Lori Ann Hill Vanished in 1985, Along with the Identity of Her Killer
She stopped at a pizza parlor where she made a phone call, and was last spotted around 9 p.m. that night -- walking alone, in tears, toward her home. She was never seen alive again.
Classmates and friends joined the Air National Guard in search of the missing girl.
"I'm very worried," Walter Zimbeck told WNWO-TV at the time. A member of the frantic search party, Zimbeck had dated Hill in the past. "This is something that [Lori] wouldn't do at all," he said. "I just don't know what to say."
A former girlfriend claimed Walter Zimbeck kept a shrine to Hill in his bedroom.
Four days after her disappearance, Hill's body -- nude, except for one sock -- was found by a hunter in a wooded area 15 miles away. Authorities ruled she had been raped, then beaten to death with a metal object.
In the months that followed, investigations by police and multiple sheriff's departments turned up no suspects. The quest for Hill's killer eventually went cold.
Through the years, the girl's family cobbled together a reward fund and continued their quest for justice through appearances on national television, their every move haunted by the mystery surrounding the murder.
Though Hill's parents had died some time before, her sister, Rachel Hill Barton, learned in 2008 about federal grants available to rekindle cold cases. At her urging, Toledo police revived the hunt along with local sheriff's deputies.
Eight months later, they announced they had their man: Walter Zimbeck was arrested in July 2009 at his home in Tennessee and charged with aggravated murder.
Though labeled a person of interest at the time of Hill's death, Zimbeck passed a polygraph test in 1985 and faced no further inquiry. After his arrest, a former girlfriend revealed that he had kept a small shrine to Hill in his bedroom, though she didn't believe he was capable of murder.
With Zimbeck jailed in anticipation of his February trial, defense lawyers argued that he had no motive for the crime and that numerous witnesses had stood by his alibi. Perhaps more telling: Male DNA evidence obtained from Hill's genitals were not a match to Zimbeck.
Then the Toledo Blade reported in early November that Zimbeck had confessed to Hill's murder to a fellow inmate. A letter to prosecutors claimed Zimbeck admitted to having beaten Hill over their breakup, and offered names of people who had lied to cover-up the crime.
Defense attorneys countered that the jailhouse informant lied about the confession in hopes of earning an early release. At the very least, it seemed, the prosecution had a damning new angle of attack.
But in early January, as both sides prepared for trial, the judge who had heard preliminary hearings dropped a bombshell of his own: a motion to dismiss the case.
Judge James Barber acknowledged that his recommendation was virtually unheard-of, but claimed the circumstances warranted it.
"There was, and continues to be, no physical evidence in the case linking Mr. Zimbeck to the crime," Barber ruled. Too many years had passed, he said, leaving only faded or nonexistent memories from key witnesses, some of whom have died over the years.
Despite an appeal, Zimbeck is scheduled to be freed on January 15. The quest for Lori Hill's killer, meanwhile, has settled back into another long, cold winter.
If you have information about the disappearance of Lori Ann Hill or her possible killer, please contact the Toledo Police at 419-245-3246.
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