In His Wake

Date Published 01.16.08
There’s a tendency, when a potential serial murderer is caught, to try and connect him to as many unsolved cases as possible. You start to see links everywhere. You dismiss how common a white male with dark hair is, for example, and decide the description matches your suspect perfectly. Most of the time the attempts to connect don’t pan out.

Not so in the case of Gary Michael Hilton, whom I wrote about in my last post. I keep thinking I’m being paranoid to suspect Hilton in a certain case, because of the time frame, or the location, only to read the latest press release and discover he’s now the prime suspect in that case.

It’s like a twisted version of six degrees of separation: authorities, alerted to Hilton’s arrest, have been combing through their cold case files, and they’re finding traces of him everywhere.

Gary Michael Hilton

Hilton currently sits in a Georgia jail, charged with the kidnapping and murder of 24-year-old Meredith Emerson, who went missing New Year’s Day while hiking in the mountains with her dog. In my last post I speculated Hilton was also responsible for the murders of Irene and John Bryant, an elderly couple who disappeared last October while hiking the Pisgah National Park in North Carolina, and Cheryl Dunlap, who disappeared in early December from the Tallahassee area and whose body was later found in the Apalachicola National Forest.

Authorities announced today they have evidence linking Hilton to the murder of Irene Bryant and presumed murder of John Bryant, whose body has not yet been found. And in Florida, officials are preparing to charge him for the murder of Cheryl Dunlap.

Meanwhile, several cold cases are getting new life in light of Hilton’s arrest. Two years ago 26-year-old Rossana Miliani disappeared in western North Carolina; she'd told family members she intended to hike. A store clerk reported that before she went missing a nervous-seeming Miliani came into her store in Bryson City with a white man in his 60s. Bryson City is about an hour and a half from where Irene Bryant's body was found.

Pisgah National Park

The family of Levi Frady is also interested in Hilton. Levi, 11, was riding his bike to a friend's house in Cumming, Georgia on October 22, 1997 when he vanished. A day later, he was found shot to death in a ditch in the Dawson Forest Wildlife Management area, about 15 miles away from where he was last seen. Meredith Emerson was found in the very same forest.

Two persons of interest were established in Levi's case --- both older white males, one of whom resembles Hilton. The other person of interest is described as walking in a "stooped fashion," something Hilton, who claims he suffers from multiple sclerosis, is seen doing in the available surveillance footage of him.

Is the same man really responsible for the motiveless murder of a young boy, the disappearance of a single woman, and the robbery and murder of an elderly couple? It flouts all the so-called rules of criminal profiling, but I think it’s possible. So does retired FBI profiler Clint Van Zandt, who called Hilton "the horror show" and pointed out that at 61 the itinerant hiker could hardly be just getting started.

Ted Bundy killed young women with straight brown hair who reminded him of the girl who broke his heart. I suspect Hilton had no secret, particular source of pain that fueled him. He was homicidal in the purest sense of the word: he killed not a type of person, but people.

The scarce details that have leaked about Hilton’s past explain the randomness and potential vastness of his crimes. He was known to disappear for long stretches of time; he owned various weapons over the years, including a gun and a hunting knife; he hated women, but was also known to beat on young boys.

With that in mind, here are three unsolved cases I think Hilton may be responsible for, and the reasons for my suspicions.


Before Levi Fray, there was Charles “Chuckie” Mauk.

Chuckie Mauk

It was the evening of February 17, 1986, in the small town of Warner Robins in central Georgia, and Chuckie, 13, wanted gum for school the next day.

He rode his bicycle about a block away to the local convenience store and bought the gum. Cutting through a parking lot on his way home, Chuckie was apparently stopped by a white man in a white vehicle. Witnesses reported that Chuckie talked to the man for 10 or 15 minutes.

Then a sound like a car backfiring rang out, Chuckie fell to the ground, and the man and his car flew out of the parking lot.

Chuckie had been shot in the back of the head. He was found lying face down under a streetlight, his bike beside him, his bubblegum still in his hand.

Points of Interest:

Hilton had a tumultuous, failed personal life, with at least three divorces and a live-in girlfriend by the 1980s. He never had any children of his own, but in the years before Chuckie’s murder he lived with his girlfriend’s two sons, and he was abusive and mean. It’s possible when the relationship ended Hilton blamed the sons, who would have been around Chuckie’s age.

Hilton’s record shows at least 21 counts of unlawful solicitation. Apparently he liked to pester people with flyers and requests for donations to fraud charities. Interestingly, one of those bogus charities was named the “Georgia Youth Sports Project.”

Chuckie has been described as gregarious and friendly. He loved baseball and football. It's possible Hilton wanted to use Chuckie in a scam, or was soliciting him in some way.

Hilton sought false donations for veterans more than any other group. He claimed to be a paratrooper, and records show he spent some time in the Army and received some airborne training.

Robins Air Force Bases, a major United States air force base, is located just outside Warner Robins.

Compare the suspect composite in the Mauk case with Hilton's 1995 booking photo:

Mauk suspect


Julianne Williams and Lollie Winans

The snapshots, beautiful and serene, tell the first, and good, part of the story.

Here Julianne Williams, 24, and Lollie Winans, 26, crouch together on some boulders, looking happy. It was May 1996, and they’d planned well for their hiking trip along the southern Appalachian ridge in Shenandoah National Park. With Lollie’s dog Taj in tow, the two accomplished outdoorswomen intended to camp in the backcountry and experience the Virginia mountains the rough and tumble way.

Lollie Winans and Julianne Williams

The women were last seen on May 24, when a park ranger gave them a ride. When Julianne didn’t return home at the expected time, her father alerted the park and reported her missing.

Rangers found the women’s bodies on June 1, at a wooded campsite about a half-mile off the trail. The women’s throats had been cut, their mouths gagged, and their hands bound. One of the women, allegedly Julianne, was found outside the tent, while Lollie was inside.

Taj was found unharmed and running loose nearby.

A man named Darrell David Rice, who was serving a jail sentence for attempting to abduct a woman in the same park, was later indicted for the murders. But a strand of hair found at the crime scene did not match Rice or the women, and the case was dismissed.

Points of Interest:

Hilton was an avid hiker, and was known particularly to hike the Appalachian Trail.

Associates recall he hated women.

He was known to carry a hunting knife.

Lollie’s dog, Taj, was unharmed. Hilton abducted and mercilessly killed Meredith Emerson, but he let her dog go. In fact, most everyone who has come into contact with Hilton recalls his bond with his dog, Dandy. It seems as though Hilton cared more for dogs than people.

Interestingly, Taj was a golden retriever; so is Dandy.


Jennifer Kesse

Jennifer Kesse, 24, disappeared from Orlando, Florida on January 24, 2006. She had recently moved to a new condominium and expressed to friends some unease about construction workers hanging around the building. Authorities believe she showered and got ready for work that morning, but the trail goes cold after that; they say it's possible she was abducted at a Federal Express drop-box or while getting coffee on her way to work.

Jennifer Kesse

The best lead in Jennifer's case is grainy surveillance video that shows someone dropping off her Chevy Malibu at an apartment complex a mile away from her condominium. Authorities believe this person is the prime suspect in Jennifer's suspicious disappearance.

Points of Interest

Hilton is a former resident of Florida, and we know as recently as December he returned there to abduct and murder Cheryl Dunlap. In fact, Dunlap's case has some things in common with Kesse's. Both Florida women vanished without witnesses, and their cars were later found in random locations.

Hilton's work background is in home improvement, specifically insulation and siding. Jennifer's building was undergoing renovations.

The surveillance video in the Kesse case is not good; still, there's something about the posture of the mysterious figure that recalls, for me, Gary Michael Hilton. The shoulders are stooped. The person appears to be wearing a cap or hat, something Hilton is known to do.

Compare a still from dashcom footage of Hilton with the Kesse figure:


Gary Michael Hilton drifted across states; he used different weapons; he hated everyone. He likely used his dog and a folksy love of the outdoors to disarm people and take victims. How many? The final count will be high.

If you have any unsolved homicides you think Hilton might be responsible for, please email me at

The Feed

RT @emilynussbaum: The artful @hodgman's straightforward case for Hillary:
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@Twaikuer @pattonoswalt @daveanthony Good one. Unfortunately Bernie on record as not believing in charity.
@johnlevenstein Thanks for asking, btw. That's the kind of elevated discourse missing lately. A lot of mud slinging. #I'mNotAboveItEither
@johnlevenstein Can't convey it all thru Twitter but yes, she has flaws. Too poll-driven, burned needed bridges, trouble owning mistakes.