- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 15, 2014

ELK POINT, S.D. (AP) - Two South Dakota girls on their way to an end-of-school-year party at a gravel pit in May 1971 drove off a country road and into a creek where their remains lay hidden until last fall when a drought brought their car into view, authorities said Tuesday.

State and local officials held a news conference Tuesday afternoon confirming that the 1960 Studebaker unearthed in September included the remains of Cheryl Miller and Pamella Jackson, both 17-year-olds who attended Vermillion High School.

The investigators showed dozens of photographs of well-preserved clothing, Miller’s purse and even her driver’s license complete with a smiling photograph. Those personal items and DNA were used to identify the girls, said Attorney General Marty Jackley. Jackson didn’t have her purse along.

Classmates who saw the teens before they disappeared and other evidence indicated that they had not been drinking, he said. In addition, mechanical tests on the car pointed away from foul play, Jackley said. He noted that the car was in the highest gear and the headlight switch on the dashboard showed the lights were on.

“It’s consistent with a car accident,” Jackley said. “To start with, the forensic pathology and anthropology reports indicate that there’s no type of injury that would be consistent with or caused by foul play or inappropriate conduct.”

He said the bodies were found in the front seats, as opposed to the back seat or trunk, and that their clothing did not appear to be missing - all of which points away from their deaths being caused by a crime.

There is no way to know whether a blown tire might have cause a crash, but one was damaged and the tread was quite thin, he said.

Family members, law enforcement and others had searched the area countless times without luck.

“They were searching and they simply didn’t find it,” Jackley said.

Jackson’s father, Oscar, died Sept. 18, five days before the car was found.

“If you look at that obituary, it indicates one of the saddest parts of Oscar’s life is not knowing about the disappearance of his daughter Pam,” Jackley said.

The girls’ disappearance was one of the initial investigations of South Dakota’s cold case unit in 2004.

A September 2004 search of a Union County farm turned up apparently unrelated bones, clothing, a purse, photographs, newspaper articles and other items, but not the car.

In a warrant authorizing the search, authorities said that David Lykken, who lived at the farm in 1971 and was a classmate of the girls, might have been involved in the disappearance of Miller and Jackson as well as three other unnamed people. Lykken is in prison serving an unrelated 227-year sentence for rape and kidnapping.

In July 2007, a Union County grand jury indicted Lykken on two counts of premeditated murder, two counts of felony murder and two counts of murder in the disappearance of Miller and Jackson. But state prosecutors dropped all six murder charges after concluding a jailhouse informant apparently lied about Lykken supposedly admitting to causing the deaths.

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