1970s mystery renewed; Discovery of car, bodies inside reignites a cold case

The 1966 Impala was hoisted from the Pecatonica River on March 11 by crane. Remains were discovered inside and not long after, it was confirmed that the car and bodies were that of missing Everett Hawley and Clarence Owens from the 1970s.

    On March 11, after 47 years, the mystery of what happened in 1976 to two missing area men has been renewed.

    Thanks to an area fisherman, who, through the use of his fishing sonar, located a car submerged in the Pecatonica River near E. First and Washington streets in which were found the remains of what is believed to be missing Freeport residents and business partners Clarence Owens, 65, and Everett Hawley, 75, who disappeared along with the 1966 Chevy Impala they were in. The car was located and raised by fire protection divers after having been notified through the fisherman.

    It was reported that Hawley and Owens were last seen on Feb. 19, 1976, and local authorities are working with a forensic anthropologist to completely identify the remains in an investigation that is expected to last some time.

    After so many years, only bones were left of the men’s bodies.  More were also located in the mud of the river bank after the vehicle was retrieved. Almost half a century later, there can now be some closure to the mystery of what happened to them.

    The pair, a real estate broker/appraiser and a salesman, spent part of the day they went missing at the American Legion in Pecatonica at a rally for former Illinois governor Jim Thompson, who was just a candidate at the time, and afterwards walked across the street to Rocky’s Café. After that, they drove to Owne’s son and daughter-in-law’s house and showed off the paint job on the Chevy Impala he was driving. He’d just gotten it painted a metallic gold and wanted to show it off. Their next stop was a nearby farm auction. That auction was the last place they were seen, between 2:40 and 3 p.m. that day, near the county line of Winnebago and Ogle counties before their disappearance.

    The Winnebago County Sheriff’s Office cold case database notes that “an intense multi-agency investigation that involved the Stephenson County Sheriff’s Department, Illinois State Police and the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Department” were all involved at the time.

    According to reports as of last week, there were multiple fire protection agencies involved in retrieval, including the Rockford Fire Department, and Boone County Fire Protection District divers, who gathered around 9 a.m. on March 11 at the site where divers and a crane helped with retrieval. Around 2:30 p.m., crews fully pulled the vehicle out of the water.

Investigation remains ongoing

    Around 100 bones were found between the car and the river bank that are believed to be Owens and Hawley on March 14, but the remains have been sent along to a forensic anthropologist to find out more information. More could yet be uncovered as the investigation continues for this reopened cold case.

    Speculation abounds as to why and how the two men ended up in the car in the river. It is not known yet it foul play was involved or not. The men were on their way to an auction, having left their checkbooks behind and claiming they had plenty of cash on them – a possible motive for a robbery gone bad, if it turns out homicide played a part.

    And also – how did the car go unseen in the river for so long?

    Winnebago County Sheriff Gary Caruana explains that this is still an ongoing investigation and is asking the public who might have any information can contact the department by calling a “tip line” at 815-319-6400.

    Editor Amy Cushing contributed to this article.

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