The chief medical examiner of North Carolina notified authorities today, February 4, 2008, that the remains found Saturday in the Nantahala National Forest in Macon County are those of missing hiker John Bryant, 79, Transylvania County.
Sheriff David Mahoney said "At this point we haven’t released any details on cause of death or any other details from the autopsy other than the positive identification.
"It allows us to move forward into a different side of the case, the prosecutorial side of it. We spent a considerable amount of time in the past few weeks trying to locate the body of Mr. Bryant."
The body was found by Mark Waldroop, a hunter who lives in Haywood County, on an off season deer scouting hike.
He found the remains about 5pm on Saturday on a forest service road off Old Murphy Road, known as the Switchbacks.
Mr. Waldrop stated "I could see what looked like a skull laying off down in the woods. I thought to myself, surely that is not what it looks like.”
He immediately left, drove to his parents house and notified authorities, waited for them at the scene and walked with the Deputy, who started photographing the skull and Mr. Waldrop then noticed what appeared to be a spine and pelvis about 20 yards from the skull.
Authorities worked the scene most of the day Sunday and sent the remains of the body to the medical examiner in Chapel Hill, around 2pm.
John Bryant's wife Irene, 84, was fund dead on Nov. 9 at Pisgah National Forest near Brevard in Transylvania County. She was killed on Oct. 21, 2007, with a blow to her head while on a hike with her husband John. He had been missing since and was presumed dead.
Nantahala National Forest in Macon County, where Mr. Bryant's body was discovered, is more than two hours from the Pink Beds, north of Brevard, where his wife had been found dead.
Sheriff Robert Holland said on Sunday said he could neither confirm nor deny any connections between the body and Gary Michael Hilton, who was convicted last week of beating to death Georgia hiker Meredith Emerson and is a suspect in the slayings of hiker Irene Bryant and her husband, John.
Hilton was sentenced to life in prison Thursday after he pleaded guilty to Emerson’s murder.
Now North Carolina investigators to question Hilton in regards to the John and Irene Bryant's deaths.
Last month Sheriff David Mahoney named Hilton as a suspect in the Bryant killing, saying, "I have no doubt that we have the right man. I believe the case is solid. We’re ready to move forward when we have a commitment” whether the case will be tried in state or federal court."
He goes to say that they are following up on leads and wants to make sure every I is dotted and T is crossed while preparing for prosecution.
Meredith Emerson, 24, a University of Georgia alumna, the woman that Hilton has just been sentenced for murdering, disappeared on New Year's Day after leaving home for a hike in the mountains with her dog, Ella.
Several witnesses told authorities they saw Hilton and Emerson together, letting their dogs play along a hiking trail in Vogel State Park.
According to John Cagle of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Emerson's body was discovered on Monday, January 7, 2008, about 7:30 p.m., in the 25,000-acre Dawson Forest Wildlife Management Area, about 30 miles south of the Union County, Georgia, state park where she went hiking.
Authorities say that Meredith Emerson was kept alive for days after her kidnapping and before she was killed and her body was decapitated after her death, according to her autopsy.
It is believed that Emerson was killed on January 4, the same day that Hilton made a phone call from a pay phone at a convenience store in Cumming, Georgia, where Emerson's black wallet with her identification cards were discovered in a trash bin.
The bin is next to a grocery store parking lot where Ella, Emerson's dog, was found wandering after Emerson's kidnapping.
Hilton led investigators to Emerson's body in exchange for authorities taking the death penalty off the table, Union County District Attorney Stan Gunter told reporters.
When the charges against Hilton were read to him in court by Judge Johnie Garmon, one of the details was a surveillance video from a bank in Canton, Georgia showed Hilton trying to use one of Emerson's credit cards.
This is similar to the Bryant's murders because the couples ATM card was used, in Ducktown, Tenn., a day after Irene Bryant had been killed. Ducktown is about two hours from where John Bryant's body was found Saturday.
Georgia authorities have also had discussions with Florida authorities about similar killings there.