On Tuesday, April 15, 2014 South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley announced in a press conference that the remains recovered from a Brule Creek car wreck just outside of Elk Point were indeed those of Pamella Jackson and Cheryl Miller. The evidence collected at the scene last year has concluded that the pair of girls had met an accidental end, free from foul play, finally closing a case that had sat cold for over 40 years and bringing a melancholy end to the years of speculation endured by the families.
On an overcast Monday last September, a fisherman at Brule Creek near Elk Point in South Dakota spotted the wheel of a motor vehicle protruding out of the water under the bridge. Familiar with the case of two 17 year old Vermillion High School students who had been missing since 1971, he decided to phone the sighting in to the local authorities. After a drawn out and grueling process of fighting with the environment around the scene, the mangled wreckage of a once-beige 1960 Studebaker Lark was pulled from the murky waterlogged tomb where it had stayed for nearly 43 years on Monday, September 23, 2013. The turbulent conditions of the previous seasons saw a springtime flood and a subsequent drought during the summer, this helped to unveil this most paramount clue to the four decade long mystery.
Among the evidence collected from the cab of the contorted Studebaker was Cheryl Miller’s purse, a veritable time capsule of what her life was like in the short time before the untimely end. It contained her driver’s license, photos, and notes from classmates. The skeletal remains of the girls were contained within the cab of the car, well preserved clothes still draped over the bones. Other evidence in addition to testimonials from classmates who had seen the girls prior to their disappearance indicated that intoxicating substances did not play a part in the accident. Though one of the tires was damaged, mechanical tests performed on the vehicle did not incite any suspicion of foul play. The keys were still in the ignition with the engine was set in its highest gear and the switch for the headlights was still on when the car was recovered. The teenage girls had last been seen driving to an end of the year party at a gravel pit when they and their vehicle were abruptly frozen in time, never expecting to become one of South Dakota’s longest running cold case files until it was finally closed this year.
Prior to discovering the car, an earlier theory implicated David Lykken, a former classmate of the girls in their deaths. Liken lived on a farm in Union County, where clothing, a purse, photographs, newspaper articles and the bones of an unidentified organism were found in relation to an unconnected case. Lykken was charged with six counts of murder in the disappearances of Miller and Jackson in 2007, but the charges were dropped shortly thereafter when it was discovered that the confession evidence was fabricated as part of a jailhouse prank. The offending inmate pleaded guilty to two counts of perjury, but Lykken is still incarcerated and serving a 227 year sentence for an unrelated rape and abduction.
Oscar Jackson, the father of Pamella Jackson tragically passed away in a South Dakota farmhouse last year, without ever having known the truth about his daughter’s disappearance. He was 102 years old, and it was just five days before his daughter’s dilapidated Studebaker was discovered, bringing a long awaited close to this mysterious case that spanned over 40 years. His obituary reads, “Oscar’s greatest sadness was the disappearance of Pam.”
By Faye Barton