Her jealous boyfriend, 19-year-old Brad Oborn, was the prime suspect on the morning of May 26, 1999, when Akron police found Hannah Hill's body in the trunk of her car.
Police were aware that Hannah's parents didn't approve of Oborn as her boyfriend.
But more than that, Oborn had a motive.
Friends had told police Oborn's actions toward her were abusive and controlling, that their relationship seemed to be ending and even Oborn admitted that he and Hannah were in a violent dispute shortly before she disappeared May 19.
Worse yet, he gave police two different accounts of when that dispute occurred.
But at some point, for some reason, police abruptly dropped Oborn as a suspect.
Likewise, they never explained their lack of interest in 20-year-old Ray K. Warters, another would-be suitor - a man who was said to have fought with Oborn over the 18-year-old Kenmore woman on the same evening she vanished.
Later that night, Warters reportedly relocated to somewhere in North Carolina.
But by the end of the same day Hannah's body was found, it was 20-year-old Denny Frederick Ross who would become the prime suspect.
Police needed to find her killer without delay.
Ross' Springfield Township apartment was within walking distance of where her body was found.
And Ross had no alibi.
Furthermore, police discovered he was harboring an explosive secret:
For a week he had kept his mouth shut about Hannah Hill's phone call to him on the night she died - not to mention the sexual encounter that followed.
It was not only Ross who was facing intense scrutiny.
At the time, Akron police themselves were in perhaps the most scandal-ridden period of the department's history.
And they did not need further embarrassment.
A deputy chief already had pleaded guilty to stealing money from the World Series of Golf; a captain had been convicted of murdering his wife; and the vice squad commander had resigned in disgrace, linked to a call-girl scandal.
Furthermore, in the same month Hannah Hill disappeared, then-Chief Edward Irvine was embroiled in a controversy over allegations that he had battered his wife.
So, on May 26, 1999, when Hannah Hill's body was finally found in the trunk of her car where it had been sitting for a week on a city street, Akron police once again found themselves involved in a public relations debacle.
Not only had a parking ticket been stuck on the windshield of the car - a car that displayed her name in two places - but irate Ellet residents were complaining to the media that police had ignored their attempts to tell them where it was.
When the magnitude of their blunder came into full focus on that May 26 morning, every available Akron detective was said to have been pressed into service.
To track down the killer, they said, they would need any help the public could provide because they had no suspects and few clues.
All they knew, said Maj. Paul Callahan, commander of the detective bureau, was the approximate time she left home.
But less than 12 hours after opening the trunk of Hannah Hill's car, police were parked on the doorstep of Denny Ross.
Trouble was not a total stranger to the Michigan native.
Four days after his 20th birthday, Denny Ross had pleaded guilty to trafficking cocaine.
It was his first and only criminal offense, according to police records, and yet there were traces of a lifestyle that suggested that up until then, he may have been lucky.
When he appeared for sentencing before Summit County Common Pleas Judge Jane Bond, his left arm was in a cast - mute confirmation of a fistfight with a friend three days earlier in which he broke his hand.
As for the drug charge itself, police said he had sold cocaine to one of their informants on two separate occasions in January.
But according to Ross, the informant also happened to be an ex-girlfriend who asked him to get the drugs for her.
He said he didn't know she was working for the police.
The total of the two sales - $525 - hardly qualified him as a cocaine kingpin, but his admission was enough to earn him the title of convicted drug dealer.
Beyond all that, though, Ross was known for his partying, which at times apparently became excessive.
So when faced with possible prison time on the drug charge, he admitted he had been addicted to marijuana and pledged to get alcohol and drug counseling.
The only employment record he listed was a job as pizza delivery boy in the summer of 1998.
But he intended to mend his ways, he claimed, evidenced by his getting a job with his father and no longer associating with some of his old friends.
Furthermore, he noted, he had responsibilities - every two weeks he was paying $150 in child support for a five-month-old son, Joseph.
The court records didn't identify the mother.
So, for his first offense, instead of jail time, Judge Bond imposed a more lenient punishment: two years' probation.
The sentence was handed down on May 17, 1999 - two days before Hannah Hill dropped out of sight.
Five times in the week that followed Hannah Hill's disappearance, Ross assured Jennifer Edwards - whom he viewed as Hannah's best friend - that Hannah hadn't come to his apartment on Wednesday, May 19, as Hannah had told him she would.
But on Wednesday, May 26 - when the discovery of her body dominated the local news and police phoned Ross to ask if he would agree to be interviewed about what he knew - it was time for him to change his story.
Her telephone records pointed police to Ross.
On the night she died, Hannah Hill had placed at least three calls from her parents' home - two to Oborn and one to Ross.
So, Ross, scarcely a week into his probation for trafficking cocaine, summoned his attorney, Don Varian, and the next layer of the story came to light - at least for those who were running the investigation.
Detective Sgts. Jerry Hughes and Tom Brown conducted what appeared to be a friendly, 15-minute, tape-recorded, information-gathering session during which no Miranda rights were mentioned.
Indeed, Hughes would later testify that at the time of the interview Oborn was still a suspect and Ross was not.
In the process of that interview, though, Ross revealed that indeed Hannah Hill had visited with him at his apartment late in the evening of Wednesday, May 19.
He guessed that she arrived around 10:30 p.m.
She had phoned him, he said, about 7:30 that night and at his invitation agreed to stop over for a visit and bring along her friend, Jennifer Edwards.
Ross told police Hannah had been in another fight with her boyfriend, Brad Oborn, "because he stole her beer" and she was "pretty ticked off at him, I guess."
But exactly when or where that dispute allegedly took place was left unanswered because neither Hughes nor Brown pursued it.
Later, when the autopsy revealed she was intoxicated at the time of her death, the question of when or where or with whom she had been drinking likewise went unanswered.
Ross told police he "used to hang out with Brad" - in fact, friends say Ross, Oborn and Hill used to room together.
The relationship of the three wasn't pursued either.
Edwards would later testify that the last time she spoke with Hannah Hill on May 19, she was not only upset about Oborn's treatment of her, but also because he was "back on drugs again."
The drug angle was likewise ignored.
Ross told Hughes and Brown that Hannah had told him that she and Oborn "were trying to work things out" but it was difficult because of the abusive relationship in which Oborn "constantly beat her, hit her."
According to Ross, Oborn was "constantly trying to control her, possessive wanting to know where she's at, won't let her go anywhere with her friends or anything like that."
When Hannah arrived at Ross' apartment that night, she came alone, according to Ross.
At some point that visit became more than a social call.
Ross admitted that he and Hannah "kissed and stuff like that."
Again, Ross never defined during the interview how far "stuff like that" had gone or what he meant by the phrase.
Again, the investigators never asked.
Yet he did deny having sexual intercourse with her.
According to Ross, she left his apartment around 1 or 1:30 a.m., saying she was tired, had to get some sleep and was either going home or to Brad Oborn's.
When asked, Ross was quick to advise the detectives that the man they should question was Oborn.
"Why would he do it?" Brown asked. "Do you know?"
"Jealousy," Ross answered. "Fear maybe that she's seeing somebody else I recall many occasions that he would have Hannah basically under control. She could not go anywhere. She could not talk to her friends. If she got out of line, he would smack her and beat her up."
It was then Sgt. Brown's turn to talk:
"Quite frankly, Denny," he said, "That's why I asked you, because you're really not telling me anything I haven't heard at this point."
Their relationship, Brown said, "has been described as abusive."
Sgt. Hughes then wondered aloud if there was any way Brad Oborn would have known that she was at Ross' apartment on the night she disappeared.
Did he get any hang-up phone calls or anything that might indicate he knew she was there?
But Ross said he wasn't sure.
"She talked to Brad before she came over," Ross said. "She told me she was gonna get ahold of Jen (Jennifer Edwards) and Brad kept paging her and that she had to call Brad back."
Less than seven hours after that May 26 interview, a swarm of Akron police would arrive at Ross' apartment in search of evidence that they, for some reason, believed would be there.
Somehow during those seven hours, boyfriend Brad Oborn had ceased to be a suspect.
By morning, Ross' apartment had been searched, the crime lab had gathered the evidence it wanted and Ross was arrested for her murder.
As police and prosecutors would later learn, however, the puzzle pieces of the murder mystery may have snapped together a little too easily.Ohio.com extra: Read the Akron Beacon Journal's 2001 eight-