Weather permitting, a team of divers and crews are scheduled to retrieve three cars from the bottom of Benbrook Lake on Saturday in hopes of finding clues to the 1974 disappearance of three Fort Worth girls.
The divers from North Texas Marine Recovery & Salvage have raised about $12,000 for equipment to pull the vehicles out of the lake.
They’ve been assisted by Rusty Arnold of Edgecliff Village, the brother of one of the girls who disappeared in December 1974.
Arnold’s sister, 17-year-old Rachel Trlica, along with Lisa Renee Wilson, 14, and Julie Moseley, 9, went missing on Dec. 23, 1974, after shopping at what was then Seminary South Shopping Center on 4200 South Freeway.
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For years, Arnold, other family members and friends have tracked down leads and tips throughout Texas in an effort to solve the city’s most famous cold case.
Arnold is going on a “hunch” that vehicles found submerged in Benbrook Lake may have clues to the 1974 disappearance of his sister and the two other Fort Worth girls.
Tuesday, Arnold received a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to search the lake after getting insurance for the project.
“These are a rarity,” said Rhonda Paige, director of public affairs with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Fort Worth, referring to retrieving of vehicles from lakes. “Safety is paramount in something like this.”
The forecast for Saturday is mostly cloudy with showers and thunderstorms. There’s a 60 percent chance of rain, according to the National Weather Service office in Fort Worth.
“If it rains, we’ll be out there,” Arnold said Tuesday. “If there’s lightning, we won’t search.”
At least five boats will be used to retrieve the cars from near Longhorn Park at Benbrook Lake. A practice dive was conducted in August at Burger’s Lake in northwest Fort Worth.
Fort Worth police said Tuesday the case remains active, and detectives have worked with Arnold and other representatives from the families of the girls through the years.
But Fort Worth police have not been involved in the dragging of Benbrook Lake because the recovery operation is extensive and dangerous.
“Mr. Arnold was told that a recovery operation of the vehicles in Benbrook Lake was purely exploratory, and that the hazards involved could not be justified without an actual link to the case,” said Fort Worth police spokesman Officer Brad Perez in a Tuesday email. “Furthermore, the case is currently being worked through other means.”
Perez did not provide other details.
“It’s a stone that will be turned over, and if we don’t recover any clues, we’ll just move on,” Arnold said Tuesday in a telephone interview.
Arnold was 11 when the girls went missing, and his group of volunteers are focusing on the cars because they believe one of the vehicles belongs to a person of interest in the case who knew the girls.
He did not disclose the name of the person of interest.
“At the same time the girls went missing, we believe the vehicle he was driving also disappeared,” Arnold said in an August telephone interview with the Star-Telegram. “We sat around coming up with theories, and we discovered that the person of interest lived within five miles of Benbrook Lake at the time. It’s a hunch.”
Arnold and his group of family members, friends and strangers have been working on the lake theory for four years, getting the help of a friend who used sonar and found vehicles at the bottom of Benbrook Lake. The lake is in southwest Fort Worth, and it’s about 10 miles from the shopping center.
For decades, Arnold and other family members have searched for clues. They’ve dug at dozens of locations throughout Texas, searched creeks and even combed a swampy bayou near Port Lavaca, on the Texas coast.
Arnold created a website, missingtrio.com, and a Facebook page in hope of finding clues.
The mothers of Lisa Renee Wilson and Julie Moseley died in recent years without ever knowing what happened to their daughters.
The girls left home before noon that morning and stopped at an Army/Navy store to pick up Christmas presents that were on layaway.
Then they headed to the shopping center, which is now La Gran Plaza, and parked Trlicas’ Oldsmobile on an upper-level parking lot near Sears.
Witnesses told police they saw the girls inside the shopping center during the day.
The families have heard several stories about what happened after that. A witness reported some men hustled the girls into a pickup. Another witness said he’d seen a man forcing a girl into a van. Nothing has ever been corroborated.
This report contains information from Star-Telegram archives.