Authorities in Oklahoma hope that the remains of several people recovered from the bottom of Foss Lake, about 100 miles outside of Oklahoma City, could be those of six people who went missing more than 40 years ago. Oklahoma Highway Patrol divers on a training exercise found the remains in a 1969 Camaro and an older Chevrolet under about 12 feet of water last week, but how the cars got to the bottom of the lake remained unclear:
Were the victims in the two separate cold cases murdered and dumped in the lake about 100 miles west of Oklahoma City? Or did they take a wrong turn, drive off the edge of the boat ramp and end up submerged?
“It’s way too early to tell at this point,” [Custer County Sheriff Bruce] Peoples said. “We’ll treat it as a crime until we’re able to determine it’s a simple car wreck.”
Missing persons reports show three teenagers from Sayre in nearby Beckham County — Leah Johnson, Michael Rios and Jimmy Williams — disappeared in 1970 while heading to a high school football game in Williams’s new 1969 Camaro.
Another missing persons report — from 1969 — indicates that two men and a woman also from the area disappeared and were last seen in a 1950s Chevrolet, Peoples said.
“These vehicles match those missing persons reports real close,” the sheriff said Wednesday as investigators combed through what remained of the rusty, mud-covered vehicles.
He said it was entirely possible that the victims simply drove into Foss Lake and drowned.
“We know that to happen, even if you know your way around. It can happen that quick,” he said.
Still, some locals cling to the theory that the three teens ran across some dangerous people and ended up getting killed.
“Everyone suspected foul play,” said Dayva Spitzer, publisher of the Sayre Record and a longtime resident. “They’ve been talking about it for 43 years.
“I think everybody is hoping there’s closure now. But there’s still more questions than answers.”
The teens’ disappearance gripped the town for years.
“I think the kids were frightened by it, and we didn’t talk about it much,” said Gayla Splinter, a clerk at a Sayre law office who lived in nearby Erick when the teens went missing. “It’s always been a mystery.”
Peoples said he was confident the Camaro held the remains of the three teens. Authorities were not as clear about what the second vehicle contained.
Descendents of John Alva Porter said they were confident that the remains of one of the people who were found belonged to their grandfather:
Debbie McManaman, her children and grandchildren spent many a summer day waterskiing or feeding the ducks at Foss Lake in western Oklahoma.
Sometimes, McManaman told the Los Angeles Times, she’d envision the face of her grandfather, a tall, lanky cowboy who mysteriously disappeared when she was 13. . . .
Investigators told her they had recovered cowboy boots and a belt buckle, she said – hallmarks of her grandfather’s life – and the car had a hitch like the one her grandpa used to tow his horse trailer. . . .
She’s anxious to get the results of family DNA tests to see whether her grandfather’s remains were among those submerged for the last 40 years.
If so, that would end nearly a lifetime of searching and wondering. Had her grandfather just walked off one day, his house locked up, his finances squared? Had he died peacefully in some distant place, no family to mourn him?
Her father often came home from work and headed right back out to search for her grandfather, she said. “We’re gonna go for a drive,” he’d say. Then he’d drive late into the night.
Sometimes, she said, her father would wake up yelling: “I found him! I found him!”
McManaman says her father, now 85, struggles with dementia. But when she told him his father may have been found, tears came to his eyes.
“I’m just so thankful this day has come,” she said.
Positively identifying the remains through DNA analysis could take a year or even longer.
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