Leon County Sheriff’s Maj. Mike Wood said Hilton, charged in the abduction and murder of 24-year-old hiker Meredith Emerson, became a suspect after media reports led Florida investigators to run a check of Hilton’s license plate.
Sheriff’s officials in Florida discovered that Hilton had been pulled over by a U.S. Forestry officer in the Apalachicola National Forest on Nov. 17, about two weeks before 46-year-old Cheryl Dunlap went missing. Dunlap’s car was found abandoned on the side of the road on Highway 319 in southern Leon County.
Someone used Dunlap’s ATM card three times between Dec. 1 and Dec. 4, using a mask to disguise himself, Wood said.
Hilton tried to use Emerson’s ATM card at least once, according to authorities.
Since news of Hilton’s arrest, Leon County Sheriff’s investigators have spoken with at least eight people who reported encountering him in the national forest, Wood said.
The similarities in the two crimes are too striking to ignore, Wood said.
"The public details of this crime are it’s an abduction, a murder, a use of an ATM card, and the discarding of the body in a national forest," Wood said.
Wood would not confirm news reports that Dunlap, like Emerson, had been beheaded.
"We’re not discussing the condition of her body in order to protect the investigation," Wood said.
Officials with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the state’s equivalent of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, have been in contact with the GBI about Hilton, Wood said. The two agencies’ laboratories are coordinating in comparing evidence from the two crimes, Wood said.
Once the GBI has finished processing and cataloging the evidence in the Emerson case, Florida investigators will travel to Georgia in hopes of speaking with Hilton, Wood said.
"We are absolutely coming," he said.