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Foss Lake discoveries bring families hope for closure

by Juliana Keeping Published: September 22, 2013
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“We have done everything that is possible,” then Beckham County Sheriff Howard Sampier told The Oklahoman.

Died without knowing

Winston Williams reported the Camaro missing to drum up more interest from law enforcement. The move generated a warrant for his 16-year-old son — a tool he hoped would help find him, not get him in trouble.

“We have put out leads on the radio,” Sampier said in the 1972 article. “We have written letters to three major towns in every state. We have a warrant issued for the Williams boy (for unauthorized use of a motor vehicle.) We have been in contact with the FBI.”

A sympathetic detective tried to dig deeper, but without the cars or the bodies, the case hit a dead end.

Winston Williams passed out handbills offering $500 for information relating to the disappearance of his son. The family even consulted a psychic.

In their hearts, the siblings and the father knew Jimmy was gone.

“We all knew that Jimmy died that night,” Gary Williams said of his other family members.

It was different for Betty Williams.

“Mama never lost hope. For many, many years, maybe up to the time she passed, she baked a cake on March 15, every one of Jimmy's birthdays.”

The parents died in their 50s, without knowing what happened.

Each had cancer. Williams believes the anxiety and stress of having a missing child had worn them down.

New hope for answers

For decades, Gary Williams has collected details about his brother's disappearance. Pictures, letters and notes are stored in file folders in a clear plastic bin at his home in Sayre. Williams, a drilling supervisor, has backed up his documents on a Zip drive.

A memorial held in November 2009 at an old Sonic site in Sayre marked the first event of its kind since the teenagers vanished. The mystery has been met mostly by silence and rumors over the years in the small community.

“It was almost like nobody wanted to talk about it. I don't know if they didn't want to acknowledge that something bad could have happened. I don't know,” Williams said.

He said he also knows and appreciates that many people have prayed for his family through the years.

Williams worried his brother and friends would be forgotten.

Life moved forward, decades passed, with no answers about the missing teens.

Gary Williams and his wife, Betty, have two sons. The couple rushed to Foss Lake Tuesday when they heard two cars had been discovered under the water.

Standing near the shore Tuesday, Williams looked at the Camaro and just knew.

“How can it not be them?” Williams said. “It's a '69 Camaro and it's got three bodies inside.”

It's less clear what happened the night they disappeared.

An investigation into the discovery will attempt to determine the cause of the deaths. The remains of the three bodies in the Camaro are at the state medical examiner's office. DNA tests that could positively identify Williams, Thomas and Johnson could take up to a year.

Williams has made peace with the fact he may never know exactly what happened to his brother.

He just wants to bury him.

“We got what we asked for,” he said. “We got Jimmy's body back.”

by Juliana Keeping
Enterprise Reporter
Juliana Keeping is on the enterprise reporting team for The Oklahoman and NewsOK.com. Keeping joined the staff of The Oklahoman in 2012. Prior to that time, she worked in the Chicago media at the SouthtownStar, winning a Peter Lisagor Award...
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