Skeletal remains inside a car discovered in a creek a little more than a year ago belonged to an Auburn University student who had disappeared in 1976, authorities have confirmed, closing the book on a missing person case that had puzzled investigators for nearly five decades.
Kyle Clinkscales, 22, was last seen alive at a bar where he worked in his home town of LaGrange, Georgia, on the night of 27 January 1976. He was planning to drive back to school in Alabama about 35 miles away in his white 1974 Ford Pinto, but he never arrived.
“It was like the earth opened … and he vanished,” his mother, Louise Clinkscales, once told their local newspaper.
The search for Clinkscales after he was reported missing saw authorities drain lakes as they tried to find him and his Pinto. Investigators working the case did not receive the break that they needed until 7 December 2021, when someone spotted the Pinto in a creek in Cusseta, Alabama, and reported the discovery to officials.
Investigators found a wallet, an ID, credit cards and bones inside Clinkscales’ car. They turned the skeletal remains over to Georgia’s state bureau of investigation to conduct a DNA analysis on them, and the local sheriff’s office announced on Sunday that the bones had been matched to Clinkscales.
Despite that confirmation, Clinkscales’ cause and manner of death have not been determined, the sheriff’s office announcement added.
A cause of death, generally, describes the illness or injury that killed a person. Meanwhile, manners of death explain whether people died naturally or as a result of some other reason, including an accident or a homicide.
Clinkscales’ parents had previously talked in public about how a mysterious caller once told them that he had reason to believe their son was killed and his body had been dumped.
Two people accused of being present when Clinkscales was slain by a third person – who had possibly overheard something compromising about his killer – even went to prison for a few years after being charged with hindering the investigation into the student’s death.
But nobody was charged with murder. Furthermore, the local sheriff has previously said that the condition of Clinkscales’ remains could make it difficult for investigators to ever figure out whether someone murdered him – or if he accidentally drove off the road, as the Daily Beast reported in December 2021.
Neither Clinkscales’ father, John, nor his mother, Louise, lived long enough to hear Sunday’s announcement. John Clinkscales died of a heart attack in 2007. And Louise died in 2021 about 11 months before the recovery of Clinkscales’ Pinto, along with what were later to be determined his remains, according to the Oxford American magazine.
A friend of Kyle Clinkscales, Lauren Griffen, said many who knew him never lost hope of finding out what had been his fate.
“Everybody was always wondering if he was going to show up somewhere,” Griffen told the Atlanta NBC news affiliate WXIA.
Griffen recalled Clinkscales as someone who was known and liked by many in their community.
“His personality was just charming,” Griffen said to WXIA. “He was a sweet guy. Most of the time he was very quiet. But he was very kind to everyone.”