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Submerged Car May Belong To Local Woman Missing 17 Years

Carol Larsen Wood

A 1996 photo of Carol Larsen Wood.

In what could be the first solid lead since the 1996 disappearance of a local woman, Oswego City Police identified the vehicle pulled from the Oswego River a few hundred yards south of Lock 3 in Fulton as an early 1990s model, red, four-door Toyota Corolla LE.

People watch the on-going investigation Friday morning.
Janice Growe, in the foreground, and her longtime friend Brenda Rowe watch as police divers prepare the submerged vehicle to be raised.

Janice Growe, one of Carol Larsen Wood’s older sisters, told Oswego County Today, “The Oswego police came back here this evening to say that they’re 99 percent sure it’s my sister’s car, and there are human remains in it.”

On Saturday, Aug. 3, 1996, Carol Larsen Wood, 30, left her then 5-year-old son with a babysitter while she went out for the evening.

Wood was last seen leaving Anthony’s Bar & Grill on East Third and Bridge Streets (now Colonial Laundromat) in her Toyota Corolla at about 1:30 a.m. on Aug. 4, 1996.

The Scriba woman drove west on state Route 104 in a red 1993 Toyota Corolla, New York State license plate R7L-871 on Aug. 4, 1996.

A 1996 photo of Carol Larsen Wood.
A 1996 photo of Carol Larsen Wood.

Witnesses said Wood had been arguing with a man at the bar.

She never returned home and has made no contact since the night she disappeared.

Until Thursday (June 12) there was no evidence of where her car was, either.

Oswego City Police Capt. Charles Tonkin said in a press release Friday evening, “the recovered vehicle did not have registration plates affixed to it nor has it been positively identified at this time as to its registered owner.”

But Growe said the Oswego County District Attorney’s office called her Thursday evening to say police divers found a car in the river that matched the description of her sister’s car.

Growe and her longtime friend Brenda Rowe, both of Oswego, were at the river in Fulton Friday morning (June 13) in the pouring rain when police resumed work on the underwater vehicle.

“They told us what time they were going to start pulling it out,” Growe said.

Just as divers began working in the area, police shooed all spectators – including Growe and Rowe, away from the river viewing area.

Divers probe the area where the vehicle was located. A large crane stands ready to remove it.
Divers probe the area where the vehicle was located. A large crane stands ready to remove it.

Fulton police said they were working to protect the integrity of the scene and keep media away as they wrapped police tape the length of both parking areas along the Oswego River walkway.

“We went on the other side of the river behind the Polish Club and watched the whole thing,” Rowe said. “We saw the car come up.”

She said when the car surfaced, her friend began to cry. “But it was almost like tears of relief,” Rowe explained.

“I just hung on to the fence,” Carol’s sister said. “At first I saw it on the surface of the water, it wasn’t completely out. But when they brought it out I recognized it. I said, ‘It’s her car. That’s it.’”

“It was around 2:30 p.m.,” Rowe added. “They had it all covered with mesh. The windows were blocked so you couldn’t see in. They were trying to protect the integrity of any evidence inside the car.”

Police position a vehicle hauler to receive the recovered vehicle.
Police position a vehicle hauler to receive the recovered vehicle.

Once the previously submerged vehicle was safely on land again and loaded inside the police department’s enclosed trailer, “Then we started wondering, ‘How did it get there? Has it been there since that night?’ All kinds of things were going through our heads,” Growe and Rowe said.

With this new development in the 17-year-old unsolved case, both women said they hope police will get to the bottom of what happened and who is responsible.

“We don’t believe it was suicide,” Rowe said. “Carol was a good mother. She spent time with her son every weekend. She would take him and friends to the zoo, to the park, bake cookies or take them to Chuck-E-Cheese. She was a very devoted mother, and devoted mothers don’t just get themselves into a tizzy and drive off.”

“She may have had some things in her life that weren’t copacetic at the time, and maybe she wasn’t the happiest person in the world, but she truly loved her son,” Rowe added.

Growe said Friday evening, “It’s been a crazy day. Mentally exhausting,” but noted this is just the beginning as police have yet to determine for certain that it is her sister’s car and whose remains were inside.

“They said the windows were partially down and it was full of mud,” Growe said. “They didn’t give me any time frame.”

Tonkin said the vehicle and possible human remains have been transported to the Onondaga County Medical Examiner’s Office in Syracuse for further investigation.

Correction June 18, 2014: This article originally referred to this case as a cold case. The investigation has always been open, ongoing and active, and as such is an unsolved case.