Gary Michael Hilton and Jason Knapp

The arrest of Gary Michael Hilton for the alleged murder of Georgia hiker Meredith Emerson should not have brought back any memories for me. However, now that investigators are connecting Hilton to the murder of North Carolina hiker Irene Bryant and the disappearance of her husband John, people are starting to use words “serial killer.” The talk only gets more pointed when investigators continue to list Hilton as the primary suspect in the death of Cheryl Dunlap in Florida.

If you draw a line from northeast Georgia where Emerson died to Transylvania County, NC where the Irene Bryant died, you are going to cross a place called Table Rock in Pickens County, South Carolina. Though it’s not yet being reported in the national press, investigators in Pickens County are doing preliminary work to see if Hilton might have had any role in the disappearance of Jason Knapp in 1998.

Knapp, at the time a student at Clemson University, was a model student and member of the Air Force ROTC. He disappeared in April 1998. Investigators found Knapp’s car, a Chevy Beretta, at Table Rock State Park. Table Rock is a popular hiking and outdoor area in Upstate South Carolina. It has a number of interconnected trails, a couple of which reach to the top of Table Rock.

Despite massive search parties and an exhaustive investigation, no one ever found Knapp or his remains. Everyone has been left to assume he either fell off one of a bluff or, worse, ran into a drifter the likes of Gary Hilton. It’s impossible to say. From the perspective of a clumsy writer who has hiked the Table Rock summit, it would be very easy to fall. If one were alone, there would be no calling for help, especially in 1998 when cell phones were a little less common.

Still, because of Knapp’s disappearance and several unsolved murders and disappearances around the same time, investigators in Pickens and Oconee Counties (the two counties on either side of Clemson University) have never let go of the idea that Knapp might have been the victim of a killer. To wit:

  • In 1992, Norsaadah Husain was stabbed in a Cleamson-area laundry, kidnapped, killed, and later dumped in a forest within a half-hour’s drive of Table Rock. No one ever found in the killer.
  • Brooke Holsonback was found murdered in Lake Hartwell near Clemson University in February 1997. Though the case has focused largely on two of her male schoolmates, the case remains unsolved.
  • Sheila Carver disappeared in June 1998 from the same area and was never found.
  • Add to that Knapp’s disappearance in April 1998 and you have…what? Well, you have a bunch of cases in a two-county area that remain cold 10-15 years later. Because each of the cases is so dissimilar, investigators long ago gave up on the idea they are connected by anything other that geographic area. These same stories and memories pop up every time there is a high-profile case in the area, like when Tiffany Souers was murdered in her Clemson-area apartment in the summer of 2006.

    This year will be the ten-year anniversary of Jason Knapp’s disappearance and presumed death. I know this because I spent many a year thinking about the case and dealing with its primary investigators. What’s more, I spent more than a little time with Knapp’s mother, Deborah Boogher.

    Deborah was a mother in much the same way I suspect mine would be if I fell off the face of the planet. Though she lived hundreds of miles away, Knapp’s mother made regular trips to South Carolina to check in on the investigation and conduct a few of her own. One cold March morning, I joined her and a psychic on a trip to Table Rock State Park. My late partner and friend Chris, a photographer, and I spent the better part of a day on the trails around Table Rock. Never much of a supernatural guy myself, I had a hard time getting into the spirit of things. Still, I couldn’t help but be touched by how desperate Deborah had become. She was willing to try anything if it meant finding her son.

    At the time, I wrote:

    Boogher stood in the middle of the parking lot waiting for the psychic to begin. “I know people think it is crazy but I’ve been to other psychics over the years,” she explained, “They’ve all basically told me that Jason has died, but they’ve also told me they can’t find him because they are not what they call an investigative psychic.”

    Cheri Mancuso, a short woman with a shock of dyed-red hair, bills herself as an investigative psychic. “We don’t know what to call me. There aren’t too many people that really do what I do,” Mancuso said.

    The psychic stood quietly for a moment, her eyes closed, hands wrapped around a picture of Jason Knapp. She explained that if she started to move, the group should follow. Mancuso explained that she had a vision about Knapp a full year before she met Boogher. She said she saw the letters J and A and prophesied that she would soon learn of a missing college student. She later interpreted the J and A to be the first two letters of Jason’s name. Mancuso said she had more visions later. She said she saw Jason’s car parked next to an old, red pickup truck. She said she saw two girls driving a convertible around in the Table Rock parking lot.

    She said she believed someone was hunting Knapp and that Knapp was scared. “I saw him huffing and puffing and he was out of breath,” she told the group. “I felt him just running and running and running and finally I just felt him collapse. Somewhere, Jason lies on a trail.”

    It was a desperate day that ended and resulted with no resolution. The Gary Hilton case will likely result in the same, because, if everyone is being honest with himself, the connection is tenuous at best. There exists an almost ten-year span between the recent deaths and Knapp’s disappearance. All of Hilton’s alleged victims or suspected victims have either been women or, in the case of John Bryant, in the company of a woman. Furthermore, the trails at Table Rock are rather self contained and not a vital part of a larger trail system.

    Still, when hope and time are all investigators and a mother have, Hilton is the closest thing anyone has had to a suspect in years.

    And it never hurts to look.

    *Hilton photo courtesy CNN

    Brad Willis

    Brad Willis is a writer based in Greenville, South Carolina. Willis spent a decade as an award-winning broadcast journalist. He has worked as a freelance writer, columnist, and professional blogger since 2005. He has also served as a commentator and guest on a wide variety of television, radio, and internet shows.

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    14 Responses

    1. Anonymous Anonymous says:

      Hadn’t heard this murder linked to Gary Michael Hilton before.

      Saw your post at Digg when it matched up with one I was submiting a few hours later, that lists six victims of this guy:

      Also read a post by someone else who thinks Hilton might have been involved in the murder of an 11-year old boy named Levi Frady back in 1997.

    2. How soon should I start my kids on self defense classes?

      I love hiking that part of the state.

    3. I brought Jason Knapp up in my morning meeting up in Cincy. It’s the right area. And he seems to be pretty good at hiding bodies.

    4. Found my way over here from a link in the comments at truecrimeweblog, and couldn’t resist commenting b/c Table Rock has always been my favorite hike on earth. Chilling to think that something so tragic would happen there. [I also used to hike Blood Mountain, where Meredith Emerson was abducted. Ever since her disappearance, I have been obsessed with this case, and I am convinced that Hilton has killed many.]

      Wishing peace and resolution for Jason Knapp’s family.

    5. Anonymous Anonymous says:

      Does anyone know of any of Jason’s friends who live in upstate South Carolina?

    6. glenn adams says:

      I have been backtracking Gary Hilton, since 01/06/08, while searching for Meredith Emerson’s remains. He has been preying on his victims for decades. He had no victim profile; 11 year old Levy Frady to 84 year old Irene Bryant, every profile in between.
      I have found him to be an evil, demonic, cannibal, ritual: serial killer.
      I feel that he had associates.
      The movie Deadly Run: Hilton, handpicked the cast & crew, shoot locations, plot, helped to name and creatively write, and tutored the lead actor in the art of serial killing.
      Samuel Rael: Attorney/Movie Producer said that he knew that he was sociopath, but not violent?
      GMH, said in the LE interview that he could elaborate on Jason Knapp, if they were willing to deal.
      The following is a map of GMH’s possible victims & his pattern of operation:

    7. Wolfscratch says:

      Robert Hansen – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
      The Crime Library – Robert Hansen; ^ ExploreNorth – Robert Hansen, A Serial Killer in Alaska; ^ Portraits of Serial Killers – Robert Hansen …

      WE TV; FBI Files, tonight was about Robert Hansen: The Alaskan Serial Killer, that I commented about a few days ago. The documentary went into more detail than is available on the net, and involved actual investigators that worked the case.
      Snipet from John Douglas; FBI Profiler on the Hansen: Serial Killer case:
      Hunting the Hunter
      I began to get an idea of how Hansen operated, and it gave me a cold, sick feeling in my stomach. It seemed clear to me that he was definitely the killer, but he wasn’t simply killing these women. I believed he was releasing them into the woods and then hunting them down like animals—and this proved to be the case….

      We gave our assessment to the authorities, and they were able to get a search warrant. Hansen’s rifle, which matched the bullets that killed the four women, was found at his home, along with some cheap jewelry, ID cards, and other items taken from them. There was also a sort of “journal,” an aviation map marked with the locations of his victims’ bodies.

      Confronted with the evidence, Hansen confessed.
      Agent John Douglas profiled Hansen to a tee. He had pegged him with a studder or lisp, as an independent business owner, with a family. Hansen owned a bake shop where LE frequented(pastries) and was a pillar of the community.
      Although one of his victims escaped and went to police, Hansen was able to persuade them that the accusation was false. The Anchorage PD closed the case by order of the Chief. The Alaska State Patrol had an active Serial Killer investigation in progress at the time….
      I am confident that GMH, based the plot of the ‘Deadly Run’ movie( ) on Hansen’s Trail of Terror. Robert Christian Hansen, was convicted for the murder of only 4 women, which most were prostitutes, but admitted to over 33 victims in Alaska. He was originally from Iowa, and LE was confident that he had many victims, before moving to Alaska.
      Hansen was an arsonist and mirrored many of GMH’s personality traits.
      Their were many, many parallels to GMH. In fact you could switch names in the documentary and it would have been virtually identical to GMH’s trail of Terror, except GMH, had no victim profile.
      He began killing prostitutes around 1980. After paying for their services, he would kidnap and rape them; he would then fly them out to his cabin in the Knik River Valley in his private plane and stalk and kill them with a hunting knife and a .223-caliber Ruger Mini-14 rifle.
      Said he would toy with his prey for days once reaching the Wilderness and then hunt them. Although he would vary his methods of abduction, he would handcuff them as soon as he put them in the vehicle, then pull a pistol on them. Said that if they tried to alert help, that he would kill/shoot them and the rescuer.(sound familiar?)
      Something interesting from the Behavioral Science Unit/FBI; the Trophys/souveneirs could be any personal item of the victims; clothing, jewelry, or even Dr. Licenses. They are kept to relive the evil acts in the future.


    8. Wolfscratch says:

      The release of info of GMH’s ‘Trail of Terror’ has been silenced since March 2008. I am confident that this is due to the magnitude and duration, 47 years according to him.(since he was 14 years old.
      Within 5 days of backtracking him, it was obvious that he was very intelligent, creative, cagey, demonic, cannibal, has no human emotions, and performed rituals on many of his victims. GMH’s IQ is 150+. My information was obtained from both conventional and non conventional means.
      I am confident that GMH, copycatted many serial killers,evolving and perfecting his pattern, sometimes with sidekicks or Associates, as well as creating his own signatures and mo’s.
      GMH, is on trial in Tallahassee, Fl, for the abduction and murder of Cheryl Dunlap. Very little pretrial evidence has been released to the public.

    9. Your post is interesting. I have transcribed the taped interview Pickens Co. investigator Dewey Smith had with Hilton last year, and would be happy to send it to you along with a copy of a letter Hilton sent to the investigators after they left the jail.

      I hope Deborah Boogher can find out the truth about what happened to her son. I’m sure she’s heard this interview and read Hilton’s letter. Who knows. He talks in crazy circles. But he might just have done it, too.

      Oh, just PM me and I’ll be glad to send the letter and transcript. Nancy

    10. michelle says:

      I was stalked by Gary Michael Hilton one day while i was hiking at Stone mountain north carolina. He was very sneaky acting. I always hike alone up at Wolf Rock where he stalked me. Usually i am always looking over my shoulder and i take something with me for protection. that day, i only took a book to read while i was resting up there.
      He approached me and was wanting to know if i was married, if i lived close by, if i hiked up there frequently. i have never been so scared in my life. i was widowed at the time, but told him that I was married, and my husband would be up there soon, and i didn’t want to be hiking with another man when my husband arrived . i think that is the only thing that kept me alive that day. If you could see him and how he acts, you would see why it’s so easy to believe that he killed many people. He was carrying a gun the day that he approached me. i hope they execute him. He does’t deserve to live. women be careful hiking alone. !

    11. Michelle, Thank God you’re alive. Good job using your spidey sense and protecting yourself.

      Otis, here’s the entire transcript of Hilton’s interview with S.C. law authorities, if you haven’t already read it. I finally just decided to paste the whole thing on my blog. It’s a little messy, but nobody is paying me so neatness does not count! lol.

    12. Julie says:

      After reading Hilton’s detailed confession about abducting and murdering Meredith Emerson, it apparent by his words that this was not his first killing. Although he never explicitly admits to it, when he discussed his choice of Emerson as a victim, it sounded like a method he had down. He said that a man would not be his first choice because a man is more likely to put up a fight and then he would just have to kill him before getting what he wanted (i.e., credit cards and pin #.) He said the “would whoop a man too” so it is very likely could have victimized Knapp 10 plus years prior. Hilton was 60 when he killed Meredith and he has MS. Imagine him younger and healthy. It is very plausible that he is tied to several of these other unsolved murders. It’s likely that he has been killing people in the SE for decades. Its amazing he got away it as long as he did especially if he allowed witnesses to get an ID on him the way he did the day he took Emerson.

    13. A Borgmann CU79 says:

      In the Mid 90’s Citadel Graduate and Captain, Formerly US Army Artillery Charles Land could mysteriously find no work available in Picken’s County. The employment services were run by a former enlisted named Brown. In the Liberty loss the City Police force was run by an enlisted veteran. There was nothing for me there either. The Political status Quo has been the same family in politics. Is it any real surprise that like the Borgias’s the Stones somehow have no competition after 30 years? Perhaps they will they will elect David C. Stone Pope of Picken’s County with his deputation of Cardinals. A Borgmann FRG-Ostzone

    14. Cliff Leverette says:

      You put this up in 08, its ’15 now, hope you read it. I think Hilton’s rein of terror may go back at least to October 8, 1976.
      When I read his confession of how he took Meridith Emerson, and hid her while he waited for the danger to pass of being seen in the parking lot, of how he took her off a busy trail leading to the Appalachian Trail, it seemed to me to be a lot like the disappearance of Trenny Gibson and what is written about her disappearance.