ATLANTA – The body of missing hiker Meredith Emerson was found in the mountains of northern Georgia Monday after the suspect charged with her kidnapping led police to the body, authorities said Monday.
Gary Michael Hilton, 61, the last person to see Emerson alive, told police where they could find the body in the Dawson Forest Management Area and then led them to the location, Georgia Bureau of Investigation agents said at news conference Monday night.
Authorities had planned to search the area in Dawson County on Tuesday after witnesses began to report seeing Hilton's van in the area, but expedited the search after Hilton provided additional information.
Investigators say Hilton was the last person seen with Emerson on the trail before she disappeared on New Year's Day. Bloody clothing was found in a trash bin near a pay phone Hilton used, and Hilton also tried to use Emerson's credit card. A bloody, torn seat belt was also found in the trash bin and possibly places Emerson inside Hilton's van.
The remains of the 24-year-old hiker were discovered hours after a judge denied Hilton bond on the kidnapping charges.
Hilton is charged with kidnapping with intent of bodily injury, but District Attorney Stan Gunter said earlier that it is likely that he could face additional charges in the 24-year-old Emerson's disappearance.
Hilton's attorney, Neil Smith, did not enter a plea on Hilton's behalf Monday.
Emerson, who lived in Buford, vanished after she went hiking on New Year's Day with her dog. Witnesses told investigators in Union County that they had seen her talking with a man matching Hilton's description.
Investigators are also examining whether Emerson's death and the disappearance of two other hikers in October in North Carolina are related.
Gunter said he is confident in the case against Hilton, but said his office is not ready to present the case to the Union County grand jury, which reconvenes tomorrow. Investigators said Hilton was the last person seen with Emerson on the trail.
Union County Sheriff Scott Stephens said Hilton was a drifter well-known in the area, and was often seen with his dog, Dandy, and police-style baton. Since he was identified as a person of interest in Emerson's disappearance, Stephens said his office has gotten thousands of calls from people saying they recognized his wiry frame.