Courtesy Elk City Daily News
Law enforcement officers examine one of two cars containing skeletal remains found Tuesday at the bottom of Foss Lake in Custer County, Okla.
Two decades-old cars containing six skeletons were recovered from a lake in a remote, sparsely populated area of southwestern Oklahoma, officials said Tuesday - potentially solving a pair of cold cases that have bedeviled local authorities for years.
Oklahoma Highway Patrol officials stumbled upon the mud-covered cars - a blue 1969 Chevrolet Camaro and a 1950s-era car - while testing new sonar equipment during a training exercise last week at Foss Lake, near the tiny town of Foss (population: 157) in Custer County, authorities said.
After initially having reported that five bodies were discovered, Custer County Sheriff Bruce Peoples told The Elk City Daily News late Tuesday that a sixth set of remains had been found.
Officials at the scene were able to identify one of the three bodies in the Camaro, but no names will be released until family members are notified, the State Bureau of Investigation and the sheriff's office said.
Trooper George Hoyle, who was driving the boat that located the vehicles Sept. 10, told the Daily News that the two cars were side by side in about 12 feet of water.
"On the first pass, we found both cars," Hoyle said - but officers weren't aware of the remains, and the cars remained at the bottom of the lake until Tuesday.
The Camaro is believed to be associated with the disappearance of three students at Sayre High School: Jimmy Allen Williams 16, Thomas Michael Rios, 18, and Leah Gail Johnson 18. They were last seen on Nov. 20, 1970, in Jimmy's car - a blue 1969 Camaro, which was never found, according to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, a bureau of the Justice Department's National Institute of Justice.
The federal database notes speculation at the time that the teens, who'd said they were going to a football game in Elk City, may have detoured to go hunting at Foss Lake, instead.
The second vehicle appears to be associated with the disappearance of a couple last seen in Canute, about 10 miles south of the lake, in the early 1960s, Peoples said. He said he had no further information about that case beyond long-ago-told stories. The missing persons database records no open cases earlier than 1969 in Canute or the surrounding county.
"In 1973, I worked for Beckham and Custer County as a state trooper, and I heard rumors that sometime in the early '60s there were two or three people in a car, and they were last seen in Canute," Peoples told the Elk City newspaper. "They were headed for Foss Lake and never seen again."
Peoples asked anyone with information about the case to get in touch as soon as possible at (580) 323-1616.