ELK POINT, S.D. (AP) — Investigators found skeletal remains inside an old Studebaker believed to be tied to the 1971 disappearance of two 17-year-old girls, authorities in South Dakota said Tuesday.
Crews on Tuesday afternoon lifted the rusted, mangled hulk from an embankment in Brule Creek near Elk Point, which isn't far from the South Dakota town of Vermillion where Cheryl Miller and Pamella Jackson were from.
Miller and Jackson were last seen May 29, 1971, driving a beige 1960 Studebaker Lark on their way to a party. A fisherman who remembered the 42-year-old case called authorities after noticing one of the car's wheels sticking out of the creek.
Some potential pieces of evidence were taken from the site and will be processed, South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley, Union County Sheriff Dan Limoges and Union County States Attorney Jerry Miller said in a news release. They said no other information will be released until an autopsy is complete and more testing is done on the items, and the families are told of the results.
Miller's family released a statement Tuesday thanking the angler who found the car and law enforcement officials for their work on the case. "We're hoping this leads to our much desired and overdue closure," it read.
High spring water levels followed by a drought this summer helped reveal the old car. Authorities recovered a Studebaker hubcap and a license plate matching the car once owned by Miller's grandfather.
The disappearance of the Vermillion High School juniors was one of the initial investigations of South Dakota's cold case unit. The unit was formed in June 2004 to focus on unsolved suspicious deaths and disappearances; there's no time limit on filing criminal charges in homicide cases.
A September 2004 search of a Union County farm turned up bones, clothing, a purse, photographs, newspaper articles and other items, but not the car. Authorities have not ever said if the bones recovered were the girls' — or even whether they were human remains.
In a warrant authorizing the search, authorities said that David Lykken, who lived at the farm in 1971 and was a classmate of the girls, might have been involved in the disappearance of Miller and Jackson as well as three other unnamed people. Lykken, 59, is prison serving an unrelated 227-year sentence for rape and kidnapping.
In July 2007, a Union County grand jury indicted Lykken on two counts of premeditated murder, two counts of felony murder and two counts of murder in the disappearance of Miller and Jackson. But state prosecutors dropped all six murder charges after discovering a prison snitch made up a supposed admission.