August 24—An out-of-state Vietnam veteran walking in the woods behind the Lake Lanier Club Apartments, August 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 School student who lived in the complex with her mother. The man identified Truelove, 16, from a missing person’s report.
She had been stabbed to death.
Now, for the first time, Hall County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Dan Franklin told The Times that there is a suspect, but he doesn’t think there is enough evidence for a conviction.
“We are confident that we know who is responsible for her death,” Franklin said.
“We had a suspect from the beginning,” he told the Times. “Our issue is that we have a lack of evidence to link this person to the crime. … It’s not that we have zero evidence, but we just didn’t have enough.”
While Franklin did not provide many details, he did say that this is a male suspect that Hannah knew before she died. The man was interviewed twice by law enforcement and 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.
He was reported missing
Hannah’s mother, Mona Harris, reported her missing at 9.30pm on 23 August 2012.
“Hannah would leave her stuff at the apartment after school and go out and do what she does, which is hang out with her friends in this grassy area up here,” Franklin said, standing in the ravine. where Hannah was found. .
Hannah wasn’t always good at going to school and her mother didn’t always know where she was, records show.
The Department of Family and Children Services had an open case at the time involving Truelove and her family. Hannah had been experiencing truancy issues, and DFCS had investigated her claims of fights with her mother that were related to Harris’ drinking, an issue the agency had identified as a risk at home due to repeated drunken driving incidents, according to archives.
Just two days before her disappearance, a case worker had tried to visit Hannah at home, but Harris could not find her, according to a DFCS report.
However, an investigator met with the 16-year-old on the day she disappeared. According to a DFCS report, a case manager met with Truelove at the school on Aug. 23 and said the girl “seemed to be fine.”
“They talked about raising her math grade so she could go into 11th grade math,” according to the report.
Hannah was last seen at the apartments off 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 at the apartment complex.
Wanting to go for walks in the woods, the man had called the apartment management that week about a manhole cover that was missing from where the woods started.
On August 24, 2012, the man decided to walk the ridge.
“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 leading to where Truelove was found.
From the spot, one can barely make out the balcony of some 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 in to help.
Franklin praised the city police’s quick response to the missing person’s aspect, with officers shouting Hannah’s name on a nearby dock and waking up friends in the apartments.
Franklin said there is a line cutting through the woods that separates the city from the county, and Truelove found himself just outside the line, leaving the case in the county’s hands.
As Franklin reached the bottom of the hill, he told the Times that he was pretty sure he was killed where he was found. The area is surrounded by trees and secluded, but the apartments are so densely populated that someone would probably have seen or heard something.
A witness reported seeing her sitting early that Thursday night on a wooden ladder that leads down to the top of the trail.
“I think he was driven here or willingly came with the suspect,” Franklin said.
Although the tent was dry and overgrown with vegetation, a heavy rain turned it into a fast-moving stream.
Franklin said it rained several inches in the hours from Thursday night to Friday morning, and Truelove was “step-first in fast-moving water for at least an hour.”
One of her flip flops was carried down a short distance and caught in a crook of some branches.
“Her body would have been completely submerged in running water,” Franklin said, adding that her hair had been swept away.
That running water washed away many of the potential leads in the case, Franklin said.
That lack of evidence prevented investigators from charging the suspect in Truelove’s death.
Franklin hopes that advances in technology will change that.
Editor’s note: Part two of this story about the Hannah Truelove investigation will run on August 26.