FOSS LAKE — The green 1950s Chevrolet Nora Duncan rode in the night she disappeared needed a push to get it started when it was last seen in Canute, a tiny town in western Oklahoma.
Duncan, 58, disappeared on April 8, 1969, with friends Cleburn Hammock and John Alva Porter, according to a letter written to the FBI by Duncan's daughter later that year.
Few details are known about the night she and her friends disappeared.
A mud-caked and rusted 1950s Chevrolet pulled out of Foss Lake Tuesday could reveal more about the decades-old mystery.
The family has gone for more than 40 years without answers.
“Exhaustive investigation by family members of family has failed to develop any information as to her possible whereabouts and for that reason it is requested that a missing person notice be posted ...” the letter, filed in the National Missing Persons Database, states. It's addressed to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, dated Oct. 9, 1969, and written by Duncan's daughter, Clara Jo Duncan Irick.
It's possible that the lake will give up Duncan's cold case and five others.
Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers testing new sonar equipment on Sept. 10 led to the discovery of a 1950s Chevy and a 1969 Camaro on the lake bottom, which contained the skeletal remains of six people, three in each car. The cars were pulled from the lake, and authorities and an anthropologist with the state medical examiner's office worked Tuesday and Wednesday to remove and sort the remains. DNA tests compared with the DNA of living family members could solve decades-old cold cases.
The remains in the Camaro could hold the key to a case of three missing teenagers from Sayre: Jimmy Allen Williams, 16; Thomas Michael Rios, 18; and Leah Gail Johnson, who has been reported as 17 or 18. The teens were last seen in Sayre the night of Nov. 20, 1970, Custer County Sheriff Bruce Peoples said.
Irick, of Joplin, Mo., told a Missouri news outlet the discovery and resolution it could bring to her mother's disappearance would give her closure.
The younger brother of Jimmy Williams, who went missing with two teenage friends, felt certain his brother's body was in the Camaro.
Gary Williams, 55 today, was 12 when his older brother went missing.
“How can it not be them?” Williams said. “It's a '69 Camaro, and it's got three bodies inside.”
Six people disappeared from two tiny towns off Route 66 in western Oklahoma — Canute and Sayre — in two years, three in 1969, and another three in 1970.
The strangeness of the two events has spun numerous conspiracy theories over the years regarding the disappearances, said George Hoyle, the Oklahoma State Highway trooper who found the cars. Hoyle was using new sonar technology affixed to a patrol watercraft when, 50 feet off shore and in 12-feet of water, the images of two cars appeared. The cars were pulled from the water, and the bodies were discovered inside.
Those cars and bodies seem to match up with those decades-old reports.
It's not clear what happened, and the investigation will take time.
“The truth never changes,” Hoyle said.
It will take up to a year to match DNA from the remains with DNA samples provided by living family members, authorities said.
The skeletal remains have been taken to the state medical examiner's office. Signs of trauma, such as cut marks on the ribs or bullet holes, would indicate foul play.
The deaths could be accidents. A road leading into Foss Lake ends at a boat launch that spills into the lake.
“We won't know until the medical examiner completes their autopsies to see if there is any criminal-type trauma to the bodies,” Peoples said.
“More than likely, these are two accidents, but all of that right now is under investigation,” Hoyle said.
Besides autopsies and DNA tests, investigators will take into consideration things, such as items found in vehicles and what gear the vehicles were in, in making a final report, Hoyle said.
Some things may never be known about the nights that the cars and people ended up in Foss Lake.
For Gary Williams, brother of Jimmy Williams, some answers are better than none.
He is just grateful that it may be possible to finally bury his older brother after decades of not knowing where he was.
“Whatever the investigation reveals, I'm going to reconcile that in my mind and be done with it,” he said.
“We got what we asked for. We got Jimmy's body back.”