Gregory Hess and Tamara Cuzzocrea aren't the first parents to be frustrated by efforts to try to tame their strong-willed teenage daughter, and they won't be the last.

But their ordeal highlights the worst that can happen in the saga of teenage angst and the age-old battle of teen versus parent.

Hess and Cuzzocrea's 17-year-old daughter, Illeana Hess, turned up dead Jan. 21 in a wooded area in Berkeley, 22 days after she was last seen alive leaving her father's house on Morris Boulevard in Toms River.

Authorities said it appeared her body had been dumped there by someone and covered with debris to mask it, although they do not yet know who was responsible.

An autopsy revealed no signs of trauma, so authorities are awaiting the results of toxicological tests to determine whether drugs or alcohol were present in her system and caused her death.

Illeana left to go to a New Year's Eve party, said Gregory Hess, who is divorced from Cuzzocrea. When Illeana did not come home that night, it wasn't the first time she had done that.

Cuzzocrea said Illeana often stayed over at friends' houses without first calling home to say she wouldn't be home. She once stayed at a friend's house in New York without telling anyone, she recalled.

"She'd end up coming back a few days later," Cuzzocrea said.

Illeana habitually cut classes at Toms River High School South, so much so that she was supervised by a probation officer for truancy, said Christopher Cuzzocrea, Illeana's stepfather.

Upset by the truancy, her parents had her transferred to High School East and would drive her there each morning, they said. Illeana would sneak out anyway to nearby woods, they said.

About a year and a half to two years ago, Illeana stopped going to school altogether, according to her family. She wouldn't be reined in.

It wasn't unusual for Illeana to come home at 3 in the morning, her mother said. She said she sent Illeana to live with her father because the hours that she was coming and going were disrupting the life of her younger sister.

Illeana was getting in with a different clique, Christopher Cuzzocrea said.

"She got further away from who she was," he said.

"She trusted people who didn't care," Tamara Cuzzocrea said.

"Friends who will dump you and cover your body with garbage," Christopher Cuzzocrea said.

Edward R. O'Keefe, a friend of Illeana's from Toms River, said he had spent many hours with Illeana driving around and listening to gangster rap. O'Keefe said Illeana got in with a wrong crowd and was using hard drugs.

O'Keefe took Illeana to job interviews, but she didn't get any of the jobs, and to apply for classes to get her equivalency diploma, but she didn't follow through on that, either.

"I got my GED," O'Keefe said. "She had her own priorities — having a good time. It wasn't such a bad thing, except she got in with the wrong people.

"I stopped hanging out with her for awhile, trying to snap her out of it," he said.

Meanwhile, some of the friends she was keeping company with said it wasn't unusual for teenagers to party — drink, smoke marijuana and cigarettes and make bonfires — in the very woods where Illeana's body was found.

"There were occasionally people who had other drugs, but mostly it was drinking and smoking," said Dan Harrington, 19, of Toms River.

"I never saw her in the woods," Harrington said of Illeana, although he did say she experimented with drugs.

"She was a free person," Harrington said of Illeana. "She wanted to have fun. She wasn't a bad person. She never did anything to harm anyone.

"Since you drop out, you have that sense of freedom," Harrington said. "She just didn't want to go home."

Another friend, Rina Non, 20, of Toms River, met Illeana in a theater class at High School East, and the pair immediately became friends.

Harrington said he, Non and Illeana were part of a group of misfits that would hang around with each other.

Non said she went with Illeana to get some of her first body piercings.

"I think she had some darkness," Non said. "She just wanted to be loved and just get the hell out of here. I don't know what it was."

Illeana's mother said her daughter had talked about going to California to make a new life for herself. When she didn't come home on New Year's Eve, she thought maybe Illeana was en route to California and would call when she got there.

When she didn't come home, Tamara Cuzzocrea said she and her ex-husband drove around looking for Illeana, but didn't immediately go to the police because she had stayed out in the past, and they didn't think the police would take the matter seriously.

But they didn't find her, or anyone else who had seen her. Then, on Jan. 22, the bad news came.

"We knew this would happen. We just hoped it never would," said Christopher Cuzzocrea.

"It's a tragic ending to a beautiful girl's life," Tamara Cuzzocrea said.

"She was multidimensional, free-spirited," she said of her daughter. "She was happy, smiling. I can't find a picture of her without a smile. She was just a happy-go-lucky girl following her own drumbeat. . . . She just wanted a new life with some new people, and she didn't get that chance."