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N.C. authorities interested in Gary Hilton in two cases there

Suspect charged with murder in death of 24-year-old Buford hiker Meredith Emerson

POSTED: January 27, 2008 5:05 a.m.
North Carolina authorities now are looking into whether Gary Hilton is connected to the disappearance of a hiker there two years ago who was reportedly last seen with a man fitting his description.

Meanwhile, the sheriff of Transylvania County, N.C., where an elderly woman was killed on a hike and her husband’s remains are missing, said Hilton’s van had a stolen license plate from his county when he was arrested Jan. 4.

Sheriff David Mahoney told the Asheville Citizen-Times on Monday that the tag was taken from a broken-down vehicle in Transylvania County and had been transferred to Hilton’s white Chevrolet Astro van, which was located with the suspect outside a convenience store in DeKalb County.

"It’s certainly an indication that he could have been here, but it’s not concrete enough that we can say he was definitely here," Mahoney told the Citizen-Times.

The sheriff told the newspaper that charges in the slaying of 84-year-old Irene Bryant were not imminent. Bryant’s body was found Nov. 9 in the Pisgah National Forest in western North Carolina. She died from a blow to the head.

Her husband, 80-year-old John Bryant, has not been located.

Hilton, 61, remains in the Dawson County jail without bond, charged in the Jan. 4 slaying of 24-year-old hiker Meredith Emerson, who went missing from a trail in Union County on New Year’s Day.

On Tuesday, private investigator Steve Siske said North Carolina authorities are looking at Hilton in the case of 28-year-old Rossana Miliani, a mentally unstable Florida woman who went hiking in early December 2005 in western North Carolina, near Bryson City, N.C. She has not been seen since.

Siske, who was hired by Miliani’s parents, said a tipster called him after a newspaper article about the case ran in mid-December to tell him about seeing Miliani with a white man in his late 50s or early 60s.

The woman, a clerk at a Bryson City store, said Miliani and the man came into the store, where he purchased a backpack, pants and a jacket.

"She didn’t talk," Siske said. "The clerk said she appeared to be somewhat nervous."

The man told the store clerk he was "a preacher that goes from campground to campground," Siske said.

The clerk has not yet been shown a photo lineup, Siske said. Officials with North Carolina’s State Bureau of Investigation were working on the case, he said.

Swain County, the alleged site of Miliani’s disappearance, is about a two hour drive from Transylvania County, Siske said.

"Is it connected? I would certainly as an investigator like to rule Gary Hilton in or out," Siske said.

Hilton also remains a suspect in the death of Cheryl Dunlap, whose body was found in a national forest in the Tallahassee, Fla. area in December. Hilton’s van had been pulled over in the area in mid-November, authorities have said.



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