Murdered while hiking | Rachel Morin, Meredith Emerson and Lauren Heike

Rachel Morin was a 37 year old woman from Maryland.  On August 5, 2023 at around 6pm, she went to walk on the Ma and Pa Trail in Bel Air.  She never made it home.  Rachel’s body was found the following day and her killer is still at large.

Rachel was a mother to five children.  “She was a devoted mother,” said Randolph Rice, the family attorney. “She made sure she took care of her kids. She took care of herself. She was a part of the church. That was a big part of her life.”

Rachel’s obituary goes into some detail about her life.

“Rachel was passionate about her children and family more than anything, loved fashion, and was a fitness enthusiast, often participating in 5K marathons and lifting weights,” the obituary reads.

Rachel also “enjoyed traveling…was the life of the party and had a special knack for making people laugh,” the notice reads.

The population of Bel Air where Rachel lived is 10,000.

On August 1, Rachel posted that she was in a relationship with Richard Tobin.

As mentioned, at around 6pm on August 5, Rachel decided to go hike on the Ma and Pa trail.

The Ma and Pa Trail is a 6.25-mile multi-purpose rail trail that follows the path of the old Ma and Pa Railroad through Harford County, Maryland. It contains three linked trails, one unconnected, with plans to bridge the gap in the middle, bringing the total length to 10 miles.

When Rachel did not return home, Richard reported her missing at 11.23pm that night.  

Police started the search for Rachel and found that her car was still parked at the trailhead.   

At 1:07 p.m on August 6, a citizen called 911 to report a female’s body had been located off the trail. It was reported that it was obvious that this person was deceased.

Police said “While we firmly believe this is the body of Rachel Morin, that final determination, that final say belongs with the medical examiner and that has not happened yet.”

“It was more than obviously apparent to police officers and our detectives who came up that this was not an accidental injury— somebody out exercising who’s fallen down and sustained a fatal injury,” Harford County Sheriff Jeff Gahler told Fox News Digital. “This was not something that was self-inflicted…This was the action of one or more persons who took her life in a criminal homicide—an egregious, horrific act in what is very otherwise…a very, very safe area.”

Rachel’s family gave an update via a GFM that was started to assist in the search.  “It is with devastating sadness and a broken heart that our family has been hit with yet another heartbreak,” Rachel’s sister Rebekah wrote. “My sister, Rachel Morin went missing on Saturday August 5 2023 around 6pm.”

“This was not an accidental death, and she did not go willingly and she deserves a funeral worthy of her her beauty,” she continued. “If there are any remaining funds they will go towards things her 5 children may need.”

Ten detectives were assigned to Rachel’s case.

Sheriff Gahler said that the case was a “very active criminal investigation.”  He also asked the public for information “If you think you have just the smallest tidbit of information, you saw something in this young lady’s travels yesterday, to the trail, on the trail, investigators would like to talk to you.”

At that time, the sheriff added, they had no suspects and he could not definitively say there was no further threat to the community.

“Right now,” he said, “detectives continue to work the case as aggressively as they possibly can, and we will leave no stone unturned.”

The sheriff said police were working “around the clock” to piece together “the hours, minutes and seconds” leading up to her death.

It was confirmed that five people who had been walking their dogs on the trail between 6pm and 730pm on the night of the murder had been questioned.  

Authorities increased security near the trail following Rachel’s death.  “Not knowing whether this was a targeted event specific to Rachel, we are going to say…be aware, be thinking there could be somebody out here and this is a random event.” Sheriff Gahler said.

In the days after Rachel’s murder, hundreds of tips were called in.  The sheriff said that some of these were “promising and tremendous in advancing the investigation and bringing us closer to getting the answers that we need, the answers that Rachel’s family needs and the answers that this community needs.”

The sheriff confirmed soon after the murder that police had questioned Rachel’s boyfriend, Richard.  He said they had spoken with him, “along with many other people who are close to Rachel. That is the way an investigation is conducted. We start with people in her close inner circle” and go from there.

“Together,” Sheriff Gahler concluded, “we will solve this crime and find this heinous coward who took Rachel Morin from her family and friends.”

Richard does have a criminal past and he has made social media posts about his innocence.

In one Facebook post, he wrote: ‘I love Rachel. I would never do anything to her, let the family and I grieve. Yes, I have a past but I also have 15 months clean and have changed as a person.’

Richard has been arrested 14 times since 2014 on a variety of charges including drug dealing, assault, disorderly conduct and refusing arrest.

On August 8, the Sheriff spoke to the media again.  He said that the killer could be “someone who came to learn that routine and knew where she might be at that time, or it could be a random person.”  The sheriff said that Rachel led an active lifestyle and “it wasn’t unusual for her to be out.”

On August 10, Rachel’s mother released a statement:

To all the mothers with daughters, to the fathers, brothers and sisters, husbands, to our local community, and to world onlookers:

If you have experienced the loss of a dear loved one, then you know how hard it can be to express the pain that you feel in your heart.

When it’s sudden and tragic, your mind looks for ways to cope. As a mom, I appreciate the outpouring of love and support from family, friends, and the worldwide community that grieves with me for my young daughter.

Thank you for caring. Truly.

Because of the tremendous outpouring of prayers, love and concern, our family is in the process of making arrangements for a Celebration of Life service to which friends and the community will be invited (more details to come). And because Rachel was an avid runner, we are in the early stages of planning a 5K walk/run in her honor with the hope of having a trail of flowers.

We are grieving. We need the time and space to grieve as a family. We have not forgotten our community. We just need time. . . I need time. It has only been 4 days since we received the horrific news. I ask that as mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters, that you would please have compassion on us and allow us this.

Thank you, Rachel’s Mom

On August 17, police announced a big update in the case.  DNA found at the scene had been analysed.  The DNA was entered into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), where it matched evidence collected from a March home invasion in Los Angeles, during which a young girl was assaulted.

They had not yet identified the suspect, Col. Davis said at a news conference, but they believed the figure seen on doorbell cam footage obtained by the LAPD from the house where the alleged assault occurred is their guy. So far, he explained, the DNA hadn’t shown up in any other law enforcement database (from a prior arrest, etc.) and they were working with experts from the FBI crime lab to further analyze the sample.

The doorbell cam footage shows a man wearing pants but no shirt (he appears to be carrying a piece of clothing) leaving through the front door of the house. From their analysis of the video and witness observations, Col. Davis said, they were looking for a male of Hispanic descent in his early-to-mid-20s, height approximately 5-foot-9 and weighing about 160 pounds.

“We know nothing about him,” Col. Davis said, “other than he was in L.A. and committed that crime in March, and was here in August, and we believe him to be the murderer of Rachel Morin.”

On September 11, 37 days after Rachel was murdered, police gave another update.

They said they had received more than 600 tips, some from other countries including Canada, England and Australia.  

“We have not apprehended a suspect,” sheriff’s office spokesperson Cristie Hopkins told USA TODAY.

Sheriff Jeff Gahler said detectives have “collected and watched hours of video footage from in and around the trail where she disappeared.”

“Our detectives have traveled across the country and have logged countless hours of interviews… canvassed areas related to Rachel and related to her death multiple times searching for additional witness and evidence,” Sheriff Gahler said.

Sheriff Gahler has also told the media that he believes the perpetrator may be responsible for other crimes.  “My concern is that this killer is escalating,” he said. “My investigators and I both firmly believe that if we do not apprehend this individual he will kill again if he has not done so already. This suspect poses a threat to every community in our country and maybe outside.”

When asked if he thought there would be more victims that ended up being linked to Rachel’s killer, “I won’t be surprised; I’ll be saddened as the rest of us will,” said Sheriff Gahler. “But I won’t be surprised if we find other victims that just haven’t been linked up to Rachel’s case.”

Criminal profiler Pat Brown also spoke to the media at this time about the case.

‘The attack on Rachel Morin that occurred while she was running on the Ma & Pa Heritage Trail was likely committed by an opportunistic predator who saw her that evening,’ Pat said. ‘This means it is likely the predator has a specific reason to be in the area of the path: he runs on it, travels on it, he works near it, or he is living near it.’

“Bel Air is 40 miles north of Baltimore,” Pat said “You don’t just roll in there on a bus for no reason. He has to know somebody that he came to stay with in Bel Air.”

Police have not Rachel’s cause of death public.  “What is important here is that we work the case diligently and we share with the public that which will help us bring this person into custody,” the Sheriff said. “But we also have to look at putting a solid court case together afterward. (Authorities don’t want) this investigation jeopardized in any way.”

Meredith Emerson

Meredith Emerson was 24 when she was murdered in January 2008 by Gary Hilton.

Emerson had taken her dog Ella for a hike on New Year’s Day in 2008.  As some background into Meredith, she was born in Charleston, South Carolina.  She grew up in North Carolina and Colorado.   She earned a bachelor’s degree in French (Honors) from the University of Georgia in 2005, where she also received the Cecil Willcox Award for ‘Excellence in French.’ Some media reports say that Meredith was working as a sales manager at the time of her death.

What we now know happened on January 1 is that Meredith came across Gary Michael Hilton on a trail on Blood Mountain in Georgia. 

Gary was 61 at the time I believe and he used to frequent the area with his dog Dandy.  

The two kind of walked together for a short time, but Gary was unable to keep pace with Meredith.  He stayed behind and she went ahead.  After she turned to come back down the trail, Gary was waiting for her with a knife.  Gary demanded that Meredith give him her ATM card.  She immediately went on the defensive and grabbed the knife off him.  Meredith did have martial arts training and her instincts kicked in.   

“She wouldn’t stop,” Gary later told investigators. “She wouldn’t stop fighting. And yelling at the same time. So I needed to both control her and silence her.”

Gary said he did that by punching her, blackening both her eyes and possibly breaking her nose. He said the blows also broke his hand.

Gary said he managed to calm Meredith down by telling her that he just wanted her card and PIN number and that he would let her go if she gave it to him

Meredith bought herself three days by giving Gary the wrong PIN for her ATM card, telling him each time that the numbers were correct.

On the day that Gary killed Meredith, he let her believe that she was going to be set free.  He told her “she was going home.” He secured her to a tree, walked back to his van to collect himself and make coffee, and when he returned, he said, Meredith told him: “I was afraid you weren’t coming back.”

He said he walked behind her and hit her several times with the handle from a car jack.

Gary said he couldn’t bring himself to kill Emerson’s dog. He also told investigators that the experience was “surreal.”

“It was hard,” Gary said.  “You gotta remember we had spent several good days together.”

“He genuinely, as much as he’s capable of doing so, liked Meredith,” Defense attorney Rob  McNeill said. “The way she fought back … I think he respected her.”

Gary told Rob he had to talk himself into killing Emerson.

“It was the only time I ever saw him demonstrate some regret,” he said. “And then he said something I’ll never forget: ‘In retrospect I guess I should’ve just robbed a bank.’”

Ella was found alive on January 4.  Gary was arrested on the same day.  A witness at a Chevron gas station called DeKalb police and stated that “the guy you are looking for is cleaning out his van.” The police quickly arrived on scene and were able to stop the accused before he could bleach the interior of the van. Crime scene analysts obtained blood evidence that was matched to Meredith’s DNA.

Prosecutors agreed to not go for the death penalty if Gary agreed to lead them to Meredith’s remains, which he did.

“He told us she was not buried,” GBI agent Cagle said. “She was under some leaves and brush. … He said he had washed her down with Clorox and water. I remember asking was she intact and he said she was not.”

On January 30, 2008, Gary pleaded guilty to the murder of Meredith. He was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility for parole in 30 years. 

He was later linked to and then charged with three additional murders: the October 2007 murders of elderly couple John and Irene Bryant in North Carolina, and the December 2007 murder of 46-year-old nurse Cheryl Dunlap in Florida. It has been speculated that Gary might also be responsible for the 1997 murder of Judy Smith. This is because Gary had left one of his victims in a similar condition near where Judy’s body was discovered. 

In 2011, Gary was tried for Cheryl’s murder and was sentenced to death. In 2012, he pleaded guilty to the kidnapping and murder of the Bryants, for which he was sentenced to life in prison.

Lauren Heike

Lauren Heike was a 29 year old female who went hiking earlier this year, on April 28 in Phoenix.  She had moved to the area from Kitsap, Washington and her apartment was near the trail where she liked to hike.

“She was beautiful inside and out,” Lauren’s mother Lana Heike, said at a press conference. “She was super funny … just a sweet child.”

Her friendly demeanor concerned her family, who said they warned her about being too trusting, her mother said, quickly adding, “We wouldn’t trade that personality for anything because that’s the person we loved.”

“She loved to exercise. She was walking and we know she was happy. She went out that morning on a beautiful day, she did what she does every day,” Lana told reporters.

One of Lauren’s friends called in a welfare check for her after she did not show up for work.

At around 11am on April 29, a passerby made a 911 call to report an injured person. The person was actually deceased.  On May 1, the police announced that the person was Lauren.

An autopsy determined that Lauren had been stabbed 15 times.   The stab wounds were to her upper body, with the deepest laceration being 3 inches deep. Evidence and Lauren’s personal belongings were found along a path running through a barbed wire fence to where she was found.  Lauren had defensive wounds and small abrasions that were likely from her running through a barbed wire fence.  Police have said that she likely fended off her attacker and attempted to escape before succumbing to her injuries.

Police collected CCTV from different cameras near the trail.  Lauren could be seen starting her walk, following minutes later by a person that they identified as the suspect.  

“Security cameras sparsely covered the trail itself,” police said. “No one was observed following [Heike] prior to entering this trail.”

Camera footage showed Lauren walking at a relaxed pace before leaving the camera’s view, documents said. Seconds later, the same camera showed the suspect walking out from behind nearby vegetation and sprinting in Lauren’s direction.

The suspect came back into the camera’s view seconds later and began sprinting away from the scene before turning around and trying to scale the barbed wire fence. After failing to do so, the suspect walked out of view to the west.

Phoenix police investigators said at the time that the attack appears to have been random and not targeted.  The suspect was described as standing between 5 feet, 8 inches and 6 feet, wearing dark clothing and carrying a backpack.

“The vicious attack on Ms. Lauren Heike is unconscionable,” said Phoenix police Lt. James Hester at the news conference.

After police released CCTV of the suspect, they zeroed in on a man named Zion William Teasley, aged 22.

He was identified as the suspect on surveillance footage by people who worked with him, court documents show. Others who knew him also said  Zion carried a pocket knife, the size of which is consistent with the weapon that killed Lauren.

On the morning of May 3, Zion had a scheduled meeting with his probation officer, who told police the headphones in photographs of the suspect looked like a pair that Zion had one at the meeting. The probation officer said the build and profile of the man in the video matched Zion.

Zion was taken into custody on May 4 at around 6:30 p.m. 

While being questioned by police, Zion said it was him in the CCTV.  He then recanted, saying he was unsure it was him in photographs provided, charging documents show.

He told investigators he grew up Christian and was struggling with his sexuality and worried about the “salvation of his soul due to his thoughts,” court documents detail. He also said he recognized Lauren from media reports on her killing and “stated he wanted to look like her,” charging documents added.

Zion told police that he could not recall if he ever met Lauren in person.  

Police asked Zion if he had intended on killing Lauren.  He replied, “I am definitely not the person who plans to kill another person,” adding, “If I was going to do something like that, it wouldn’t be premeditated.” 

When he was arrested, Zion was found to be in possession of a plane ticket to Detroit.  The flight was scheduled to leave later on the day that he was arrested. Prosecutors confirmed in a court appearance that he lived near the area where Lauren’s remains were found.

Zion had previous convictions and was out on probation at the time of the murder.  

He was convicted in 2021 of armed robbery with a deadly weapon, robbery and disorderly conduct.

Zion had recently been fired from his job for being aggressive with female employees and was suspected of stealing.

River Hubbel, a friend of Lauren’s, spoke to the media.  He said he spoke to her on the morning of April 28 before her hike. The pair had a ritual with another friend where they would ask one another what they were grateful for each morning.

“I had asked what we were all thankful for that day and she had specifically just said that she was so thankful to just wake up another day so positive and to be able to go get a coffee and go on a walk,” River said. 

Lauren’s boyfriend Carlos Anderson has also spoken to the media.

“You will probably never meet another girl like her,” said Carlos.

They had plans to meet Friday, April 28, the day Lauren was murdered.

“I texted her and said hey are you ready I’m gonna shower and what not before I come up there,” said Carlos.

He was getting off work when he reached out, but never got a response.

“I went to the gym and nothing ever felt right there was just something that was off.”

The latest legal update in this case seems to be from the end of May.  Zion’s attorney entered a not guilty plea on his behalf.  

The county attorney’s office said at the time that it was reviewing the case to determine if prosecutors will seek the death penalty.  His trial is currently scheduled for January 2024.



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