LEBANON, Ohio – Two women found dead six months after vanishing on a shopping trip likely missed their highway exit in northern Kentucky and got lost trying to find their way back, authorities said Monday.
A hunter discovered the car in a dry creek bed Sunday and the nearby remains of Mary Ellen Walters, 68, and Ada Wasson, 80, about 40 miles northeast of Louisville, Ky., said Maj. John Newsom of the Warren County sheriff's office in Ohio. The women lived at an Ohio retirement home.
"Although this story hasn't ended the way we wanted and had hoped, we are thankful there is an end to the mystery," said Brad Nixon, Walters' son-in-law.
Walters' remains were next to the vehicle, and those of Wasson were about 600 feet away within sight of the interstate, Newsom said. He said it's likely the vehicle went down an embankment and Wasson walked toward the interstate to get help.
Wasson, who had been driving, at times became confused, while Walters, a retired United Methodist minister, was limited physically by knee problems, neighbors said.
Autopsies were to be performed Monday. Foul play does not appear to be a factor, authorities said.
Despite an extensive search in that area, the vehicle and the women's bodies had not been found because the field had not been used for at least a couple of years, Newsom said.
The car was found about eight miles south of Carrollton, Ky., in a location not visible from the road or air, according to Otterbein Retirement Living Communities, where the women lived.
The women were known to have been preparing for an excursion April 19 to a J.C. Penney outlet store, but officials were not sure if they planned to go to one in Columbus or in Carrollton.
Authorities and volunteers had searched thousands of square miles in a three-state area after the women failed to return to their homes at Otterbein, north of Cincinnati.
Investigators studied store videotapes, checked under bridges and passed out thousands of fliers. Police consulted with FBI experts and sent alerts across the nation.
"It has been a difficult time for the families and everyone who knew and cared about Mary Ellen and Ada," Otterbein said in a statement on its Web site. "All who live or work in this community share the loss of these two neighbors and our prayers are with the families in these difficult times."
Shopping was a favorite activity of the two, and they preferred driving scenic highways rather than Interstate 71. That complicated the search, because there are multiple ways to get to Carrollton, including via Indiana, or to Columbus, 90 miles to the north of the retirement home.
Authorities know Wasson filled her car with gasoline the night of April 18, and they left some time the next day. But in the weeks after the disappearance, there was no activity on the women's credit or bank cards, police said.