Max Werenka peered into the depths of Canada’s Griffin Lake. From his perch on a paddle board, the 13-year-old could just make out the outline of a large rectangular object resting about 20 feet below the water’s surface.
The Canadian teen immediately deduced that the sun was reflecting off part of an exhaust pipe — he was staring at the underside of a submerged car.
Now, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police say Max’s find was the key to figuring out what happened to a woman who vanished 27 years ago, a missing-persons case that many feared would never be solved.
“The RCMP will probably be looking at this guy down the road for potential employment,” Cpl. Thomas Blakney told CTV News. “Good detective work on his part.”
It was a sunny August day when guests staying in the lakeside cabins owned by the Werenka family called the teenager down to the water, his mother, Nancy Werenka, told The Post. The visitors had been exploring near the middle of the lake when they spotted a shiny object in the water and wanted Max to come take a look, Werenka said.
Once Max and the group determined they had found the sunken car, they returned to the cabins and started combing the Internet for information, Werenka said. The search revealed that four people were rescued in 2009 after their car went into the lake, which is bordered by a portion of the Trans-Canada Highway that runs through the mountains of southeastern British Columbia.
“At that point in time, we just kind of assumed that this car had been remaining from that 2009 rescue,” she said. “We didn’t call it in. … We didn’t really think much of it.”
That all changed the next day when an RCMP officer from the nearby city of Revelstoke came to the lake for a picnic with his relatives, Werenka said.
“We just mentioned to that officer that there was a vehicle in the lake and we couldn’t believe that it wasn’t retrieved from the original rescue,” she said. “He said to us, 'Well, no actually, pretty sure that vehicle was retrieved out of the lake, so we need to investigate this further.’ ”
Soon after, Werenka said a couple of Mounties were dispatched to the property and Max led them to a spot about 10 feet away from the part of the lake’s western shore that hugs the highway. The water conditions, however, made it difficult to see the car from the surface, so Max grabbed his GoPro, his mother said. Holding the waterproof camera, the teen dove into the water, recording the entire time. In the footage, which was later given to the officers, an upside down car can clearly be seen resting on the lake’s rocky bottom.
Several days later, on Aug. 24, the police returned, bringing along a tow truck and a dive team, according to a news release. An “older model Honda Accord” was pulled out of the lake and inside, authorities made a grisly discovery — a woman’s body.
“It was very shocking,” Max said, noting that he had been curious about what happened to the driver when he saw the car emerge from the water with all its windows and doors shut. “We were surprised. We weren’t expecting anything like this.”
Blakney told CTV News that divers were able to get the car’s license plate and soon had a name: Janet Farris, a 69-year-old woman from Vancouver Island who went missing in the fall of 1992 while driving by herself to a wedding in Alberta.
“Two weeks later, we received a phone call from that family in Alberta asking why she never came to the wedding,” Farris’s granddaughter, Erin Farris-Hartley, told Global News, “so she had actually been missing for two weeks with nobody knowing.”
As time passed and Farris’s disappearance continued to go unsolved, her family started to come up with their own explanations.
“We kind of assumed that maybe she had gone off the road or fallen asleep, or tried to avoid an accident or animal on the road,” Farris’s son, George Farris told Canadian Broadcasting Corp.
Back when Farris traveled on the highway, Werenka told The Post that the stretch of road closest to Griffin Lake was narrower than it is now and “there were no cement barricades” separating cars from the steep embankment.
In the August release, police said they did not believe any criminality was involved in the crash.
Finding Farris, Werenka said, was the result of “a whole series of coincidences.” “It’s just a really, really sad story,” she added.
But Farris-Hartley said Max’s efforts have given her family “a lot of peace.”
“My dad and my uncle and our whole family are so thankful to him,” she told Global News.