The first day of a four-day-long expedition to pull 25 cars from Fort Worth lakes ended at about 6 p.m. Tuesday at Lake Como, when dive teams and towing crews hauled five vehicles — three of which were stolen — from the water.
The five cars were submerged in the murky depths of the 10.1-acre lake just south of Interstate 30. Five cars within a relatively small lake may seem strange, but diving groups like Adventures with Purpose and Depths of History know how plentiful — and how damaging — vehicles can be in bodies of water.
“Imagine you are this lake,” Doug Bishop said, gesturing to the gray-blue water of Lake Como, “and you basically have five bullets in you, slowly infecting you.
“But now we are going to remove those bullets, and it can recover,” Bishop said as he sat on the green picnic table, half of his black drysuit rolled to his waist.
Cars leak oil, glue and antifreeze into the water. That environmental damage is why Bishop and Jared Leisek created Oregon-based Adventures with Purpose and started diving for cars.
But now the group and others like it — including those helping with the Fort Worth operation — have a secondary purpose.
Out of the 150 cars Bishop has personally helped recover, 17 have contained human remains.
Most submerged cars are connected to insurance fraud or were stolen and abandoned. Others have been connected to “jaded lovers” who steal the car, he said. Occasionally, a vehicle is related to a missing person or criminal case.
“No car is in the water for a good reason,” Bishop said.
Just last week, Adventures with Purpose likely solved the 30-year-old cold case of Carey Mae Parker at Lake Tawakoni, east of Dallas. Bishop and Leisek found the 1980 Buick Skylark that Parker was driving when she disappeared in February 1991. They returned on Oct. 15 and painstakingly searched the lake bed. They found human remains, which are still being tested to confirm whether they are Parker’s.
The group responds to requests from family members looking for people suspected to have died by suicide or by accident. For now, they do not specifically search for bodies where foul play was likely involved — Bishop and Leisek’s wives want them to avoid those cases out of safety concerns. But when they pull a car from the water, they never know what answers they might unearth.
That possibility is why Rusty Arnold is spending his week with the divers. His sister, Rachel Trlica, disappeared in December 1974 along with Renee Wilson and Julie Ann Mosley. Together, the three young girls make up the Missing Fort Worth Trio.
In a red patterned button up, Arnold waited alongside a small group of spectators, police officers and dive team members as the first car was pulled from the water. At 1:30 p.m., Beard’s Towing attached a Deere compact track loader to a Ford Taurus near the lake’s edge. A few families with small children sat in lawn chairs or on blankets to watch as the tow truck hauled the mud-covered car up the grassy slope, over a concrete parking block and onto the gravel. Fort Worth police, who helped coordinate the search and will help investigate findings, supervised.
The windows of the car were open, and the insides were coated in nearly a foot of gray sludge. Plants clung to the car’s fender. The car was empty of anything of interest except for a few displaced catfish. Bishop grabbed one of the fish in his hand and walked it to the edge of the water to free it.
At about 2 p.m., the crews moved to the other side of the lake to pull up the next car — a hot pink 1996 Chrysler.
By 6 p.m., all five cars were pulled from the water. Three of the vehicles were confirmed stolen, Fort Worth police said. Two of the stolen vehicles also held a pretty big surprise for the teams. In the back of the submerged truck, the teams discovered two stolen ATM machines, and the second stolen car revealed a third ATM machine.
About the groups
Britain Lockhart, who runs the YouTube channel Depths of History, pulled the plate from the car. He pulled off his gear on the side of the lake afterward and set down his oxygen tank, flippers and googles. Once under the water, visibility is limited. He said he could see about two to three feet in front of him — clearly enough to watch a turtle swim through the open front window of the towncar.
“Being a part of it is crazy,” the 22-year-old from Atlanta said. “You don’t known if you are potentially solving a cold case.”
In Atlanta, Lockhart dives along the Chattahoochee River for a different kind of recovery. Near the bridges of the scenic river, he has found over 100 guns.
Other crew members do not dive into the water, but have another important role. The groups are all-volunteer and rely on revenue from their YouTube channels, donations and other contributions to pay for the expensive process of diving. Their YouTube channels are updated nearly every day.
Josh Cantu, 30, has been friends with Bishop and Leisek for four years in Oregon. He has been on the road with Adventures with Purpose for about a year, filming their dives and making content for their YouTube channel. Three weeks ago, he was filmed his first case where divers pulled out a car and found human remains inside.
John Zarkowski went missing in Nebraska in September. His family believed he had died by suicide by driving his car into the Missouri River. Chaos Divers helped found the SUV that Zarkowski, 72, was driving when he went missing. As the family and law enforcement looked on on Sept. 23, Adventures with Purpose pulled the SUV from the water and confirmed that human remains were inside.
“It was heavy,” Cantu said. “You could turn the cameras off, but you can’t not look. It goes along with the job.”