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 is an American serial killer responsible for a killing spree that took place between 2007 and 2008 in national forests around the United States. In 2007, he killed John and Irene Bryant in Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina. In the same year, he also killed Cheryl Dunlap in Apalachicola National Forest, Florida. In 2008 he killed Meredith Emerson in Chattahoochee National Forest. Additional murders remain under investigation, as he has been deemed a suspect.


John and Irene Bryant (October, 2007)

In October 2007, the body of  Bryant was found a little ways away from their car. Irene Bryant had gone on a hike with her husband, John at the Pisgah National Forest when the couple disappeared. It wasn’t until two weeks later that family members reported the couple missing to local police. Authorities learned during their investigation that Irene Bryant had attempted to call 911 on the day of her disappearance but the call was dropped before reaching the operator. Tragically, John was found dead with a gunshot wound to his head.

Cheryl Dunlap (December 3rd, 2007)

On December 3rd, 2007, a nurse named Cheryl Dunlap did not show up to her job at Florida State University in Tallahassee. Her coworkers considered it to be unusual for her. They reported her missing after they discovered her abandoned car, a white Toyota Camry near the county line the following day. Her decapitated and decomposing body was discovered in the Apalachicola National Forest in western Leon County by a hunter passing through the woods on Dec. 17th. He reported it to the authorities. The authorities were unsure if the body was Dunlap’s so they ran a DNA test to confirm. 

Cheryl Dunlap’s murder was initially classified as a homicide. Authorities announced that they were looking for a suspicious vehicle at the time of her disappearance: a green truck driven by a man who had used Dunlap’s ATM card five times in Tallahassee, withdrawing $700 from her account. 

Meredith Emerson (December 29, 2008)

Meredith Hope Emerson was last seen hiking with her dog Ella along the Blood Mountain mountain trail in Georgia on New Year’s Day 2008. Witnesses claimed to have seen an older man with a dog trailing closely during the hike. Gary Hilton a local drifter, who greatly resembles the man described in the sightings by witnesses was announced as a person of interest in this case. He often took his dog walking along the same trail where Emerson disappeared. 

Authorities located a variety of items belonging to Emerson inside a dumpster on January 5. They included her blood-stained clothing, wallet, driver’s license and Georgia ID card as well as a bloodied car seat belt.

Other Victims

Gary Hilton has also been a suspect in the disappearance of Judy Smith, whose bones were found on September 7, 1997. In addition to this, he’s also suspected of killing Jason Knapp, a Clemson University student who disappeared on1998 and also Rossana Miliani a hiker from Miami, Florida was last seen in the company of an older white man in his 60s, buying backpacks from a convenience store in Bryson City. Another person who has gone missing is Michael Scot Louis who disappeared on November 21, 2007. Authorities claim that Gary is somehow connected to the disappearance of these people but so far hasn’t found any real proof to support those claims.

Arrest and Conviction

Gary Hilton was sentenced to death in 2011 for the murder of Cheryl Dunlap whose remains were discovered by a hunter passing through the Apalachicola National Forest in Florida. Hilton was also linked to Dunlap’s murder after police arrested him in January 2008 for the death of Meredith Emerson who he led police to her decapitated body in exchange for prosecutors dropping the death penalty in that case. A hunter reported seeing Gary Hilton in the forest where Cheryl Dunlap’s body was found and rangers again saw him a short time later.

Hilton was also sentenced to life in prison for the October 2007 murders of hikers John Bryant and Irene Bryant in the Pisgah National Forest.

In 2018, convicted murderer Gary Hilton unsuccessfully attempted to have his death sentence overturned on the basis that his defense team was dysfunctional and ineffective. His appeal was denied by both state and federal authorities.