Studebaker in South Dakota Creek Tied to Teens Missing Since 1971

PHOTO: Vehicle being excavatedPlayJoe Ahlquist/Argus Leader/AP Photo
WATCH Car Discovery Could Bring Closure to 1971 Cold Case

The discovery of a 1960 Studebaker in a South Dakota creek could be the missing piece to a mysterious cold case from more than 40 years ago.

Cheryl Miller and Pamella Jackson, both 17, were last seen in Union County, South Dakota, 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 girls' grandfather.

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, South Dakota," Sara Rabern, spokeswoman for the South Dakota Office of the Attorney General, told today. "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.

She described the operation to recover the car as "pretty delicate" due to the car's condition and said authorities are still working on pulling it out of the creek.

They do not yet know if there are any human remains in the vehicle. 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, 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."

The relative said authorities had not provided the family with any additional information.

"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.