LAGRANGE, Ga. — An Auburn University student disappeared after leaving his job at a Georgia bar one night in January 1976, and authorities long believed he was murdered. But the only person ever convicted went to prison for years for making false statements about a killing that may never have happened. Nearly a half-century after the disappearance, the open hatch of a 1974 Pinto became visible in the murky water of an Alabama creek. It was Kyle Clinkscales’ car, and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation will now analyze about 50 bones found inside, including part of a skull, a Georgia sheriff said.“We may never know” how the 22-year-old died, Sheriff James Woodruff of Troup County said at a news conference after the car was pulled from the creek on Tuesday near Cusseta, Alabama. He said Clinkscales could have accidentally run off the road, about three miles (five kilometers) off the interstate between his job and campus, but he’s not ruling out foul play. Neither is Donny Turner, whose office interviewed about 75 people in the case when he was sheriff from 1993 to 2012. He told The Associated Press on Thursday he remains confident Clinkscales was the victim of a homicide, that Jimmy Earl Jones was there and that Jones was correctly prosecuted for lying to investigators. Clinkscales was from LaGrange, near the Georgia-Alabama state line and about 45 miles (72 kilometers) from Auburn. He disappeared after leaving the LaGrange Moose Club, where he worked as a bartender, at around 11 p.m. on Jan. 27, 1976, to return to school. His parents prayed for information about their son until they died — his father in 2007 and his mother this year. They offered rewards, consulted psychics, provided DNA samples and had a brief, false glimmer of hope in 1981 when a man in Oregon claimed he had amnesia and might be their son, according to news reports. The investigation has started and stalled several times over the years, and authorities say Jones’ initial silence and later inconsistencies complicated things. The AP tried to reach Jones and the lawyer who represented him for comment but was unable to locate either of them. One tipster, in 1996, pointed to a man who was a friend of Jones, saying that man knew where the body was. Investigators drained a 5-acre lake near the man’s property, but they found nothing. Jones’ friend denied any involvement, and Jones stayed mum. Investigators didn’t have enough evidence to bring charges. Then, in 2005, a man called Clinkscales’ parents, saying that when he was 7, he witnessed the disposal of their son’s body, covered with concrete in a barrel and dumped into a pond. He said his cousin was involved in trying to get rid of the body. The cousin denied it but said he heard a gunshot and witnessed Jones and the friend dragging someone away, Turner said. The pond was drained, but a body was not recovered.
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