By Heide Brandes
OKLAHOMA CITY (Reuters) - Oklahoma authorities said on Wednesday they were working to identify six human skeletons found in cars pulled from a lake in the western part of the state to determine if the skeletons are linked to decades-old missing persons cases.
An anthropologist for the Oklahoma Medical Examiner's office was analyzing the skeletons on Wednesday, but Amy Elliott, a spokeswoman for the medical examiner's office, said the identification could take a matter of days - or far longer.
Last week, Oklahoma Highway Patrol divers stumbled upon two mud and rust-covered vehicles on the bottom of Foss Lake during tests of new sonar equipment. On Tuesday, six skeletons were recovered from a blue 1969 Chevrolet Camaro and a car from the 1950s, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation said.
"It was quite a shock when the first car came out and we saw what was in the driver's seat," Betsy Randolph, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Highway Patrol said, describing it as a 1952 Chevrolet. "We knew we had a problem."
Investigators recovered most of the bones from the six people in the vehicles, she said.
The cars were found about three feet apart in about 12 feet of water near the main concrete boat dock on the lake, Randolph said. A main road narrows into the concrete dock, which slides straight into the water, she said.
The Custer County Sheriff's Office released a statement on Tuesday that said one of the bodies had been identified, but no names would be released until family members were notified.
"Right now, the medical examiner's office will rule whether or not there was a crime, if they can. You're talking about decades-old skeletons here," said Jessica Brown, public information officer for the State Bureau of Investigation. "We don't know at this point whether this is a crime scene or not."
Speculation centered on the Camaro as the vehicle in which three local high school students were riding when they disappeared in 1970. According to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, Jimmy Allen Williams, 16, Thomas Michael Rios, 18, and Leah Gail Johnson, 18, were last seen on their way to a football game in Elk City on November 20, 1970.
Local media reported on Wednesday that the three teenagers were riding in Williams' 1969 Chevrolet Camaro. The teens never arrived home that night and have not been located since.
Custer County Sheriff Bruce Peoples was quoted on Tuesday by local media as saying the second vehicle may date back to a cold case where two or three unidentified people were last seen in a car in Canute, Oklahoma, about 14 miles south of Foss Lake.
The Custer County sheriff could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.
(Reporting by Heide Brandes; Editing by Edith Honan, Greg McCune, Maureen Bavdek and Steve Orlofsky)