Hilton is now on trial in Tallahassee for the murder of Cheryl Dunlap, a 46 year-old nurse and Sunday School teacher who was reported missing when she didn’t show up to teach her Sunday School class on Sunday, December 2, 2007. The day before, she went hiking alone in the Apalachicola National Forest. In broad daylight.
At that time, Hilton was 60 years old, gray-haired, and deceptively harmless looking. Plus–he had a dog. Among the many chilling pieces of evidence presented is a video of Hilton squatting down beside his dog, petting her and saying, “That’s my baby”. In another, which is mostly audio, because it’s unclear whether he knew the camera was stiil recording, he says “I killed those bitches. Now we will go to the park, but first I have to get rid of some stuff”. Good job. Make sure you feed your dog and take her to the park after the hard work of killing and dismembering innocent people.
I don’t know where he was at that time, but he was either driving north from Tallahassee to Georgia, or back. From Tallahassee, he drove to another forest in north Georgia, where another woman was hiking alone (in broad daylight) with her dog Ella. This was Meredith Emerson, who was 24 years old. Age and sex don’t seem to matter to this guy. It isn’t like a TV show, where serial killers have a “type”. This guy was looking for someone to kill, and an opportunity to do it in a remote setting where he thought his chances of getting caught were nil. And we know he killed Meredith Emerson, because he admitted it, in exchange for not getting the death penalty in Georgia.
If you watch enough Law And Order, you know that a confession is not really enough. In this case, he took them to the location of Meredith’s body. No one but the killer could have known where that was. They had been searching for weeks.
He killed Meredith Emerson and beheaded her, whatever good he thought that would do him, but he couldn’t bring himself to kill her dog Ella. So he let Ella go, and she eventually turned up at a convenience store in the area. That “weakness” on his part was part of his undoing.
Which brings me back to the dogs. When I watched the video of him with his dog, I felt that he came across as an extreme example of the kind of person who says “I like dogs better than I like people”. Well, me too, quite often, but I don’t want to kill anybody. And in reality, his dog was just a lure. A tool.
One of the people I work with is very unglued by the trial, because he hunts in the same general area where Cheryl Dunlap’s body was discovered. Her body was in fact discovered by hunters, even though again, the authorities had been searching for some time. (I thought that’s what Bloodhounds were for.) It could have been him who discovered her body, or, he might have encountered Hilton himself. It seems very personal to him. My response: you’re hunting. At least you have a gun.
Thinking that through, I think Hilton would have been less likely to try to approach someone with a gun. But as the hunter with a gun, you aren’t there to shoot people. Could you do it? Would you even be able to think fast enough to switch gears and say” I need to do it”?
There are barely words for the cynicism, or sociopathy, or pathology it takes to use a dog in the fashion GMH did. As my coworker pointed out, it would be so natural to encounter a stranger with dog and engage in conversation and get close. (Close enough to get dragged into a van.) What a pretty dog. What’s her name? Can I pet her? How old is she? What kind of dog is she? Sure you can walk this trail with me!
I wonder what has happened to Hilton’s dog. I don’t like to think about what she may have witnessed…or participated in.
Tallahassee News…Part 2
Before I get into this, let me state for the record…I like it here. It’s my adopted hometown. What is it about us Americans? A huge percentage of us can’t wait to get out of wherever we grew up. And I’m no different. Hell would be being forced to live in the small town where I mostly grew up.
But I’ve been fortunate since that time to have lived in six different cities, some way larger and more legendary than this one. In each one, I met loads of people who couldn’t wait to leave, though most of them never did. They just stayed in place and whined. From them, I learned the art of appreciating where you are at the moment. I always saw “their” cities through new eyes.
When I moved here from West Palm Beach, a friend told me I was going to hate it. He said, it’s so…provincial. You will not fit in. When I returned to West Palm after my first visit, I told him…You forgot to mention that it’s beautiful there. Well, he said, there is that.
When I define Tallahassee, it breaks down to: it’s the State Capital, it has two major universities, and it has a lot of trees. I think it’s pretty cool that in the course of my everyday life, I can drive by Andrew’s Capital Grill and see the governor having lunch on the patio. Politics, thought and enthusiasm generated by the university atmosphere, and lots of live oaks. What’s not to like?
According to the 2000 Census, the Tallahassee MSA has a population of 284,000-plus, and 150,000-plus within the city limits. But its size does not begin to define it. So now we move on to yesterday’s news.
One of the universities here is Florida State, and one of the top ongoing stories is that they are being sanctioned by the NCAA for a cheating scandal. To condense, some 60 or so student athletes cheated on an online music appreciation course (oh, stop me from picturing Bubba trying to understand Bach), aided by 3 staff members. So the NCAA, in its infinite wisdom, has decided to vacate any victories by FSU in games those students played in. The big deal about that is that if that holds, Bobby Bowden will fall way behind Joe Paterno in the quest to be the winningest coach ever. Okay, fine. Yawn. But that isn’t the story. The story is that when the NCAA issued its decision in reply to FSU’s appeal, they said FSU couldn’t tell anybody what it said. They sent a read-only file to FSU’s lawyers. The local newspaper sued. Finally the State Attorney General sent them a letter saying they were in violation of Florida’s open records law. Then and only then, the NCAA said FSU could release the records, but they themselves wouldn’t, and didn’t feel bound by that silly Florida law. So that is the story. I always thought that the NCAA were the good guys. Who knew they were fascists?
The other important story in the news yesterday concerned Gary Michael Hilton, who is awaiting trial here for the murder of a nurse a couple of years ago. She was found decapitated in the Appalachicola National Forest. The story was that the Ormond Beach authorities are looking at him for the murder of a decapitated man found in a state park near there. In that case, his head has never been found. Gary Michael Hilton confessed to the murder (and decapitation) of a young woman in Georgia, and was sentenced to life in prison for it. Only because he confessed. So he will go back to Georgia to spend his life in prison, unless Florida kills him first.
I went through a tough moment when I was called for jury duty some months ago. I was afraid that I might be called upon to be in a death penalty case, such as Gary Michael Hilton. I think Hilton is a monster and a serial killer. If a jury convicted him and sentenced him to death, I would be okay with that. It’s just that I couldn’t do it myself. It’s a contradiction, I know, and trying to reconcile it in my mind gives me a headache.
So Tallahassee is not that provincial, as provincial goes. We’ve got high school teachers having sex with students, the NCAA acting like the Gestapo, and serial killers in jail in our midst. This is, after all, the place where Ted Bundy got caught.
Posted in Crime, Life In Florida, Politics, Social Commentary, Tallahassee
Tagged Bobby Bowden, death penalty, Florida State University, hometowns, juries, NCAA, serial killers, Tallahassee, Tallahassee Democrat