http://www.citizen-times.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090621/NEWS01/906210338Sketch may aid search of woman missing for 4 years
Jon Ostendorff - June 21, 2009 12:15 AM
BRYSON CITY - A private investigator looking for a woman who disappeared in Swain County four years ago has released an image of the man last seen with her.
Asheville-based investigator Steve Siske made the sketch public with the hopes of generating leads in the case.
Rossana Miliani was last seen Dec. 7, 2005, in Bryson City. The 26-year-old with bipolar disorder had told her family she was going hiking.
The State Bureau of Investigation is looking into whether her disappearance has ties to Gary Michael Hilton, who pleaded guilty to killing a Georgia hiker and is suspected in other slayings.
The missing woman's father said he believes the sketch could be Hilton.
"The picture kind of resembles him in a better time,"¯ said Anibal Miliani, whose family has spent the last four years looking for clues in Rossana's disappearance.
Hilton, a drifter who frequented state and national forest areas in the Southeast, is a suspect the murder of Western North Carolina hikers two years after Miliani disappeared.
Investigators in Transylvania County believe he killed Jack and Irene Bryant in October 2007.
Irene Bryant's body was found covered with leaves in the Pink Beds area of Pisgah National Forest, and her husband's skeletal remains were found months later off a U.S. Forest Service road in Macon County.
Someone used their ATM card in Ducktown, Tenn., after they disappeared.
Hilton pleaded guilty in January 2008 to bludgeoning hiker Meredith Emerson to death after he kidnapped her from a state park on New Year's Day that year. He had planned to get her bank card pass code and steal money from her accounts.
He is also a suspect in the slayings of two hikers in Florida.
Very little was know about the Miliani case until a store clerk called Siske after reading about it on the second anniversary of her disappearance.
The clerk told him Miliani came into her store that day with a white man she thought was about 60 years old. They bought a backpack, and Miliani seemed nervous, the store clerk said. The man said he was a preacher who traveled from campground to campground.
Siske asked fellow private investigator Hunter Glass, of Fayetteville, to interview the clerk and create a sketch of the man based on her memory. Glass is one of only three FBI-trained sketch artists in North Carolina.
"It had been some time, so we sat down, and we went all the way back to what was going on that day,"¯ he said. "I took her back to right before these people entered the store."
He produced a black-and-white sketch. But then, in what he says is a first in forensic artistry, he had a friend at a forensic computer company in Garner enhance the sketch to add color and dimension.
Siske said he's not sure whether the man in the image is Hilton. He would have been two years younger than his mug shot from the Emerson case. He wants people who see the image to pay attention to the man's graying hair near his temples. He said the store clerk remembered that detail vividly.
Rossana's father said the ordeal has been hard on his family.
"It has been an extremely life-changing experience," he said. "If somebody passed on, if somebody dies, you bury the body and have some closure. But right now we just don't know."
To helpIf you have information about Rossana Miliani or the sketch of the man last seen with her, contact the Asheville Police Department at (828) 259-5910.
Her family is offering a $5,000 reward.