A decade after 16-year-old Hannah Truelove was found slain in the woods by her apartment, her killer remains on the loose, and still little is known about her life and what happened in the days leading up to her death.
For the first time, her father, Jeff Truelove, has spoken in depth publicly about his daughter and her death.
A bout of colon cancer, chemotherapy and some time spent in a coma have not been kind to his memory, but there are some things he will never forget.
He recounted the last moments he spent with his daughter.
Hannah Truelove: 10 years later
This is part 2 of a three-part series on the death of Gainesville High student Hannah Truelove.
Part 1: ‘We know who is responsible’: On 10th anniversary of Hannah Truelove's death, a suspect but little evidence
Part 3: ‘We’ll get there one day’: Investigator in Truelove case remains persistent 10 years later
It was Sunday, Aug. 20, 2012, four days before her body was found. He had given her three $100 bills to spend on back-to-school clothes at an outlet mall in Commerce.
“I let her go in there by herself and do her shopping,” said Truelove, who lives in Pendergrass. “She loved that.”
Their car — a BMW that was meant to be Hannah’s once she could drive — overheated in the parking lot, and Jeff’s longtime roommate, GiGi Griggs, brought them water to cool it down.
Afterward, Jeff and Hannah had dinner at a Mexican restaurant.
“She had a big thing of fajitas,” he said. “She could out-eat me any day.”
He said he dropped Hannah off at her mother’s at Lake Lanier Club Apartments in Gainesville around 7 p.m.
That was the last time he saw his daughter.
“I went by Thursday to see if she wanted to come on back. I was going to take her to get something to eat,” he said. “I blew the horn, went up to the door. ... She wasn’t there.”
Around 9:30 p.m. that day, Hannah’s mother, Mona Harris, reported her missing. Hannah was found dead around 7:30 p.m. Friday. She had been stabbed multiple times.
Jeff Truelove remembers his daughter as a shy, sweet and innocent girl who had only a couple of close friends and didn’t go out much.
Hannah wanted to be a veterinarian, he said. She loved cats and adored their blonde Yorkshire terrier named Jake. Tall and slender, standing at around 5 foot, 11 inches, she also had dreams of becoming a model.
“She was daddy’s little girl,” he said. “She loved helping me out in the shop. I worked from home. I had my garage at the house. I’m third generation (auto body mechanic). I was afraid she was going to be fourth generation. But she loved helping me out, and I loved her helping me. She knew all her tools.”
He recalled discovering a hidden talent of Hannah’s when she was about 15 years old. She thought everyone had left the house, he said, and she began singing in her room.
“All the sudden she starts singing, and I’m like blown away,” he said, his voice breaking. “I know I’m her dad and all ... but, no, she had the voice of an angel. She could hit them high notes.”
Hannah was singing Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You.”
“Every time I hear it, it brings me to tears,” he said.
“I made sure she got pretty much close to the end, and then she saw me,” he said. “I went, ‘God, honey, why didn’t you tell me you could sing?’”
“I can’t sing. I can’t sing,” she said.
Hannah’s parents separated when she was 7 years old, and records from the Division of Family and Children Services suggest she had a troubled homelife.
Hannah stayed at her mother’s apartment much of the time, and DFCS records suggest they had a strained relationship related to her mother’s drinking. Her mother, Mona Harris, had been involved in several drunk driving incidents, and Hannah had been placed on probation for truancy in February 2011.
On the day of Hannah’s disappearance, Aug. 23, 2012, a social services case manager visited Hannah at Gainesville High School.
“During the visit Hannah appeared to be fine,” the DFCS report says. “They talked about getting her math grade up so that she could go into 11th grade math. Hannah said that she and her mom had been doing fine and that her mom had not been drinking.”
In the years after Hannah’s disappearance, Harris stayed in touch with Hall County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Dan Franklin, hoping for a break in the case, but Harris died at 56 on Aug. 9, 2020.
Hannah’s father is still waiting for closure.
“It's been 10 years now this month, and still nobody's been charged,” he said. “It's kind of like frozen, waiting on somebody to make a move.”
Franklin said closing the case likely hinges on an improvement in DNA technology or a confession from Hannah’s killer.
“Is that person ever going to develop a conscience and be willing to come forward and admit responsibility?” Franklin said. “That’s kind of where we’re at.”
Franklin said he is “100%” certain he knows who her killer is but feels the evidence isn’t quite strong enough for a conviction.
“It’s hard to explain to a family why it’s a good idea to wait,” he said. “We can hurry up and make an arrest based on what we believe, then we go to trial and lose it, then that person’s forever walking the streets, or we can build a strong case. ... That way when I finally am ready to move forward and get the person responsible behind bars, then it’s a case that will stick and they will be held accountable.”
Jeff Truelove hopes Hannah’s killer, and anyone else with knowledge of his daughter’s murder, will come forward, if only to relieve their own guilt.
“I know it’s got to weigh heavy on them, on whoever knows what’s going on,” he said.