Between 2007 and 2008, the American South was terrified by the Gary Hilton killer, also known as the National Forest Serial Killer, who preyed on hikers who traveled into remote areas.
He was accountable for at least four confirmed homicides in three different states, all of which took place in national forest lands.
As Oxygen’s Dateline: Unforgettable airs an upcoming episode titled “Mystery on Blood Mountain,” unearthing fresh facts that could relate to other unidentified deaths, the story of Hilton’s deeds is as horrifying as it is surprising.
On November 26, 1946, Hilton was born in Atlanta, Georgia; he had a tough upbringing.
He had a turbulent upbringing and enlisted in the US Army as a young man. He excelled as a paratrooper in the West German-based Davy Crockett Platoon throughout his time there.
But in 1967, he experienced a psychotic episode that resulted in his release and a protracted hospitalization in a psychiatric hospital.
By the time of his crimes, he had been married three times, been detained on 21 separate occasions for solicitation, and been charged with further criminal offenses.
The horror began on January 1st, 2008, when Meredith Emerson, a 24-year-old University of Georgia alumna and sales manager stationed in Buford, vanished.
On Blood Mountain in the Chattahoochee National Forest, she went on a hike with her dog Ella, when witnesses saw Hilton following them.
In response to Emerson’s disappearance, investigators detained Hilton on January 4, 2008, as he was clearing his car of any evidence. He brought detectives to the scene of Emerson’s body after confessing to the crime.
After receiving life sentences for his horrible crimes in both Georgia and North Carolina, Hilton is currently incarcerated on death row in Florida.
In addition, he is alleged to have killed others; however, the total number of fatalities is still unknown.
Authorities got indications of Hilton sightings at campgrounds in Florida’s Leon County, where 46-year-old Cheryl Dunlap, a nurse and Sunday school teacher, had her charred head and hands found. Hunters found her body a few days later.
Hilton is also suspected of killing John Bryant, 80, and his 84-year-old wife Irene on October 21, 2007, while they were out hiking in North Carolina’s Pisgah National Forest.
He allegedly shot John before hitting Irene in the head and killing her. Three months later, in the Nantahala National Forest, John’s body was found.
Emerson’s disappearance led to a large search effort that kicked off the search for Hilton. Hilton was arrested after being discovered washing his car after numerous witnesses reported seeing him pursue her.
As a result of hikers and campers reporting unusual sightings, the investigations spread to additional counties and states.
Authorities believe there are still unnamed victims despite Hilton’s arrest and sentencing.
Rossana Miliani, a 28-year-old Florida resident with gray hair resembling the National Forest Serial Killer, was last seen in Bryson City, North Carolina, in December 2005 with an older guy. Her case is still unresolved.
Though nothing has been established, there is a chance that Hilton is involved.
The tale of Gary Hilton serves as a sobering reminder of the risks that exist in society. His terrifyingly true tale serves as a cautionary tale for intrepid hikers and travelers who enter remote natural reserves.
Even though his reign of terror is gone, authorities are still looking into the case in an effort to find more victims and guarantee that justice is done.
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