The official word on Regina (Rowe) Hicks' October 2001 death was drowning.
Sheriff's detectives and Lacella Holbrook, the victim's mother, have their theories of what led to the 23-year-old Willard woman being found in her car in a pond near Section Line Road 30.
What seems most telling is there were several bruises near Hicks' scalp, which weren't consistent with a vehicle crash.
Capt. Jamey Bracken was a detective sergeant when authorities recovered the woman's body in her white Chevrolet Camaro.
"She was placed there," Bracken said. "We believe she was dragged. ... I know it was a pretty tight timeline.
"And she was alive when she went into the water. We know that," he added.
Holbrook has a similar theory.
"She was knocked up side the head, dragged through the dirt (and) placed in the car," Hicks' mother said. "Her total side of her head was beat."
The state Highway Patrol was brought in to reconstruct the scene.
"There was no evidence of any crash," said Detective Sgt. Dane Howard, who now oversees the investigation. "There was a low impact into the water."
The investigators don't know, or wouldn't say, how the Camaro ended up in the pond. Howard called it "an important part of the puzzle," but wouldn't be more specific.
Holbrook said she believes someone, working with an accomplice, drove the car into the pond after her daughter was assaulted.
The overall depth of the pond is 25 feet. Hicks' car was found in "the upper third," Howard said.
Authorities removed Hicks' body from her car at the Willard Police Department sally port to maintain the "integrity of the evidence," Bracken said. "It was a more controlled environment than outside," he added.
Holbrook said she strongly believes Willard officers spoiled possible evidence such as footprints by walking near the pond before sheriff's deputies arrived. She thinks police should have roped off the scene and waited.
"It was out of their jurisdiction. They shouldn't have been out there," Holbrook said.
Deputies took a soil sample and sent it to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Bracken said deputies never got a confirmation that someone dragged Hicks into the car before it went into a pond.
It's impossible, he added, "that much sediment had settled on her clothes (just) being a passenger in a murky pond."
Several months afterward, an agent with the Ohio Bureau of Identification and Investigation was assigned to assist in re-evaluating the evidence and facts. Howard declined to share the results.
He said Hicks had been in the pond "the better part of four days" before being discovered. Bracken said the medical examiner never gave a definite answer as to how long she was there.
"She was seen late Thursday evening," he added, referring to Oct. 18, 2001.
Both Bracken and Howard declined to name a primary suspect or the person's motive in killing Hicks. Bracken said they ran a complete criminal history on all the known suspects, but he couldn't recall a history of violent assaults.
"The driver would be the person who killed her," Howard said. He declined to share the suspect's motive because "it would tell you what direction the investigation is heading."
Looking for closure
Howard believes Hicks' relatives would have wanted the crime solved before her stepfather, Lancan "Lance" Holbrook, died Feb. 6. He had battled small cell cancer for about 10 months.
In December, the Holbrooks offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the responsible individual(s). The couple released a statement at the time, saying that finding Hicks' killer and solving her suspected murder would help bring closure to the family.
"Regina was a loving mother of a 4-year-old son, Montana (now 10). We miss her more each day and her memory will live on with us," the Holbrooks wrote.
Lacella Holbrook said she thinks about her daughter all the time and goes to her grave site "every day now." She admitted to earlier avoiding going to the Ohio 99 cemetery by herself because she would get too emotional.
"She has paid a real price in the last several years," Howard said about Holbrook without elaborating.
Holbrook credits Lance, Hicks' stepfather, with being the force behind getting billboards posted on U.S. 224 in Willard. They remind residents to contact detectives if they have information about the unsolved case.
The first billboard went up in February. The advertisement reappeared in late September in the same place; the reward has increased to $50,000.
Holbrook has worked closely with Huron County Prosecutor Russell Leffler and the sheriff's office. Holbrook said she gets calls "all the time" and does her best doing her own follow-ups.
"I figure they have more cases than I've got. I've only got one," she said.
New London Police Chief Mark Holden, a Willard officer in 2001, wants to see the case solved. He recalled putting in "quite a few days" of work backtracking Hicks' whereabouts after she was reported missing.
"I hope the responsible party is caught sometime soon," Holden said.
Howard considers the Hicks investigation an active case.
"We feel strongly there are people in Willard who have information and if they come forward, we could close this case," the sheriff's detective said.
Anyone with tips is encouraged to call the Huron County Sheriff's Office at (419)663-2828.