As Rusty Arnold watched a muddy, dripping car hauled from Benbrook Lake on Saturday, he had one predominant hope; that his sister’s remains might be inside.
Arnold has waited 44 years for answers about Fort Worth’s second oldest missing person’s case. He has good reason — his 17-year-old sister was one of three girls who disappeared after a trip to the mall around Christmas in 1974.
Over the past few months, Arnold, a team of divers and dozens of volunteers have sought answers at the bottom of Benbrook Lake, located about 8 miles from the shopping center the girls went to that day.
The second of three cars at the bottom of the lake was recovered Saturday and, while the vehicle did not contain answers, its recovery puts the community closer to finding answers in the case of the Missing Fort Worth Trio.
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Searching for remains
In 1974, 17-year-old Rachel Trlica, 14-year-old Lisa Renee Wilson, and 9-year-old Julie Moseley set out on a shopping trip to what was then the Seminary South Shopping Center in south Fort Worth. They were supposed to be home by 4 p.m., but they never returned.
Arnold was 11 when the girls went missing. His sister Rachel’s disappearance has haunted him his entire life.
“When you’re 11, all you know is that you miss your sister,” he said. His parents wouldn’t go to the mall Rachel disappeared from and they wouldn’t let him out of their sight.
When he was older, however, Arnold started investigating Rachel’s disappearance himself. He turned to Lake Benbrook since it was so close to where the girls were last seen.
He said the police describe the Missing Trio case as active and open, but it does not appear they are making new strides in the investigation. The cars in the lake, he said, was not a strong enough case for the police to look into, so he took upon himself to search them.
Over the past months, divers, Arnold, other family members and the community raised about $15,000 to search the lake, where divers eventually located three cars. They believe one of those cars is connected to a person of interest in the case.
“In a perfect world, we’re looking to find the bodies of the girls in the car,” Arnold said.
On Sept. 22, the first car was finally pulled from the water after two hours of towing. At about 2 p.m. Saturday, the second car breached the surface.
Rachel and Arnold’s mother, Fran Langston, were nearby as the rusted car was towed onto a truck.
“I’m hoping they open that trunk and find remains,” the 80-year-old woman said.
‘All these years, we’ve been waiting.’
Arnold said he and his mother are not the only ones searching for answers.
A community shaken by the unsolved case, which became known as ‘the missing Fort Worth Trio,’ has followed the investigation for decades. The retrieval of the cars only reignited the public’s absorption in the case, and the Facebook group about the missing girls grew to over 11,000 members in the past few weeks.
“We just had to know. All these people, they want to know,” Arnold said Saturday, gesturing to the surrounding crowd. “They want to know the truth. All these years we’ve been waiting.”
The wait, however, did not end on Saturday.
Cheers erupted from about 100 people who were gathered at the lake as the car — a rusted Lincoln Continental — was pulled right-side-up onto the shore.
After the car’s VIN number ran, however, it was clear the car had nothing to do with the missing trio.
The car was a 1976 Lincoln; the girls went missing in 1974.
Arnold barely seemed to miss a beat and, within minutes, was already planning the next dive.
“We’re eager to look at the next one,” he said. “And ready to move on.”
Arnold said they don’t know when the next dive will be to pull the third and final car from the lake, but when the time comes, he may be joining the divers.
Next month, he said, he’s planning to become a certified diver. When that happens, he’ll be able to join the rest of the team in searching the lake’s murky waters himself.
“We’re not giving up, we’re not going away. Ever,” he said.