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Possible links to other cases in missing hiker mystery

BLAIRSVILLE, Georgia (CNN) — The body of Meredith Emerson, the 24-year-old who disappeared New Year’s Day while hiking in the north Georgia mountains, has been found, her former roommate told CNN.

The discovery comes a few hours after the man accused in Emerson’s disappearance appeared in court in shackles Monday to hear the charge against him.

Gary Michael Hilton, 61, is charged with intent to cause bodily injury to Emerson, who vanished after venturing into the north Georgia mountains with her dog.

She was last seen on New Year’s Day, and her dog was found days later in a grocery story parking lot 50 miles away.

Investigators are looking into whether evidence links Hilton to other crimes.

Hilton sat silently in his orange jumpsuit, showing no emotion and keeping his head virtually still during the hearing at Union County Magistrate Court.

After reading the charge against Hilton, Judge Johnie Garmon asked whether the defendant had any questions.

Neil Smith, the public defender representing him, answered not at this time.

When Garmon asked whether Hilton understands his rights as Garmon had explained them, the attorney gave no direct answer, saying they will be dealt with.

Police, meanwhile, are trying to determine whether Emerson’s disappearance may be linked to the presumed killings of an elderly North Carolina couple.

Vernon Keenan, director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, said law-enforcement officers and trained search crews would conduct a target-specific search of locations that investigators identified after examining hundreds of pieces of evidence.

Investigators are targeting places they know Hilton visited, as well as a five-mile radius around Vogel State Park and the 25,000-acre Dawson Forest wildlife management area in Dawson County, Georgia, about 30 miles south of Blairsville.

They are also composing a timeline of events.

We have very many significant leads and factual evidence based on citizen reports, said Keenan. It’s a very difficult case.

Georgia authorities were comparing notes with their North Carolina counterparts looking into the case of John and Irene Bryant, an elderly couple who died after going for a hike in the North Carolina mountains last October 21, he said.

Georgia and North Carolina law enforcement officials planned to meet Monday in Cleveland, Georgia, to discuss the case, Georgia Bureau of Investigation spokesman John Bankhead said.

North Carolina’s Transylvania County investigator Bryan Kreigsman said Irene Bryant’s body was found a stone’s throw from the couple’s car in the Mount Pisgah National Forest.

John Bryant’s body has not been found, he said. But, he said, investigators have a bank video of a man wearing a yellow jacket — believed to have belonged to John Bryant — while using the Bryants’ ATM card.

Witnesses who saw Hilton on the trail with Emerson on the day she disappeared said he was wearing a yellow jacket at the time.

We don’t know if there is a link at this point, said Keenan. It’s too preliminary to make a connection as foundation.

Keenan said investigators are also looking at possible similarities in a Florida case but did not provide any specifics except to say it involved a female hiker that has been murdered.

There is a homicide case in Florida, and we will be meeting with Florida authorities and making a presentation of evidence of Emerson case, he said. They will make determination whether we have anything of interest or value to them.

Authorities arrested Hilton after finding bloodstained clothes, and they said Sunday that the chances are slim that Emerson is alive.

Authorities searched for any signs of Emerson on Sunday in Forsyth County, Georgia, where the woman’s dog was found in a grocery store parking lot three days after her disappearance.

They made a point to look behind churches as a result of a 2004 case in which someone apparently kidnapped a hairdresser in Forsyth County. Her remains were later found behind a church, said Capt. Frank Huggins of the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office.

There is no evidence to link the disappearance of Patrice Endres, the hairdresser, to Emerson’s case, but investigators looked behind churches out of an abundance of caution, Huggins told CNN.

All day Monday, Emerson’s relatives clung to hope despite the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s insistence that search-and-rescue efforts have given way to trying to find Emerson’s body.

Please have everyone search their minds to recall any evidence that could help bring our daughter home, the woman’s father, Dave Emerson, said at a news conference Monday, the AP reported.

Emerson’s mother is focused on waiting and hoping that word comes soon and on sharing good memories of Meredith, a family friend, Peggy Bailey, said at a Sunday press conference.

Emerson’s roommate, Julia Karrenbauer, said you have to … keep going and that there’s always the possibility of a miracle, especially with Meredith. Watch as Emerson’s roommate discusses ordeal

Investigators found Emerson’s black leather wallet containing her identification cards in a convenience store trash bin in the Forsyth County city of Cumming. They also found bloodstained clothing consistent with what she had been wearing, according to a criminal warrant filed Saturday.

The QuikTrip Dumpster is next to a grocery store parking lot where Emerson’s Labrador mix was found wandering Friday, the warrant said.

The warrant alleges that Hilton made a phone call Friday from a pay phone at the QuikTrip.

The animal was positively identified through an implanted microchip.

Hilton was taken into custody Friday at a convenience store in suburban Atlanta.

When Hilton’s 2001 minivan was searched, agents determined that the rear seat belt had been cut out, the warrant said. Hilton was attempting to vacuum the vehicle and wash portions of it with a bleach and water solution.
found here.

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January 8, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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