Gary Hilton

The National Forest Serial Killer

Confirmed Kills
Suspected Kills
Total Possible Kills
Years Active
November 22, 1946
Sentenced to death
Alive or Dead?
Death Row
US States Operated
Florida,North Carolina,Georgia
Info Box

Gary Michael Hilton

Gary Michael Hilton was born on November 26, 1946, in Atlanta, Georgia. Gary had a troubled childhood. At the age of 13, he shot his stepfather in the stomach. Gary Michael Hilton’s stepfather survived the shooting and refused to press charge. Instead, Gary spent some time in a mental hospital.

At 17, as a young adult, Gary joined the United States Army, where he became a capable paratrooper. However, in 1967, he experienced a schizophrenic episode and was honorably discharged. After being discharged from the army, Gary found a passion for hiking. It was his way of dealing with the mental challenges he was facing. He loved to visit National Parks and go on hikes.


Cheryl Hodges Dunlap

Gary’s next victim was 46-year-old Cheryl Dunlap on December 3, 2007. Cheryl was reported missing when she failed to show up for church. Being devoted to her religion and a Sunday school teacher, her friends knew this was out of character for her. The following day her car was found abandoned north of the county line. On December 16, Ronnie Rentz, a hunter passing through Apalachicola National Forest in Florida, found a decapitated, decomposing body. A medical examiner confirmed that the body belonged to Cheryl Dunlap via DNA profiling. Like Rossana’s, Cheryl’s bank card was stolen. Gary Hilton had used her card five times in Tallahassee to withdraw $700 from her account.

John and Irene Bryant

On October 21, 2007, retired couple John and Irene were hiking through the Pisgah National Forest in Transylvania County. The couple was reported missing by family members after they hadn’t heard from them in two weeks.

On November 10, Irene’s body was found on a trail covered in leaves. An autopsy confirmed the body was Irene’s and that she had been beaten to death with a blunt instrument. Investigators also discovered that a bank card belonging to the Byrants had been used to withdraw $300 from an ATM in Tennessee with surveillance footage showing an older white male covering his face. John was still missing.

On February 3, 2008, a hunter accidentally discovered a skull in the forest. The skull was positively identified as John Bryant.

Meredith Emerson

On January 1, 2008, 24-year-old hiker Meredith Hope Emerson went for a hike in Vogel State Park,

North Georgia with her dog Ella. Witnesses have claimed to have seen an older man following her closely on the hike. The man was later determined to be 61-year-old Gary Hilton.

On January 5, numerous items belonging to Meredith were found. Her bloodied clothing, waller, driver’s license, and a bloodstained car seat belt were all discovered in a dumpster neat a QuikTrip parking lot in Cumming. Her body was later found after Gary led investigators to her in an attempt to avoid the death penalty.

Suspected Victims

Gary Hilton is also suspected of being involved in several other murders. However, a lack of evidence has made it impossible for prosecutors to move ahead in those cases. Those cases include the following victims.

Judy Smith (51)

On September 7, 1997, several human bones and personal items were found in Pisgah National Forest, scattered near a campground. It is suspected that Gary killed Judy; however, no evidence has been found.

Rossana Miliani (26)

A convenience store owner last saw Rossana Milani in the company of an older white male in 2005. The store owner informed police that she very nervously entered the store with the male claiming to be a traveling preacher. They reportedly brought some clothes and left. Rossana’s credit card was stolen and later used. Rossan Miliani was later found beaten to death.

Jason Knapp (20)

Jason Knapp, a Clemson University student, disappeared in 1998 in South Carolina. He was declared legally dead in 2018. Gary was proposed as a suspect in Jason’s murder due to similarities to his other known crimes. However, no linking evidence was found.

Michael Scot Louis (27)

Michael Scot Louis went missing on November 21, 2007. A few weeks later, Michael’s dismembered remains were found by a fisherman in Ormond Beach. They were packed in black bags and had been dumped in the Tomoka River. His head was never located. Gary remains one of the suspects in the case.

Arrest and Convictions

On January 30, 2008, Gary Hilton pleaded guilty to the murder of Meredith Emerson. He was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility for parole in 30 years. He made a deal with the prosecution that if they took the death penalty off the table, he would lead investigators to her body.

Gary was later charged with three additional murders, the murder of John and Irene Bryant in North Carolina and the murder of Cheryl Dunlap in Florida. In 2011 Gary Hilton was found guilty of first-degree murder and received the death penalty for Cheryl’s death. He was liked to the murder through DNA evidence. In 2012, Gary pleaded guilty to the kidnapping and murder of Irene and John Bryant. He was sentenced to life in prison. He also pleaded guilty to robbery and firearms offenses.

Gary Hilton is currently awaiting execution on Florida’s death row.

Frequently Asked Questions

For what murder did Gary receive the death penalty?

In 2011 Gary Hilton was found guilty of first-degree murder and received the death penalty for Cheryl’s death. He was sentenced to death at trial by jury vote.

Who are the known murder victims of Gary Michael Hilton?

Cheryl Hodges Dunlap, 46 / John, 80, and Irene Bryant, 84 / Meredith Hope Emerson, 24