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18
Sep

Oklahoma deputies pull bodies from lake: may date to "60s 1970 disappearances

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Oklahoma deputies pull bodies from lake; may date to '60s, 1970 disappearances

By Michael Martinez. Jason Morris and Michael Pearson, CNN
updated 6:39 PM EDT, Wed September 18, 2013
 Custer County sheriff's deputies found the cars submerged in Foss Lake while using Oklahoma Highway Patrol sonar equipment for an unrelated purpose on Tuesday, September 17. The Oklahoma State Medical Examiner's Office says authorities have recovered skeletal remains of multiple bodies in the Oklahoma lake where the cars were recovered.Custer County sheriff's deputies found the cars submerged in Foss Lake while using Oklahoma Highway Patrol sonar equipment for an unrelated purpose on Tuesday, September 17. The Oklahoma State Medical Examiner's Office says authorities have recovered skeletal remains of multiple bodies in the Oklahoma lake where the cars were recovered.
 
Foss Lake, Oklahoma (CNN) -- It began as routine police training with new sonar equipment on an Oklahoma lake. But what highway patrolmen accidentally found from their boat was macabre.

It was a car. And there were bones and skulls inside.

Then, equally surprising, they found another car. And it had bones inside it, too.

The two vehicles -- rusted and caked with mud, of 1950s and 1960s vintage -- were carrying as many as six bodies.

The discoveries Tuesday have residents near Foss Lake, a reservoir about 150 miles west of Oklahoma City, wondering whether two mysteries -- involving disappearances that the town of Sayre never forgot -- can finally be put to rest.

Investigators say they believe one car may have belonged to a teenager who disappeared with two friends in 1970, and the other car could be linked to the disappearance of a man in the early 1960s whom a federal official says was with a sibling and a friend, officials told CNN and its affiliates KFOR and KOCO.

So much time has passed in the two cases that the son of one missing person is now 85 years old, fighting off dementia.

Young motorist was supposed to go to football game

Custer County Sheriff Bruce Peoples told KOCO on Tuesday that one of the cars, a 1969 Chevrolet Camaro, may have belonged to 16-year-old Jimmy Williams, a Sayre teenager who disappeared in 1970 with two friends: Thomas Rios and Leah Johnson, both 18.

Rios had just moved to Sayre from Oklahoma City with his mother and stepfather about four months before his disappearance, the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System website said.

The three teenagers went missing the night of November 20, 1970, when they went for a ride around Sayre in Williams' blue Camaro with a white top, according to the Doe Network, a volunteer organization helping law enforcement in solving cold cases.

Williams was supposed to be going to a football game in Elk City, but he may have instead gone hunting on a road called Turkey Creek with Rios and Johnson, the Doe Network website said. The website includes photos of the Camaro and cites Williams' family as its source of information.

The three teens never returned home. The car was never found, and its vehicle identification number never surfaced on any databases. Williams' Social Security number was never used, the Doe Network said.

Sayre residents were horrified after the disappearances, and held a candlelight vigil for the teens as recently as four years ago, KFOR reported.

Police Chief Ronnie Harrold told CNN that local residents have been making up their own theories about what became of the three teens for the 26 years he's been there.

A grandfather disappears and leaves 'no trace at all'

Debbie McManamman said she believes the older car, which appears to be a 1950s-era Chevrolet, contains the remains of her grandfather, John Alva Porter, KFOR reported. CNN could not reach Peoples for comment.

Porter, then 69. was traveling in a green 1953 Chevy with a sibling, Alrie Porter, and friend Nora Marie Duncan, 58, on April 8, 1969, when they all went missing, said Mike Nance, regional system administrator for the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.

"We never gave up, we always wanted some clue that somebody knew something," McManamman told the station.

"It's been very traumatic -- I can remember my dad having dreams at night and getting in the car as soon as he was off from his day job, taking my mom, and they would look and look and look -- any trace," McManamman said.

"I mean, he was just gone, " she continued. "No trace at all. His money was in the bank, his house was intact and he was gone. So over 40 years we've been looking for him.

"It's just a lot of mystery," she said.

At the lake, Ervie Porter, the son of missing John Alva Porter, watched as investigators crawled around the cars. Now 85, the son suffers dementia and told KFOR that seeing what could be his father's car didn't conjure up clues about his disappearance.

"I just appreciate everything everybody has done to help," Ervie Porter said.

Identification of remains will take time

After the two cars were pulled out, dive teams with the Oklahoma Highway Patrol scoured the lake bottom again.

"The divers then went back in the water and searched around," said spokeswoman Betsy Randolph, "and found a skull."

That skull is believed to belong to one of the six missing persons.

On Wednesday, investigators had recovered most of the remains from one vehicle and were expected to start working on the second vehicle, the Custer County sheriff's office said.

The Oklahoma chief medical examiner's office will examine the remains once they are removed from the vehicles and "will possibly try to match DNA of those remains with known surviving family members," the sheriff's statement said.

"There has been good response from the public in regard to this investigation which will allow for a good start for DNA testing," the sheriff's office said.

The remains will be first evaluated by using any identification cards, jewelry and teeth found on the bodies, said Chief Medical Examiner Eric Pfeifer.

Authorities cautioned Wednesday, however, that positive identification could take years. The state anthropologist, Angela Berg, will examine the remains.

"Scientific identification of these remains will be attempted using anthropological and if necessary, forensic pathological methods," Chief Administrative Officer Amy Elliott said in a written statement. "Depending on the features of these remains and their state of preservation, identification can take anywhere from days to years. In some cases, if the DNA is degraded, positive identification using scientific means may not be possible.

"This is a very detailed and meticulous process that may take some time," Elliott said.

Peoples told KOCO that he hoped the discoveries could help put families at ease about what happened to their loved ones so many years ago.

"It has real importance to the families to determine, so they can have closure and know what happened to their families and have remains and to go on with life now," he said.

Last December, state anthropologist Berg coincidentally began looking into the cold case of the Porters and Duncan and then contacted Nance after she discovered that another cold case existed about a second vehicle with three missing teens in the same area, Nance told CNN.

When authorities discovered the two cars and remains of six people, Berg called Nance for information on the six missing persons, which the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System maintains, he said.

NAMUS recently coordinated with law agencies the collection of DNA from the family of Duncan, the woman who went missing along with the Porters, and the federal agency posted her name on its website, Nance said.

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