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The Lost Wreck


Claim:   Work crew discovers a decades-old wrecked car with several skeletons inside.

LEGEND

Example:   [Brunvand, 1989]

A resident of Jasper [Alberta] "who preferred to remain nameless," tells that "a friend of a friend" heard about a gruesome discovery made by a work crew widening the road to Miette Hot Springs over the summer."

While on a lunch break, members of a work crew were idly shoving boulders over the edge of the steep road when they suddenly heard the sound of a rock hitting metal.

It turned out that buried among the jagged rocks of the roadside was a wrecked old car with 1950s Canadian license plates. Inside, still looking straight ahead, were the skeletons of four unfortunate passengers.
 

Origins:   Like a good many urban legends, the tale of the "lost wreck" reflects some societal fears that are perhaps Are we there yet? as old as mankind itself, primarily apprehensions about our safety when we venture out into the world alone. If something unfortunate should happen to us when we're outside the view of others, will anyone be there to come to our assistance? If we fail to return from an excursion as expected, will anyone notice we're missing, or care enough to go looking for us? Will searchers be able to find us? Could it be our chilling fate that we will simply perish in some remote place, with no one knowing or caring about our demise?

As folklorist Jan Harold Brunvand notes in Curses! Broiled Again!, the modern "lost wreck" tale incorporates a key motif from a Scandinavian legend known since the nineteenth century, with a Norwegian version described as follows:
"Once there was a hunter who was out shooting grouse. It must have been a long time ago, for he was using a bow and arrow. He caught sight of a bird sitting in a tree a shot at it, but a strange clang was heard as though the arrow had struck a metal object. The hunter went over to see what it was, and underneath some huge trees stood an ancient church."

The hunter had discovered the site of a village apparently completely wiped out by the plague. The metal his arrow had struck was the old churchbell.
Although they don't necessarily match all the details recounted in modern versions of the "lost wreck" legend, many true instances of long-dead bodies discovered in wrecked automobiles have been reported over the years. One of the more notable cases was that of Susie Roberts of Gainesville, Georgia, who disappeared with a friend while they were on their way home from a dance in the nearby town of Dawsonville one day in 1958. Although the friend's body turned up a year later, Roberts' body remained undiscovered until
workers building a bridge found and pulled the car containing her remains from the bottom of Lake Lanier thirty-two years later.

Another similar real-life version of the "car filled with skeletons discovered by happenstance" story would be the case of Kimberly Marie Barnes and her four friends, who disappeared from Palm Beach, Florida, in a van one summer evening in 1979. Their fate remained unknown until a mud-filled van was spotted in Palm Beach County canal by a fisherman eighteen years later; the automobile was dragged out and came within seconds of being shredded for scrap when a Miami salvage yard manager noticed a shin bone fall from the van. Investigators later found a total of five skulls inside.

In September 2013, highway patrol officials who were testing new sonar equipment on Foss Lake, in a remote, sparsely populated area of southwestern Oklahoma, discovered two submerged, decades-old cars containing a total of six human skulls and matching bones. One vehicle, a 1969 Chevy Camaro, contained the remains of three Sayre, Oklahoma, teenagers who vanished on their way to a Friday night football game in 1970. The other car, a 1952 Chevy, held the remains of an Oklahoma man and two friends who disappeared in April 1969.

This legend is similar in structure to Crushin' Roulette, both of them involving the discovery of long-wrecked automobiles with human remains inside.

Sightings:   An episode of TV's Law and Order ("Ramparts," original air date 13 January 1999) opens with a van containing the skeleton of a decades-old murder victim being dredged from the Hudson River.

Last updated:   20 September 2013

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Sources:

    Brunvand, Jan Harold.   Curses! Broiled Again!
    New York: W. W. Norton, 1989.   ISBN 0-393-30711-5   (pp. 99-100).

    Christiansen, Reidar Th.   Folktales of Norway.
    Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1964   (pp. 11-12).

    Glover, Scott.   "Remains Were Seconds Away from Being Lost Forever."
    [Fort Lauderdale] Sun-Sentinel.   3 March 1997   (p. A6).

    Johnson, M. Alex.   "Cold, Wet Cases."
    NBCNews.com.   17 September 2013.

    The New York Times.   "Skeleton in Car Solves 32-Year-Old Mystery."
    5 November 1990   (p. A15).

    The Orlando Sentinel.   "Families Sure Bones Belong to Lost Teens."
    3 March 1997   (p. A1).

    United Press International.   "Medical Examiner Identifies 'Lady of the Lake.'"
    4 November 1990.

Also told in:

    The Big Book of Urban Legends.
    New York: Paradox Press, 1994.   ISBN 1-56389-165-4   (p. 91).