In an eerie echo of events earlier this month in Oklahoma, skeletal remains were discovered Tuesday in the car of two teenage girls who disappeared 42 years ago, a day after it was found wheels-up in a South Dakota creek, authorities said.
Cheryl Miller and Pamella Jackson, both 17 and both from Vermillion, in southeastern South Dakota, disappeared May 29, 1971, as they were on their way to a party, according to records on file with the Justice Department's National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.
The beige 1960 Studebaker hadn't been seen until Monday, when a fisherman spotted its wheels poking up out of the water in Brule Creek near Elk Point, almost 30 miles east of Vermillion on the Iowa border.
The car was in bad shape after having been buried in the mud at the bottom of the creek for 42 years, and crews weren't able to pull it out until Tuesday, when they made the grisly discovery, South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley said at a news conference.
Jackley earlier told NBC station KDLT of Sioux City that the car was spotted thanks to a recent drought in the region, which dropped the creek's level low enough for it to emerge after four decades.
Jackley said it can't yet be determined whether foul play was involved. But authorities didn't always have that doubt.
Cheryl and Pamella, juniors at Vermillion High School, were last seen on their way to a party at a gravel pit just a half-mile from where their car was found Monday, according to the federal missing persons database.
They began following a car full of boys whom they'd stopped to ask for directions to the party, but the boys told investigators that when they looked back in their rear-view mirror, the girls had vanished, the report says.
In 2004, clothing, bones, a purse and other items were found on a farm belonging to David Lykken, a convicted serial rapist who was subsequently indicted on six charges of murder in the girls' disappearance.
But those charges were dropped four years later when prosecutors learned that another inmate had made up his claim that Lykken had confessed to him. The informer was convicted of perjury, and Lykken remains in prison on the unrelated rape convictions.
After state troopers found two similarly mud-caked cars buried in a lake in Oklahoma earlier this month, it took them almost a week to discover that they contained what are presumed to be the bodies of six people who also disappeared in the early 1970s.
One of the cars found in Oklahoma was being used by three high school students who vanished in November 1970, just six months before Pamella and Cheryl disappeared.