Lead in missing couple case?
Unidentified pair found off I-95 may have been from Canada
A couple missing since 1973 from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, is a close match to the descriptions of the unidentified couple killed near the Florence County line in 1976.
By JASON WERMERS
Item Staff Writer
A case that has baffled authorities for more than 30 years may finally have a solid lead.
Police in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, sent DNA to Sumter County in February from a young couple who have been missing since 1973.
They are a close match to the descriptions of young couple whose bodies were found on the shoulder of Locklair Road, a dirt road between Interstate 95 and S.C. 341, near the Florence County line, on Aug. 9, 1976, according to Constable Jim Gurney of the Edmonton Police Service. The couple had been shot to death by a .357 Magnum.
The couple who disappeared from their hometown of Edmonton in 1973 are Ron and Terry Yakimchuk. They were reportedly last seen on their way to a wedding in Montreal, more than 2,200 miles away. They weren't formally reported missing until 1974.
"Back in those days, the early '70s, the times were different," Gurney said. "A lot of people were traveling more. People were finding who they were."
No one has been able to find the Yakimchuks since 1973.
Ron Yakimchuk's sister, Marlene Ball, told the Edmonton Journal on July 21 that she does not believe the bodies found here are the Yakimchuks.
"Having seen the pictures, there's no flipping way," she said. "It's just not them."
Gurney said the case of the couple found in Sumter County came to his agency's attention in about the past year or so.
"The Sumter County file has been floating around with information on the Net for some time," he said. "Then it was one of those things where sometimes it takes a while to collect DNA. It's something that in the '70s, people didn't think about it."
Verna Moore worked the scene as a deputy coroner. The case vexed her throughout her time as deputy coroner and continued through her time as coroner from 1993 through January of this year. A segment on Unsolved Mysteries in 1995 and a probe by the former Court TV didn't turn up any valid leads. Last year, Moore talked to a Montreal newspaper and Readers Digest French, both of which printed stories about the couple.
The current coroner, Harvin Bullock, said he received the DNA from the Edmonton police, then forwarded it to a laboratory at the University of North Texas. That university has bones from the couple. Jennifer Timmons, a spokeswoman for the State Law Enforcement Division, confirmed that DNA was sent to the university earlier this year to see if there is a match.
"I have not heard anything back," Bullock said. "We'll have to see what the university tells us."
Gurney does not guarantee that the couple found dead in Sumter County is the Yakimchuks. Even if there isn't a DNA match, though, at least a profile will be established that can be used to check other remains that may be found in the future, he said.
"There is nothing to be lost by doing a DNA comparison," Gurney said. "In these cases, there is no such thing as too much information. Our main focus is simply to find them. The criminal investigation isn't something we'd be involved with up here."
Because the case is so cold, finding the couple's killer isn't a priority in Sumter County, either.
In the months before she left the coroner's office, Moore said her focus was to find out who the couple were.
"It doesn't matter any more who killed them," she said in an interview with The Item in August 2008.
Four months after the man and woman were killed, police in Latta arrested a North Carolina man, Lonnie George Henry, for driving under the influence. While searching his vehicle, they found a .357-caliber handgun that they thought was used in the killings. Henry was never charged in the slayings, and anything he might have known about them died with him in 1982.
The woman was about 5 feet 5 inches tall, 105 pounds with brown hair and blue-green eyes. She had two unique moles on the left side of her mouth and long, beautiful eyelashes, Moore said last year. The man was about 6 feet tall, 155 pounds with brown hair and brown eyes. They were both white, with olive-toned skin, reports said. Neither had identification, and no purses or wallets were found.
Moore said last year the man was wearing a gold watch, each had recently showered, and each was wearing nice jewelry.
They are buried in donated plots in the Bethel United Methodist Church cemetery in Oswego under tombstones that read "Male — Unknown" and "Female — Unknown."