Share This Page

Murky Oklahoma lake may clear up 2 mysteries

| Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013, 9:45 p.m.

SAYRE, Okla. — When three teenagers from this small Oklahoma town disappeared on their way to a high school football game in 1970, rumors swirled as to what happened to the trio.

Some thought the three had stumbled across a drug deal at a rural airstrip and been killed. Others said they might have run away to California.

“There have been theories from everybody,” said Dayva Spitzer, publisher of The Sayre Record newspaper and a longtime resident. “Everyone suspected foul play. ... But every lead just went nowhere.”

Now authorities believe they have a key piece to the puzzle: A 1969 Camaro, just like the one the teens were driving, was pulled from a lake with the skeletal remains of three people inside.

And that wasn't the only discovery. A second car containing remains, an early 1950s Chevrolet, was also recovered. Custer County Sheriff Bruce Peoples believes it may solve another case in which two men and a woman disappeared a year before the teens.

“These vehicles match those missing-persons reports real close,” Peoples said Wednesday as investigators combed through the rusty, mud-covered vehicles.

Both vehicles were discovered Tuesday by divers conducting a training exercise at Foss Lake, about 100 miles west of Oklahoma City.

The cars were submerged in about 12 feet of water and were only about 50 feet from the end of a boat ramp near a marina. But Peoples said it was no surprise that the murky waters held a secret.

“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,” Peoples said. “We'll consider it a mystery until we prove otherwise.”

The sheriff said it was entirely possible that people simply drove into the lake and drowned.

“We know that to happen, even if you know your way around. It can happen that quick,” he added.

Peoples said he was confident the Camaro held the remains of the three teens, who were identified as Leah Johnson, Michael Rios and Jimmy Williams. The origins of the bones in the second vehicle were less clear.

Tim Porter of Enid said he believed the remains could be those of his grandfather, John Albert Porter, who disappeared along with two other people in 1969.

“Forty-something years of wondering who or why,” Porter said. “If it is my grandfather in there, it's a gift.”

The sheriff said he is not sure whether the cars held the remains of five or six bodies. The state medical examiner's office believed the remains of six people were recovered.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.