When HLN television program “Real Life Nightmare” returns for a fourth season, the first episode will feature a man convicted of murdering a woman in Dawson County and accused in multiple other killings.
The six-episode season will open with a two-hour special event called “Blood Mountain: The Hunting Ground” that investigates Gary Michael Hilton, also known as the National Forest Serial Killer, according to an HLN press release.
“Real Life Nightmare” will premiere on CNN’s HLN network on Sunday, Nov. 13 starting at 9 p.m. with new host Paul Holes. Holes served as a former cold case investigator for 27 years and helped investigate the Zodiac, Golden State Serial Killer and Jaycee Dugard cases.
On January 31, 2008, Hilton pleaded guilty to one count of murder for the killing of 24-year-old Buford resident and University of Georgia student Meredith Emerson. He was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility for parole in 30 years.
As part of his plea, Hilton admitted to killing Emerson in the Dawson Wildlife Management Area on Jan. 4, 2008.
Emerson was last spotted alive while hiking with her dog, Ella, on Union County’s Blood Mountain during New Year’s Day in 2008. Witnesses reported seeing her with an older man on a connecting trail near Blairsville.
After Emerson didn’t return home by Jan. 2 and friends searched for her, Ella was found wandering about 60 miles away in Cumming on Jan. 4.
That same day, a witness at a DeKalb County Chevron gas station called police to report Hilton cleaning out his van. Before Hilton could bleach the inside of the van, blood matching Emerson’s DNA was obtained from the vehicle.
Hilton was then arrested and charged with her murder. Three days later, Hilton led authorities to Emerson’s body after the Enotah Judicial Circuit District Attorney agreed to not seek the death penalty against him.
In 2020, a lead investigator in Emerson’s case, John Cagle, released a tell-all book detailing the investigation into the brutal killing and Hilton.
After being sentenced for Emerson’s slaying, Hilton was later accused of and then charged with
the October 2007 killings of elderly couple John and Irene Bryant in North Carolina and the December 2007 murder of nurse Cheryl Dunlap in Florida.
Hilton has also been accused in Judy Smith’s 1997 death, though no official connection has been established, and Smith’s case remains unsolved.
He went to trial for Dunlap’s death in 2011 and following his conviction, he was sentenced to death. In 2012, he pleaded guilty to kidnapping and murdering the Bryants, receiving a sentenced of life in prison.
Hilton’s attempt to have his conviction and death sentence for Dunlap’s murder overturned was unsuccessful, with the Florida Supreme Court upholding both in August 2021.
Other cases covered in this season of “Real Life Nightmare” will include flight MH370’s disappearance, the unsolved murder of Catholic priest Father Alfred Kunz, the mysterious kidnapping of Lindsey Baum, and more, stated HLN’s press release.
Following his longtime tenure as an investigator with the sheriff and district attorney’s offices in Contra Costa County, California, Paul Holes has become an author and podcaster in addition to being a television host.
Holes released his debut book “Unmasked: My Life Solving America’s Cold Cases” in May 2022. The book became an instant New York Times bestseller.
“Real Life Nightmare explores some of the nation’s greatest criminal mysteries, and I am looking forward to bringing my investigatorial experience to the series and helping shine a light on these important cases,” said Holes. “The team behind this show has a real passion for these cases that I have witnessed firsthand, and I am eager to share our findings with viewers as we produce each episode.”
The television show is part of HLN Investigations, led by showrunner Elizabeth Yuskaitis.
Episodes of “Real Life Nightmare” will air every Sunday at 9 p.m. EST/PST on HLN. The series will stream live for pay TV subscribers via CNN.com and CNN OTT and mobile apps under “TV Channels” or CNNgo where available.
All episodes of the season will also be available on demand the day after the broadcast premiere to paid TV subscribers via Cable Operator Platforms.