By Julie Ann Madden
On Monday afternoon, Union County and state officials confirmed a car found in Brule Creek, just south of Higman Sand & Gravel’s pit, commonly known as Seburn’s Pit along 310th Street in rural Union County, was the one two missing teenagers had been driving the night they went missing 42 years ago.
A hubcap and the vehicle’s license plate number matched a 1960 Studebaker Lark owned by the grandfather of Cheryl Miller.
Miller and Pam Jackson, both Vermillion High School juniors, disappeared on their way to a party at the gravel pit on May 29, 1971, South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley told media at a press conference Monday afternoon.
“We know that evening they went to see Miller’s grandmother at the Vermillion hospital,” said Jackley, “and at 9:30 p.m. when they left, they were driving (this vehicle).”
“They were with other classmates, headed to a party at the old gravel pit,” he said. “We know a miss turn was taken and that was the last they were seen. They were believed to be headed northward over by the gravel pit.”
According to Union County Sheriff Dan Limoges, the communications center received a call on Sunday from a person who saw the car in the water while riding an ATV in the area.
“The vehicle was submerged — you could see the undercarriage and four wheels sticking above the water,” he said, adding with assistance from a Higman Sand & Gravel of Akron crane operator and a driver from C & H Towing of South Sioux City, Neb., they attempted to get the vehicle out of the water.
“The vehicle is in pretty rough shape,” said Limoges. “We weren’t able to get it out of the water but were able to raise it some. We decided to leave it where it was to keep it intact as much as possible.”
“We have identified the license plate on the vehicle,” said Limoges. “We’re in the process of excavating the material out of the vehicle now to determine in fact what we have.”
“It’s believed to have been in there about 42 years,” said Jackley. “Recent high water levels followed by all-time low levels have made possible this discovery. Certainly, with it being in the water that long, we want to be careful with it so that we can preserve as much evidence as possible to hopefully bring closure to the family.”
The vehicle is located approximately one-half mile from the girls’ believed destination, he said, adding this case is not about David Lykken who in 2004 was accused of being involved in these girls’ disappearance after a cold case investigation. The Lykken family farm is 3 miles north and one-half mile east of the car’s site.
Some of Jackson’s family members were back in the area for the funeral of Jackson’s father, Oscar Jackson, Saturday and were given the opportunity to come to the scene Monday afternoon.
Jackley had no idea how long the excavation and investigation would take but praised cooperative efforts of local, county and state officials at the scene, noting they were concerned about weather forecasts predicting rain Monday night.
When questioned if this case had been “actively” investigated over the four decades, Jackley responded, “Certainly, it’s always important when you have a missing person. Here we have a case with two missing teenagers with unanswered questions. What may come out of this today is we may have some further questions answered.”
“We need to give it time,” he said. “We need to have the opportunity for law enforcement and the forensic experts to do their job, preserve the evidence and give us as much indication as they can.”
In addition to the Union County Sheriff’s Office, the South Dakota Department of Criminal Investigation, South Dakota Highway Patrol, South Dakota Department of Transportation, Clay County and Vermillion authorities and the Beresford Fire & Rescue Department were at the scene.
“We just have to wait and see what the experts find,” said Jackley. “We should anticipate in days to come or weeks and months to come, more information will be released.”
“Law enforcement felt comfortable enough today to notify family members related to (the girls) and invite them out to the scene,” he said. “We need to make sure it’s the vehicle, look at serial numbers, see what’s in the vehicle and the surrounding area.”
“We now have new information,” said Union County States Attorney. “We haven’t had the time or resources on what we now have to know what it means…we need to figure out where that will take us.”
“We have the car,” Limoges had said when The Akron Hometowner arrived at the scene at about 11 a.m. Monday.
The family arrived at 2:30 p.m., followed shortly thereafter by retired Clay County Sheriff Dusty Passick and a retired Vermillion police officer, who’d both covered the case.