South Dakota mystery solved: Teen girls died in 1971 car crash

Tue Apr 15, 2014 6:16pm EDT

(Reuters) - The remains recovered from a car found overturned in a South Dakota creek last fall have been identified as those of two teenage girls who disappeared in 1971, and no foul play is suspected, authorities said on Tuesday.

The girls, Cheryl Miller and Pamela Jackson, were both 17 when they headed out to a party in a 1960 Studebaker and never came home, according to authorities.

A sportsman spotted the car last September in Brule Creek in rural Union County, about 50 miles south of Sioux Falls, and authorities found remains in the driver and passenger seats.

The remains were recovered and tested, and identified as those of the missing girls. Test results were "consistent with a car accident," South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley told a news conference.

"There is no type of injury that would be consistent of or caused by foul play or inappropriate conduct," he said.

Jackley said the car was in third gear with the lights on when it ended up in the creek, leading investigators to conclude the teenagers died in a crash. Evidence indicated a tire may have blown and there was no evidence that alcohol played a role, he said.

The girls had visited Miller's grandmother in the hospital the evening of May 29, 1971, before meeting up with three boys in a church parking lot, Jackley said. The group then set off for a nearby party, with the girls in one vehicle and the boys in another, he said.

"They indicated they were being followed by the girls and at one point they had missed a turn and when they looked back, the girls had vanished," Jackley said.

Their disappearance had been investigated as a crime by a state cold case squad and an imprisoned rapist was even indicted for their murders, but in 2008 prosecutors dropped that case, finding that other inmates had faked a tape recorded confession.

A wet spring in 2013, along with drought conditions and a change in water current had helped to expose the car in the creek near a bridge, Jackley said.

(Reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee; editing by Gunna Dickson)

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