All we've got right now is bones, but hey — I'm thankful for that. We don't have him back the way we would have preferred him to come back to us. But if this is all we're going to get of him, this is what we'll take. —Pamela Shook Kolbe
SAWMILLS, N.C. — Forty-three years ago, Pamela Shook Kolbe's father went out one night for a date and never came home. Now, her family may finally have a chance to bury him after a discovery at the bottom of a lake.
On that night in 1972, the then-teenage daughter returned to an empty house around 8 p.m. after hanging out with friends. She eventually drifted off to sleep thinking that her father, Amos Shook, would be there when she awoke.
"I went to bed, and I didn't think much of it, not until the next morning when I woke up," said Kolbe. "It just felt like there was nobody in the house."
A feeling of dread set in — then stretched four long decades — for Kolbe, her siblings and her mother, who was living in Tennessee after separating from her husband. Kolbe was the sibling living with Amos Shook at the time.
On Tuesday, investigators pulled a mud-caked, rusty car containing human remains believed to be Amos Shook from a lake in the foothills of the North Carolina mountains. Investigators found his identification and wallet in the car, which matches the model he owned at the time he was reported missing on Feb. 19, 1972 from this community about 75 miles northwest of Charlotte.
Kolbe said she and her family have felt a range of emotions since the body was found, but overall she is happy that the discovery is likely to bring them some closure.
The remains are being sent to the state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner for an autopsy. Medical examiners will try to use dental records for a positive identification, but may need to use DNA testing that could take weeks. There are no signs so far of foul play.
"Circumstantially, everything points to it being Mr. Shook, but we can't conclusively say that yet," Caldwell County Sheriff's Lt. Aaron Barlowe said Thursday.
Kolbe, now 57, said she met with a detective from the sheriff's office last month to seek more information about what happened to her father for a family genealogy project she was working on. She said the conversation spurred the detective's interest, and authorities decided to revisit the lake after she gave them a newspaper story from the 1970s about failed attempts to find him by dragging the lake.
This time, a dive team used advanced sonar — something not available when Shook first disappeared — to find the car in 30 feet of water.
Kolbe said she doesn't think his car ended up in the lake by accident and she says that he would not have committed suicide.
"He would have never left us," she said.
But Kolbe said she also did not know of anyone who might have wanted to harm her father.
Shook, who was 44 when he disappeared, had retired from the U.S. Air Force as a staff sergeant and lived in the town of Sawmills, which lies just north of the lake. Kolbe said he worked in a textile mill.
The mostly rural area was home to the first modern furniture factories starting in the late 19th century, according to a county website, and empty buildings in the heart of Sawmills point to its manufacturing past.
Surviving family members live mostly in Tennessee, and Kolbe said her mother and siblings are coming to meet with investigators Friday to discuss the case.
Tressie Andrews, a 70-year-old former neighbor of Shook's, said her children often played with Shook's children. Andrews said she never heard a disparaging word about Shook.
"He was a very good man," Andrews said.
Kolbe said her father was well-liked and outgoing. During his two decades as an Air Force mechanic, he'd invite single comrades over for dinner. After retiring, he settled in his home state and got work at a mill like many in his family had done.
She remembers her father's great baritone when he sang songs by Hank Williams Sr.
"He sung all the time," she said. "He'd be driving, belting out a song. He'd be mowing the yard and singing."
He also loved to fish and would let her drive the car on country roads as a youngster while sitting in his lap.
"It doesn't mean I stayed on the road, but I was driving," she said.
After his disappearance, the years stretched on without an answer for the family. Eventually, she says, they decided to place a headstone for him in a family plot in western North Carolina in the early 1990s. At a simple service, they played some of his favorite music.
"We had Hank Williams on the boombox, and we had it loud. And that was our funeral music," she said.
Still, her grief was unresolved. It was hard for her to go to other funerals because she found herself envying that other families could actually bury their loved one.
Now, she thinks her family may get some closure.
"All we've got right now is bones, but hey — I'm thankful for that," she said. "We don't have him back the way we would have preferred him to come back to us. But if this is all we're going to get of him, this is what we'll take."
Drew reported from Raleigh, North Carolina.