Skip to main content

tv   Dateline Extra  MSNBC  December 25, 2018 3:00pm-5:00pm PST

3:00 pm
>> that's all for this edition of "dateline extra." i'm craig melvin. thanks for watching. you have to be aware of your surroundings because you just never know. >> it started with a frightening horror flick from the '80s. >> the premise of the must have -- movie is we're going to take some women into the woods and then poof, they're going to be hunted down. >> then decades later, something truly frightening. it it was happening for real. a strange vanishing in the forest. >> immediately we knew something was wrong. >> then another. >> your heart just broke. >> sheryl, then meredith. two women missing and two
3:01 pm
desperate efforts to find them. >> she he could be alive and we can't let up. >> could this old movie be the key to these new cases? >> a little blood, a little sex, a little violence. >> a film fantasy turns chilling reality. >> if someone has her, she's afraid. >> who could be behind this, and how would this real-life story end? >> she was a blue belt in judo. if anybody could survive, it was meredith. if anybody could fight, it was meredith. >> "mystery on blood mountain." hello and welcome to "dateline extra." i'm craig melvin. this is a puzzling case centered in national forests. it's about what happened when a young hiker, out with her dog, vanished as her loved ones kept vigil, police pressed on, ultimately uncovering a crime as daunting and dark as the trails that snaked through the woods. here's dennis murphy. >> our national forests are
3:02 pm
places of refuge for folks that want to get away from the city and have a sense of peace, commune with nature. but you have to be aware of your surroundings all the time because you just never know. >> the splendor of national parks and forest lands are poems just waiting to be written by each new visitor. from the cathedrals of the rockies to the quiet glades in old growth of the appalachians. it's here in the parks we have the promise of stepping out of the hubbub of our chattering daily routine. that was the kind of serenity meredith emerson sought on a crisp new year's day in the north georgia mountains. not more than foothills, really, for a woman ho loved to trail climb her native rockies. it was 2008 as the young sales assistant set out with her dog,
3:03 pm
ella. her roommate julia from her college days had slept in that morning. >> she had left me a little note on the chalk board, took ella, went hiking. not where, not when, not when i'll be back. it wasn't really anything out of the ordinary. >> meredith, like roomy julia, was a dog person. she doted on ella, her black lab mix since finding her at a rescue shelter. >> she had two dogs growing up and she wanted one of her own. so we talked about it and she researched what she wanted and definitely wanted a rescue dog. finally found one, went out, loved her and brought her home. really it was the light of her life. >> julia the roommate didn't know meredith and ella were heading 40 miles north to blood mountain in the chattahoochee national forest. despite the creepy teen slasher movie name, blood mountain is a popular place to hike in the southeast. the famous appalachian trail to maine takes off from just south of here.
3:04 pm
back in beaufort, the roommate spent her new year's day with friends and didn't notice that meredith hadn't come home until the next morning, a back-to-work day. >> she would leave ella in my room and i would take care of her in the morning. i thought, ella isn't here. that was strange to me. i called her cell phone, it went straight to voice mail. i thought maybe she was at work. >> when did you become anxious? >> when i got to work, she worked with a good friend of ours. and the friend called me and said meredith didn't show up for work. meredith is always at work. she's the first one at work. >> reliable meredith wasn't where she was supposed to be. julia called the sheriff's office. and then she and other meredith friends assembled a search party. maybe she twisted her ankle hiking and had taken a tumble. they started with that note on the chalk board. >> do you know where i'm going hiking would be? >> we had a few ideas. we had books she had, places she highlighted and kind of just started driving. >> the friends split up, looking
3:05 pm
for meredith's car at trailheads she'd marked in her hiking guides. >> there were four of us in the car. we were trying to call park rangers, anybody that may have seen her car. then a friend of hers called her -- called us and said i found it. there was know on it. >> the car was in a parking area at the base of blood mountain. >> we just drove as fast as we could. we knew, just that sinking feeling when we first saw it. >> the friends raced up the blood mountain feeder path to the appalachian trail, but no trace of meredith or ella. so by night fall the search became all the more urgent as a cold front moved in and temperatures on blood mountain plunged below zero. at daybreak, thursday now, the friends were joined by deputies from the local sheriff's office. john kegel, just shy of retirement, was the agent in charge for the georgia bureau of investigation, the state's top cops. >> we received a request from a local agency to help with a missing hiker. >> the case of the hiker missing
3:06 pm
for two days didn't look good to the seasoned detective because of some disturbing items that had been recovered on the trail. what were the things found out on the trail area that you thought were alarming? >> a couple of water bottles, a dog leash and a police expandible baton. >> this is a piece of professional gear. >> it is. it's just a metal pipe that is expandsable. you see almost every police officer in the nation carrying these things. >> did those artifacts, the water bottle, baton, found together tell you a story at all, or suggest something ominous? >> yes. we found those items in an area where the ground had appeared to have been disturbed. we became concerned that possibly a struggle took place there. >> meredith's water bottles, ella's leash, and signs of a struggle. nothing about the scene looked good to the veteran lawman, especially that expandible police baton that was found. he called in help.
3:07 pm
>> we eventually partnered with over 18 or 19 police agencies to help in the search for meredith. >> her friends were naturally beside themselves. >> you know, your heart just broke because you think something happened, somebody had a weapon, and her stuff was there. >> so you're thinking at the very least she's been abducted. >> right. it wasn't something we could talk about until we could prove that. >> the cops commandeered a park building as headquarters. >> we began getting information pretty quickly. >> from people who had hiked the trails that day? >> right. >> and remembered her? >> right. we got news of a strange looking individual with meredith who also had a dog. >> thumbnail description of this other person. what were you hearing? >> strange looking, just a wiry kind of guy. >> older guy. >> older guy. we even developed a vehicle description, a white van. >> the lead on the van came from this photo taken on a hiker in the blood mountain parking lot the night before meredith emerson went missing.
3:08 pm
a "be on the lookout" advisory went out for the guy driving a white van accompanied by his reddish dog. >> it is going to be a white male between the ages of 50 and 60 years old, approximately 160 pounds. it was described as he has bad dental, he had a dark reddish colored retriever. >> we put out that information through the media in atlanta and actually got a call from someone who said i think i know who this is. >> coming up, this mysterious stranger would prove to be stranger than anyone expected. >> i just turned white at one point. i felt the blood leave my face. >> meredith emerson had not been the only one missing in the forest. >> if she's still alive and someone has her, she's afraid. >> when "mystery on blood mountain" continues. (excited squeal, giggling/panting) gotcha! (man) ah!
3:09 pm
(girl) nooooooooooooo! (man) nooooo! (girl) nooooo... (vo) quick, the quicker picker upper! bounty picks up messes quicker, and is two times more absorbent than the leading ordinary brand. (man and pirate girl) ahoy! (laughing) (vo) bounty, the quicker picker upper.
3:10 pm
ito take care of anyct messy situations.. and put irritation in its place. and if i can get comfortable keeping this tookus safe and protected... you can get comfortable doing the same with yours. preparation h. get comfortable with it.
3:11 pm
3:12 pm
returning to our story, here again is dennis murphy. meredith emerson and her lab ella were two days missing on georgia's blood mountain early in a freezing january of 2007. her friends had alerted the authorities and people from all over the greater atlanta area were scouring the hiking trails. so many volunteers they couldn't use all of them. >> people just showed up and just said, i have a daughter who likes to hike, i have a sister who could have been meredith easily. and they just volunteer their time. >> but the search in the national forest had become something more ominous than a lost hiker incident. meredith had been last seen in the company of an unsavory looking stranger, and law enforcement was about to identify him. the tip came from john tabor, an atlanta businessman. he was watching the continuing news coverage of missing meredith during his morning workout. >> when they started giving the description of the person of interest, my ears really perked
3:13 pm
up. i think i just turned white at one point. i felt the blood leave my face. >> tabor, the businessman thought, that has to be gary hilton. hilton worked on and off for him for years, first as a telemarketer and then as an independent contractor in a siding business. he even lived for a while in this house tabar owned. what was the thought that's taking shape? >> the first thing that got my attention is where the event happened, where she went missing, blood mountain. i knew that was a place he liked to hang out, that he had a dog with him. and most importantly was the evidence that they had found at the scene. i knew hilton always had an expandible police baton with him. >> the tip and a name quickly led to a georgia driver's license for 61-year-old gary michael hilton. investigators showed the photo to hikers who i.d.'d him as the scruffy mystery man seen with
3:14 pm
meredith on blood mountain. the man hunt was on. >> we put the face out. >> it's plastered all over the atlanta area. >> yes. the apb went well past the georgia border. hilton's name and picture were all over the regional news. light bulbs began going off to the south around tallahassee, florida's capital, when people there saw his photo on tv. the search for gary hilton was about to widen. the mystery man person of interest in the meredith emerson case looked familiar to people who thought they had seen him just about the time they learned of the sad case of another woman who had gone missing. sheryl dunlap, a nurse and mother. when sheryl didn't turn up for church one december sunday in 2007 and then missed her sunday school class, red flags went up. next door neighbor and friend tonya ladd. >> sunday morning i turned around and looked at her usual spot and she wasn't there. >> she didn't teach her class? >> she didn't. >> immediately we knew something was wrong. that's just not like her.
3:15 pm
>> everyone who knew her agreed. 46-year-old sheryl was reliable, a woman solid in her faith and set in her habits. her fellow nurse friend and prayer partner, laura walker. >> she always liked to hear what we call our praise reports, like something good that happened with a patient or a co-worker. >> when monday morning rolled around and tonya still hadn't been able to reach sheryl, she walked next door. >> i went back down to the house and saw the dog was at the house but the car was gone. i called her office several times and they hadn't seen her. >> sheryl's daughter-in-law tabitha called the sheriff's office to report her missing. >> tonya said she didn't show up for work, i knew there was a problem. >> after the missing person's report was filed, the friends heard about a car that looked like sheryl's spotted on the side of the highway leading into tallahassee. they headed up there. >> it was sheryl's car and immediately they sent a deputy up there and just took over from that point. >> are you apprehensive? >> yes. i was very uneasy. i knew something was wrong. >> sheryl's car was parked well off the highway.
3:16 pm
florida department of law enforcement agent, annie white. >> it was pretty clear from the beginning that that's not someplace she would have parked it, as well as the tire looked like it had been purposely flattened on the vehicle. >> an abandoned car, a slashed tire. >> lord, where is she? >> searchers, law enforcement, volunteers began fanning out into the adjacent 57,000 acre apalachicola national forest, all of them with dread in their hearts. >> i would be devastated if this happened to my family. that's why i want to be out here and help as much as i can. >> there were massive searches in town, thousands of people showed up to comb the woods looking for her. it was clear very early on that this was unusual for her. she would not have gotten in the car with someone. she just wasn't the person who would have disappeared. >> tallahassee democrat senior writer jennifer portman covered the story. >> we're talking about north florida in the panhandle area. people are bound by their schools, by their family, by their churches.
3:17 pm
>> and sunday school teachers with children and a grandchild don't go missing. >> that's exactly right. >> her friends and family were as baffled as the police by sheryl's disappearance. law enforcement was trying to put the pieces together. when they looked into sheryl's background, nothing jumped out at them. two sons, a long settled divorce, no boyfriends. then on tuesday, four days after she was last seen, the cops got her bank records. something was up. >> we found where some atm activity occurred in leon county. >> that was a big break. >> yes, sir. upon viewing that video in leon county, it was clear it was not her. this was a male subject using her card. he was disguising his face so we knew at that point definitely that it was probably not going to be a good outcome for miss dunlap. >> the disguised man made three separate withdrawals of $700. the atm he tapped was in downtown tallahassee near the campus of the state u, miles from where sheryl's car was found. >> so you and the team stake out the atm machine.
3:18 pm
>> we stay there several days, day and night, watching the atm. and he never came back to that one. >> the search for sheryl stretched on for weeks. >> a lot of us went out on our own and searched the woods and went to places we thought she could possibly be. >> but the more time goes on inevitably, the fear sinks in. >> i just remember sleepless nights, just -- because i'm thinking, if she's still alive and someone has her, she's afraid. >> mid-december 2007, two weeks after sheryl disappeared, some hunters out training their dogs in the national forest noticed a vulture circling in the sky above them. >> and they went to check it out and discovered the body. >> a female body missing its head and hands, a grisly fact not released at the time. >> you'd think this is someone trying to conceal the identity. >> very much. >> it took a dna sample from her toothbrush to identify the remains as those of sheryl dunlap. >> someone called and said,
3:19 pm
laura, they found a body. we pulled over on the side of the road and just -- >> that was it, huh? >> yeah. >> the awareness was there. >> it was surreal, the thing you hear about in movies. it was so close to home that in our small community that something like this could happen. >> now, with cops in florida looking hard at gary hilton in the dunlap murder, and counterparts in georgia convinced that he had taken meredith emerson, authorities started hearing about yet another national forest homicide, this one in north carolina. >> so then you've got to be saying, all your team of investigators, what do we have here? >> that's right. so now we're really wondering who we have here and where is he. and, more importantly, where's meredith? coming up -- do we have a killer running around loose in the national forest? >> concern for meredith deepens, but her friends know something that man on the mountain
3:20 pm
couldn't. >> a blue belt in akido and a blue belt in judo. >> if anyone could survive it, it was meredith. >> when "mystery on blood mountain" continues. n blood mountain" continues. (burke) parking splat. and we covered it.
3:21 pm
3:22 pm
talk to farmers. we know a thing or two because we've seen a thing or two. ♪ we are farmers. bum-pa-dum, bum-bum-bum-bum ♪
3:23 pm
welcome back to "dateline extra." returning to our story, here again is dennis murphy. where was meredith hope emerson? could she still be alive somewhere out there in georgia's chattahoochee national forest? and did the 24-year-old hiker have a prayer if she were indeed in the clutches of mystery man gary hilton? the search on blood mountain went into a third day. >> we had the hope. i mean, we were there from sunup to sundown, plus. we were there through the night in the cold and all the searchers. but if anyone could survive, it was meredith. and if anybody could fight somebody like that, it was meredith. >> meredith's parents had flown in from colorado and joined the searchers. peggy bailey, a family friend, was their spokeswoman. >> let me tell you something, meredith emerson can do anything. she is fiesty. she is strong. she's tiny and petite, 120
3:24 pm
pounds, but let me tell you, i have every hope that -- she can run those mountains. she is a strong person. if anybody can survive this, she can. >> the missing woman was deceptively strong, not just an experienced hiker but an accomplished martial arts enthusiast as well. >> a blue belt in aikido and a blue belt in judo. >> so take her on at your peril. >> absolutely. she would fight you. she would come home and tell me, i threw this 220-pound man. beat him up today in class. >> by now, with half of georgia looking for this gary hilton, authorities outside tallahassee, florida, to the south were wondering about his connections with the missing woman there. it was then that the detectives got solid information about another killing in a national forest. >> we were in our command post and a detective walked in and said that they had a case, took place in north carolina, involving a husband and wife, that the wife had been murdered
3:25 pm
in the pisgah national forest. >> that detective was working an unsolved case that had cops in north carolina bewildered. david mahoney, a sheriff of transylvania county, a beautiful place with an ominous name that has nothing to do where fangs dripping blood. >> we have wonderful attractions here, all of those things with the slower pace of life is what brings folks and keeps folks here. >> folks like john and irene bryant, who after raising a family retired here, far from the brutal winters of upstate new york and close to the hiking trails they loved. holly bryant is the youngest of their four children. >> they loved the outdoors. when they were first married, they used to go out hiking in the mountains. they would take us hiking. and as they got older, they'd take the grandchildren out hiking, too. >> the bryants had a lifetime of outdoors experience, had hiked all over the world. >> my father completed the appalachian trail, which is
3:26 pm
2,000 miles, from georgia to maine. they've traveled extensively to new zealand and all through europe, all through america, especially the southwestern and northwestern united states. >> in late october 2008, two months before meredith emerson disappeared, the couple set off on a day hike in the 500,000 acre pisgah national forest. no one heard from them for two weeks. >> they always let us know if they were going on one of their many trips so it was totally unlike them to just disappear. >> their son bob flew in from texas. >> the newspapers were around the doorstep. he broke into the home and found their breakfast was still out on the table, obviously many days old. and he knew something was terribly wrong. my brother searched, went up and down every little back road throughout the park. >> he found their car at a trailhead in the national forest.
3:27 pm
by then, sheriff mahoney's office was involved. >> the rescue squad began a search, assuming that there had been some medical problem or some illness that had fallen upon them. >> in my heart, i knew that wasn't the case. there's just no way they would both be hurt like that. they were very, very experienced. >> unfortunately, it was not very long after we began that search that we discovered the body of ms. bryant. >> it was a sense of finality. i knew she was gone already, but that little glimmer, particle of hope was extinguished when they found her body. >> irene bryant's remains were located 30 yards from where her son had come upon the car. she had been bludgeoned to death, but where was the husband? >> we began an even more extensive search for mr. bryant. that search really involved the entire area of the pisgah national forest.
3:28 pm
>> within hours of discovering irene bryant's body, detectives learned $300 had been withdrawn from the bryants' accounts using an atm card in duckstown, tennessee. they had a picture from the machine. >> the man that had concealed his head and face that was able to successfully use the brienya' atm. >> whoever was making the withdrawal, it wasn't 79-year-old john bryant. but time and geography were working against the lawmen. >> we spent weeks everywhere in that entire area. we did everything from vehicle patrol, atv patrolling, horseback, on foot, everywhere. >> john bryant had seemingly vanished from the face of the earth. the fbi posted a $10,000 reward for information, but the bryant case went cold. until meredith emerson loomed on the lawmen's radar. >> our lead investigator began following that case, and immediately there were some similarities that we saw between
3:29 pm
the two cases. both of these incidents occurred on forest service land. we really felt like that the two were probably connected. we may go years without a homicide. this was very, very different. do we have a killer running around loose in the national forest? >> in georgia, the searchers looking for meredith emerson and her dog ella on blood mountain were hoping and praying that they weren't dealing with a homicide. >> do everything we can do to make sure that she -- if she's up there we get her out of there, get her out of there safely. if she's not up there do everything we can to eliminate that as a possibility and it continue the investigation from there. >> georgia authorities were compositing a profile of gary hillton, who was starting to look like a person of interest not only in the meredith emerson disappearance case, but in at least two unsolved murders in the national forest. their findings were deeply troubling.
3:30 pm
>> coming up, might a movie hold the key to this case? >> the premise of the movie is, we're going to take some women into the woods and then, poof, they're going to be hunted down. >> maybe once investigators learn who was behind it. >> is gary involved in this? >> gary is helping me throughout. >> when "mystery on blood mountain" continues. mountain" continues. looking good! at, we can't guarantee you'll good at that water jet thingy... but we can guarantee the best price on this hotel. or any accommodation, from homes to yurts.
3:31 pm booking.yeah
3:32 pm
3:33 pm
hi, i'm richard lui with the hour's top stories. with no end in sight to the partial government shutdown, president trump changes holiday plans and is spending christmas at the white house instead of his florida estate. the president today held a video call, wishing merry christmas to u.s. troops stationed overseas. after the call the president took questions from reporters telling them the government will stay shut down until congress approves funding for a border wall. now back to "dateline." welcome back to "dateline
3:34 pm
extra, " i'm craig melvin. police were looking for a man named gary hilton in connection with the disappearance of meredith emerson. authorities would come to believe a low budget movie may hold the clue to what happened to her. here again is dennis murphy. on blood mountain, there was still no trace of meredith emerson. her friend julia and the other searchers found no news to be good news. >> i think it might be a good thing, that she might be somewhere warm with her dog, you know, and somebody might just have her. or something like that. kind of makes me feel a little better knowing that we haven't found anything here yet. >> while hundreds of volunteers and deputies scoured the forest for clues, detectives were trying to get a handle on gary hilton, the suspect in her disappearance, and who was by now a person of interest in at least two murders. >> john tabor, hilton's former boss, gave investigators what
3:35 pm
background he had on his eccentric loner employee. tabor had known him for nearly a decade. >> the only interests he had in life seemed to be his dog and going out camping for extended periods of time in the wilderness with his dog. he seemed to like that type of isolation. >> hilton's dog dandy had been at his side since he started working for tabor. the former boss had come to regard hilton as a hair-triggered nut case. >> he often told stories of going to parks with his dog and he would end up in altercations with other pet owners. it was always the same story. he would reprimand the other dog owner's behavior and then the other dog owner would get angry at him and verbally or physically assault him, so he was always the victim. >> for the first nine years hilton worked at his siding business. tabor recalled him as a good employee. then something seemed to snap. >> things started to change quite dramatically starting in 2007. >> what happened then? >> he just wasn't doing any work. i decided to go and just see what was going on over there. it was a very bizarre scene.
3:36 pm
>> how so? >> his physical appearance was quite different. he immediately smiled to show that he was missing several teeth. he went on to explain that he had taken a pair of pliers and removed some of his teeth. he said he enjoyed doing that because it frightened people. >> he seemed to enjoy showing himself in that matter, that ghoulish presentation? >> yes. he was very animated, very talkative. >> tabor fired hilton who then turned around and claimed tabor owed him money. by mid-summer 2007, the siding guy said he feared for his safety. >> he finally threatened to kill me. he made it very clear. >> tabor took those threats seriously. >> i immediately armed myself with a glock 9 millimeter and an ar-15 assault rifle. started driving a rental car so he wouldn't know what car i was in. >> he was your boogieman. >> absolutely. it was a terrifying ordeal, not to know what was going to happen. to pull in your driveway and have somebody jump out of the bushes and maybe assassinate you. >> when the former boss went to
3:37 pm
the police with his story, it seemed to do the trick. >> within a day or two, he had packed up all of his belongings and moved on. >> put all of his stuff in the van and took off. >> yes. >> john tabor was relieved to see hilton in his rear-view mirror but he was nonetheless puzzled by the change that had come over the man. >> when you're around someone for nearly ten years and it's uneventful, nothing ever happens that suggests a demonic violent personality that apparently materialized somehow. >> tabor had part of the gary hilton picture. a veteran atlanta criminal defense lawyer added more. sam rail had defended hilton years back on some minorish beefs. >> we did a jury trial on a drug case, possession. he was accused on a misdemeanor of acting like a charity and he really wasn't a charity. he would raise money to help the little children. of course, he pocketed it. >> did he have a job to speak of or anything he did professionally? >> his job was scamming.
3:38 pm
that's what he did mostly. >> you knew him as a con man basically. >> right. he was a little con. >> when he got tripped up, he'd call on you. >> he did. >> rail, the lawyer, wears two hats. he's also a movie producer, not hollywood but more of the direct release to video school. his low-budget titles are more common seen in asian stalls than in your multiplex. this is a 2004 release. >> i can't do that! >> don't do it. >> shoot me! >> horror, gory? what's the genre? >> try not to make it gory, but at the end of the day a little blood, a little sex, a little violence can't hurt. >> as it turned out, cops on the meredith emerson case were particularly interested in rail's first movie "deadly run." he made it back in 1985 with the assistance of his scam artist
3:39 pm
client, gary hilton. >> the premise of the movie is we're going to take some women into the woods and then we're going to befriend those women and then, proof, they're going to be hunted down and killed. >> is gary involved in this, as a script writer or anything that formal? >> gary is helping me throughout and then helping the star figure out how to be a serial killer. >> these are ideas you guys are knocking around? >> gary has a dark side sometimes here and there. he wants to get involved in the movie, but he wants to make it darker and more horrible. he'd like to have more blood, more gore, have rape, more killings, things like that. i thought we toned it down and made a better movie. he suggested that we do it up in the woods. he helped me find some of the locations. we found the cabin. >> that cabin used in the movie happened to be in the chattahoochee national forest, just north of where meredith
3:40 pm
emerson went missing. he's around the table, as you guys collaborate on this film. how is he behaving around your group of movie people? >> when the movie is being made, he's animated but interesting. >> so he's not a loner? >> no. he's a loner. he's a psychopath. he's a sociopath. he's always trying to get one step ahead of the law. he's always doing something a little bit wrong but all my clients, they do that, too. >> it sounds like you're talking about kind of a charming guy. >> he was charming. he was personable. he was a fellow that you'd want to meet. >> which are all skills you need to be a successful con man if you're going to keep an edge. what the lawyer and movie producer had a falling out with hilton over all things but a dog. >> dogs seem to to be very important with him. >> they were. he wound up with my dog. >> what do you mean? >> i had a dog, nice little golden retriever. had him in the backyard. all of a sudden i come back one day, the dog is gone.
3:41 pm
of course i'm very upset about it. then i find out that gary took the dog. >> he stole your dog. >> yeah. >> as the profile of hilton became clearer and became more troubling, investigators looking for him and meredith were desperate for any lead on his whereabouts. and they were about to get one. >> i answered my cell phone and i heard his voice. couldn't believe it. >> coming up, a trap is set to lure gary hilton from his hiding spot. >> i was trying to play it cool. >> and a dramatic new lead. could it lead police to meredith? >> she could be alive, and we just can't let up. >> when "mystery on blood mountain" continues. hicago. (john foley) i was there when bob barnett made the first commercial wireless phone call. we were both working on that first network that would eventually become verizon's. that call opened the door to the billions of mobile calls that we've all made since. i'm proud i was part of that first call, and i'm proud that i'm here now as we build america's first and only
3:42 pm
5g ultra wideband network that will transform how we all live, once again. (bob) the first call that we've made on the cellular system.
3:43 pm
3:44 pm
returning to our story, here again is dennis murphy. police were convinced the missing hiker meredith emerson was under the control of gary hilton somewhere in north georgia. the more they learned about the survivalist oddball who was a person of interest in two murders in national forests elsewhere, the more they feared for her. a friend of meredith's family appealed directly to hilton. >> i hope that if he realized that this would be helpful, that his heart would be softened and
3:45 pm
turned to come forward with information. so, please, please have the courage to come forward. we need you. >> their next lead, the big one, came from an unlikely source, the suspect himself. three days into meredith's disappearance, gary hilton called his old boss tabor. >> i answered my cell phone, and i heard his voice. couldn't believe it. he pretended -- acted as if nothing was wrong. >> he didn't let on that he was the subject of a man hunt? >> absolutely not. he act as if he knew nothing about it which apparently was the case. he apparently had no idea. he apologized at length for his past behavior and on the terms of which he left, he said that he was ill and that now he felt better and he realized the errors of his ways and he was ready to get back to work. >> startled but thinking fast, tabor tried to lure hilton to an agreed-upon location with the promise of money. >> i was trying to play it cool, like i didn't know anything
3:46 pm
about what was going on. i told him that i would give him a check for $800. we discussed a place to leave the check. >> were you baiting that place he knew to come and show up? >> it was certainly my objective to get him to a place where authorities could apprehend him. >> the trap was set at a building owned by tabor where hilton had lived for a while. the s.w.a.t. team was dispatched. would hilton fall for the "pick up some money" ruse? and what about the missing woman? in your gut, did you think meredith was still alive? >> meredith's name was meredith hope emerson. we all hoped she was alive. but, you know, the longer these things carry on, as time passes, you continue to hope but it diminishes after time. >> as the manhunt continued, there was a glimmer of hope. january 4th, 2008, four days after meredith vanished, the u.s. marshall's service traced activity on meredith's bank cards. >> the card was used at a local
3:47 pm
bank 15 miles from the abduction site and then again 50 miles south of the abduction site and then the next day 80 miles. these were attempts, where no money was taken. >> which suggests what? >> suggested that meredith wouldn't give him the right p.i.n. >> which also suggests maybe she's still alive. >> that's right. >> investigators had been able to trace the phone gary hilton used earlier to call his old boss, john tabor, who set that trap for him. that call was made from a restaurant 50 miles from blood mountain. hilton it seemed was moving south toward atlanta. metro pd s.w.a.t. concealed themselves in and near tabor's building. that was the drop point where his old boss promised him he'd leave him $800. >> you're staking out the location? >> he didn't show. >> no-show. >> we're still looking and wondering where could this guy be? now we have this guy 50 miles from blood mountain. >> the veteran detective was talking constantly with meredith's parents, her father
3:48 pm
dave emerson. >> i appeal to everyone to search their hearts and memories for anything they can remember and do to help us find meredith. >> after i met the emersons, i knew that i had to tell them everything. i couldn't hold back any information from these two people. they were terrified. >> why did you take it personally? >> this case was a little bit different because not only me but the other investigators recognized the fact early on that we have to embrace this family and tell them everything, even though what we were telling them was not good news. >> hilton, meredith, her lab ella. the tip line kept ringing with leads good and bad. then four days in, a friday afternoon, a shopper called to say that she'd found a black lab mix wandering around a supermarket parking lot. >> surprised to see any dog running loose in the parking lot. then to find out it's the one that meredith was -- it was her dog, you know, was a pretty big surprise and shock.
3:49 pm
>> she took the dog to an animal clinic where the vet was able to read an identity chip implanted in her. sure enough, it was ella. but where was her owner, meredith? now events were moving quickly. right away came another tip. >> we get a call from a female acquaintance of hilton stating she had just hung up the phone. he had called her and wanted money. she commented that she -- she said, don't you know the world's looking for you? and he hung up. >> hilton called from a pay phone at a convenience store near where meredith's dog had turned up. you have a living pet, a missing owner and a phone somewhere in the vicinity of this guy you believe is her abductor. >> yes. while the agents are searching in the area of the convenience store, they look in a dumpster. it was in the dumpster we found meredith's identification, her purse, bags of bloody clothing. at that point, we felt that this was not going to turn out as we had hoped. >> the purse, three bloody fleece tops. agent kegel and his boss gave
3:50 pm
meredith's parents the grim update. then, around 8:00 that night, still friday, not far from where tabor had set the trap for hilton, more than one eagle-eyed citizen noticed a man emptying a white van. >> at the gas station up here, there is a white van and red dog wandering around. >> calls lit up 911. this one lasted for 12 minutes. >> dekalb, 911. what's the exact location? >> i have the person of interest in that missing woman case is at this chevron gas station on asher dunwoody. >> the man is there? >> the van is here. the dog is heefr here, the red dog. and i saw the man's face. i've been watching the news and i know it's him. i know it's him. he's emptying the stuff out of his van, looking around like he's guilty as sin. i can go take him down if you want. >> no, sir. stay right there. >> here comes the cops. yes. yes. >> police are there? >> they've it got him now. two cruisers pulled up on him.
3:51 pm
>> gary hilton was under arrest. detectives swarmed over the filthy astro van and inventoried his possessions looking for any clue to meredith's fate. a gbi spokesman updated the media. >> it's a missing person's investigation right now and that's how we're pursuing it. an important key might be any knowledge that mr. hilton has. >> take me inside your situation room when you get the news atlanta's got him. >> we're very pleased that now we have this man, but we can't lose sight of the fact we don't have meredith yet. and the possibility that she could be alive and we just can't let up. so we attempt to roo view him. he refuses. >> i'm waiving no rights. i want an attorney appointed to represent me. i want to speak with that attorney and i want that attorney present during questioning. >> cops had their man but not meredith. could they crack him, get from him the story of what had happened in the national forest?
3:52 pm
coming up -- >> in your decades of law enforcement, agent, have you ever had a session of interviews like this one? >> no, no. he was very straightforward and was very nonchalant. >> when "mystery on blood mountain" continues. liberty mutual accident forgiveness
3:53 pm
3:54 pm
means they won't hike your rates over one mistake. see, liberty mutual doesn't hold grudges. for drivers with accident forgiveness, liberty mutual won't raise their rates because of their first accident. switch and you could save $782 on home and auto insurance. call for a free quote today. liberty mutual insurance. ♪ liberty. liberty. liberty. liberty. ♪
3:55 pm
welcome back to "dateline extra." here again is dennis murphy. saturday morning, five days after meredith emerson vanished on blood mountain, gary hilton was charged with a crime against her, kidnapping with bodily injury. hilton was in custody but he was uncooperative, zipped up, giving his interrogators nothing on meredith's whereabouts and what he had done with her. >> meredith's middle name is hope and that's exactly what the lord gives us for her. so we are hoping that we're talking of meredith in the present tense and that we will be finding her and that she will
3:56 pm
safely come home to us. >> the searchers in the field, meanwhile, shifted their focus from blood mountain to these woods called dawson forest about 30 miles to the south. it was from around here that hilton had made those phone calls to his ex-boss. remember, by then, meredith's bloody clothing had been retrieved from a dumpster, not a good sign at all. but as long as there was the most remote chance she was still alive, the search was going to continue. but lead agent john kegel knew these vast woodlands very well, and he new the odds of finding needles in haystacks. as he saw it, he had only one option, repugnant as it was, and that was to cut a deal with gary hilton. >> sunday morning we got him a lawyer and i went up and had a talk with the lawyer and essentially laid out our case. >> hilton's lawyer then conferred with his client. the district attorney was brought into the loop and a deal went down. hilton would plead guilty to murder, because that is what it had been, and then he said he
3:57 pm
would lead investigators to meredith's body in exchange for taking the death penalty off the table. nobody in law enforcement likes to make deals without holding their nose. >> we had to do it. you know, we needed to find meredith, and given the circumstances i would do the same thing now. >> i'm guessing, agent, the situation in your interview room is, gary, you told us what you did to her. now where did you put her? >> yes. and he told us. >> hilton was loaded into a vehicle and he led lawmen down a trail in dawson forest. >> you said the body is down there on the left. how far off the road? >> the body will be approximately 40 yards or 120 feet covered by leaves and brush. the head will be missing. >> where's the head? >> the only reason by the way the head was removed was forensically. >> yeah, right. >> a clearly shaken agent kegel told atlanta about the tragic
3:58 pm
outcome. >> at approximately 7:30 this evening the body of meredith emerson was discovered in a wooded area. the specific information given as to the location of the body was given to me by gary hilton. >> the kidnapping charge was anted up. >> mr. hilton is charged with one count of murder of meredith emerson. he has been taken into custody and brought to our detention center where he is being housed. coming up, police learn what happened to meredith in grim detail. >> i lost control of both of them. she's real quick with her hands and had no hesitation about grabbing weapons and everything. >> and were there more victims? >> he would not talk about anybody to us other than meredith. >> when "mystery on blood mountain" continues. tain" conti.
3:59 pm
4:00 pm
4:01 pm
welcome back to "dateline
4:02 pm
extr extr extra," i'm craig melvin. gary hilton was charged with the murder of meredith emerson and police would soon hear about her last moments. as it turns out, her family and friends were right. she fought hard for her life. once again, dennis murphy. >> in your decades of law enforcement, have you ever had a session of interviews like this one? >> no. no. he was very straightforward and was very nonchalant about the whole thing. >> so you get down to the point where -- well, with meredith, i had $40, money, and several days food. i was going to have to kill somebody in that period of time. >> after his initial confession, gary hilton, the man of stony silence, became a chatter box, spilling out a story that sickened detectives who thought they'd heard everything. he began with meredith's abduction here on a hiking trail on blood mountain. he said that he ambushed meredith and her dog ella as she
4:03 pm
came down the trail. it was a struggle and meredith with her martial arts skills, as hilton tells it, nearly got the best of his. she disarmed him, taking away his knife and the police baton. >> i lost control of both the knife and the bat. she was real quick with her hands and had no hesitation about grabbing weapons and everything. not only that, she was hard to subdue. fought like hell, man. >> hilton said they scrapped so hard they tumbled off the trail. separated by a few yards from the dropped police baton and meredith's water bottles, the dog's leash, objects importantly very soon to be recovered, meredith meanwhile kept right on hilton. >> she started fighting again. i had to fight her again for several minutes. and her doing that is what got me caught. because if i had been back to the crime scene, just a few minutes sooner, just several minutes sooner, i would have beat those people that found the bat and i would have picked it up. >> he talks about fighting.
4:04 pm
>> yes. >> with meredith. that she almost took him. >> i don't really believe everything that he says, but that part i believe. there's no doubt that she fought. you know, maybe it's a little bit that kind of gives you a little smirk to know she almost got him. she gave him a run for his money and i'm sure that he may have thought, i maybe should have chosen somebody else. >> eventually hilton wore meredith down. by then they were way off the main trail. hilton tied his captive to a tree and doubled back to that site where he had been stripped of his weapons. the bay net was gone, lost on the forest floorks and a hiker had already picked up the police baton. hilton returned to meredith. >> i told her i had a gun and, you know, i was going to shoot her ass now. >> skirting the main trail, he led meredith to his van in the trailhead parking area. there he secured her with chains in the back of his vehicle and then proceeded to steal her bank cards from beneath the front seat of her car.
4:05 pm
hilton drove off heading 12 miles north to an atm in blairsville, georgia. he told detectives meredith had given him her p.i.n. numbers back on blood mountain. did meredith expect it would be all over for her if she gave him the correct numbers? in any case, she had given him bad information. >> and did didn't work? >> it didn't work. she's still telling me, it's going to work, it's going to work. must be a problem with the bank. >> hilton next tried to use meredith's cards at a bank 50 miles south in gainesville, georgia. again, no dice. he made camp that night with his captive in a remote spot in the forest. the next morning, hilton attempted to use meredith's bank card still again at an atm in canton, georgia. nothing. they returned to his hidden campsite. he held meredith altogether for four days in the woods. and what nature of man is gary hilton? listen to the confession tapes to what he says about meredith's dog ella.
4:06 pm
he said he knew the dog had the identifying chip when he let the dog foe in the supermarket parking lot. >> if i wanted to ensure that no one would have associated the dog with her, i would have killed the dog. there's no way i could do that. >> he was too much of a softy to kill the dog, as he explained it. but poor meredith, ella's owner, never had a chance. >> she was dead from the beginning. because i just told you, once you've done it, you're either going to kill her or get caught. there's no other solution. that sounds cold and cruel, yeah, it was. >> in his unbelievable cold recollection of the crime, hilton said he told meredith he was going to let her go after four days of captivity. >> i'm packing up and telling her i'm taking her and going to release her. >> instead, hilton went to the van, came back with a tire iron and bludgeoned meredith emerson to death. in an attempt to thwart investigators, he decapitated and poured bleach over the body.
4:07 pm
>> this is gruesome beyond belief. >> yes. >> for what reason? >> i don't know. >> hilton had confessed to killing meredith emerson. but what about those other cases in the national forests? a woman in florida, the elderly couple in north carolina. >> he would not talk about anybody to us other than meredith. >> because you have to wonder when the switch was thrown in this man. >> i know. >> how many decades maybe does this go back? >> i don't know. do people just wake up when they're 61 and start to do these kinds of crimes the way he did them? you know, i would think not. >> meredith emerson went missing new year's day 2008. less than a month later, gary michael hilton appeared in a georgia courtroom and pleaded guilty to her murder. meredith's parents were there. her mother, susan, addressed hilton. >> i believe he is nothing more than a bully and weak-minded coward who preys on others. he fancies himself a survivalist. anyone can see he's a scared little man on the run.
4:08 pm
>> the state honored the deal it made with the killer, no death penalty, and he was sentenced to life in prison. hilton admitted nothing beyond the emerson murder. >> is this the first time you've ever done anything like this before? >> i'll let my attorney answer. >> by now investigators from a half dozen southeastern states as well as fbi profilers were rummaging through hilton's past. by the time he was captured, he wasn't much more than a vagrant in a van but his past was more complex. as an army veteran, hilton earned an associate's degree, and been married three times before the wheels apparently came off. true crime author fred rosen has written more than 25 books, including "trails of death" about hilton. >> to underestimate him is foolish. this is a very dangerous person. >> according to rosen, he was shaped by a number of factors. hilton, who never knew his biological father, was raised by his mother and a stepfather, a
4:09 pm
horse trainer from argentina. do juvenile authorities run into young gary hilton along the way? >> when gary is 14 years old, he takes a gun and he shoots his stepfather. he doesn't kill him, but he wounds him very severely. and he's institutionalized. they put him in a mental hospital out in miami. >> hilton went to high school in hialeah, florida, played in a rock band and eventually joined the army. a cocky hilton made sure the cops who arrested him knew of his army service back in the '60s with a unit armed with tactical nuclear weapons. >> i've handled atomic bombs. i did special weapons. i've handled atomic bombs that damn big that weighed 70 pounds. >> and hilton bragton bragged t officers about his criminal con man past. >> i've never worked full time in my life except for the army. i was a career criminal and
4:10 pm
lawful charity from '73 to '93, for 20 years. >> he's collecting money for charities. >> he's a scam artist. >> he's a scam artist, exactly. >> and what about the dip into the movie business with the movie "deadly run" he helped make in the 1980s? >> this film where he's sending women out in the woods and killing them, hunting them -- >> i hope you like your little outfit i picked out for you, barbara. i think the look is definitely you. >> do you think that's the template for what he does decades later? >> yes, i do. that's what's so chilling to me about the whole thing, because in the millennium he'll make art into reality. >> you can hear the echos of this, huh? >> you're already beginning to see the lack of conscience. >> in his interview with the georgia bureau of investigation, hilton put forth a grandiose sense of himself, a renaissance man of many hats. >> i'm a philosopher, i'm a soldier, i'm a scientist and i'm an artist.
4:11 pm
>> what do you mean artist? >> my art is my life and my art is weird. >> he's kind of a philosopher king, isn't he? i'm an artist. and you poor dumb cops don't have the luxury of being able to think the big cosmic thoughts i do. >> he almost feels sorry for them that they can't keep up with him when he starts going about this, that and the other thing. >> hoping for crumbs of clues in those other open cases, murders in the national forests, the agents wanted to keep hilton talking. >> where all have you hiked? where all have you been in all over the united states? >> oh, i know what you're getting at, the unsolved murders. >> gary hilton thinks he's smart. is he? >> gary has an iq of 120, and that's considered to be way above average. >> the reason i'm so seemingly intelligent is that i alone amongst almost anyone, including you dudes, have time to actually stop and think about things. >> he'll rattle on as long as someone will listen to him.
4:12 pm
>> yes. >> on any topic under the sun virtually, huh? >> yes. >> pick a topic. any topic. >> volcanology. >> don't you know the super volcano under yellowstone, there are over 70 super volcanoes? when it erupts it basically blankets in a cone the whole eastern seaboard of the u.s. under several feet of ash and would just destroy any civilization in that area. >> the fast-talking flimflam man was on display in some of hilton's home videos found in his van. here is hilton giving a cop that stopped him some lip. >> you tell me. you're the lawman, you are the law. i'm going to check it out. if it ain't the law and you're wrong -- >> come talk to me. >> i'm not talking to nobody. i'm filing and suing because you're interrupting my work. >> you hear gary bragging about how smart he is, how well he does his job. but at the same time what you hear is an incredible narcissistic personality, which is typical of serial killers. he sets up the camera, and there's gary going --
4:13 pm
>> 171 pounds. >> he starts pumping up his biceps like he's arnold schwarzenegger. he's very narcissistic. >> so why were detectives enduring hilton's self-centered ramblings? clearly they were hoping he'd blurt out something about his involvement in the other unsolved cases in the national forests. but hilton was admitting to nothing. >> basically on our timeline, you basically are telling me that you committed no crimes? >> none. >> between '97 -- or '95. >> '95. >> he had escaped the death penalty in georgia, but despite his denials, hilton remained the prime suspect in the murder of that elderly couple, irene and john bryant. mr. bryant's remains were found in january 2008 in the north carolina forest. >> as a result of the investigation in georgia i was absolutely convinced at that point that gary hilton was our suspect. >> but there was another open homicide case that seemed to fit gary hilton like a custom-made
4:14 pm
suit. down in florida, the body of cheryl dunlap had been found in a national forest. her atm card stolen, the remains decapitated. detectives thought that fit hilton's m.o. to a "t." and gary hilton, still playing the smartest kid in the class defied florida to come after him. all that time, all that money. >> if they want to spend a million dollars, 2 million to convict me and then another 2 million to get death and then another 8 million to defend the death penalty and get around to executing me 17 years from now when i'm 78 years old and i'm decrepit, hey, they can do it. >> two tough florida prosecutors it turns out would be the match of his defiant talk. >> my belief is this is an evil, bad person and there ought to be a consequence in life to evil
4:15 pm
acts. >> coming up, justice for cheryl. the hunt for evidence begins. >> we started receiving calls. people saying we saw her at walmart, we saw her here, so we started back tracking those just to get the timeline. >> and witnesses come forward. >> fortunately for the investigation, if somebody saw gary michael hilton, they remembered him. he's got that kind of a face or presence that you don't forget. >> when "mystery on blood mountain" continues.
4:16 pm
at, we can't guarantee you'll find gold in them therr hills on your vacation. but we can guarantee the best price on this rental cabin. or any accomodation from hotels to yurts., booking.yeah
4:17 pm
4:18 pm
welcome back to "dateline extra." returning to "mystery on blood mountain, gary hilton was convicted in georgia of the brutal murder of meredith emerson, but he continued to deny any involvement in the other unsolved homicide cases that took place in the national forests.
4:19 pm
one was the murder of a nurse named cheryl dunlap. florida investigators were certain that gary hilton was their prime suspect. hilton dared florida authorities to spend the time and money to come after him, and they did. here again is dennis murphy. >> suspected serial killer gary hilton had already pleaded guilty to the murder of meredith emerson in the georgia mountains. but he cheated the executioner there with a plea deal that led police to his victim's body. to the south, authorities in florida were convinced he had murdered nurse and mother cheryl dunlap, whose par lal tial rema we were recover ed two weeks befor meredith emerson went missing. hilton was defying authorities in georgia to make the charges stick. >> if they want to spend a million dollars, 2 million, to convict me and then another 2 million to get death, hey, they can do it. >> leon county florida state's
4:20 pm
attorney willie max had heard enough and indicted hilton for the murder of cheryl dunlap. >> he's gone away for life. he'll be leaving georgia corrections in a pine box. why does florida need to go to the expense of a death penalty trial? >> my thought is this is an evil, bad person and there ought to be a consequence in life to evil acts. i don't think murderers ought to be cheaper the more you do. >> with the dunlap case looking like a carbon copy of the meredith emerson murder, you might think the case would be a gimme for the prosecutors, but far from it. they would not be allowed to enter hilton's conviction in the emerson murder, despite its similarity to cheryl's, nor his connection with that horror movie, "deadly run" or the fact that he was the prime suspect in the murders of two elderly hikers in north carolina. months earlier the cops developed a marshal chronology
4:21 pm
for cheryl dunlap on the saturday he vanished. >> we started receiving calls, we saw her at walmart, saw her here. we started backtracking those to try to get the timeline. >> the investigators knew that cheryl's morning had included some shopping in tallahassee and cashing a check at a bank and using a library computer to send an e-mail to her son in the army. they even had a last sighting. witnesses identified cheryl as the woman peacefully reading a book at this popular spot in the national forest. >> the couple i interviewed that saw her at the sinkholes were very adamant that that was her. >> but the trail had gone cold at the tallahassee atm where a disguised man had withdrawn money using dunlap's bank cards. a month after cheryl went missing, the phones in florida were lighting up again. >> when he started hitting the news media, our citizens here
4:22 pm
started seeing him and immediately recognizes him and started calling. >> and that tip line kept ringing. one caller remembered an odd guy with a handsome red dog. that sighting led investigators down another national forest path and to another discovery. more remains. >> we were positive it was mr. hilton, described the dog, the van. so that was one of the camps where the bones were found. >> deep in the national forest, five miles from where cheryl dunlap's torso had been found, investigators came upon a charred piece of skull and the bony fragments of a human hand in the ashes of a campfire. >> they were badly burned. >> little camp fire pit kind of thing? >> yes. he had actually done a pretty good job of covering it up as well. he had covered it up with straw and took measures to hide his tracks. >> the fire had been so thorough it was impossible to extract dna from the bones. whoever killed cheryl dunlap had gone to extraordinary lengths to eliminate any physical evidence.
4:23 pm
there was one thing about tracking the odd guy with the red dog that they had going for them. state's assistant prosecutor georgia kaplan. >> fortunately for the investigation, if somebody saw gary michael hilton they remembered him. he's got that kind of a face or presence that you don't forget. once we had the description, we had tons of witnesses coming forward. >> and investigators had those home videos of hilton to screen as well. >> last time it was suwannee that was out here. >> i don't think so. >> watching the videos was very educational because i saw him by himself. i saw him with other people. >> people like this restaurant manager suffering a rant from hilton about his delivery drivers. >> you tell these guys to quit terror driving. has he received any driving safety education? >> sure he has. >> i saw him with law enforcement. he had many different sides. >> i'm leaving. i'm getting out of here. god almighty. >> he thought he was the smartest bear in the woods. >> definitely. >> smarter than the officers apprehending him. >> definitely.
4:24 pm
definitely. >> they now had numerous hilton sightings around where cheryl dunlap vanished. but, despite all the investigative work by multiple sheriff's offices and the fdle, no witness came forward to put him together with cheryl dunlap. the nurse's remains were in such poor condition they told investigators nothing about how she died. but there were thousands of other pieces in the puzzle investigators were trying to solve. hilton's van jammed to the roof with hundreds of items was trucked to the florida department of law enforcement crime lab. >> our crime scene analysts spent day and night literally, weeks. >> that van was a mess, right? >> she lived in that van for weeks. she dismantled that van. >> all that evidence from the van was added to items recovered from the dumpster outside atlanta where hilton was captured. a georgia cop on blood mountain had found the bayonet meredith
4:25 pm
emerson had wrestled away from gary hilton. now investigators in florida had a theory. >> what was interesting about that knife is, before we knew of mr. hilton, before he had killed ms. emerson and been caught, our analyst in our lab showed us, this is the style -- this is what the knife's going to look like. >> cameras and memory cards were found inside the van. the techie detectives in the fdle computer lab were working overtime trying to unscramble deleted material from the evidence. and deep in their dna lab more than 700 samples were being analyzed in an attempt to find some link between gary hilton and the late cheryl dunlap. had gary hilton managed to outsmart them all? would florida be able to make the case against him? three years after cheryl dunlap's death, it was finally going to trial. >> coming up -- >> your palms are sweaty and your heart is beating. >> the dramatic case begins. how would it end? >> you could just see the
4:26 pm
jurors, i saw it in their eyes, they knew. >> when "mystery on blood mountain" continues. mountain" continues. (boy) nooooooo... (grandma) nooooooo... (dad) nooooooo... (dog) yessssss.... (vo) quick, the quicker picker upper! bounty picks up messes quicker and is two times more absorbent than the leading ordinary brand. (boy) hey look, i got it. bounty, the quicker picker upper.
4:27 pm
4:28 pm
4:29 pm
welcome back to "dateline extra." after being sentenced to life in prison in georgia for the murder of meredith emerson, gary hilton faced trial in florida for the murder of cheryl dunlap. the prosecution's case would include a wealth of forensic evidence and some chilling audio tapes. four years after her murder, would there be justice for cheryl? here again is dennis murphy. gary hilton's trial for the florida murder of cheryl dunlap began in february, 2011, a little more than three years after he had pleaded and skated the death penalty in georgia. but there was no chance a plea deal in this tallahassee courtroom. he might be doing life in georgia, but this was a capital murder case. if convicted, hilton could die by lethal injection. remember, lead prosecutor georgia cappelman, couldn't tell
4:30 pm
the jury about hilton's conviction in the emerson murder or mention that he was the prime suspect in that north carolina double homicide, nortel the jury anything about that slasher in the forest movie "deadly run" that he'd help make. >> ms. dunlap found herself in a situation and ultimately came to an end that is something we only think about in nightmares. she spent two days with mr. hilton before he decided it was time to murder her in cold blood, chop off her head and hands, and dump her body. >> after her opening statement, the state built the brick and mason reof its story on the timeline investigators had so pa painstakingly assembled. an attorney hiking with her husband in the national forest at leon sinks that saturday morning remembered seeing cheryl. >> i looked at her, and i said, it's peaceful out here, isn't it? and she looked at me and she nodded and she smiled and then
4:31 pm
she exited the boardwalk. >> then a parade of witnesses testified to seeing hilton out and about in the national forest. there was the motorist who noticed a man near cheryl's car with a flat tire. >> how confident are you that mr. hilton was the man that you saw at that vehicle? >> very confident. >> others remembered dandy, the man's good-looking reddish retriever mix. >> show you what i've marked as state's exhibit 37. >> that's it. >> that looks like the dog you saw that day? >> yes. >> a picture of hilton's dog dandy, exhibit 37, was looking to be the state's key piece of evidence. >> quite sure that's the dog. >> another testified about being flagged down by hilton on one of the forest roads. hilton was looking for a jump start for his van. >> i'm an old southern boy. he looked like a little yankee man to me. >> and hunters, too, identified the old guy with the nice dog. >> he was acting real weird. he was flagging us down like it was an emergency or something. >> what the prosecution couldn't tell the jury was exactly how cheryl had died. a county medical examiner had to work with severed remains that
4:32 pm
had been exposed to the elements he thought for at least a week or more. >> are you able to tell this jury how this woman died? >> no, ma'am. >> not a cause of death. but what the prosecution did have was forensic evidence galore. hundreds of items recovered from his van and from hilton's suspected campsites deep in the woods. >> two items here, duct tape with hair and another piece of duct tape or masking tape with hair. >> one of the items crime scene techs recovered was hilton's video camera. he had tried to delete the images on it. >> i was able to recover those previously deleted files. >> florida department of law enforcement lab experts had been able to salvage the audio hilton did not want the world to hear, and with good reason. this is gary hilton two days after cheryl dunlap's disappearance singing into the camera microphone and gassing with his dog dandy. ♪ dan, dan, dan, we're doing it, boy ♪
4:33 pm
>> it sounded as though he was confessing to the dog. >> i killed her. >> a hushed courtroom listened to hilton's monologue. >> this is the park. yeah, but first i've got to go hide it somewhere else. >> the state's forensic people introduced evidence about cheryl's slashed tire. a tool mark expert said the bayonet recovered on blood mountain in georgia was an exact match to the sharp object that caused the puncture in florida. but the say good night evidence was the dna evidence. genetic expert joellen brown spent more than two years testing more than 250 pieces of evidence in the case. brown told the jury she was able to match cheryl dunlap's dna to blood on two of hilton's sleeping bags and on the slhoe laces of his hiking boots. >> the major donor matches cheryl dunlap.
4:34 pm
>> jennifer portman was in court every day. >> so how good or bad is the forensic evidence against gary hilton? >> when the prosecutor present the dna evidence and the sleeping back with cheryl dunlap's blood on it and gary michael hilton's blood on it, you could just see the jurors, for them, you saw it in their eyes. they knew. >> and with that, after six days of testimony, the prosecution rested. now the defense, holding a very poor hand, would have to fight for gary hilton's life. >> coming up, gary hilton's defense makes its case. >> we have absolutely no evidence, no direct evidence that mr. hilton committed murder. >> and will hilton take the stand? >> do you wish to testify? >> you've done a lot of trials. is this just another day at the office? >> oh, no. it's never. when you're waiting for a verdict your palms are sweaty and your heart is beating and you're very nervous. >> never got away from me. there's this, oh, you'd really
4:35 pm
like to throw up. until you hear it read, it is tense. >> when "mystery on blood mountain" continues. tain" conti. i'm ray and i quit smoking with chantix. smoking. it dictates your day. i didn't like something having control over me. i wanted to stop. the thing is i didn't know how. chantix, along with support, helps you quit smoking. chantix reduced my urge to smoke to the point that i could quit. when you try to quit smoking, with or without chantix, you may have nicotine withdrawal symptoms. some people had changes in behavior or thinking, aggression, hostility, agitation, depressed mood, or suicidal thoughts or actions with chantix. serious side effects may include seizures, new or worse heart or blood vessel problems, sleepwalking, or allergic and skin reactions which can be life-threatening. stop chantix and get help right away if you have any of these. tell your healthcare provider if you've had depression or other mental health problems. decrease alcohol use while taking chantix. use caution when driving or operating machinery.
4:36 pm
the most common side effect is nausea. for me chantix worked.boom. end of story. talk to your doctor about chantix. discover card. i justis this for real?match, yep. we match all the cash back new cardmembers earn at the end of their first year,
4:37 pm
automatically. whoo! i got my money! hard to contain yourself, isn't it? uh huh! let it go! whoo! get a dollar-for-dollar match at the end of your first year.
4:38 pm
i'm richard lui with the hour's top stories. it is day number four of the partial government shutdown, and president trump is vowing to stay the course. he says the government will not reopen until a deal on funding for a border wall is reached. at least 420 people now counted dead in the aftermath of the tsunami that thrashed indonesia over the weekend. more than 1400 people are hurt and thousands left homeless. troops and volunteers are still searching for more potential victims. now, back to "dateline." >> welcome back to "dateline extra." i'm craig melvin.
4:39 pm
gary hilton was already serving a life sentence in georgia for the murder of meredith emerson and then went on trial in florida for the murder of cheryl dunlap. unlike in georgia where he struck a plea deal, there would be no such deal in florida. if convicted, gary hilton faced the death penalty. the prosecution's case was strong. investigators found cheryl dunlap's dna on two of hilton's sleeping bags and on the shoe laces of his hiking boots. the defense would argue there was no direct evidence to suggest their client was guilty. once again, with "mystery on blood mountain," here's dennis murphy. >> its case was brief. lead attorney icalled only one witness. an expert on tool mark identification who testified by video tape, arguing that the bayonet in evidence, could not in her opinion be determined to have been what was used to slash the victim's tire. >> subjective. it's based on the individual
4:40 pm
examiner's training and experience. >> the defense was trying to impeach the testimony of the state's expert who said hilton's bayoknelt had slashed cheryl dunlap's tire, and that was it for the defense. gary hilton declined to take the stand. >> do you wish to testify? >> no. >> one in 63 million -- >> in her closing argument, the prosecutor reminded the jury of those big number dna matches. >> what are the odds that somebody else's dna is on that sleeping bag over than cheryl dunlap's? 1 in 11 trillion caucasians. >> the close for the defense was far more vigorous than her limited witness list may have suggested. >> we have absolutely no evidence, no direct evidence, that mr. hilton committed murder. >> the jurors began their deliberations. capelman and her boss waited for them to return their verdict. >> you've done a lot trials. is this just another day at the
4:41 pm
office? >> no. >> oh, no. never. when you're waiting for a verdict, your palms are sweaty and your heart is beating and you're very nervous. >> i can tell you i've been doing it 35 years now. it's never gone away for me. there's just -- oh, you'd really like to throw up while you're waiting. until you hear it read, it is tense. >> coming up, a vicious killer. >> he's a psychopath and there's crazy sick and there's crazy mean. he's just crazy mean. he's intelligent, a college graduate. he was a member of our armed forces. he's probably smarter than everybody sitting in this room. >> what would the jury decide? >> we, the jury, find as follows. >> the verdict, when "mystery on blood mountain continues. untains ♪ let's do the thing that you do. let's clear a path." continues..
4:42 pm
let's put down roots. let's build something. let's do the thing that you do. let's do the thing that changes the shape of everything... that pushes us forward and keeps us going. let's do the work.
4:43 pm
♪ ♪ this holiday season, families near you need your help. visit now to donate. has been excellent. they really appreciate the military family and it really shows. with all that usaa offers
4:44 pm
why go with anybody else? we know their rates are good, we know that they're always going to take care of us. it was an instant savings and i should have changed a long time ago. it was funny because when we would call another insurance company, hey would say "oh we can't beat usaa" we're the webber family. we're the tenney's we're the hayles, and we're usaa members for life. ♪ get your usaa auto insurance quote today. welcome back to "dateline extra," i'm craig melvin. returning to "mystery on blood mountain" the florida jury had reached a verdict in the case of gary hilton. here again is dennis murphy. the trial of gary hilton for the murder of cheryl dunlap had taken seven days. the six man, six woman jury needed less than three and a half hours to reach its verdict on multiple counts. >> the state of florida versus gary michael hilton.
4:45 pm
we, the jury, find as follows. as to count 1 of the indictment, the defendant, gary hilton, is guilty of first-degree murder. count two of the indictment -- >> gary hilton was found guilty of the first-degree murder of cheryl dunlap. guilty on all counties except car theft. the same jurors would soon reconvene to decide if hilton would die by lethal injection. he had dodged death in georgia and now it was time to see if he could do it again. >> this man, mr. hilton -- >> assistant state's attorney georgia capelman got the initial conviction of hilton. >> what words did you use to describe this guy? >> he a's a psychopath and there's crazy sick and crazy mean. he's just crazy mean. he's intelligent, a college graduate. he was a member of our armed forces. he's probably smarter than everybody sitting in this room. >> there were different rules in this the penalty phase. unlike in the trial, prosecutors were now able to disclose to jurors that hilton murdered meredith emerson on blood mountain and state's attorney
4:46 pm
willie megs did just that, calling to the stand georgia bureau of investigation agents who had worked on the emerson case. >> you indicated that miss emerson's body was nude. did gary michael hilton tell you why it was nude? >> he did. he basically stated that he had removed the head and stripped the clothing for forensic purposes. >> megz was able to introduce portions of those chilling interviews that hilton gave the authorities in georgia. >> once you've taken someone, you're either going to kill them or you're going to get caught. it's as simple as that. >> the penalty phase was one of the more interesting parts of the trial. that's where you started getting this information about emerson -- >> that's the first time the georgia information was allowed in. >> correct. that's when you really start seeing the jurors taking in the enormity. then you really see the impact of all of this coming through. >> good morning, ladies and gentlemen. >> robert freedman was the
4:47 pm
defense's lead attorney in the penalty phase. his strategy was to present hilton as so mentally damaged as to be incapable of responsibilities for his actions. freedman began with a pet scan expert who testified about traumatic brain damage hilton had suffered as a 10-year-old when a murphy bed accidentally fell on him and nearly scalped him. >> he was taken to st. joseph's hospital in tampa and given 200 stitches. and this is an example of the murphy bed. >> and jurors that's not all the defense's expert continued. hilton was abused as a child and he lashed out as a teenager. a defense neuropsychologist tested hilton, who it turns out is as bright as he thinks he is. >> on the wechsler swell jens scale he soared an overall verbal iq of 120 which puts him in the upper 10% or so of the population. >> another psychiatrist diagnosed him with multiple diagnoses.
4:48 pm
>> we call it an unresolved eo -- oedipal complex. a child can grow up with this emptiness inside of them. >> to top it off, the defense continued, hilton was self-medicating with prescription drugs. >> ritalin and effexor will basically push you over the line. >> the defense then treated jurors to gary hilton, this is your life. a saga of abuse, neglect, and injury. it included an audiotape of hilton's late mother talking about how as a teenager hilton had wounded his stepfather. >> he said, shoot me, shoot me! go ahead, shoot me! i dare you to shoot me. gary shot him. >> in the legs or -- >> the lower part of his stomach. >> a junior high girlfriend testified that gary wasn't a bad guy back in the day. >> he was funny and outgoing and smart. >> the defense rests. >> once the defense rested, willie megs called his rebuttal witness, a clinical psychologist to revisit the essential issues. >> did mr. gary hilton know right from wrong?
4:49 pm
>> my opinion is, yes, he clearly knew right from wrong and clearly he knew the criminal nature of his conduct. in my opinion, he is a psychopath. that's what generated the murders and nothing else. >> the attorneys made their final appeal to the jurors. >> i'm going to ask every one of you individually to go back in that jury room and vote to recommend that gary hilton be put to death. >> on behalf of mr. hilton, i'm asking all of you collectively and individually to recommend a life sentence in this case. >> the jurors then retired to deliberate nothing less than whether gary hilton should live or die. >> coming up, another haunting question. were there more victims out in the forest? >> i personally believe there are. >> and a legacy. >> she's really the hero. it was through her efforts that we were able to catch her
4:50 pm
killer. >> remembering meredith hope emerson. >> he took our friend. he took a daughter, a sister. but he can't take her memory. a. he took a daughter. he took a sister. when "mystery on blood mountain" continues. "mystery on blood mo" continues. gary, gary, gary... i am proud of you, my man. making simple, smart cash back choices... with quicksilver from capital one. you're earning unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, everywhere. like on that new laptop. quicksilver keeps things simple, gary. and smart, like you! and i like that. i guess i am pretty smart. don't let that go to your head, gary. what's in your wallet?
4:51 pm
♪ ♪ this holiday season, families near you need your help. visit now to donate.
4:52 pm
4:53 pm
after three and a half hours of deliberations, the florida jury convicted gary hilton of murder. then the 12 men and women needed to decide whether he should live or die for his crime. here with the conclusion of our story is dennis murphy.
4:54 pm
the same jurors who found gary hilton guilty of murdering sheryl dunlap were now trying to decide if they should recommend hilton spend life in prison or be put to death by lethal injection. their life or death debate lasted an hour 20 minutes. >> the majority of the jury by a vote of 12-0 advise and recommend to the court that it impose the death penalty on gary michael hilton. >> hilton sat expressionless as the results were read. two weeks later, an equally emotionless hilton listened as the judge pronounced his sentence. >> it is ordered and adjudged that you gary michael hilton be sentenced to death for the murder of sheryl dunlap. may god have mercy on your soul. >> in april, gary michael hilton was sent to florida's death row for the murder of dunlap. last month he was shackled and sent to north carolina and indicted in federal court there for the murders of john and irene bryant. the government alleges the serial killer murdered the
4:55 pm
elderly couple in october of 2007, shortly before killing sheryl dunlap and meredith emerson. hilton pleaded not guilty. the forensic team from florida that had helped convict him there is expected to testify. hilton faces another death sentence in the federal trial. law enforcement officials from across the southeast have now met with hilton multiple times in an attempt to find out how many more of his victims there it might be out there. they're talking the bryant case as a given. you believe there are four deaths connected hire. >> at least. >> you think there are others? >> i think there's certainly the potential to be others. i don't know we'll ever know for sure unless he tells us. >> so far hilton is sticking to his story, that he started hunting as he describes it in october of 2007, that there were no murders before that. the pain and suffering of the families of hilton's victims and suspected victims dulls but never ends. >> he's taken so much from me and my family. what can you say to someone who would murder two wonderful people for $300 and meredith emerson, a beautiful young lady and sheryl dunlap and very possibly many more? the man is not even what i think
4:56 pm
of as human. he is something else, a true psychopath who needs to be put where he can never harm anyone else again. >> for sheryl dunlap's friends and family in florida, hilton's conviction provoked conflicting feelings. >> and think, believe it or not, that sheryl would want us to forgive. and when i went into the courtroom and i actually saw him, my thought was not that they put him to death or this or that. i was glad he was off the street. but i have to forgive gary hilton. i have to. >> tabby, in the family it was a
4:57 pm
death case and the jury recommended the death penalty and that was the sentence. does it matter to you? >> we were pleased with the outcome, yes. like laura said, he's off the streets. he's not able to hurt anyone again. yes, i think it matters. >> and there are regrets on the part of the officers who investigated the hilton cases. could there have been one tip line that had come in sooner? could there have been one fragment of information we could have put together more quickly and spared her? >> there hasn't been a day go by since then i haven't thought about meredith emerson and what we could have or should have done differently. but, see, she really is the hero. she did the best could in hopes we could catch up. it was through her efforts we were able to catch her killer but also the killer that was responsible for the killing of sheryl dunlap. >> in georgia, for meredith emerson's closest friends, it's
4:58 pm
time to forget about gary hilton and remember her. >> he took our friend. he took a daughter, a sister. but he can't take her memory. he can't take the things that we love about her away. >> there is, they say, important work to be done. >> we started an organization in her memory. >> julia karen bauer, meredith emerson's one-time roommate in georgia has founded along with others something called right to hike, advocating hiker safety. >> don't want anyone to go through this, bring awareness, make you think about going hiking by yourself twice, take a friend to be a little safer. >> the organization founded by meredith am emerson's friends has sponsored events with a huge turnout of people and dogs. meredith's dog ella lives today with her parents in colorado. >> any event that we ever have at right to hike, just seeing people come and say, i never met meredith, but i feel like i know her, and i wanted to come out and sue pour. that was the biggest thing, the community outreach after everything happened. >> right to hike has aided humane societies, educated hikers on safe practices, and put cell towers on trailheads. >> oned big things that we
4:59 pm
realized very quickly on these trails, that our cell phones didn't work and meredith had her cell phone with her and that didn't help her. >> and if you ever hike blood mountain, you just might notice a little sticker there as you head out. "remember m.e.," meredith emerson. she most of all would like you to enjoy your day in the outdoors. >> just really enjoyed being out with nature and watching ella run through the forest and play with other dogs. i think it was just a really peaceful place for her to be. >> people go to these places to relax and get away from everyday life and enjoy the outdoors. and they should continue to do that. these are some of the safest places there are to go. >> until the monster shows up. >> yeah. >> gary hilton is 64 years old. his appeal is automatic. the average stay on florida's death row is 12 1/2 years. >> that's all for this edition
5:00 pm
of "dateline." i'm craig melvin. thanks for watching. so many young women missing. only one detective to find them. >> for me, there was a story. >> it was a story to her, too. she's a young woman. lucky to be alive. for a lot of people, that would be the end of police work. >> i wasn't done. >> so she searched as the numbers grew. >> another one here and another one there. >> and families hurt. >> she says i have some bad news for


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on