From BLAIRSVILLE,Georgia, a young hiker whose body was found in northern Georgia died from blunt force trauma to the head and was decapitated, an autopsy found Tuesday.
GBI Special Agent John Cagle announces the discovery of the body Monday night.
Meanwhile, charges against suspect Gary Michael Hilton, 61, were upgraded to murder, prosecutors said.
Meredith Emerson, 24, had been missing since New Year’s Day, and Hilton led investigators to her body Monday.
He did it only after prosecutors promised not to seek the death penalty in the case, The Associated Press reported.
The medical examiner has informed Emerson’s family about the details of her death.
Hilton will be charged with one count of malice murder and is set to appear Wednesday in court in Dawson County, said Lee Darragh, district attorney for Hall and Dawson counties.
Hilton told authorities where to find Emerson’s body, said investigator John Cagle of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
State and federal authorities said they are also trying to determine whether Hilton may have been involved in at least three other killings in two neighboring states.
Investigators found Emerson’s body about 7:30 p.m. Monday, Cagle said, in the 25,000 acre Dawson Forest Wildlife Management Area, about 30 miles south of the Union County, Georgia, state park where she went hiking. Watch Cagle describe how the body was found »
When asked whether Hilton, 61, had taken investigators to the location or merely described it, Cagle said, “Both.”
Several witnesses told authorities they saw Hilton and Emerson together, letting their dogs play along a hiking trail in Vogel State Park. Witnesses later said they had seen a van that looked like Hilton’s in the area where the body eventually was found, and the search shifted there, Cagle said.
Director Vernon Keenan of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and other law enforcement officials on Monday night withheld virtually all details about what Hilton said to authorities and the scene where they found Emerson’s body.
“There’s a lot going on in the case right now, the investigation is still going on,” said Union County District Attorney Stan Gunter. “A lot of decisions have to be made.”
As they grieved, Emerson’s family members also expressed some relief that her body was discovered.
“We are glad she’s found. This brings some sort of closure for us,” Peggy Bailey, Emerson’s godmother and spokeswoman for the family, said, according to CNN affiliate WXIA.
Hilton was jailed in Union County on Monday night.
Several hours earlier, he appeared in court in shackles and an orange prison jump suit. He did not speak as Judge Johnie Garmon read the charges against him. Garmon said surveillance video had identified Hilton as he tried to use one of Emerson’s credit cards at a bank in Canton, Georgia.
Authorities arrested Hilton after finding bloodstained clothes consistent with what Emerson had been wearing when she went missing, according to a criminal warrant filed Saturday.
Investigators also found Emerson’s black leather wallet containing her identification cards in a convenience store trash bin in the Forsyth County city of Cumming, Georgia. Follow the case on an interactive map »
The warrant alleges that Hilton made a phone call Friday from a pay phone at that convenience store.
The bin is next to a grocery store parking lot where Ella, Emerson’s Labrador mix, was found wandering Friday, the warrant said.
When Hilton’s 2001 minivan was searched, agents “determined that the rear seat belt had been cut out,” the warrant said. “Hilton was attempting to vacuum the vehicle and wash portions of it with a bleach and water solution.”
Hilton was taken into custody Friday at a convenience store in suburban Atlanta.
Also Monday, federal, Georgia and North Carolina investigators met in nearby Cleveland, Georgia, to “compare notes” on the Emerson case and a similar case from a few months ago in North Carolina, according to FBI Special Agent Greg Jones.
In the North Carolina case, an elderly couple, John and Irene Bryant, disappeared after going for a hike in Mount Pisgah National Forest. Her body was found near the couple’s car. John Bryant’s body has not been found, but Keenan referred to the case Monday night as a “double homicide.”
Investigators have a bank video of a man wearing a yellow jacket, believed to have belonged to John Bryant, while using the Bryants’ ATM card.
Witnesses who saw Hilton on the trail with Emerson on the day she disappeared said he was wearing a yellow jacket.
On Monday night, Keenan said Georgia authorities also plan to meet with law enforcement officials from Florida to share details about a similar killing there.
Thank you CNN and AP News
FLorida won’t let him get away with that…here it is the death sentence.
This man is evil…I am glad that he is locked up!
~The Baby Boomer Queen~