BERESFORD, S.D. | The news Tuesday that skeletal remains were found inside a car pulled from Brule Creek in rural Union County hit home for LuAnn Sorensen-Denke.
Sorensen-Denke was friends with Pamella Jackson and Cheryl Miller, who disappeared 42 years ago. Jackson and Miller were last seen in a 1960 Studebaker Lark. On Monday, a car matching that description was found submerged in the waterway, rekindling a missing persons case that has sat dormant for years.
"After 42 years, I'm still grieving and looking for closure," said Sorensen-Denke, who grew up with Jackson and Miller. "It's very hard. But today, it's another step closer to finding out what happened."
On Wednesday, officials will take the remains to a laboratory in Sioux Falls. Only then will the identity of the remains be known, said Union County Sheriff Dan Limoges.
Officials lifted the wreckage of what they believe is a Studebaker from a muddy bank of Brule Creek. Authorities said they think it is the vehicle Jackson and Miller, both 17, of Vermillion, S.D., were last seen riding in May 29, 1971.
A passerby on Monday found the car just south of the bridge over 310th Street. South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley said investigators found human remains, which have submitted for an autopsy, as well as other evidence inside the car.
Jackson and Miller were on their way to a nearby gravel pit for a party with classmates from Vermillion High School.
Jackley wouldn't say whether there were two sets of remains in the car. He said the case remains an open investigation and said results of the testing will determine the course of the investigation.
Chris Anderson, of Beresford, S.D., said he swam in the gravel pit and creek near his home countless times over the years, but never imagined he would one day be crawling with state and local police investigating the disappearance of the two Vermillion girls.
"It's surprising after all these years they finally found something," said Anderson, 35, who lives about a mile from where the car was found.
On Tuesday, Sorensen-Denke described Jackson and Miller as positive young women with lively senses of humor. Sorensen-Denke now lives in Rapid City, S.D.
"Pam was a seamstress and very well liked. She would bake cakes for their birthdays and have slumber parties," Sorensen-Denke said. "Both of them were very outgoing and nice girls, just wonderful people."
Sorensen-Denke said she was not present at the party Jackson and Miller had been heading to. She said she felt attending the party presented too great of a risk.
"I felt I would possibly get lost myself, so I elected not to go," Sorensen-Denke said. "I just felt it was too risky at the time."
Sorensen-Denke said each new development has rekindled the anguish she felt in 1971.
A South Dakota State Penitentiary inmate, David Lykken, of rural Alcester, S.D., was indicted on murder charges in the case in 2007. The charges were dismissed when authorities learned the jail house informant who claimed to have taped Lykken confessing to the alleged crimes had faked the recordings. The informant, Aloysius Black Crow, pleaded guilty to perjury in 2008.
Officials wouldn't say whether Lykken was still a suspect in the case. They said their focus is on bringing closure to the Jackson and Miller families.
Anderson said he hoped the discovery will help the families of the girls.
"It's nice for the family to have some closure, if that's who it is," he said.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled LuAnn Sorensen-Denke's name. This version has been corrected.