A vehicle belonging to an Auburn University student who went missing nearly 46 years ago has been found in an Alabama creek along with possible human remains, potentially ending a decadeslong search.
But the discovery of the muddy 1974 Ford Pinto didn’t immediately solve the mystery of what happened to Kyle Clinkscales, 22. He was last seen returning to the university in Alabama from his hometown of LaGrange, Georgia, on the night of Jan. 27, 1976. He never made it to campus and investigators for years pursued a theory that he’d been murdered.
“For 45 years we’ve looked for this young man and looked for this car. And we’ve drained lakes and we’ve looked here and looked there,” Troup County Sheriff James Woodruff said at a news conference Wednesday of the discovery that he said brought a “big sigh of relief.”
The badly corroded 1974 Ford Pinto Runabout was pulled from the muddy water Wednesday in Chambers County, Alabama, after it was reported to police earlier that morning by a passerby.
The old car’s roof was gone, apparently peeled away by the creek’s current. Inside were bones that appeared to be human, as well as a wallet that contained Clinkscales’ identification and credit cards.
The vehicle identification number matched the car Clinkscales was driving. A nearby road may have been along the route between LaGrange and Auburn, authorities said.
Exactly what happened to the vehicle remains unknown, however. Woodruff said the driver could have swerved off the road and into the creek accidentally.
Or there could have been foul play.
Back in 2005, investigators arrested a man they suspected was involved in Clinkscales’ death. They said the suspect recounted a conversation with another man, who claimed to have shot Clinkscales, hid the remains in a lake, then moved the body to “another location where no one would ever find him,” the then-sheriff said at the time.
The man who told that story was later convicted of making false statements to police. And the person he identified as the killer died years earlier, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Woodruff declined to comment on that earlier investigation, saying he wasn’t sheriff at the time. A closer inspection of the bones may shed more light on what may have happened, he said.
“We are glad today,” said Woodruff. “You know Ms. Clinkscales, his mother, died just this year in January, and it was always her hope that he would come home. It was always our hope that we would find him for her before she passed away. Just the fact that we have hopefully found him and the car brings me a big sigh of relief.”
Clinkscales was an only child. His father died in 2007.