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A car and the remains of a man missing since 2013 are found

Written by The Anand Market

Updated on:

One morning in late December 2013, Donald L. Erwin, a 59-year-old disabled veteran, told his wife he was going to buy cigarettes.

He often woke up before dawn and was a heavy smoker. She fell back asleep. Shortly after 6 a.m., Mr. Erwin got into his silver Hyundai and left his mobile home in the central Ozarks.

He never came back.

For nearly a decade, Mr. Erwin’s family, along with a few friends and locals, scoured the lakes and valleys of the hilly region near his home in Camdenton, Mo., searching for clues . “I didn’t stop for nine years,” Mr. Erwin’s sister, Yvonne Erwin-Bowen, said in an interview, noting that she traveled from her home in Kansas City at least twice a year to conduct research. Mr. Erwin’s wife has since died.

Last year, Ms. Erwin-Bowen, 62, began to run out of steam. “I didn’t go get my brother once,” she said. “I literally put him in God’s hands.”

Then, last month, Ms. Erwin-Bowen received a call from a friend: a diver had found her brother’s car about five miles from home, submerged in a pond. The car, a 2002 Elantra, was recovered Dec. 16 from private property in south Camden County, according to a Press release from local authorities. A few days later, detectives and cadaver dogs human remains found and an artificial hip matching Mr. Erwin’s, authorities said.

The diver, James Hinkle, said in an interview that he became aware of the case about two years ago and began methodically searching bodies of water near Mr. Erwin’s home on board a kayak equipped with sonar and a drone.

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On the afternoon of December 14, Mr. Hinkle, whose volunteer underwater search and recovery team runs a YouTube channel, decides to search a pond on private property, when he notices a tire floating in the water. “It kind of pissed me off,” he said. Using a drone, Mr. Hinkle then observed a light, square-shaped object in the water. As he began to bring the drone closer, he added, “it looked more and more like a car.”

Picture

An aerial image of Donald Erwin’s car in the pond.Credit…James Hinkle, Echo Miscellaneous

Two days later, Mr. Hinkle returned to the property with his kayak, a submersible camera and a magnet attached to a rope, which he dropped on the car as a guide. Sheriff’s deputies and detectives, along with local fire divers, were able to reach the car and match its license plate to Mr. Erwin’s. A local towing company then helped remove the vehicle from the pond.

The grim discovery brought a confusing mix of closure, elation and renewed agony to people who spent years looking for Mr. Erwin. “It’s a new heartache,” said Mrs. Erwin-Bowen, his sister. “Even though I knew in my heart that he was gone, accepting the reality is a whole different thing.”

Mr. Erwin, also known as “Donnie,” served in the Navy during the Vietnam War and later moved to Georgia, she said. But a rare illness caused him to lose a leg. Ultimately, Mr. Erwin lost his job as a programmer at Mitsubishi, she said.

Eventually, Mr. Erwin, his wife and son moved to a mobile home in the Ozarks. Shortly before Mr. Erwin died, he learned he would likely need to have his second leg amputated, Ms. Erwin-Bowen said. “My brother did what he did because he didn’t want to be a burden to anyone,” she added, noting that she believed he had committed suicide.

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“People always say that when you find that loved one, you end their life,” she added. “No, you don’t, because you’ll never understand.”

More than 24,000 people remain missing across the United States, according to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System. Other cold cases were solved by amateurs before the authorities. In 2021, a YouTuber found a car belonging to two Tennessee teenagers who had been missing for 21 years; another search and recovery dive group claims to have helped solve 29 such cases.

Ms Erwin-Bowen said she hoped her family’s story would encourage others in similar situations not to give up hope. “Never stop looking, the answer is out there,” she said. “Never give up.”