Skeletal Remains Found in South Dakota Studebaker Tied to Teens Missing Since 1971

PHOTO: Vehicle being excavated
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Authorities have found skeletal remains in the 1960 Studebaker that was pulled from a South Dakota creek and tied them to a cold case from more than 40 years ago.

"Skeletal remains have been recovered as well as additional items. No further information will be released until a requested autopsy and further testing is complete and family members properly notified," the South Dakota Attorney General's Office said in a statement.

Officials said pieces of evidence taken from the site of the recovered car had been "processed," and "items of potential evidentiary significance have been preserved" but did not elaborate further.

Cheryl Miller and Pamella Jackson, both 17, were last seen in Union County, S.D., on their way to a party on May 29, 1971. They were driving a beige Studebaker Lark that officials believe belonged to one of the grandfathers of one of the girls.

PHOTO: Authorities said the license plate on the car matched the license plate of one of the missing teenage girls’ grandfather’s car.
South Dakota Office of the Attorney General
PHOTO: Authorities said the license plate on the car matched the license plate of one of the missing teenage girls’ grandfather’s car.

Now, 42 years later, it appears that the Studebaker has turned up.

"A fisherman or hunter noticed a wheel in a small creek area, or embankment, in Union County, S.D.," Sara Rabern, spokeswoman for the South Dakota Office of the Attorney General, told ABCNews.com. "He contacted the sheriff."

"The division of criminal investigation was called in and they were able to determine that the license plate belonged to one of the missing girls' grandfather," Rabern said.

It is unknown at this time why the car had not been spotted before, but Rabern said there was historically low water levels this year, which may have helped.

Relatives of the two teenagers have been notified about the car.

"The police department called to let us know before the news came out," a relative of Pamella Jackson told ABCNews.com, asking that he not be identified by name because the family did not yet want to make a formal statement. "They just said they found the car. We know for sure it's the car because the license plates are still on it."

"We're kind of surprised that they found it, but we're happy," the relative said. "It's one more piece of the puzzle."

Jackson's father recently died and the family received the news of the car just days after his burial.

The case has had a tumultuous history. On two separate occasions, two men serving prison sentences for unrelated charges were indicted in the murders of the girls, but both times the charges were dropped when supposed admissions to other inmates turned out to be fake, according to the Associated Press.

In September 2004, a search of a Union County farm led to the discovery of bones, clothing, a purse, photos and other items, but not the car, the AP reported. Authorities did not say if the bones were the girls' or even if they were human remains.

This is the second time in recent weeks that a submerged car has helped connect the dots in a cold case.

In Oklahoma last week, six sets of skeletal remains were recovered from two cars that were found three feet away from each other at the bottom of a lake. Officials are still conducting DNA testing, but believe that one car belonged to three teens who disappeared and the other to a grandfather with two friends.

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