Three grieving families have thanked an amateur sleuth for discovering the likely resting place of their loved ones after 41 years – armed with nothing more than a makeshift sonar and his own common sense.
Police were baffled when William Clifton, 30, David McMicken, 24, and Michael Norman, 32, vanished after driving away from a North Carolina bar just before Christmas in 1982.
But dive team leader Jason Souhrada stuck a cheap sonar to a four-foot boogie board after realizing that no-one had ever checked Jack’s Creek, a largely inaccessible pond on their route home.
‘I got inspired by YouTubers that searched multiple times in that town and could not find them,’ Souhrada told Fox News.
‘I noticed what looked like an upside-down car, but wasn’t sure, being this was my first time finding anything.’
Bill Clifton, David McMicken, and Michael Norman were last seen in a bar in Chocowinity on December 10, 1982
Forty-one years later the vehicle they were in was found just four miles away in a creek
Little remained of the 1975 Chevrolet Camaro but the VIN was intact
Encouraged by fellow divers he went back to take more scans before handing his findings to local police.
They finally sent divers in and discovered a car with the same VIN number as that which disappeared – along with human remains.
Formal identification has yet to take place but the families of the three young friends have little doubt that the social media fan from nearby Myrtle Beach has finally solved the mystery that defeated the authorities for decades.
‘Without Jason Souhrada’s sacrifice, taking time away from his family to help ours, we wouldn’t have this potential chance for closure,’ Clifton’s daughter Lea Rose told Fox.
Amateur sleuth Jason Souhrada appears to have cracked the mystery that baffled authorities for decades with a cheap sonar strapped to a boogie board
‘This has reopened wounds, initiating the grieving process anew for three families. Despite the pain, there’s a slight relief in finally having some answers.’
The creek in the town of Washington is just four miles from the Chocowinity bar that the three men left in a 1975 Chevrolet Camaro.
‘I do remember the night my dad went missing,’ Rose said.
‘My mom, my dad, my sister, and I went to go see Santa Claus. We went and saw Christmas lights before we went home, and then, of course, he went out that night to spend time with his friends and never came home.’
Souhrada took a look at maps of the area after stumbling across reports online.
‘I questioned why they did not search this body of water and realized they couldn’t access it with regular boats,’ he said.
‘I decided to build my sonar boat, as I don’t have a real boat, nor have a place to keep one,’ he explained.
‘A real boat would’ve been far more expensive. Plus, I only wanted to scan retention ponds and other areas real boats aren’t allowed or can’t access.
‘Tons of missing people are found in retention ponds.’
Washington Chief of Police Phil Rollinson was impressed enough by his findings to order Sidney Dive Team Captain John Scott Rose Jr into the water.
‘I found the vehicle after about 45 minutes of searching,’ he said.
‘The vehicle was in such bad shape that when I put my hands on it, it was hard for me to determine that it was even an automotive.
‘Maybe it was a lawnmower or something.
‘It seemed real small to me, but then I realized that it was small mainly because there was nothing left of it but the chassis and the axles and the motor.’
Recovering the rusted remains was a priority but first they had to drain four million gallons of water from the creek to allow them access.
The car’s VIN was spotted after the chassis was retrieved, and human remains were found both inside the car and in the drained creek.
‘Based on what I’ve seen and what we’re looking at now I’m confident that, yes, it is the individuals from 1982,’ Chief Rollinson said.
‘DNA testing will take some time, but the forensic anthropologist that was here was pretty confident that we would be able to get a DNA sample from the remains that were recovered.’
Developments in sonar and mapping technology have encouraged a developing cottage industry of amateur sleuths to examine missing persons cases that have lain dormant for years.
More than four million gallons of water had to be drained from Jack’s Creek before the fragile remains could be safely recovered
Mike Sullivan of Sunshine State Sonar has found the bodies of more than a dozen missing people in cars submerged in Florida’s 85,000 waterways.
And it has given hope to bereaved families who thought they would never find out what became of their missing loved ones.
‘I feel like I am in a dream of sorts,’ Clifton’s other daughter ReAnne Mayo said.
‘I never thought to prepare myself had we found them.
‘For years, I may have been watching the sunset near the creek with my father nearby and never knew it.’