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Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Watery Graves: The Mystery of Foss Lake

     There's no telling how many murder victims lay on the bottom of America's lakes, rivers and ponds. Most people don't realize that these boating, swimming and fishing sites are also the unmarked graves of people who have gone missing and might never be found. It's a sobering thought.

     Whenever a lake goes dry or is drained, law enforcement officers often gather to recover guns, knives, cars, safes, cellphones, computers, wallets and other potential indicia of foul play. Occasionally, the remains of missing persons are exposed as well. When that happens one mystery is solved and another is created.

     On September 10, 2013, Oklahoma Highway Patrol officer George Hoyle, while testing a sonar detection device from a boat on Foss Lake 110 miles west of Oklahoma City, discovered a pair of vehicles sitting under twelve feet of murky water.

     A week after the vehicles were detected, Darrell Splawn, a member of the state's underwater search and rescue team, dove into the lake for a closer look. At this point officers believed they had found a pair of stolen cars.

     When officer Splawn opened the door to one of the vehicles and probed its interior, his hand came in contact with a shoe. He also discovered, near the car, a human skull. The diver surfaced to report his finds. When the diver slipped back into the muddy water to check on the other vehicle he saw skeletal remains inside the second car.

     Once the heavily corroded cars--a 1952 Chevrolet and a 1969 Chevy Camero--were pulled out of the reservoir, they revealed their gruesome secrets. Each vehicle contained the skeletal remains of three people. Officers also recovered, among other items, a muddy wallet and a purse.

     On April 8, 1969, 69-year-old John Alva Porter, the owner of a 1952 green Chevy, went missing. In the car with him that night were his brother Arlie and 58-year-old Nora Marie Duncan. These three residents of nearby Elk City, along with the Chevy, had disappeared without a trace. No one had any idea what had happened to them.

     Jimmy Williams, a 16-year-old from Sayre, Oklahoma, a town of 4,000 a few miles from the lake, owned a 1969 Chevrolet Camero. On the night of November 20, 1970 he and two friends--Thomas Michael Rios and Leah Gail Johnson--both 18, were riding in Williams' car. Instead of going to the high school football game in Elk City, the trio had gone hunting on Turkey Creek Road. The teenagers and the Camero were never seen again.

     While the six skeletal remains were presumed to match the two sets of missing persons, it would take months to scientifically confirm their identities. Forensic scientists in the Oklahoma Medical Examiner's Office compared DNA from the bones with DNA samples from surviving family members. Dr. Angela Berg, the state forensic anthropologist, determined the gender, general stature and approximate ages of the people pulled out of the lake. She did this by analyzing leg and pelvic bones along with the skulls. This data was compared with information contained in the missing person reports.

     What the 44-year-old remains did not reveal was the manner and cause of these deaths. While the six people presumably drowned, they could have been murdered by gun, knife or blunt instrument then dumped into the lake. To rule out foul play, the forensic pathologist and the anthropologist looked for signs of trauma such as bullet holes, knife wounds and smashed or broken bones. The forensic scientists also attempted to determine if the fates of the people inside the two cars were somehow connected.

     Custer County Sheriff Bruce Peoples told an Associated Press reporter that it was possible that these underwater victims had been driven accidentally into the lake where they had drowned. "We know that can happen even if you know your way around," he said. "It can happen that quick." 

     In October 2014, the forensic pathologist officially confirmed the identities of the six sets of remains. Two months later the medical examiner's office ruled out foul play. Some of the victims' family members, however, remained skeptical and suspected otherwise.


  1. Interesting story here. Its definitely a different way of www.findingcarparts.com. The story can be written off as an accident except for these events. One is the cars both crashed and killed their passengers within a year of each other. Never before and never after. Why? The other is why is there not one report of a surviving car crash survivor and or another crash in the same exact point. This is why I feel something is very unusual here. What were the circumstances in that one year 69-70 that made Foss Lake so deadly. - Martin Snytsheuvel

  2. This area is obviously a dumping ground, I myself am a survivor of an accidental car sinking (car turned over upside down in a 10 foot drain ditch) me and passenger rolled windows down and swam up- no problem...I was 23 and she was 19.. Same circumstances here but NO survivors... and a skull in the car trunk??? The cars were obviously pushed into their water graves.......

  3. I originally had thought a kook law enforcement was involved ala Vic Morrow in the Martin Sheen film The California Kid. I get the feeling now after reading more and more information coming out that it was one or more kook citizens from nearby. No accidents. The timing of the two raises questions just in itself.
    The lake has been there how long and both of these incidents happened in a close time frame.
    None before or since? I do not feel the synopsis from the Motortrend documentary is correct. I wish for the families the truth comes out in their lifetime.

  4. So, here's what probably happened. Back in the 60's and 70's they weren't real good at safety on roads. These people drove accidently off the road into the lake at high speed because it wasn't clearly marked. Nowadays they put barriers. Take a look at some old pictures and you'll see roads that dead end at bodies of water with no barriers.

    They just don't want to admit it now because of liability for a safety hazard that claimed these peoples' lives.

  5. After reading an article about this tragedy, which the teenagers disappeared November 20, 1970, but when the car was found 40 years later, that Williams body was recovered along with brown cowboy boots, his bank card, and a 1972 gold colored Sayre High Eagles Ring. So if they were killed in 1970, how could he have had a 1972 ring. Maybe a printing error of the year, I don't know.

    1. The way class rings work is, the graduation year is on the ring. the young man died in 1970 but was going to graduate in 1972.