Investigators awaiting results from DNA analysis
By David Lias
Tests done on the 1960 Studebaker Lark discovered in Brule Creek near a gravel pit in Union County indicate the vehicle was in high gear when it entered the channel. The automobile was last seen 42 years ago, being driven by two 17-year-old Vermillion girls, Cheryl Miller and Pamella Jackson the night they went missing in May 1971.
The car was discovered Sept. 23, thanks to low water levels in the creek. It was recovered the next day, and skeletal remains were found in and near the vehicle.
“It (the Studebaker) has three gears, and we’ve been able to determine that it was in the third, or the highest, gear,” said South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley in a telephone interview with the Plain Talk Tuesday. “That item, standing alone – that one piece of potential evidence – would not be consistent with foul play.
“When I was asked what would be consistent with foul play, it would be (if the car was in) neutral. That would be consistent; it wouldn’t necessarily mean that anything happened, but it would be one piece of that puzzle to take into consideration,” he said. “There is a lot of material in the investigation coupled with some additional items that we’re not releasing yet from the vehicle.”
Jackley said officials are working to determine what, if any, evidentiary value those items may have.
The disappearance of Miller and Jackson has baffled local and state law enforcement authorities for over four decades. The case remains open and active as investigators await further test results.
Jackley said the skeletal remains recovered from the car were initially sent to a forensic pathologist in Sioux Falls.
“We are confirming that the skeletal remains are consistent with two individuals. We have forwarded the skeletal remains on to the University of Texas to do mitochondrial DNA testing,” he said. “We don’t do that at our lab; they (University of Texas personnel) have an expertise in this particular area of testing which is being done in order to try to get further positive identification to bring closure to the individuals’ families as well as a allow them to provide a respectful burial.”
The DNA analysis should be complete within 30 to 90 days, Jackley said.
Once those tests results are received, he said more information concerning the investigation would be released both to family members and to the public.
“When the DNA results come back and we’ve had an opportunity to provide that to the families … that would probably be the appropriate time,” Jackley said, “for us to gather everybody back and say ‘this is what we have.’”