UPDATE: Bones found in river belonged to Virginia family: Coroner

Person may have been missing since 1973, according to coroner

UPDATE POSTED 5:30 P.M. DEC. 22, 2021

LEXINGTON, Ky (WTVQ)- Fayette County Coroner Gary Ginn has released the identity of human remains found by the Kentucky Fire Department’s dive team in 2016.

Ginn says the remains are those of 54-year-old Martha Smith Helmick of Bridgewater, Virginia. Helmick’s disappearance dates back to a nearly fifty year old missing person case.

“Martha Smith Helmick’s identity was confirmed through the advanced DNA technology of Parabon NanoLab in Reston, Virginia,” Ginn said.

On Wednesday, Ginn joined the Lexington Fire Department and Lexington Police Department in the announcement.

Helmick’s remains were found five years ago inside a car submerged in the Kentucky River just downstream from the River Valley Ferry during a routine training dive.

Ginn says they believe Helmick was one of three people who were killed in the crash. He says they believe Helmick was on the way to a 1973 family reunion in Central Kentucky from Virginia with her sister Flora Vesta Smith Helmick and 81-year-old John Edwin Keyton.

Flora Helmick was Keyton’s housekeeper. Martha was along for the ride. The trio never made it and were never seen or heard from again.
Keyton was presumed to be the one driving.

“What we think probably happened was he drove down there, the water and it was dark and the water glistening,” Ginn siad. “The water was probably black, like black ice. And he just drove right on into the water. And at that point, all three of them lost their lives.”

Lexington Fire Captain Chris Warren invested more than 100 hours over six years trying to solve the case. He also made contact with Helmick’s family in Virginia.
He credits modern technology with the identification of Martha’s remains.

“We needed scientific proof,” Warren said. “And it wasn’t until the advanced technology of where DNA testing is now that that’s the only way we were going to prove it. And that’s where we are now.”

Martha’s remains will be returned to Virginia, to be buried near her husband.
Neither the remains of her sister Flora nor Keyton’s have not been found.

ORIGINAL STORY POSTED 3 P.M. DEC. 20, 2021

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) – A mystery dating back more than 43 years that got new life five years ago has been solved.

Fayette County Coroner Gary Ginn and investigators plan to announce Wednesday the identity of human bones found Oct. 22, 2016 by Lexington Fire Department divers at the Kentucky River Valley View Ferry near Clays Ferry. The person apparently went missing Aug. 3, 1973, according to a statement from Ginn announcing Wednesday’s press conference.

Coming across the bones was somewhat of an accident itself.

At the time in 2016, several cars were found in the river earlier in the year but not thinking they were connected to any crime or missing persons, police and fire investigators waited for good weather and current conditions to try to retrieve the cars as part a fire department training exercise.

That exercise turned more serious when human bones were found when divers pulled half of one of the cars out. More bones were found when the other half of the car was pulled from the river. The human bones included a femur, foot and ankle bones, and some arm bones, in and around a 1960s Ford Fairlane. At the time, Ginn said he had an idea who the bones might be but could not confirm it without more detailed analysis.

That detailed analysis, which included special lab work using material from relatives of missing persons apparently has come to fruition and will provide some closure for a family.

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