It's one of the most unforgettable mysteries in Fort Worth history. Three girls disappeared from a shopping center two days before Christmas 1974. The girls' families have never given up hope and now they're preparing for what could be the biggest break in the case.
The families will finally get a chance to look at three cars in the bottom of Benbrook Lake that they believe may be connected to the case. Texas EquuSearch helped locate the cars by sonar but there was no way to get to them until a volunteer diver came forward with an offer that he's calling "Operation Bring Them Up."
This is a very dangerous dive. The cars are nearly 40 feet down, through pitch black water. So the recovery mission requires careful planning.
On Monday, trained diver Jeff Burns, who volunteered to lead the mission, took his team out to explore the site in Benbrook Lake and mark the three cars with buoys. They plan to come back in September to pull the cars out.
At the quiet edge of Benbrook Lake, it's hard to imagine what secrets could lie below the water. Rusty Arnold thinks it may hold answers to a mystery that's haunted his family for 44 years.
"Oh it's been very traumatic," Arnold said.
His sister Rachel Arnold Trlica was 17 when she disappeared from the Seminary South shopping center with her friend 14-year-old Renee Wilson and a neighbor nine-year-old Julie Moseley. It was two days before Christmas and Rachel's car was packed with gifts when police found it.
"When these girls disappeared, it changed Fort Worth forever," Arnold said.
Now he hopes another car will bring long-sought evidence. He wants to learn if one of three found by sonar at the bottom of Benbrook Lake could be a phantom car he's been searching for.
"This vehicle came up missing about the same time the girls did and that's only about five miles from here," Arnold said.
But Fort Worth Police won't confirm there ever was a missing car and say there's not enough evidence to risk such a dangerous dive.
That's where Burns comes in. He heard about the case by chance a few weeks back.
"I said I believe I can help this guy," Burns said.
Burns is a trained diver who volunteered to lead a team to bring all three cars up.
"He said 'why would you be willing to risk your life for somebody you never met?' I said 'how long have you been suffering? How long have these families needed closure, need answers?'" Burns said."He said 'well it happened in '74.' I said 'that's almost 45 years of not knowing anything. Why wouldn't I help you?'"
Both men know they may not find the answers they want but at least it's another stone turned.
"I don't feel like we're wasting our time because we gotta know,” Arnold said. “Nobody's gonna know until we pull them up and physically go through them."
The dive is planned for late September and the team needs to raise money before then. Because this is such a dangerous dive, they need to buy new safety equipment, including an underwater communications system and inflatable lift bags to raise the cars out of the water.
For more information or to donate, you can click here.
There will also be two fundraisers with live music August 25th and September 8th at Dudes Bar in Kennedale.