DAWSONVILLE - Authorities found the body of a missing hiker Monday night in a wooded area, hours after a judge denied bond to the man accused of kidnapping her in the north Georgia mountains.
Gary Michael Hilton, who is charged in the case, led authorities to the body of 24-year-old Meredith Emerson, John Cagle, special agent in charge with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation's Field Division, told a news conference.
Local residents had reported seeing Hilton's van in the Dawson Forest Management Area, where the body was found, and a search of the area had been planned in the area, miles from where Emerson was last seen, before Hilton told authorities where to look, Cagle said.
Hilton, 61, the last person seen with Emerson on the trail before she disappeared on New Year's Day, did not speak on Monday during his first appearance before Union County Magistrate Judge Johnie M. Garmon. Hilton's attorney, Neil Smith, did not enter a plea on Hilton's behalf.
Hilton, whose hands and feet were shackled, entered the courtroom wearing an orange prison jumpsuit. At the end of the 11-minute hearing, Hilton thanked Smith, a public defender who was assigned to the case early in an attempt to encourage Hilton's cooperation with authorities to find Emerson.
Hilton is charged with kidnapping with intent of bodily injury, but District Attorney Stan Gunter said earlier Monday it is likely that he could face additional charges.
Union County Sheriff Scott Stephens said Hilton was a drifter well-known in the area, and was often seen with his dog, Dandy, and police-style baton. Since he was identified as a person of interest in Emerson's disappearance, Stephens said his office has gotten thousands of calls from people saying they recognized his wiry frame.
Meanwhile, authorities said they are exploring a possible link between the disappearance of Emerson and the presumed killing of a couple from North Carolina in October.
Georgia Bureau of Investigation Director Vernon Keenan said there could be a connection between the Emerson case and the disappearance and presumed killing of - John and Irene Bryant, a couple in their 80s who disappeared in October while hiking in the western North Carolina mountains.
GBI spokesman John Bankhead said Georgia officials planned to meet with North Carolina authorities to discuss the case.
Transylvania County, N.C., Sheriff David Mahoney noted that Georgia authorities have reported that their suspect was wearing a yellow jacket. Someone who used the Bryants' ATM card in the days following their disappearance was wearing a yellow jacket.
He also pointed out that the ATM transaction took place in the Tennessee border town of Ducktown, about 50 miles from the area of the Georgia investigation.
The body of Irene Bryant, 84, was found covered with leaves in November. John Bryant, 80, is still missing, and authorities said he may have been kidnapped to provide the couple's bank account security number.
Hilton was detained Friday.