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Published: Monday, 10/25/2010

Decades after Fulton County slaying, sister longs for justice

BY JANET ROMAKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

WAUSEON - It's been 25 years, but to Rachel Hill Barton, it seems like yesterday.

Her 14-year-old sister Lori Ann Hill disappeared after a Halloween party on Oct. 25, 1985.

Four days later, community residents were rattled when the teen's beaten body was found by a deer hunter in a wooded area in Fulton County, about 13 miles west of her Swanton-area home.

For Mrs. Barton, there has never been closure, never has been a day when she didn't miss her sister. Her fury is as raw and real today as it was 25 years ago when the Hill family learned Lori Ann had been slain.

Lori Ann Hill Lori Ann Hill
BLACK / BLADE Enlarge

Mrs. Barton of Wauseon isn't in much of a mood to observe the milestone, but she will attend a candlelight vigil at 7 p.m. Monday on the Fulton County Courthouse lawn in observance of the 25th anniversary of Lori's disappearance. She'll hug those who loved Lori, and she'll curse her sister's killer.

Walter Zimbeck, formerly of Maumee, was charged in July, 2009, with murder and aggravated murder in the teen's death, but a Fulton County Common Pleas judge dismissed charges this year, saying the case was too cold for justice.

Mr. Zimbeck, an ex-boyfriend of Miss Hill, was arrested at his home near Knoxville, Tenn., after an eight-month investigation by the Toledo-Lucas County cold-case unit and the Fulton County Sheriff's Office.

In 1985, Mr. Zimbeck was 18 years old, and Miss Hill's parents, now deceased, were unaware their 14-year-old daughter had briefly dated an older man.

Miss Hill - known as a spunky girl who got along well in school, had a lot of friends, and had a good relationship with her family - is believed to have left the party along South Munson Road in Swanton about 9 p.m. after a minor quarrel with a newer boyfriend. She was then picked up on Dodge Street and taken to the former Mr. G's Pizza on the village's Main Street. Miss Hill left the restaurant and was later seen crying while walking north on Main Street.

Walter Zimbeck Walter Zimbeck
NOT BLADE PHOTO Enlarge

The high school sophomore was last seen on South Berkey-Southern Road, about 100 yards from her home.

Scott Haselman, Fulton County prosecutor, declined to comment on the 25th anniversary of the teen's disappearance. He would say only that the "state has appealed the dismissal of the indictment," and that arguments have been heard in the 6th District Court of Appeals.

"We are awaiting the decision of the Court of Appeals," Mr. Haselman said.

Judge James Barber, who dismissed Mr. Zimbeck's indictment, said he could not comment because of the pending appeal.

Mrs. Barton is confident the Court of Appeals' decision, finally, will lead to justice for Lori Ann - and to a prison cell for Mr. Zimbeck.

She dreams of the day when the killer is finally in prison, "bunking with a Bubba." That, she said, would make her extremely happy.

Lori Ann Hill, a high school sophomore when she disappeared, was known as a spunky girl who did well in school, had a lot of friends, and had a good relationship with her family. Lori Ann Hill, a high school sophomore when she disappeared, was known as a spunky girl who did well in school, had a lot of friends, and had a good relationship with her family.
BLACK / BLADE Enlarge

For more than two decades, it's been difficult for Mrs. Barton to find happiness. "You would think after 25 years," she starts, and then sorrow stalls her words. "You would think you could go one day without the pain."

But no. "It never, ever goes away."

Monday night, close friends and relatives will gather for the memorial vigil to honor Lori, to remember her.

"It's for them. It's not for me," Mrs. Barton said. "I'd rather let the day go by and not think about it at all, but I will be there and I will stand proud for my family he killed."

Tom Bates of Delta, a minister who was Swanton police chief in 1985, will offer a prayer during the vigil.

At the Hill family's request 25 years ago, he took part in Lori's funeral, and then for several months helped them work through the grief process and the investigation process.

"It troubled them there was no suspect to stand for that act," he said, adding it has stuck in his mind just how difficult it has been for the Hills. People who experience such loss never recover from the emotional impact, he said.

Mr. Bates noted that Mrs. Barton has "kept alive the hope someone will be brought to judgment. She has committed herself so this is not forgotten until someone is brought to judgment."

Matter-of-factly, Mrs. Barton remarks: "I can't tell you what it has taken not to take the law into my own hands."

Not a threat, but a reflection of what 25 years of tear-stained torment can do.

In 1985, Mrs. Barton lost a part of herself. Because of Lori's death, Mrs. Barton's life was never the same. Nor was it the same for their parents, Mr. and Mrs. Roger Hill.

Mrs. Barton clearly blames Lori's killer for stealing years from the lives of her parents, who also were consumed by the slaying of their loved one.

Three adorable grandchildren are central figures in Mrs. Barton's family now. "They are the only thing that has kept me out of a mental institution."

She said it's sad to know 4-year-old granddaughter Zoe has heard so much talk about Lori's brutal death the last few months.

Zoe never met her aunt, but knows Lori, nonetheless, through photographs framed and memories shared. From time to time, Zoe looks closely at the captured-in-time images.

She says, in a heart-tugging whisper of a child, "I miss her."

Contact Janet Romaker at:

jromaker@theblade.com or

419-724-6006.



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