Coroner: Human bones found in Kentucky River five years ago connected to 1973 missing persons case

Posted at 9:36 AM, Dec 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-22 18:02:45-05

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — Fayette County Coroner Gary Ginn, Lexington Fire Department, and Lexington Police in an announcement Wednesday morning identified the human bones found in October 2016 at the Kentucky River.

The coroner said that the body has been identified as Martha Smith Helmick, of Bridgewater, Va. The findings are in connection with a missing persons case dating back to August 1973.

John Edwin Keyton, Flora Helmick, and Martha Helmick were last seen around noon August 3, 1973 in Bridgewater, Virginia. They were expected at a reunion in Dabolt, Kentucky the following day. When the three didn't show up, family began calling around and eventually brought police into the process.

An initial search turned up with no sign of the Helmicks or Keyton, or the car, and their cases remained unsolved for nearly 45 years.

During a training exercise in October 2016, Lexington firefighters found human bones inside a car at the bottom of the Kentucky River.

The car was near the Clays Ferry Bridge. Ginn said that it appeared the vehicle had been submerged for decades. Three independent car experts verified his best guess. They determined that the vehicle was a light blue 1960’s Ford Fairlane. Ginn said that the right femur was consistent with a female.

Ginn said that while it’s emotional work, it is also rewarding to find the family and solve many of the unanswered questions.