By Julie Ann Madden
South Dakota authorities are still only releasing few details about evidence found in rural Union County Sept. 23 and 24.
According to South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley, a Sioux Falls forensic pathologist has determined the skeletal remains found in the 1960 Studebaker Lark pulled from the banks of Brule Creek are of two individuals.
The human remains have now been sent to the University of Texas for further DNA testing with hopes of determining the identity of the two people, said Jackley.
On May 29, 1971, two 17-year-old girls were last seen in the car as they left Vermillion, S.D., to go to a class party at what was then called Seburn’s Pit along 310th Street in rural Union County. Pamella Jackson and Cheryl Miller never made it to the party and were never heard from or seen again.
“We (are doing this DNA testing) for two reasons,” said Jackley. “First, to try to bring closure to the families and two, for proper and respectful burial.”
“First and foremost is to obtain positive identification,” said Jackley. “We certainly had enough information when the vehicle was recovered, from its type and license plate, for law enforcement to contact the families. We’d like to have that positive identification information from that DNA to alleviate any questions.”
“I don’t have any DNA results,” said Jackley, adding it will take another 30 to 90 days for that. It could be less days or more.
A second piece of information Jackley released is the car recovered had a three-speed manual transmission, and the mechanical testing done determined the vehicle was in third gear, which is the highest gear.
“The fact standing alone is not consistent with foul play,” said Jackley, noting if the car had been in neutral, it would have been consistent with foul play.
He also cautioned that one fact about the vehicle is not determinative of anything else.
The next question comes to where does the investigation go from here,” said Jackley. “You have to look at 42 years worth of a file.”
Noting there were some other items removed from the car as well as any other items that have “potential evidentiary value…I think that it’s reachable for us to achieve positive identification,” he said.
“It will certainly be more challenging to make further determinations on what may or may not have happened,” said Jackley. “There needs to be an appreciation that some of these materials are 42 years old, and we may never be able to comfortably or positively indicate what happened on May 29, 1971.”
Authorities have not determined whether there is any evidence to pursue any further investigation after achieving a positive identification, he said. “We’re not there yet.”