"Gary Michael Hilton (born November 22, 1946), known as the National Forest Serial Killer, is an American serial killer responsible for four known homicides between 2007 and 2008 committed in three states, all of which occurred within the premises of national forests. Sentenced to death in Florida and to life imprisonment in Georgia and North Carolina, Hilton remains a suspect in several other killings, including that of Judy Smith.
Five hours after police found the items linked to Emerson, Hilton was arrested thanks to two anonymous phone tips, which claimed that he was vacuuming his van at a local establishment. He was transferred to the county jail, where he was subsequently charged with kidnapping based on the material evidence connecting him to the case. While he was being held at a federal prison in Atlanta, the search for Emerson's body continued in a 90 square mile area of the Chattahoochee National Forest. Upon examining his van, the same 2001 Chevrolet Astro as reported earlier in tips by witnesses, authorities noticed that it was missing its rear car seat belt, which matched the one located among the Emerson's personal items.
In exchange for dropping the death penalty against him, Hilton agreed to reveal where he had disposed of Emerson's remains, leading the investigators to the Dawson Forest Management Area. She had been decapitated, but the coroner determined that it had been done post-mortem in an attempt to prevent identification. Hilton claimed that he had abducted her to steal her bank cards and PIN code, and that he had repeatedly hit her with the police baton until she had died. He later pleaded guilty to her murder, and was thusly sentenced to life imprisonment with the possibility of parole after 30 years. In September 2009, a hiker found camping supplies believed to belong to Gary Hilton, which were then turned over to the Florida authorities for use in the upcoming Dunlap trial.
About a month later, Florida prosecutors charged Hilton with Dunlap's murder, claiming that forensic evidence linked him to the slaying. Despite his efforts to fight his extradition, Hilton was brought to Leon County from the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification State Prison in June 2008, and was remanded to await trial for the Dunlap killing. Attorneys Ines Suber and Steven Been, who specialized in capital murder cases, were hired as his public defenders. At his trial, prosecutors claimed that Hilton had abducted Dunlap from the Leon Sinks Geological Area and held her captive for two days, before eventually killing and then decapitating her body. He had also attempted to get rid of potential evidence by incinerating her head and hands in a fire pit, before finally dumping the body in the forest. When Hilton's defense team claimed that there was no forensic proof, the prosecutors reminded that Hilton had claimed on tape that he had disposed of Dunlap's body, but now deliberately tried to distance himself from it. After four hours of deliberation, the juries found him guilty on three out of four charges, with a recommendation to impose the death penalty on the convict. On February 22, 2011, he was officially sentenced to death for the crime and sent off to Florida's death row.
In 2012, Hilton was brought to trial for a third time, for the murders of John and Irene Bryant. As part of a plea deal with the prosecutor, he admitted his guilt in the killings and was sentenced to an additional life term without the chance of parole. During the hearings, Hilton described how he had killed Irene on the spot and then kidnapped John to extort his bank details, before shooting him in the head with a .22 Magnum and then dumping his body in The Switchbacks..."
— Source: Gary Michael Hilton Wikipedia
"On September 7, 1997, hunters in North Carolina's Pisgah National Forest found human bones, clothing, and some other items scattered in the woods near a campground. The remains, most of which were centered around a shallow grave, were identified as belonging to a woman between the ages of 40 and 55 with a seriously arthritic knee. Due to holes and cuts on her bra, and similar cutting marks on the bones, investigators ruled that the unidentified decedent had been stabbed to death.
Dental records and the arthritic knee soon led the body to be identified as that of Judy Smith (born Judith Eldredge; December 15, 1946, in Hyannis, Massachusetts), a 50-year-old nurse from Newton, Massachusetts, who had last been positively seen alive by her husband Jeffrey at a hotel in Philadelphia almost five months earlier. When she had not shown up after a day purportedly spent sightseeing in the city, he had reported her missing. Until the bones were found, the search for her had been concentrated in the Philadelphia area, where several sightings had been reported, although some of them may have been of a homeless woman who strongly resembled Smith.
The investigation into the killing has been complicated by the unresolved question of how Smith got to North Carolina from Philadelphia, 600 miles (970 km) away, in the first place. She and her husband planned to stay in the Philadelphia area and visit friends after the conference he was attending ended; she had not expressed any desire to visit the Asheville area where her body was found. Yet when found she was wearing clothes more appropriate for hiking than those she had on when last seen in Philadelphia. It has been speculated that she might have been a victim of serial killer Gary Michael Hilton, who had left one of his victims in a similar condition near where Smith's body was discovered.
Philadelphia police initially considered Jeffrey Smith a suspect, casting doubt on the idea that his wife had even been to the city in the first place and suggesting his story was fabricated. Later, however, the unlikelihood that he could have disposed of her body where it was found ruled him out, due to severe health problems ; he died in 2005. The Philadelphia police, the FBI, and the Buncombe County sheriff's office continue to investigate; the case has been the subject of a segment on Unsolved Mysteries..."