John Bryant's Body Found In Forest
Human skeletal remains found in Macon County over the weekend have been identified as those of 80-year-old John Bryant, who has been missing since October, according to Transylvania County Sheriff David Mahoney.
The N.C. Medical Examiner's Office announced the findings this morning. DNA samples and dental records for John Bryant were provided to the medical examiner for identification purposes.
Bryant's remains were found late Saturday about 20 feet off a road and about 75 feet from a locked Forest Service road gate in the Nantahala National Forest.
"With the discovery of Mr. Bryant's body, we have taken away every bargaining chip [Gary] Hilton thought he had," Sheriff David Mahoney said.
Last Thursday, Hilton received life in prison with the possibility of parole after 30 years after pleading guilty to the murder of 24-year-old hiker, Meredith Emerson, whose decapitated body he dumped in the Dawson State Forest in Georgia after bludgeoning her to death with a tire iron three days after he kidnapped her.
Hilton has been the top suspect in the case of Irene Bryant, who was murdered on Oct. 1, and in the disappearance of her husband, John.
Transylvania County authorities tried to interview Hilton last Thursday after he pleaded guilty, but he refused to answer any questions and asked for an attorney.
Mahoney said the Sheriff's Office is ready to move forward with charges in the Bryant case.
"Several weeks ago, the U.S. Attorney expressed their desire to prosecute this case in federal court, and now we are ready for that commitment to be made so we can move forward," said Mahoney.
Mahoney hopes the discovery will bring closure for the Bryant family.
According to Macon County Sheriff Robert Holland, a hunter found the remains.
Holland would not comment on whether the remains showed obvious signs of a cause of death, such as blunt force trauma to the head.
The hunter, who was looking for deer tracks, stumbled across what he believed to be a human skull Saturday night and called 911 to notify authorities.
There are unconfirmed reports Hilton was in the Nantahala area sometime around the time Bryant and his wife, Irene, disappeared on Oct. 21.
Weeks ago Mahoney said he thought Bryant's body would be found behind a Forest Service gate because that would fit with Hilton's previous behavior.
Authorities believe Bryant was likely kidnapped from the Pisgah National Forest after his 84-year-old wife was murdered.
Her body was discovered on Nov. 9. She died from a blow to the head.
"I am beyond any doubt Hilton is responsible for the deaths of John and Irene Bryant," said Mahoney.
Investigators said someone used the Bryants' ATM card in Ducktown, Tenn., to withdraw $300 cash one day after Irene was killed.
Ducktown is about 50 miles from Nantahala.
Florida authorities say they plan to charge Hilton with the murder of 46-year-old Cheryl Hodges Dunlap, whose body was found Dec. 15 in the Apalachicola National Forest.
Ormond Beach Police say they also are looking at Hilton for the murder and dismemberment of 27-year-old Michael Louis, whose body was found spread among three trash bags in the Tomoka State Park.
Swain County authorities also consider Hilton a suspect in the disappearance of 29-year-old Rossana Miliani, missing from Cherokee, N.C., since Dec. 7, 2005. Miliani told her family she was going to hike the Appalachian Trail.