A serial killer on the loose poses an imminent threat to unsuspecting victims, instilling fear and uncertainty in communities. John and Irene Bryant, an elderly couple, encountered this danger firsthand during a hike, crossing paths with the notorious Gary Hilton. Their harrowing experience unfolds in Hulu’s ‘Wild Crime: Blood Mountain.’ Hilton’s heinous attack on the Bryants serves as a chilling reminder of the perilous unpredictability associated with such criminals. The couple’s story, depicted in the documentary, sheds light on the vulnerability that outdoor enthusiasts may face and underscores the need for heightened vigilance in remote areas.
What Happened to John and Irene Bryant?
John Bryant, a distinguished lawyer from Skaneateles, New York, had not only founded a construction law firm but also served as the Town Attorney for Skaneateles for nearly three decades. His wife, Irene, was the proud owner of a large animal veterinary clinic in Skaneateles. The couple, married in 1949, shared a life of adventure and exploration, often embarking on trips to different countries. After retiring to Hendersonville, North Carolina, in 1991, they continued their love for exploration, particularly enjoying hiking together. Their lives were marked by achievements, including raising four children, and they were eager to spend their golden years in each other’s company, savoring the joys of life.
On October 21, 2007, John and Irene embarked on a hiking trip in the Pisgah National Forest, parking their car at Yellow Gap Road before commencing their trek. However, as two weeks lapsed, observant neighbors noticed accumulating newspapers outside the Bryants’ door, raising concerns. Alarmed by their prolonged absence, the neighbors contacted Robert Bryant, the couple’s son. Upon his arrival, he had to force entry and discovered that his parents had not returned during these two weeks. With no trace of them, Robert promptly notified law enforcement about their disappearance, emphasizing that they had ventured on a hiking expedition.
Who Killed John and Irene Bryant?
A substantial team comprising members from the Sheriff’s Office, volunteers, and cadaver dogs initiated the search for the Bryants. On November 10, they discovered the remains of Irene, aged 84, concealed beneath leaves. Irene’s body was subsequently sent to the medical examiner’s office for analysis. The resulting reports positively identified Irene and attributed her death to blunt trauma to the head. Given that the body was located on federal lands, the FBI joined the investigation, offering a cash reward for information on the assailant. Further inquiry revealed that a day after their hike, John attempted a 911 call, hindered by a weak signal. Additionally, investigators determined that John’s card had been utilized at an ATM in Ducktown, Tennessee, with $300 withdrawn, the maximum limit for ATM transactions at that time.
The surveillance footage obtained by the police from the vicinity of the ATM depicted an individual with a concealed face, adorned in a yellow rain jacket believed to be owned by John, according to his son. Other witnesses provided descriptions of a man in his 50s or 60s accompanied by a retriever dog. During this phase, John was still presumed to be kidnapped. However, due to a lack of identification, it was only when the image of Gary Hilton became widely circulated in connection with the disappearance and murder of 24-year-old Meredith Emerson that individuals began suspecting his involvement in the Bryant case.
While in custody, Hilton vehemently denied any involvement in the murder and disappearance of Irene and John, refusing to provide any information on the matter. On February 3, 2008, a passing hunter discovered human remains in Nantahala National Forest and promptly alerted the authorities. Subsequent identification confirmed the body as that of John Bryant. Recognizing Hilton’s reluctance to cooperate, law enforcement understood that they had to construct the case primarily based on the substantial evidence gathered from Hilton’s van.
In June 2011, a federal grand jury issued a five-count criminal indictment against Hilton, then 66 years old, charging him with the October 2007 kidnapping, robbery, and murder of John and Irene Bryant. At this point, Hilton was already serving a life sentence for the murder of Meredith Emerson and had received a death sentence for Cheryl Dunlap’s murder. In the Bryant case, he entered into a plea deal, confessing to killing Irene on the spot and holding John hostage until obtaining his bank account details. Hilton admitted to shooting John in the head with a .22 Magnum and disposing of his body in the forest. For this case, he received four life sentences for the kidnapping and murder of the Bryants, along with an additional 15 years in prison for a related robbery offense. Gary Hilton, identified as a serial killer by numerous criminal experts, awaits execution in prison.