Mystery at Foss Lake

Updated: Nov 15

Six people disappeared from two tiny towns off Route 66 in western Oklahoma — Canute and Sayre — in two years, three in 1969, and another three in 1970.

Suspicions in Sayre, Oklahoma, the town of 3,000 that has been gripped by the mystery for 44 years. Foss Lake is located near Elk City, Oklahoma.

April 8th, 1969

The green 1953 Chevrolet Bel Air Nora Duncan rode in needed a push to get it started when it was last seen in Canute, a tiny town in western Oklahoma. (Some articles state the car was a 1957.)

Nora Duncan, 58, disappeared on April 8, 1969, with friends Cleburn Hammock and John Alva Porter, according to a letter written to the FBI by Duncan's daughter later that year.

Some articles on this them as going missing in the late 50's/early 60's, but according to police/family and missing persons reports, it was 1969. Few details are known about the night she and her friends disappeared.

“Exhaustive investigation by family members has failed to develop any information as to her possible whereabouts and for that reason it is requested that a missing person notice be posted ...” the letter, filed in the National Missing Persons Database, states. It's addressed to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, dated Oct. 9, 1969, and written by Duncan's daughter, Clara Jo Duncan Irick.

Debbie Porter McManaman's family had always wondered what happened. Her grandfather was 69-year-old John Alva Porter. The three were reported missing a little over a year before the teens -- in April of 1969.

"I got out of the car and stood on the sidewalk and stood there and he smiled at us and that was the last day we saw him," she said. "There was no trace at all, I mean, my grandpa just left his house, Cleborn left his job, Nora left her home, and they were gone."

"The driver's side door was open on the old Chevy, which was kind of a mystery all in itself," Hoyle said. "A whole lot of things there that we're really not able to determine.

Evidence of alcohol was found inside the Chevy, but no damage to the vehicle.

"We always felt like foul play," says McManaman. "That hasn't been completely ruled out of our hearts."

Nov 20th, 1970

16-year-old Jimmy Allen Williams and 18-year-olds Thomas Michael Rios and Leah Gail Johnson were last seen at a Sayre bowling alley, then disappeared after going for a drive in Jimmy’s blue 1969 Camaro on November 20th, 1970 of which he only bought 6 days before. Johnson was Native American and, Spitzer said, was related to legendary Indian chief Sitting Bull. Residents regarded Johnson as an Indian princess, she told CNN. The teens were last seen in Sayre, OK the night of Nov. 20, 1970, Custer County Sheriff Bruce Peoples said.

They were initially believed to have gone to watch a football game in the hours before their disappearance, although it is now thought the group may have changed their minds and headed to Foss Lake to hunt.

The Undersheriff at the time said "there was nothing ... There were no leads, no nothing. He said it was just like they vanished into thin air.'

After the teens disappeared, theories circulated in the dust-bowl farming community — ranging from suspected drug smuggling ring to a belief that the teens had runaway to join the counterculture, according to various media reports.

In September 2013

"This lake isn't crystal clear. It's a typical western Oklahoma lake with a lot of silt in it. The visibility is only 6 to 12 inches on a good day," Custer County Sheriff Bruce Peoples told The Tulsa World.

Sky view photo from 1981.

Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers testing new sonar equipment on Sept. 10th 50 feet off shore and in 12-feet of water, the images of two cars appeared and led to the discovery of a 1950s Chevy and a 1969 Camaro on the lake bottom, which contained the skeletal remains of six people, three in each car. Both cars also had alcohol bottles in them.

Oklahoma police testing sonar equipment stumbled upon Jimmy Williams’ 1969 Camaro submerged in Foss Lake. Adding to the mystery, investigators found another car near the Camaro, a 1950s Chevrolet with the bodies of three other missing persons inside. Human remains found in the Camaro matched the general descriptions of three teenagers – Jimmy Allen Williams, 16, Leah Gail Johnson, 18, and Thomas Michael Rios, 18, all from Sayre, the state Medical Examiner’s Office said.

The other remains matched the genders and ages of three passengers in the green Chevrolet who went missing in 1969, the medical examiner said last year. John Alva Porter, then 69, was in that car with Cleburn Hammack, 42, and Nora Marie Duncan, 58. Two rifles were found, rusted and corroded, in the Camaro. The cars were side by side no more than a few feet apart and the green older car had it's driver's door wide open. It had gone into the lake head first.

A year after Oklahoma police hauled a 1969 Camaro from a lake, a medical examiner has announced that the bodies found inside it are those of three teens who disappeared in 1970. The remains of Williams, 16, Leah Gail Johnson, 18, and Thomas Michael Rios, 18, all of Sayre, were identified in the Camaro, the medical examiner’s office said, Reuters reported. And DNA test results compared to family members prove that the bodies belonged to the other missing, the state Medical Examiner’s Office said, adding that they all died from "Probable drowning" and their deaths were accidental.

When the initial discovery was made, police dismissed the possibility of foul play, saying the two car wrecks weren’t likely connected. And last week, the medical examiner found that all six people in the two cars likely died of accidental drowning, Reuters reported.

Both cars, police said, appeared to have been driven straight down a boat ramp into the reservoir, ending up about 50 feet from the shore.

“This is western Oklahoma, not LA, or New York, or London,” Sheriff Bruce Peoples said in a 2013 interview in his office, across from a small goat farm. “Over 41 years of working car wrecks, I’ve seen accident-prone areas. The road those vehicles went down goes right into the lake.”

Gary Williams, 55 today, was 12 when his older brother Jimmy went missing and he doesn't buy it.

“It's a '69 Camaro, and it's got three bodies inside.” “I think they came across some bad people,” Gary Williams told the Oklahoman. “I think it was foul play, but I’ll never be able to prove that.” Police allowed him to view the car after it was recovered, and he later told NewsOK that he believed the car’s gearshift was (rusted) in neutral. It's suggested that no one in the car would have put it in neutral themselves and just let themselves go right into the lake. This car was also brought out head first, meaning the car went into the lake backwards. "I don't think it was an accident," Williams said. "Jimmy is not going to sit there in the driver's seat and accept death by drowning, without trying to kick a window out."

"It was found in the lake backwards with the car in neutral," Williams said. "All the damage to the vehicle, every bit of the damage can be attributed to a backwards roll in, it can be explained, but there is some damage on the vehicle that can't be explained with a forward impact, not very well anyway. Jimmy would have had to turn completely around, if you buy into the forward impact theory."

There were also talks that there were possibly four bodies in the 53 Chevy when it was first found. Those of Erlie Porter, John's son. Not sure where this came from as I have found an article that states he was at the site when the cars were brought up and helped identify the car.

The bodies were so badly decomposed when found, they had archeologists come help piece them together. Therefore, I'm not sure how anyone could rule what killed them.

Where, how far?

I know what you're wondering, and I've got you covered in this map:

What was found in the cars?

Items found in the Camaro include:

1) A brown glass bottle, with "No deposit" embossed on bottom edge

2) A clear glass bottle, with "No deposit, No return" on the middle, and metal screw cap in place with the logo "TwistoTop Dr. Pepper "

3) Three round, grey plastic, 4-holed button (10mm diameter)

4) One round, grey plastic, 4-holed button (9mm diameter)

5) One clear plastic collar stay (56mm x 10mm)

6) A round, thin metal object (9mm diameter)

7) Fish vertebrae x2

8) A human stapes (ear bone)

9) A fingernail

10) A black plastic object surrounded with metal

11) A white plastic, screw cap (30mm diameter)

12) Multiple, rusted and unidentifiable objects

13) Multiple, rusted objects with blue paint (from the car body)

14) Multiple, unidentifiable plastic objects

15) Multiple, unknown fabric items

16) A 25mm diameter, metal screw cap with the logo "TwistoTop Dr. Pepper "

17) Four 30m round plastic items (from the roll-up window handles?)

18) An unknown silver-colored metal items

19) A brake release handle

20) A blue plastic Chevrolet logo (155mm x 30mm) with a fragment of the plastic frame

21) A black plastic hook from car

22) 22mm cartridges x5 (25mm length)

23) A key in the ignition with a GM key on the same keyring

24) A rectangular metal plate (45mm x99mm) embossed with "Body by Fisher, ST 69 12437 VN242555 BOY, 713 71E PNT,IC J250,General Motors Corporation certifies to the dealer that this vehicle conforms to all U.S. Federal motor vehicle safety standards applicable at the time of manufacture"

25) The tongue of a shoe (placed with OCME1304170)

26) Two 20mm diameter circular buttons with a brown, leather-like woven pattern

27) Three 16mm diameter circular textured items (possible clothing or vehicle seat rivets)

28) U.S. coins, minimum of seven (penny 19620,penny 19700,penny 2004,penny unknown, quarter


29) A rectangular fabric clothing label (55mm x 32mm)

30) A circular metal rivet with the logo "Maverick®"

31) A white piece of elastic (9mm x 460mm)

32) Metal zipper teeth (470mm length)

33) Plastic fragments consistent with the shoe of OCME1304167

34) A white label with the information "Lie. Pat. No. 2_74 432"

35) An unlabeled gum package

36) A white Wrigley Spearmint gum package

37) A silver gum wrapper

38) Fragments of serging

39) Fragments of elastic with fabric

40) Fragments of narrow leather with side stiches (possibly a belt)

41) Purple nylon fragments with a diamond sewn pattern and matching batting fragments (suggestive of a lined, quilted jacket)

42) Metal cap (25mm diameter) with logo "Adolph Coors, Oklahoma, Twist cap"

Items found in the older model Chevy include:

1) A green identification plate, obliterated on the right side,