OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Human remains recovered last year from a car that was submerged in a western Oklahoma lake and was believed to have been missing since 1969 showed that the person likely died from drowning, according to an autopsy report.
The remains were recovered last September along with those of two other people after troopers testing sonar equipment detected them near a boat ramp at Foss Lake. Police believe the discovery of the 1950s Chevrolet car solves a missing persons case: The car is thought to have carried a Canute woman plus two men from Elk City and Sayre to their deaths.
The report from the Oklahoma Office of the Chief Medical Examiner examined the remains of one person. The report said that based on the lack of trauma to the remains, the minimal amount of damage to the car and the location where it was recovered, the probable cause of death is drowning. At this time, the report said, the manner of death appears to be accidental.
The report did not give a name for the individual.
It's unclear when the other reports will be released. Amy Elliott, spokeswoman for the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, did not return a phone message and emails seeking comment.
The report said 105 bones were recovered as well as clothing and personal effects, including a coin purse, a toothpick and a glass bottle with the word "Listerine."
Custer County Sheriff Bruce Peoples said Thursday that authorities believe the car had engine problems.
"We speculate they either just drove down the ramp and entered the lake or they were trying to restart the car by running it down the lake. There's really no way to determine that," said Peoples, who first heard stories and rumors about the missing vehicle when he started as a state trooper in the area in the 1970s.
Jo Irick's mother, Nora Duncan, is among the three who police believe were in the car, along with Cleburn Hammock and John Alva Porter.
Irick, who is 84 and lives in Joplin, Missouri, said she is in regular contact with the Medical Examiner's Office, even though DNA has not conclusively confirmed the remains are her mother's.
Irick said it was a "relief" when she was first told that the recovered car could solve the mystery of her mother's disappearance. Duncan was 58 when she vanished. In January, Irick purchased and had installed a tombstone for her mom in Canute.
Now, Irick is just waiting for the remains to give her mom a proper burial.
"One of these days it will be completed and I can really rest at ease," Irick said by phone from Joplin.
A second car, a 1969 Camaro, was also found in the lake last year. Both were submerged in about 12 feet of water and were only about 50 feet from the end of a boat ramp near a marina.
The 1969 Camaro is believed to have contained the remains of three teens: Thomas Michael Rios, Jimmy Williams and Leah Johnson. The teenagers vanished along with Williams' 1969 Camaro after leaving for a football game on Nov. 20, 1970.
Sisters of Rios told The Associated Press last fall that after their brother disappeared, their parents called anyone they could think of, desperate for information on the whereabouts of their son.
"Everything stopped for us when that happened," said sister Amanda Gusman, who was 16 when her brother vanished.
A similar mystery has been solved in South Dakota. Last September a car was discovered upside-down in a creek with remains inside. In April, the state's attorney general announced that the remains belonged to two 17-year-old girls who had gone missing in 1971 on their way to a party.