For 36 years, the dark waters of a southern Florida canal has concealed possible clues to a 1978 missing persons case of two teens. Last seen in the car were Dana Null, a 15-year-old freshman at Plantation High School, and her 19-year-old boyfriend, Harry Wade Atchison III.
On October 7, 1978 in Fort Lauderdale, Null and Atchison climbed into an orange 1969 Dodge Coronet and drove to the old Hollywood Sportatorium to see Foreigner in concert. After the show, the teens returned home to the trailer Atchison lived in with his mother.
According to missing persons reports, Null and her boyfriend got into an argument. Atchison left the trailer and began to drive away in the orange Dodge. Null is said to have run after him and get into the vehicle. The teens were never seen or heard from again.
On Wednesday, a South Florida Water Management worker was performing routine dredging on the canal in the little town of Sunrise when a piece of equipment got stuck on something under the surface of the water. Upon realizing that the debris was in fact a car, the worker phoned in to police.
Pieces of the rusted Coronet were carefully pulled from the depths where it had been silently corroding for decades. Not all of the vehicle was able to be recovered, however. Veda Coleman-Wright, a spokesperson for the Broward Sheriff’s office explained why they couldn’t pull the entire car from the water.
“The back part of the car is just buried so deep. We’re talking 36 years ago so I’m not sure how much of that we’ll be able to recover.”
Amazingly, despite the damage, the car’s identification numbers were still legible under the windshield. Law enforcement were able to determine that the vehicle was linked to the 1978 missing persons case of Null and Atchison. The following day, detectives from the Broward Sherriff’s Office were notified and began looking for more clues as to what might have happened to the two missing teens.
No human remains were inside the Coronet, and divers spent hours combing the canal to determine if any sign of the teenagers could be found. No further clues were recovered from the water.
Even though the actual whereabouts or possible demise of the teens is unknown, families of Null and Atchison have at least one more clue to what happened the day they disappeared.
Cases such as these are heart-wrenching in the best of circumstances, even when missing loved ones are identified, but an unsolved case opened so long ago has left the families of these teens with a hole in their hearts. Ann Atchinson, Harry Wade’s mother, never left the trailer she lived in when her son went missing, and never changed her phone number before she passed away. She didn’t want to miss the chance that he might make contact with her.
“People have graves to go to mourn. I don’t.”
The recovered car doesn’t replace the recovery of the missing teens, but it may offer some form of comfort.
“It’s a blessing because someone will get a taste of closure. I’m sure her family never forgot about her and the young man with her. I’m sure his family haven’t forgotten. They just didn’t know where to look,” said Dinorah Perry of the Missing Children International Ministries.
[Images courtesy of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children]