Kyle Clinkscales, a student at Auburn University, was last seen on the night of January 27, 1976, when he left his hometown of LaGrange, Georgia, to drive back to campus in his 1974 Ford Pinto, said Troup County, Georgia, Sheriff James Woodruff at a Wednesday news conference, a day after the discovery.
The 22-year-old never arrived at the Alabama school and neither he nor the car were seen again -- until, perhaps, now.
"For 45 years, we have searched for Kyle and his car. We have followed hundreds of leads and never really had anything substantial develop from those leads," Woodruff said.
He said they've drained lakes and conducted numerous searches in hopes of finding Clinkscales.
LaGrange is north of Columbus in West Georgia and is about 20 miles from the Alabama state line.
On Tuesday, someone called 911 to report seeing what appeared to be a car in a creek off County Road 83, about a mile from County Road 388, said Maj. Terry Wood with the Chambers County, Alabama, Sheriff's Department.
When authorities arrived, they saw the partially submerged vehicle, which Wood said was visible from the two-lane road that runs over the creek.
Chambers County Sheriff Sid Lockhart said the car was found about three miles away from what would have been Clinkscales' normal route back to school. Lockhart said he did not know if the area was searched when Clinkscales initially went missing.
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The car's hatchback was open, but Lockhart said he doesn't know if it came open after years in the water, or if the water level in the creek has gone down.
After removing the vehicle from the water, local law enforcement determined it was a white Pinto with a Troup County license plate.
Local officials then contacted the Troup County Sheriff's Office, which ran the tag number through its system and determined that it was Clinkscales' car, Woodruff said.
Woodruff said that top of the car "is completely" rusted away but authorities did discover a wallet, credit cards, Clinkscales' ID, and several bones.
"We believe those to be human in nature. We've called in the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. They are currently at our facility taking that car apart and if they can, looking at what's in it to determine how many bones are in there and if they are indeed his bones," Woodruff said.
Woodruff said he hopes a cause of death can be determined "but we may never know."
"Just the fact that we have hopefully found him and the car brings me a big sigh of relief," Woodruff said, adding that Clinkscales' mother passed away earlier this year still hoping her son would come home.
Clinkscales' father died in 2007, Woodruff said. Clinkscales was an only child.
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