After decades of mystery, the families of Cheryl Miller and Pamella Jackson finally know what happened to the two South Dakota girls one night in May 1971. Officials have confirmed that a 1960 Studebaker found in a creek last year contained the remains of the two 17-year-olds—and they appear to be the victims of a car crash, not foul play, the AP reports. The car was in the highest gear and the lights were on when it crashed, say investigators who suspect a tire blew when the girls were on their way to an end-of-school party, sending the car into the creek where it lay for 42 years until it was exposed by drought. Investigators do not believe alcohol was a factor.
The girls were found in the car's front seats, and "the forensic pathology and anthropology reports indicate that there's no type of injury that would be consistent with or caused by foul play or inappropriate conduct," the state's attorney general told reporters. A high school classmate already serving a 227-year sentence for rape and kidnapping was charged in 2007 with murdering the girls, but charges were dropped after prosecutors found that a jailhouse informant had lied. The attorney general said he was glad to be able to bring closure to the families, and deliver news that wouldn't lead to further suffering, Vermillion Plain Talk reports. "I would much rather prefer, even though it doesn’t change the fact that this is a tragedy, to be able to talk about an accident versus the other alternative," he said. (Read more South Dakota stories.)