An out-of-state Vietnam veteran walking in the woods behind the Lake Lanier Club Apartments Aug. 24, 2012, spotted what he thought was a mannequin down in a ravine.
As he got closer, he discovered it was the body of Hannah Truelove, a Gainesville High student who lived in the complex with her mother. The man recognized Truelove, 16, from a missing person report.
She had been fatally stabbed.
Hannah Truelove: 10 years later
This is part 1 of a three-part series on the death of Gainesville High student Hannah Truelove.
Part 2: ‘She had the voice of an angel’: Hannah Truelove’s father speaks about the last time he saw his daughter
Part 3: ‘We’ll get there one day’: Investigator in Truelove case remains persistent 10 years later
Now, for the first time, Hall County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Dan Franklin told The Times that there is a suspect, but he feels there is not enough evidence for a conviction.
“We’re confident we know who is responsible for her death,” Franklin said.
“We’ve had a suspect since the beginning,” he told The Times. “Our issue is that we have a lack of evidence to tie that person to the crime. … It’s not to say that we have zero evidence, but we just didn’t have enough.”
Though Franklin did not give many details, he said it is a male suspect who Hannah knew before she died. The man has been interviewed twice by law enforcement and has maintained his innocence throughout, Franklin said.
On the 10th anniversary of Truelove’s death, The Times spoke with the investigator about where the case stands.
Hannah’s mother, Mona Harris, reported her missing at 9:30 p.m. Aug. 23, 2012.
“Hannah would drop her stuff off in the apartment after school and come out and do what she was doing, which is hang out with her friends in this grassy area up here,” Franklin said, as he stood in the ravine where Hannah was found.
Hannah had not always been good about going to school, and her mother didn’t always know where she was, records show.
The Division of Family and Children Services had an open case at the time involving Truelove and her family. Hannah had been in trouble for truancy, and DFCS had investigated her claims of altercations with her mother related to Harris’ drinking, an issue the agency had identified as a risk in the home due to repeated incidents of drunk driving, records show.
Just two days prior to her disappearance, a case manager had attempted to visit Hannah at home, but Harris couldn’t find her, according to a DFCS report.
But an investigator did meet with the 16-year-old the day she disappeared. According to a DFCS report, a case manager met with Truelove at school that Aug. 23 and said the girl “appeared to be fine.”
“They talked about getting her math grade up so that she could go into 11th grade math,” according to the report.
Hannah was last seen at the apartments off of Dawsonville Highway, now known as MAA Lake Lanier, shortly after 7 p.m.
Lack of evidence
The man who found Truelove was visiting his daughter in the apartment complex.
Liking to take walks in the woods, the man had called apartment management that week about a manhole cover that was missing where the woods begin.
On Aug. 24, 2012, the man decided to walk down the ridgeline.
“The main reason he was walking is to see if the manhole cover had been replaced,” Franklin said.
A decade later, Franklin walked down the steep hill that leads to where Truelove was found.
From the spot, one can barely make out the balcony of certain apartments through the trees.
The city of Gainesville handled the missing person case and initially responded to the scene. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation was also called to assist.
Franklin lauded the city police’s quick response on the missing person aspect, with officers calling out Hannah’s name at a nearby dock and waking friends up in the apartments.
Franklin said there is a line that cuts through the woods that delineates the city from the county, and Truelove was found just outside the line, putting the case in the county’s hands.
As Franklin reached the bottom of the hill, he told The Times he is fairly confident that she was killed at the spot where she was found. The area is surrounded by trees and secluded, but the apartments are so densely populated that someone would have likely seen or heard something.
A witness reported seeing her sitting early that Thursday evening on a wooden staircase that leads down to the trailhead.
“I think she was led here or came willingly with the suspect,” Franklin said.
Though the scene was dry and had grown vegetation, a heavy rain turned it into a fast moving creek.
Franklin said it rained a few inches in the hours between Thursday night into Friday morning, and Truelove was “feet first into swift-moving water for at least an hour.”
One of her flipflops was carried downstream a short distance and caught in a crook of some branches.
“Her body would have been completely submerged in running water,” said Franklin, adding that her hair was swept back.
That running water washed away a lot of the possible evidence in the case, Franklin said.
That lack of evidence has prevented investigators from charging the suspect in Truelove’s death.
Franklin hopes advances in technology will change that.