Three grieving families have thanked an amateur detective for discovering their loved ones’ likely resting place after 41 years, armed only with improvised sonar and their own common sense.
Police were baffled when William Clifton, 30, David McMicken, 24, and Michael Norman, 32, disappeared after walking away from a North Carolina bar just before Christmas 1982.
But dive team leader Jason Souhrada attached cheap sonar to a four-foot boogie board after realizing that no one had ever checked Jack’s Creek, a largely inaccessible pond on his route home.
“I was inspired by YouTubers who searched that city several times and couldn’t find them,” Souhrada told Fox News.
“I noticed what looked like an overturned car, but I wasn’t sure as it was the first time I had found something.”
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 traveling in was found just four miles away in a creek.
Little remained of the 1975 Chevrolet Camaro, but the VIN was intact.
Encouraged by his fellow divers, he returned for more exploration before handing over his findings to local police.
They finally sent divers and discovered a car with the same VIN number as the one that 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 fanatic from nearby Myrtle Beach has finally solved the mystery that defeated authorities for decades.
“Without Jason Souhrada’s sacrifice, without taking his family’s time to help ours, we wouldn’t have this potential opportunity for closure,” said Clifton’s daughter, Lea Rose. Fox.
Amateur detective Jason Souhrada appears to have solved the mystery that baffled authorities for decades.
‘This has reopened the wounds, starting the grieving process again for three families. Despite the pain, there is a slight relief in finally having some answers.’
The creek in Washington City is just four miles from the Chocowinity bar that the three men left in a 1975 Chevrolet Camaro.
“I remember the night my father disappeared,” Rose said.
‘My mom, my dad, my sister and I went to see Santa Claus. We went and saw Christmas lights before returning home and then of course that night he went out to spend time with his friends and never came home.
Souhrada took a look at maps of the area after stumbling upon reports online.
“I wondered why they weren’t searching this body of water and realized they couldn’t access it with regular boats,” he said.
“I decided to build my sonar boat, since I don’t have a real boat or a place to store it,” he explained.
‘A real ship would have been much more expensive. Also, I just wanted to scan retention ponds and other areas that real ships aren’t allowed or can’t access.
“Tons of missing people are found in the retention ponds.”
Washington Police Chief Phil Rollinson was impressed enough by their findings to order the captain of the Sydney dive team, John Scott Rose Jr, to jump into the water.
“I found the vehicle after about 45 minutes of searching,” he said.
“The vehicle was in such poor condition that when I got my hands on it, I found it difficult to determine if it was even a car.
‘Maybe it was a lawnmower or something.
“It seemed very small to me, but then I realized that it was small mainly because there was nothing left of it except the chassis, the axles and the engine.”
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 discovered after the chassis was recovered and human remains were found both inside the car and in the drained creek.
“Based on what I have seen and what we are seeing now, I am confident that yes, they are the individuals from 1982,” Chief Rollinson said.
“DNA testing will take some time, but the forensic anthropologist who was here was fairly confident that we could obtain a DNA sample from the recovered remains.”
Advances in sonar and mapping technology have encouraged a growing 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.
Sunshine State Sonar’s Mike Sullivan has found the bodies of more than a dozen missing people in submerged cars in Florida’s 85,000 waterways.
And it has given hope to grieving families who thought they would never know what would become of their missing loved ones.
“I feel like I’m in some kind of dream,” said Clifton’s other daughter, ReAnne Mayo.
‘I never thought of preparing if we had found them.
“For years, I may have been watching the sunset near the creek with my father nearby and never knew it.”