DNA ties trying to be made
Sheriff Bruce Peoples says contact now has been made with surviving family members of all six people who were believed to be in two automobiles that plunged into Foss Reservoir well over 40 years ago.
Cletius Hammock from Squaw Valley, Calif., called the Sheriff’s Office Thursday morning and said he thought the last “unknown” was probably his uncle. That would be Clayburn Hammock, believed to have been in a 1952 Chevrolet which was the older of the two cars pulled from the lake Tuesday morning.
“The nephew had read a news article online about it,” said Peoples. “He called his dad who said, ‘Yeh, that’s your Uncle Clayburn. He’s been missing for 40 years.’”
Peoples said the surviving brother, if indeed the two are brothers, is now in a Lawton nursing home and the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation was going to get DNA from him in an attempt to identify the man pulled from the car.
Arrangements had already been made to get DNA from persons believed to be related to the other five victims. Those victims were thought to be John Alvin Porter and Nora Duncan, from the same car as Hammock, and Jimmy Allen Williams, Thomas Michael Rios and Leah Gail Johnson, from a 1969 Chevrolet Camaro.
Peoples identified the man in the nursing home as Hershel Hammock.
The sheriff quoted his son as saying, “Oh my God. My father is going to be so glad. We’ve always talked about what might have happened to my uncle. My father was afraid he was going to go to his grave wondering where his brother was.”
But even after that call, others continued to come in from people reporting missing relatives who thought one of the victims recovered this week might be their kin.
In a short span of 15 or 20 minutes while a Clinton Daily News reporter was in the sheriff’s office, two such calls were received. The first was from a woman, also calling from California, who identified herself as Fay Roman. She said she had once lived in Clinton and had a son who went missing in the early 1970s.
A few minutes later a man called who said his brother, James Simmons, disappeared in the ’80s. Peoples felt confident neither of those calls would match up to any of the victims pulled from the cars this week, but he nonetheless instructed his staff to get information about them. He said the information would be given to the State Medical Examiner’s Office to keep on file for a possible match when other bodies are found.
“We want their information,” he said. “If another body is found, they’ll know who to call. We’re helping them build a data base.”
And with new sonar like the type used to find the two cars at Foss, who knows how many long-missing victims might be found in the future?
Calls from relatives of missing persons weren’t the only ones the Custer County Sheriff’s Office was fielding this week. Peoples said he had talked with a Reuters reporter calling from London, England. He also had received calls from several of the major U.S. news media, including the producers of “48 Hours” who wanted him to possibly appear on one of their programs.
NBC News on Wednesday was setting up a site overlooking the main boat ramp at Foss, near where workers were busy that day removing the remains of the victims. The network evidently was planning on going live to that location on its evening newscast, but Peoples said he warned them everything was probably going to be over by then, and indeed it was.
In fact, the area had been cleared by Thursday and fishermen were again being permitted to load and unload their boats, just as they’ve done since the lake was opened more than six decades ago.
Human remains collected from the two cars were driven by Angela Berg, anthropologist for the State Medical Examiner’s Office, back to her office in Tulsa for further processing.
The cars themselves were moved to an undesignated location to be kept for a short period of time. They then will be buried at another undisclosed location. Peoples said the family of John Alvin Porter, believed to be the owner of the ’52 Chevy, had asked that what’s left of it be buried, and the other car would be too.
He said Gary Williams of Sayre – a brother of Jimmy Williams who owned the other car – wanted to see it before it’s buried.
Custer County Commissioner Lyle Miller was arranging for the burial of the two autos, or what’s left of them.
In remarks Thursday to the Clinton Kiwanis Club, Fire Chief Randy Carpenter said the interiors of the two cars were in remarkably good shape to have been in the water that long, but that they were practically disintegrating before onlookers’ eyes as they sat in the open air and sunshine Tuesday and Wednesday.
Of course they also were torn apart by officials looking for the remains and other evidence.
Peoples was amused at some of the national news media and their total unfamiliarity with Oklahoma. He said a CNN female reporter wanted to know how they got the cars “out of this pond.”
He said he informed her the pond was an 8,800-acre reservoir, to which she replied with surprise, “Well, that’s a big lake