Crews Cleaning Storm Debris May Have Solved a Cold Case

Officials think remains in Florida river were those of Alabama's James Aaron Toole, who vanished in '95
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 2, 2023 9:30 AM CDT
Updated Oct 7, 2023 4:05 PM CDT
He Vanished on a '95 Road Trip. Now, 'Papa' May Be Found
Image of Toole from a missing-person flyer.   (WUFT)

Twenty-eight years ago, an Alabama father set out on a road trip to Florida, never to be seen again. Now, a cleanup crew clearing debris from August's Hurricane Idalia may have solved the missing-persons cold case of James Aaron Toole, after stumbling upon human remains in a Chevy Cavalier submerged in the Steinhatchee River, reports the Guardian. WTVY notes that Toole, who was 72 when he vanished on May 15, 1995, drove that model car, and that it had a Houston County license plate on it; Toole, who went by Aaron, hailed from Pansey, which is in Houston County.

In a Thursday statement, the Dixie County Sheriff's Office in Florida explained that a salvage crew had been working Wednesday to fix a busted dock at a boat ramp along the Steinhatchee when they came across "parts of a vehicle and what appeared to be partial human remains that had been in the water for an extended period of time." Dive teams found more of the car, and more remains; the vehicle has since been retrieved from the river. Houston County Sheriff Donald Valenza tells the outlet that a credit card and Sam's Club card with the name "Toole" on it were also found in the car, though he notes that the remains still need to be positively identified.

Toole had reportedly been on his way to visit a sick family member in the Sunshine State when he disappeared, making a brief stop at the home of one of his granddaughters before making the drive. Mandy Morrow and Ashley Solomon, Toole's granddaughters, have long searched for answers on what happened to him, and though they don't have all those answers yet, they're hoping last week's find starts to solve that puzzle. "We have worked hard over the last 28 years to keep his story alive and in the media," they wrote Friday on Facebook. "The process was painful and exhausting, but we never lost sight of our goal. We know that our Papa loved us and is proud of the work that we have done. We are one step closer to the possibility of bringing him home." (Read more missing person stories.)

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