VERMILLION, S.D. – Classmates of two 17-year-old South Dakota high school students who disappeared in 1971 and whose car was found just this week say they were traveling to an end-of-year party in separate cars and the girls never arrived.
Mark Logterman, Steve Glass and Pat Gale were in the car in front of the Studebaker with Cheryl Miller and Pamella Jackson, but the boys missed the turn and drove past the party, Logterman told KTIV television (http://bit.ly/1h2odLQ ).
"When we stopped at the bottom of the hill to turn around, we never saw their headlights behind us anymore," Logterman said.
State and local authorities this week pulled the rusted 1960 Studebaker Lark from an embankment in South Dakota's Brule Creek. Forensic experts are examining the remains and processing other evidence from the site in hopes of finding some answers.
The car was discovered and reported to authorities Monday by an angler who came across it and remembered the 42-year-old case. Record flooding followed by a drought brought the vehicle into view.
The disappearance of the Vermillion High School girls was one of the initial investigations of South Dakota's cold case unit in 2004. Authorities had made an arrest, but prosecutors dropped murder charges after discovering a prison snitch made up a supposed admission.
Union County Sheriff Limoges would not speculate on whether the disappearance now appears to be an accident or if foul play is still suspected.
"I think everything needs to be on the table, but we're going to wait and see what the results tell us, if anything," Limoges told The Associated Press. "We're all just waiting to see if there are any results from the pathology office that might shed any light."
Limoges, who took over as Union County job in 1990, said he's not sure what the water level was at the site on May 29, 1971, or if any divers searched the area.
"There's no way the car was visible back then," he said.
Logterman said Glass and Gale were interviewed by Union County's sheriff at the time, but Logterman has never been questioned about that night.
He has often wondered what happened.
"If this bridge was on that road and when we turned around and went back they had gone off the road, we just drove past them and didn't even know it," he said.
Another of the girls' classmates, Dwight Iverson, said some people assumed the girls ran off to hippie commune or drove to California after they failed to show up. He disagreed with those theories.
"They wouldn't have done that," Iverson told KTIV. "They were good old farm girls, very family oriented, very church oriented."
Iverson said he doesn't think authorities at the time paid much attention to classmates' theories.
He said he remembers the sheriff's search focused elsewhere after seeing tracks going into the Missouri River, but students knew the girls weren't there.
"It should have been easy to find them," Iverson said. "They're somewhere between point A and point B, and the only thing there is a creek."