One of two rusting cars hauled out of Foss Lake in Oklahoma this week is believed to contain the remains of three teenagers who have been missing since 1970, police say.
The blue Chevrolet Camaro matched the description of the car 18-year-olds Thomas Michael Rios and Leah Gail Johnson, and 16-year-old Jimmy Allen Williams were last seen in.
An Oklahoma sheriff has now said investigators are confident that three sets of remains found in the car belong to the friends, who were last seen heading to a football match.
In total, six sets of remains have been found in the two car wrecks, which were discovered as police tested sonar on the lake last week, according to Fox News.
“We believe that we have two vehicles related to two different missing persons cases,” Custer County Sheriff Bruce Peoples said.
“One is a case from Beckham County in 1970, and the other is a case from Washita County in 1969.”
Even though the cars are linked to cases years apart, they were found submerged side by side, 12ft under the surface.
Bottles of beer were also found in the car believed to belong to the teenagers, according to the Daily Elk Citian.
“None of the human remains in the Camaro show signs of trauma on first inspection, but keep in mind that they’re covered in mud and will need to be examined further,” Sheriff Bruce Peoples said.
Although officers are confident they have found the teenagers, it could take up to a year before DNA results confirm the identities.
Police are also just beginning to investigate the remains found in the second car.
“They’re getting into the trunk. We don’t have any information yet on how many sets of remains may be in there,” Sheriff Bruce Peoples said.
He added: “This lake isn’t crystal clear. It’s a typical western Oklahoma lake with a lot of silt in it. The visibility is only 6 to 12 inches on a good day.”
The mystery surrounding the teenagers’ disappearance led to theories that they had stumbled across a crime and been murdered.
It is too early to tell what happened to the victims found in the two cars, but Sheriff Bruce Peoples said: “We’ll treat it as a crime until we’re able to determine it’s a simple car wreck.”
He added that it was possible the people simply drove into the lake and drowned.
Retired Sheriff Howard Sampier had been working the night the teenagers went missing.
Howard Sampier said: “Never really had any good leads to speak of. We never had any sort of lead or idea about the Foss Lake area.”
The friends had told their families they were heading to a football game so the search for them centered on possible routes they could have taken.
A lake on the route they were supposed to have taken had even been searched previously, but it turns out the police could have been looking in the wrong place entirely.
Although the cars were found close to a boat ramp, Sheriff Bruce Peoples said the water is so cloudy it was understandable that they had remained undetected.
The second car is thought to contain the remains of a 69-year-old man and his two friends who went missing in the state in the late 1950s or early 1960s.
Reports by local station KFOR states that one of the victims in the car thought to have belonged to the teenager has been identified but they are waiting to notify all of the relatives of the victims involved before releasing any names.
The teenagers went missing on November 20, 1970. They are still listed as missing persons and were thought to have been headed to a football game in nearby Elk City but also could have detoured to go hunting at Foss Lake.
Authorities discovered the cars accidentally. Betsy Randolph, spokesman for the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, said dive teams were at Foss Lake conducting training with sonar when they came upon the vehicles last week.
“So they went back and did a scheduled dive today and were going to recover the cars. When they pulled the cars out of the water, the first one that came out they found bones in the car,” she said.
When they pulled the second car out, another set of bones was discovered. The divers then went back in the water and searched around and found a skull, she said.
The remains were turned over to the medical examiner’s office who are expected to use DNA from surviving family members to identify the skeletons.
“We thought it was just going to be stolen vehicles and that’s not what it turned out to be, obviously,” Betsy Randolph said.
Kim Carmichael was a friend of the Camaro’s owner, 16-year-old Jimmy Williams.
She told Oklahoma’s Newsnine.com: “I just remember how devastated everybody was.
“We lived in a little town … Nothing like that ever happened in Sayre.”
At the time of the disappearance, Kim Carmichael’s father was the undersheriff in nearby Beckham County where the teenagers were last seen.
He died in 2003 never knowing what happened.
Kim Carmichael added: “He said there was nothing … There were no leads, no nothing. He said it was just like they vanished into thin air.
“I can’t imagine what [Jimmy Williams’] family was going through if I could see what my dad was going through.”
Oklahoma Highway Patrol said they are hoping the discovery will offer some relief to families who may have gone decades wondering where a missing loved one was.
Betsy Randolph added: “We’re hoping these individuals, that this is going to bring some sort of closure to some families out there who have been waiting to hear about missing people.
“If that’s the case, then we’re thrilled we were able to bring some sort of closure to those families.”
The medical examiner had called a number of relatives of possible victims to the scene, many of whom said that they never lost hope.
“We never gave up. We always wanted some clue that somebody knew someone,” said Debbie McManaman, a possible victim’s granddaughter.