Possible link found in 41-year-old missing persons case

Published 5:16 pm Friday, February 9, 2024

A Chevrolet axle was recovered from Jack’s Creek by several crews on Friday afternoon (Feb. 9). The axle could be from a 1975 Chevrolet Camaro that is part of a missing persons case from 1982.

On Dec. 10, 1982, three men from Beaufort County went missing – William Clifton, David McMicken and Michael Norman. They were last seen that evening at the former VIP bar in Chocowinity, according to ReAnne Mayo, Clifton’s daughter. The missing Camaro belonged to Clifton. 

Mayo has spent years searching for information about her father’s disappearance. Looking for answers, she contacted Jason Souhrada, of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, who has experience using sonar technology to locate submerged vehicles. They, and members of McMicken and Norman’s families, have been working together for the last 18 months to try to locate the Camaro. 

Souhrada built a remote controlled sonar boat to search for the Camaro in local waters. Last month, he discovered an overturned vehicle in Jack’s Creek he believed to be the Camaro. According to his scans, the vehicle had been submerged for a “very long time.” 

Souhrada believes all three men were traveling in the Camaro on Dec. 10 and took Park Drive to get home, he wrote in an email to the Daily News. 

In 1982, the metal guard rails that can be seen today were not there. Instead, wooden posts were used as barricades.

Locals tell me the guard rail at this location wasn’t there in the 1980s and only the wooden post barriers were there. Upon further investigation I noticed eight of the wooden posts were missing/replaced at some point by metal beams. To me this indicates that maybe some were missing/knocked down when they installed the metal guard rail. Possibly by the supposed vehicle underwater,” Souhrada wrote. 

At this time, law enforcement agencies have not confirmed if the Chevrolet axle belonged to the Camaro. Mayo was told there are “no other active missing persons cases in Beaufort County that involve a Chevrolet.”

Mayo said if the axle is not from her father’s Camaro, she hopes it will bring a sense of closure for another family. 

 It was a “somber day,” Mayo said. She was “a little in shock. Like, it is real? Are we really doing this right now, because this has been something that I’ve been passionate about not giving up on for a long time.” 

Seeing the axle come out of the water made her father’s story “feel real.” 

“Before they pulled it out of the water, I don’t think it was real,” Mayo said. “It’s brought three families together that probably wouldn’t have otherwise been in each other’s paths.” 

She is “grateful” that people are taking her father’s story seriously forty-one years after he disappeared. She is also “grateful” that information can be found and shared over the internet and social media. She’s not sure the vehicle would have been found had it not been for social media. 

Washington Police Department is leading the investigation and is treating the site like an active crime scene. They and crews will return on Saturday morning to recover the submerged vehicle. 

They are working with City of Washington Public Works to pump out water from  the portion of Jack’s Creek where the vehicle is located. Once the water is pumped out, crews can begin recovering the vehicle. 

Washington Police Chief Phil Rollinson said it’s too early in the investigation to confirm information, but the department will know more after Saturday. 

When the Daily News interviewed Mayo in March of 2023, she shared what happened the night her father disappeared and how his, McMicken and Norman’s case was treated in Washington. 

“Mayo said the night her father disappeared, he received a phone call that evening then quickly left their home on West Second Street in Washington. Mayo’s mother was under the impression he went to pick up some Christmas gifts for their two daughters. He socialized with Paul Freeman that night then sometime later he, McMicken and Norman signed in together at the VIP bar.  The trio left the bar before last call seemingly vanishing into the cold air,” the Daily News reported. 

In 1982, people assumed the three men disappeared because they did not want to be “family men anymore,” Mayo said last year, adding that they weren’t reported missing. It wasn’t until April of 1983 that the men’s names were listed in the National Crime Information Center’s missing persons database. 

Personnel involved in the case:  

Washington Police Department 

City of Washington Public Works 

Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office 

Beaufort County Emergency Services 

Sidney Dive Team

Bath Volunteer Fire Department 

Chocowinity Fire Department 

North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality 

North Carolina Department of Coastal Management 

North Carolina Office of Chief Medical Examiner

North Carolina Forest Service 

Woolard’s Automotive, Inc

B.E. Singleton & Sons Inc.