others. he fancies himself a survivalist. well, anyone can see he's a scared little man on the run. >> the state honored the deal it made with the killer. no death penalty. and he was sentenced to life in prison. hilton admitted nothing beyond the emerson murder. >> is this the first time you've ever done anything like this before? >> i'll let my attorney answer. >> by now investigators from a half dozen southeastern states as well as fbi profilers were rummaging through hilton's past. by the time he was captured he wasn't much more than a vagrant in a van. but his past was more complex. as an army veteran hilton had earned an associate's college degree, gotten a private pilot's license on the g.i. bill, and been married three times before the wheels apparently came off. true crime author fred rosen has written more than 25 books including "trails of death"
about hilton. >> to underestimate him is foolish. this is a very dangerous person. >> according to rosen, he was shaped by a number of factors. hilton, who never knew his biological father, was raised by his mother and a stepfather, a horse trainer from argentina. do juvenile authorities run into young gary hilton along the way? >> when gary is 14 years old, he takes a gun and he shoots his stepfather. he doesn't kill him, but he wounds him very severely. and he's institutionalized. they put him in a mental hospital out in miami. >> hilton went to high school in hialeah, florida, played in a rock band and eventually joined the army. a cocky hilton made sure the cops who arrested him knew of his army service back in the '60s with a unit armed with tactical nuclear weapons. >> i've handled atomic bombs. i was in special weapons. and i've handled atomic bombs that damn big that weigh 79
pounds. >> and hilton bragged to the officers about his con man criminal past. >> i've never worked full time in my life except for the u.s. army. i was a career criminal and lawful charity from '73 to '93, okay? for 20 years. >> he's collecting money for charities. >> he's a scam artist. >> he's a scam artist. exactly. >> and what about hilton's dip into the movie business with that semi-slasher flick "deadly run" that he helped make in the 1980s? >> this film where he's sending women out in the woods and killing them, hunting them -- >> i hope you like your little outfit i picked out for you, barbara. i think the look is definitely you. >> do you think that's the template for what he does decades later? >> yes, i do. and that's what's so chilling to me about the whole thing, because in the millennium he'll make art into reality. >> you can hear the echoes of this, huh? >> you're already beginning to see the lack of conscience. >> in his interview with the
georgia bureau of investigation, hilton put forth a grandiose sense of himself, a renaissance man of many hats. >> i'm a philosopher, i'm a soldier, i'm a scientist, and i'm an artist. >> what do you mean artist? >> my art is my life and my art is weird. >> he's kind of a philosopher king, isn't he? i'm an artist. and you poor dumb cops don't have the luxury of being able to think the big cosmic thoughts i do. >> he almost feels sorry for them that they can't keep up with him when he starts going about this, that and the other thing. >> hoping for crumbs of clues in those other open cases, murders in the national forests, the agents wanted to keep hilton talking. >> where all have you hiked? where all have you been? all over the united states? >> oh, i know what you're getting at, the unsolved murders. >> gary hilton thinks he's smart. is he? >> gary has an iq of 120, and that's considered to be way above average. >> the reason i'm so seemingly intelligent is that i alone
amongst almost anyone, including you dudes, have time to actually stop and think about things. >> he'll rattle on as long as someone will listen to him. >> yes. >> on any topic under the sun virtually, huh? >> yes. >> pick a topic. any topic. how about volcanology? >> don't you know the super volcano under yellowstone, there are over 70 super volcanoes? when it erupts it basically blankets in a cone the whole eastern seaboard of the u.s. under several feet of ash and would just destroy any civilization in that area. >> the fast-talking flimflam man was on display in some of hilton's home videos found in his van. here is hilton giving a cop that stopped him some lip. >> you tell me -- you are the lawman. you're the law. i'm going to check it out. if it ain't the law and you're wrong -- >> come talk to me. >> i'm not talking to nobody. i'm filing and suing because you're interrupting my work. >> you hear gary bragging about how smart he is, how well he does his job.
but at the same time what you hear is an incredible narcissistic personality, which is typical of serial killers. he sets up the camera, and there's gary going -- >> 171 pounds. >> he starts pumping up his biceps like he's arnold schwarzenegger. very narcissistic. >> so why were detectives enduring hilton's self-centered ramblings? clearly they were hoping he'd blurt out something about his involvement in the other unsolved cases in the national forests. but hilton was admitting to nothing. >> basically on our timeline you basically are telling me you committed no crimes -- >> none. >> between '97 -- or '95. >> '95. >> he had escaped the death penalty in georgia, but despite his denials, he remained the prime suspect in the murder of that elderly couple irene and john bryant. mr. bryant's remains were found in january 2008 in the north carolina forest.
>> as a result of the investigation in georgia i was absolutely convinced at that point that gary hilton was our suspect. >> but there was another open homicide case that seemed to fit gary hilton like a custom-made suit. down in florida, the body of cheryl dunlap had been found in a national forest. her atm card stolen, the remains decapitated. detectives thought that fit hilton's m.o. to a t. and gary hilton, still playing the smartest kid in the class, detide defied florida to come after him, all that time, all that money. >> if they want to spend a million dollars, 2 million to convict me and then another 2 million to get death and then another 8 million to defend the death penalty and get around to executing me 17 years from now when i'm 78 years old and i'm decrepit, hey, they can do it.
>> two tough florida prosecutors it turned out would be the match of his defiant taunt. >> my belief is this is an evil, bad person and there ought to be a consequence in life to evil acts. coming up -- justice for cheryl. the hunt for evidence begins. >> we started receiving calls, people saying we saw her at walmart, we saw her here. we started backtracking those just trying to get the timeline. >> and witnesses come forward. >> fortunately for the investigation if somebody saw gary michael hilton they remembered him. he's got that kind of a face or presence that you don't forget. >> when "mystery on blood mountain" continues. when "myst mountain" continues. if you printed out directions to get here today,
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emerson in the georgia mountains. but he cheated the executioner there with a plea deal that led police to his victim's body. to the south authorities in florida were convinced he had murdered nurse and mother cheryl dunlap, whose partial remains had been recovered two weeks before meredith emerson went missing. hilton was defying authorities in florida to make the charges stick. >> if they want to spend a million dollars, 2 million to convict me and then another 2 million to get death, hey, they can do it. >> willie mix, then leon county, florida's state's attorney had heard enough and had hilton indicted for the murder of cheryl dunlap. >> he's gone away for life. he'll be leaving georgia corrections in a pine box. why does florida need to go to the expense of a death penalty trial? >> my belief is this is an evil, bad person and there ought to be a consequence in life to evil acts. i don't think murderers ought to be cheaper the more you do. >> with the dunlap case looking
like a carbon copy of the mefd ith emerson murder you might think the case would be a gimme for the prosecutors. but far from it. they would not be allowed to introduce the emerson guilty conviction despite the similarity. or the movie "deadly run" or that he was the prime suspect in the murders of an elderly couple in north carolina. florida law enforcement special agent annie white was part of the team charged with making the case. months earlier, the cops had developed a partial chronology for cheryl dunlap on the saturday she vanished. >> we started receiving calls, people saying we saw her at walmart, we saw her here. we started backtracking those just trying to get the timeline. >> the investigators knew that cheryl's morning had included some shopping in tallahassee, cashing a check at a bank and using a library computer to send some e-mail to her son in the army. they even had a last sighting. witnesses identified cheryl as the woman peacefully reading a
book here at a popular spot called leon sinks in the national forest. >> the couple i interviewed that saw her at the sinkholes was very adamant that that was her. >> but the trail had gone cold at the tallahassee atm where a disguised man had withdrawn money using dunlap's bank cards. a month after cheryl went missing the be on the lookout for gary hilton during the meredith emmerson investigation had the phones in florida lighting up again. >> when he started hitting the news media, our citizens here started seeing him and immediately recognizing him. and started calling. >> and that tip line kept ringing. one caller remembered an odd guy with a handsome red dog. that sighting led investigators down another national forest path and to another discovery. more remains. >> he was positive it was mr. hilton, described the dog, the van. and so that was one of the camps where the bones were found. >> deep in the national forest,
five miles from where cheryl dunlap's torso had been found, investigators came upon a charred piece of skull and the bony fragments of a human hand in the ashes of a campfire. >> they were badly burned. >> little camp fire pit kind of thing? >> yes, sir. he had actually done a pretty good job of covering it up. he had covered it up with straw and took measures to hide his tracks. >> the fire had been so thorough it was impossible to extract dna from the bones. from the dons. whoever killed cheryl dunlap had gone to extraordinary lengths to eliminate any physical evidence. you'd think this was someone trying to conceal the identity. >> very much. >> chills must have gone up your spine when you heard the details of what had happened to meredith and how closely it matched cheryl. >> yes, sir. >> both taken to the woods, abducted. >> yes, sir. >> both decapitated. >> it was just eerily similar. >> there was one thing about tracking the odd guy with the red dog that they had going for them. state's assistant prosecutor georgia cappelman. >> fortunately for the investigation, if somebody saw gary michael hilton they
remembered him. he's got that kind of a face or presence that you don't forget. once we had the description, we had tons of witnesses coming forward. >> while doing the leg work that was turning up more witnesses putting hilton in the area agent white screened "deadly run," the horror thriller about tracking down and killing women in the forest that gary hilton had worked on years before. >> are there scenes you see in the movie that were re-enacted in his actually spree of crimes? >> not in every detail but there's definitely a lot of similarities. >> and investigators had those home videos of hilton to screen as well. >> last time it was suwannee that was out here. >> i don't think so. unless they followed you. >> watching the videos was very educational because i saw him by himself. i saw him with other people. >> people like this restaurant manager suffering a rant from hilton about his delivery drivers. >> you tell these guys to quit terror driving. has he received any driving safety education? >> sure he has. >> i saw him with law
enforcement. he had many different sides. >> i'm leaving. i'm getting out of here. god almighty. >> he thought he was the smartest bear in the woods. >> definitely. >> smarter than the officers apprehending him. >> definitely. definitely. >> they now had numerous hilton sightings around where cheryl dunlap vanished. but despite all the investigative work by multiple sheriff's offices and the fdle, no witness came forward to put him together with cheryl dunlap. the nurse's remains were in such poor condition they told investigators nothing about how she died. but there were thousands of other pieces in the puzzle investigators were trying to solve. hilton's van jammed to the roof with hundreds of items was trucked to the florida department of law enforcement crime lab. >> our crime scene analysts spent day and night literally, weeks. >> that van was a mess, right? >> she lived in that van for weeks. she dismantled that van. every item that was in it was taken out. and then the van itself was
dismantled. she took the floors up, the head liner up, the seats out. every scrap of paper. every piece of hair. >> all that evidence from the van was added to items recovered from the dumpster outside atlanta where hilton had been captured. a georgia cop on blood mountain with a metal detector had found the bayonet meredith emerson had wrestled away from gary hilton. now investigators in florida had a theory. >> what was interesting about that knife is before we knew of mr. hilton, before he had killed miss emerson and been caught, our analyst in our lab showed us this is the style, this is what the knife's going to look like. >> cameras and memory cards were found inside the van. the techie detectives in the fdle computer lab were working overtime trying to unscramble deleted material from the evidence. and deep in their dna lab more than 700 samples were being analyzed in an attempt to find some link between gary hilton and the late cheryl dunlap.
had gary hilton managed to outsmart them all? would florida be able to make the case against him? four years after cheryl dunlap's death, it was finally going to trial. coming up -- >> your palms are sweaty and your heart's beating. >> the dramatic case begins. how would it end? >> you could just see the jurors, you saw it in their eyes. they knew. >> when "mystery on blood mountain" continues. " continues. turns out it's mostly water. " continues. so, we switched back to tide. one wash, stains are gone. daughter: slurping don't pay for water. pay for clean. it's got to be tide.
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good evening. i'm dara brown. here's what's happening. president trump could soon face consequences in the wake of the violent insurrection at the capitol. speaker pelosi announced the house will attempt to pass a resolution calling on viermt pence to invoke the 25th amendment. they will then move forward with the impeachment if pence does not fall in line. and the u.s. is set to record daily covid cases the second day in a row with a record of nearly 280,000 new cases reported saturday. over 3600 americans died. now back to "dateline."
gary hilton's trial for the florida murder of cheryl dunlap began in february 2011. a little more than four years after he'd pleaded and skated the death penalty in ga. but there was no chance of a plea deal in this tallahassee courtroom. he might be doing life in georgia, but this was a capital murder case. if convicted, hilton could die by lethal injection. remember, lead prosecutor georgia cappeleman couldn't tell the jury about hilton's conviction in the meredith emerson murder or mention he was the prime suspect in the north carolina double homicide nor tell the jury anything about that slasher in the forest movie "deadly run" that he'd help make. >> ms. dunlap found herself in a situation and ultimately came to an end that is something we only think about in nightmares. >> she spent two days with mr.
hilton before he decided it was time to murder her in cold blood, chop off her head and hands, and dump her body. >> after her opening statement, the state built the brick and masonry of its story on the timeline investigators had so painstakingly assembled. an attorney hiking with her husband in the national forest at leon sinks that saturday morning remembered seeing cheryl. >> i looked at her, and i said, it's peaceful out here, isn't it? and she looked at me and she nodded and she smiled and then she exited the boardwalk. >> then a parade of witnesses testified to seeing hilton out and about in the national forest. there was the motorist who noticed a man near cheryl's car with a flat tire. >> how confident are you that mr. hilton was the man that you saw at that vehicle? >> very confident. >> others remembered dandy, the man's good-looking reddish retriever mix. >> i'll show what you i've marked as state's exhibit 37. >> that's it. >> that looks like the dog you saw that day? >> yes.
>> a picture of hilton's dog dandy, exhibit 37, was looking to be the state's key piece of evidence. >> quite sure that's the dog. >> another witness recounted a creepy conversation with hilton at a country store. >> and then he said it was bad about that girl that was murdered. and i said yes, it is. he said, well, you look like her. and i said, well, i don't think so. >> another testified about being flagged down by hilton on one of the forest roads. hilton was looking for a jumpstart for his van. >> i'm an old southern boy. he looked like a little yankee man to me. >> and hunters, too, identified the old guy with the nice dog. >> he was acting real weird. he came up, flagging us down like it was an emergency or something. >> what the prosecution couldn't tell the jury was exactly how cheryl had died. a county medical examiner had to work with severed remains that had been exposed to the elements he thought for at least a week or more. >> are you able to tell this jury how this woman died? >> no, ma'am. >> not a cause of death.
but what the prosecution did have was forensic evidence galore. hundreds of items recovered from his van and from hilton's suspected campsites deep in the woods. >> two items here, duct tape with hair and another piece of duct tape or masking tape with hair. >> one of the items was hilton's video camera. he'd tried to delete the images on it. >> unable to see the entire device to unable to recover those previously deleted files. >> florida department of law enforcement lab experts had been able to salvage the audio hilton did not want the world to hear. and with good reason. this is gary hilton two days after cheryl dunlap's disappearance singing into the camera microphone and gaffing with his dog dandy. ♪ dan, dan, dan, we're doing it, boy ♪ >> it sounded as though he was confessing to the dog. >> i killed her. >> a hushed courtroom listened to hilton's monologue.
>> this is the park. yeah, but first i've got to go hide it somewhere else. >> the state's forensic people introduced evidence about sheryl's slashed tire, a tool mark experts said the bayonet recovered on blood mountain in georgia was an exact match for the sharp object that caused the puncture in florida. but the state's say good night evidence was without question the dna work. genetic expert joellen brown spent two years testing more than 750 pieces of evidence in the case. brown told the jury she was able to match cheryl dunlap's dna to blood on two of hilton's sleeping bags and on the shoe laces of his hiking boots. >> the major donor does match cheryl dunlap. >> jennifer portman, a senior writer on the "tallahassee democrat," was in court every day. so how good or bad is the forensic evidence against gary hilton? >> when georgia capelman presented the dna evidence and
the sleeping bag with cheryl dunlap's blood on it and gary michael hilton's blood on it you could just see the jurors, for them, you saw it in their eyes, they knew. >> and with that, after six days of testimony, the prosecution rested. now the defense, holding a very poor hand, would have to fight for gary hilton's life. coming up -- gary hilton's defense makes its case. >> we have absolutely no evidence, no direct evidence that mr. hilton committed murder. >> and will hilton take the stand? >> do you wish to testify? >> he's done a lot of trials. is this just another day at the office? >> no. >> oh, no. never. when you're waiting for a vek verdict, your palms are sweaty and your heart's beating and you're very nervous. >> when "mystery on blood mountain" continues. ry on blood mountain" continues. alone because this. come on jessie one more. is the reflection of an unstoppable community in the mirror.
its case was brief. lead attorney inez super called only one witness. an expert on tool mark identification who testified by videotape. arguing that the bayonet in evidence could not in her opinion be determined to be what had been used to slash the victim's tire. >> it's subjective. it's based on the individual examiner's training and experience. >> the defense was trying to impeach the testimony of the state's expert who said hilton's bayonet had slashed cheryl dunlap's tire, and that was it for the defense. gary hilton declined to take the stand. >> do you wish to testify? >> no. >> one in 63 million -- >> in her closing argument, the prosecutor reminded the jury of those big number dna matches. >> what are the odds that somebody else's dna is on that sleeping bag other than cheryl dunlap? 1 in 11 trillion caucasians.
>> inez suber's close for the defense was far more vigorous than her limited witness list may have suggested. >> we have absolutely no evidence, no direct evidence, that mr. hilton committed murder. >> the jurors began their deliberations. capelman and her boss waited for them to return their verdict. >> you've done a lot trials. is this just another day at the office? >> no. >> oh, no. never. when you're waiting for a verdict, your palms are sweaty and your heart's beating and you're very nervous. >> i can tell you i've been doing it 35 years now. it's never gone away for me. there's just -- oh, you'd really like to throw up while you're waiting on them. until you hear it read, it is tense. >> coming up -- a vicious killer. >> he's a psychopath. and there's crazy sick and there's crazy mean. he's just crazy mean. he's intelligent, a college
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the trial of gary hilton for the murder of cheryl dunlap had taken seven days. the six-man, six-woman jury needed less than 3 1/2 hours to reach its verdict on multiple counts. >> the state of florida versus gary michael hilton, we the jury find as follows as to count one of the indictment, the defendant gary hilton is guilty of first-degree murder. count two of the indictment -- >> gary hilton was found guilty of the first-degree murder of cheryl dunlap. guilty on all counts except car theft. the same jurors would soon reconvene to decide if hilton would die by lethal injection. he had dodged death in georgia
and now it was time to see if he could do it again. you might think that capital punishment on florida's active death row would have been a given for gary hilton. but not so says tallahassee democrat senior writer jennifer portman. >> in leon county we had not even sent anyone to death row in 20 years. >> so it's not a foregone conclusion that this is going to be a hang 'em jury. >> absolutely not. we've had our share of horrendous crimes, don't get me wrong. but the jurors here are just very uneasy about sending people to death row. >> this man, mr. hilton -- >> assistant state's attorney georgia capelman had gotten the initial conviction. >> what are the words you use to describe this guy? >> he's a psychopath. and there's crazy sick and crazy mean. he's just crazy mean. he's intelligent, a college graduate. he was a member of our armed forces. he's probably smarter than everybody sitting in this room. >> there were different rules in this, the penalty phase. unlike in the trial, prosecutors
were now able to disclose to jurors that hilton murdered meredith emerson on blood mountain, and state's attorney willie megs did just that, calling to the stand georgia bureau of investigation agents who'd worked on the emerson case. >> you indicated that ms. emerson's body was nude. did gary michael hilton tell you why it was nude? >> he did. he basically stated that he had removed the head and stripped the clothing for forensic purposes. >> megs was able to introduce portions of those chilling interviews that hilton gave the authorities in georgia. >> once you've taken someone, you're either going to kill them or you're going to get caught. it's as simple as that. >> penalty phase was one of the more interesting parts of the trial. that's where you started getting this information about emerson because -- >> that's the first time the georgia information was allowed into the -- >> correct. so that is when you really start seeing the jurors taking in the enormity. then you really see the impact of all of this coming through.
>> good morning, ladies and gentlemen. >> robert freedman was the defense's lead attorney in the penalty phase. his strategy was to portray hilton as so mentally damaged as to be incapable of responsibility for his actions. freedman began with a pet scan expert who testified about traumatic brain damage hilton had suffered as a 10-year-old when a murphy bed accidentally fell on him and nearly scalped him. >> he was taken to st. joseph's hospital in tampa and given 200 stitches. and this is an example of a murphy bed. >> and jurors that's not all the defense's expert continued. hilton was abused as a child and he lashed out as a teenager. the doctor testified that hilton was so deluded that he believed he had worked on a movie about killing women in the forest. that of course was a slip-up. hilton had done just that. and the defense error opened the door for the prosecution to tell the jury about the movie "deadly run." >> would that be delusional if
that's the truth? >> no. >> a defense neuropsychologist tested hilton, who it turns out is as bright as he thinks he is. >> on the wexler intelligence scale he scored an overall verbal iq of 120, which puts him in the upper 10% or so of the population. >> another psychiatrist diagnosed him with schizo-affective and anti-social personality disorder compounded by an old-fashioned oedipal complex. >> we call it an unresolved oedipal complex. a child can grow up with this emptiness inside of them. >> to top it off, the defense continued, hilton was self-medicating with prescription drugs. >> ritalin and effexor will basically push you over the line. >> the defense then treated jurors to "gary hilton, this is your life." a saga of abuse, neglect, and injury. it included an audiotape of hilton's late mother talking about how as a teenager hilton had wounded his stepfather. >> and he said, "shoot me, shoot
me. go ahead, shoot me, i dare you to shoot me." gary shot him. >> in the legs or -- >> the lower part of his stomach. >> a junior high girlfriend testified that gary wasn't a bad guy back in the day. >> he was funny and outgoing and smart. >> the defense rests. >> once the defense rested, willie megs called his rebuttal witness, a clinical psychologist, to revisit the essential issues. >> did mr. gary hilton know right from wrong? >> my opinion is yes, he clearly knew right from wrong and clearly he knew the criminal nature of his conduct. my opinion is that he's a psychopath and that's what generated the murders, nothing else. >> the attorneys made their final appeal to the jurors. >> i'm going to ask every one of you individually to go back in that jury room and vote to recommend that gary hilton be put to death. >> on behalf of mr. hilton, i'm
asking all of you collectively and individually to recommend a life sentence in this case. >> the jurors then retired to deliberate nothing less than whether gary hilton should live or die. coming up -- another haunting question. were there more victims out in the forest? >> i personally believe there are. >> and a legacy. >> she's really the hero. it was through her efforts that we were able to catch her killer. >> remembering meredith hope emerson. >> he took our friend. he took a daughter, a sister. but he can't take her memory. he can't take the things that we love about her away. >> when "mystery on blood mountain" continues. mountain" continues.
like you, my hands are everything to me. but i was diagnosed with dupuytren's contracture. and it got to the point where things i took for granted got tougher to do. thought surgery was my only option. turns out i was wrong. so when a hand specialist told me about nonsurgical treatments, it was a total game changer. like you, my hands have a lot more to do. learn more at factsonhand.com today. the same jurors who found gary hilton guilty of murdering cheryl dunlap were trying to decide if they should recommend hilton spend life in prison or
be put to death by lethal injection. their life or death debate lasted an hour 20 minutes. >> the majority of the jury by a vote of 12-0 advise and recommend to the court that it impose the death penalty on gary michael hilton. >> hilton sat expressionless as the results were read. two weeks later, an equally emotionless hilton listened as the judge pronounced his sentence. >> it is ordered and adjudged that you gary michael hilton be sentenced to death for the murder of cheryl dunlap. may god have mercy on your soul. >> gary michael hilton was sent to florida's death row was murder of cheryl dunlap. he was shackled and transported to western north carolina and indicted in federal court there for the murders of john and irene bryant. the government alleges the serial killer murdered the elderly couple in october of 2007, shortly before killing cheryl dunlap and meredith emerson.
>> we have a good case. a tremendous number of man-hours spent in the investigation. >> but a trial wouldn't be necessary. in march 2012 hilton pleaded guilty to killing john and irene bryant and got another life sentence. law enforcement officials from across the southeast have met with hilton multiple times in an attempt to find out how many more of his victims there might be out there. you believe that there are four deaths connected here? >> at least. >> you think there are others? >> i think there's certainly the potential to be others. i don't know that we'll ever know for sure unless he tells us. >> so far hilton is sticking to his story that he started hunting, as he describes it, in october of 2007, that there were no murders before that. the pain and suffering of the families of hilton's victims and suspected victims dulls but never ends. >> he's taken so much from me and my family. what can you say to someone who would murder two wonderful
people for $300? and meredith emerson, a beautiful young lady. and cheryl dunlap and very possibly many more. the man is not even what i think of as human. he is something else. a true psychopath who needs to be put where he can never harm anyone else again. >> for cheryl dunlap's friends and family in florida hilton's conviction provoked conflicting feelings. >> and i think, believe it or not, that cheryl would want us to forgive. and when i went into the courtroom and i actually saw him, my thought was not that they put him to death or this or that. i was glad he was off the street. but i have to forgive gary hilton. i have to. >> tabby, in the family it was a death penalty case and the jury
recommended the death penalty and that was the sentence. does it matter to you? >> we were pleased with the outcome, yes. and like laura said, he's off the streets. he's not able to hurt anyone again. yes, i think it matters. >> and there are regrets on the part of the officers who investigated the hilton cases. could there have been one tip line that had come in sooner? could there have been one fragment of information we could have put together more quickly and spared her? >> there hasn't been a day go by since then i haven't thought about meredith emerson and what we could have or should have done differently. but see, she's really the hero. she did the best she could in hopes that we could catch up. it was through her efforts we were able to catch her killer but also the killer that was responsible for the killing of cheryl dunlap. >> in georgia, for meredith emerson's closest friends, it's time to forget about gary hilton and remember her. >> he took our friend. he took a daughter, a sister. but he can't take her memory. he can't take the things that we love about her away.
>> there is, they say, important work to be done. >> we started an organization in her memory. >> julia karen bauer, meredith emerson's one-time roommate in georgia, founded along with others something called right to hike, advocating hiker safety. >> we don't want anybody to go through this again either, to bring awareness of what happened and how it happened and maybe make you think about going hiking by yourself. twice. take a friend. you know, to be a little safer. >> the organization founded by meredith emerson's friends has sponsored events with a huge turnout of people and dogs. meredith's dog ella went to live with her parents in colorado. >> any event that we ever have at right to hike, just seeing people come and say, i never met meredith, but i feel like i know her, and i wanted to come out and support. and that was the biggest thing, the community outreach after everything happened. >> right to hike has aided humane societies, educated hikers on safe practices, and
put cell towers on trailheads. >> one of the big things that we realized very quickly on these trails, that our cell phones didn't work. and meredith had her cell phone with her, and that didn't help her. >> and if you ever hike blood mountain, you just might notice a little sticker there as you head out. remember me, m.e., meredith emerson. she most of all would like you to enjoy your day in the outdoors. >> just really enjoyed being out with nature and watching ella run through the forest and play with other dogs. i think it was just a really peaceful place for her to be. >> people go to these places to relax and get away from everyday life and enjoy the outdoors. and they should continue to do that. these are some of the safest places there are to go. >> until the monster shows up. >> yeah. >> in march 2012 gary hilton pleaded guilty to the 2007 murders of john and irene bryant in north carolina. he is currently serving four
consecutive life sentences. ♪ this sunday, assault on democracy. egged on by president trump. >> we're going to walk down to the capitol! because you'll never take back our country with weakness. you have to show strength. >> thousands of pro-trump rioters storm into the capitol building. overwhelming security. >> stop the steal! [ crowd chanting ] >> members of congress cowering in the house gallery. >> we were just told that there has been tear gas in the rotunda, and we're being instructed to, each of us, get gas masks. >> five people dead, the