Twenty-four year old hiker Meredith Emerson journeyed to the Byron Herbert Reese parking area just north of Walesi-yi Center in Neel's Gap for a hike with her dog on New Year's Day. Climbing the steep quarter-mile trail to the AT, Emerson turned right, climbed Blood Mountain, dropped to Slaughter Gap and then turned on rocky Freeman Trail to return to her car.
On Freeman Trail a hiker saw Emerson walking with an older man and two dogs. When they returned to the Reese parking area something went horribly wrong. Gary Hilton, the man who Emerson was seen walking with, got her and her dog into his car. She was never seen again.
An avid hiker, Emerson had correctly followed the rules of the trail when hiking alone. Tell someone exactly where you are going, what trails you're going to hike and when you expect to return. On January 2, friends and hikers spread out through this remote forest to help locate Meredith on a bitter cold morning. They would continue searching for days without luck because Emerson had been abducted by drifter Gary Hilton. Emerson's dog would be found later that evening in Cumming.
On January 4. 2008, a patron of a gas station on Johnson Ferry and Ashford-Dunwoody Road excitedly called Dekalb 911. "The guy you're looking for is cleaning out his van..." the witness told police. He described, move for move the actions of Gary Hilton as he emptied the debris from his crime into a dumpster.
Police arrived before he could bleach the inside of the vehicle. Blood evidence gave officers a idea of the gruesome crime that had been committed. Genetic testing linked the blood in the van to Emerson, giving the police the evidence they needed to convict Hilton. When the death penalty was taken off the table, Gary Hilton agreed to show investigators the location of the body, less that a mile from the site where Levi Frady's body was dumped 10 years earlier.