Simple Car Accident Explains Deaths of Girls Missing 42 Years

With four simple words — "Our journey is done" — relatives Tuesday put to rest decades of conjecture and anxiety over what really happened to two South Dakota teenagers who vanished 43 years ago.

The families of Pamella Jackson and Cheryl Miller, who were both 17 at the time they disappeared, issued that one-sentence reaction after state officials confirmed that the girls were the ones whose bodies were found last year in a car at the bottom of a creek.

They died after a roadway accident that sent their 1960 Studebaker plunging into Brule Creek near the town of Elk Point on May 29, 1971, South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley said at a news conference in Elk Point on Tuesday.

The car lay wheels up at the bottom of the creek for 42 years until last September, when a drought in the region dropped the creek's level low enough for it finally to be found.

IMAGE: Submerged car found in South Dakota creek
The submerged car was found in Brule Creek in South Dakota in September 2013. South Dakota attorney general's office

There was no suspicion of foul play and no evidence that drugs or alcohol involved, Jackley said — sweeping away various theories raised over the years that Pamella and Cheryl might have been killed by a serial rapist or that they might have run away to start a new life.

Instead, their car simply ran off the road as they were on their way to a party at a nearby gravel pit, he said.

The headlight switch was turned on, the keys were in the ignition and none of their belongings were missing — Cheryl's driver's license was so well-preserved that it was still partly readable after 42 years under water, Jackley said.

But one of the tires was damaged, suggesting that they might have been the victims of a blowout as they crossed a bridge that was still under construction in 1971, he said.

"The evidence is consistent with a car accident," he said. "The case is closed."