On July 3rd, 1929, while driving home from the town of Port Angeles in Washington state, Russell and Blanche Warren mysteriously disappeared from the face of the Earth. The only traces of their passing were some torn branches and scrapes near the shore of Lake Crescent and a car visor found in shallow water. While law enforcement was convinced that the Warrens lay in the deep waters of the lake, the technology wasn't available at the time to prove it, let alone recover any remains.
In 2002 the Warren's vehicle was discovered in 170 FFW and various artifacts were recovered and given to the Warren family. The story of that discovery was told in Advanced Diver Magazine # 13. No human remains were located in 2002, however, leaving some questions unanswered……
At the request of the Warren family, our team was asked to return some of the artifacts to the lake as a memorial. The team happily agreed and returned to the lake on Memorial Day weekend, 2004. Along with members of the Warren family, several other divers from the surrounding communities arrived as well to participate. On May 29th, the best wishes and thanks of the Warrens ringing in our ears, the team swam out from Ambulance Point and dropped down into the cold, clear waters. Team member Randy Williams lovingly clutched the container holding the artifacts as he led the way down the steep underwater cliff-side toward the sunken car. As we plunged deeper the shape of the car began to appear, slanting forlornly with its roof pointing downward, partially buried in loose shale. The events surrounding this car had played a significant part in our lives for several years and as my depth increased and the outline of our target became razor sharp my thoughts began to fill with emotion. I thought of Rollie and Geneil Warren, their daughter Kristine and grandson Nicholas – all of them waiting up on the beach for word that the deed was done – reaching out to lovingly touch their ancestors through the mists of time. As I dropped the last few feet and arrived at the car I reflected that everything we had done here had been well worth it.
From the corner of my eye I saw Randy reach in and carefully place the artifacts inside the cab of the car. The rest of the surrounding divers hovered back respectfully so as not to disturb him – eyes staring from their masks as if mesmerized. His task done, he eased back out of the cab and slowly made a circuit of the vehicle, attempting to remember every detail, most of the other divers following suit.
As the team began their slow ascent, my dive buddy, Jerome Ryan, and I began our assigned task. Only half of the hood ornament from the Warren car had been found, and we were to search the slope directly below the car to see if the missing half might be recovered. We planned to drop down to separate depths – myself to 200 FFW and Jerome to 300 FFW - and then conduct a visual search. Moving slowly, I concentrated on looking for anything that might appear man-made, finding the occasional beer can or bottle dropped by fishermen long ago. I reached the end of my planned bottom time and turned upward toward my first deep stop at 180 FFW. Continuing upslope the rays of the sun now penetrated downward through the sapphire-blue waters. Approaching my second planned deep stop at 150 FFW I saw a beautiful old tree lying on its side, its roots branching up toward the surface like a starburst with sunlight dancing along the roots. Thinking that this would be a good spot to spend my time, I glided over the trunk, glanced downward – and froze. Lying on the bottom was an unmistakable human femur. Hardly believing my eyes, I noticed a skull-cap resting in the silt just slightly above it. Hurriedly, I took out my slate and drew a map of the site, showing the depth, the tree itself, the location of the bones, and other immediate features. Holding my own leg next to the femur, I noticed that it was large and probably that of a man.
My brief stop time would be over in seconds, so I shot a compass azimuth directly toward shore and proceeded to follow it as precisely as I could up the steep incline wall. I maintained my slow 10 fpm ascent rate and stuck to my plan, making all of my planned stops. I was pumped with excitement, but I had no desire to rush to the surface and pay for that excitement with a chamber ride or worse!
Finally, I broke the surface and discovered that I was approximately 150 feet or so east of Ambulance Point and immediately next to the highway, traffic rushing by only feet away on the other side of the guardrail. I could see the rest of the team and the Warrens on the beach, but they couldn't hear me over the noise of the traffic. Ultimately, Geneil Warren glanced my way and the NPS boat was sent over. Fellow team member, Ranger Dan Pontbriand, was at the helm and his jaw dropped when I hollered out "I just met Russell Warren!" After hearing my story, Dan used his depth sounder and passed the boat over a depth of 150 FFW. He hit the GPS when I signaled him that he was crossing my recorded compass azimuth, enabling the discovery site to be plotted. He and Randy then helped me onto the boat and we headed toward the Point, where a small crowd had now gathered.
Once on shore there was just one thing I needed to do and, staggering under the weight of my equipment, I proceeded to do it – I looked Geneil and Kristine in the eyes and with my voice trembling with emotion said "I just found Russell for you". Their eyes glistened and smiles lit up their faces. Once more I realized that somehow I had again been blessed by being at the right place at the right time.
Other members of the team dived at the site shortly thereafter using the coordinates and my map and were able to film the remains. This footage was provided to the National Park Service to be used in the subsequent investigation. Standard procedure meant that the site was now regarded as a "crime scene". The NPS immediately placed a moratorium on diving in that portion of the lake in anticipation of the investigation and recovery of the remains.
In early December three members of the National Park Service Submerged Resource Center team arrived at the lake. Their tasks were to document and map the site, locate any additional human remains, and recover any remains found for analysis. Dave Conlin, marine archaeologist, Jim Bradford, terrestrial archaeologist, and Brett Seymour, photographer, had just come from a survey of the USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor. The cold, clear waters of Lake Crescent in Olympic National Park are a clear contrast to those of Hawaii and these two sites provide ample evidence of the versatility and adaptability of their team. With only a limited number of days available for the dives, the team assigned a separate task for each of the days. The first day was devoted to surveying and filming the bottom surrounding the Warren car and the bones utilizing a Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV). The second day would be used for measuring and mapping the extended site, while the third day would be used for the recovery of all human remains located during the previous days.
At the request of the Warren family I was present during each of the three days, although because the site was regarded as a crime scene I would not be able to dive with the team as I was not a member of law enforcement involved with the case. While understandable, I bit my lip in frustration at not being allowed to accompany the team on their dives – I'm not used to staying behind. My good friend, Dan Pontbriand, however, was able to participate in the dives as a full team member since he is by profession within the law enforcement arm of the National Park Service. Though proud of him and happy for him, I was also green with envy! I spent the three days observing and photographing topside activities involved in the investigation and the dives themselves.
The first day began rather monotonously as we watched the small screen linked to the ROV as it criss-crossed the bottom scanning for additional remains. After several hours, however, excitement built as a second femur was discovered downslope of the first in approximately 190 FFW. It was partially covered by rocks and appeared to have been there as a result of a rock-slide. No other obvious bones were located, although smaller "splinters" were thought to have been seen on the screen by some of the team members. Members of the Warren family were able to join the team and examine the dive site through the "eye" of the ROV.
The divers entered the water on day two in two separate buddy teams, the second not entering the water until the first had surfaced and was safely aboard. The first team, consisting of Dave Conlin and Dan Pontbriand, was tasked with measuring various aspects of the site using reels and measuring tapes. The tapes were then left in place so that the second buddy team, Jim Bradford and Brett Seymour, could make use of them while photographing the site utilizing both still and video equipment. The teams used a Heliox 80/20 mix as their bottom mix with EANx 30 as a travel gas. 100% O2 was used for decompression, regulators hanging down from the stern of the primary dive boat to a depth of 20 FFW. It was during these dives that the "splinters" thought to have been seen with the ROV were determined not to be bone fragments.
The following day Jim Bradford and Brett Seymour dived first, tasked with the recovery of the bones while simultaneously photographing the actual recovery. Special containers were used to hold the skull and the femurs while keeping them in the lake water they had been in for decades, thus maintaining the same chemical balance and preventing deterioration. The second team then wrapped up the project by recovering the measuring tapes utilized throughout the site. Both dives went without a hitch and the bones were turned over to the King County Medical Examiner's office for analysis and DNA testing.
Upon arrival at the Medical Examiner's office a forensic anthropologist examined the bones and determined that they are from a white male adult approximately 5'10" to 6'3'' tall. The femurs were of the same length and are a matching set, left and right leg. Problems arose when the bones became very fragile during the air drying process after having been out of the water for only a few minutes. They appear to have been in the lake for decades due to the amount of deterioration. The condition of the bones suggests that DNA extraction may not be possible. However, the facts that the remains were in such close proximity to the Warren car, are of approximately the same age, and are from a tall white male, lead us to believe they are likely the bones of Russell Warren. Not the definitive results we had hoped for but certainly far more than we had before.
The mystery continues…..
Author's note: Since the appearance of the above article in Advanced Diver Magazine issue # 19 in 2005, the recovered bones have been examined by the FBI National Crime Laboratory and DNA was in fact extracted. After comparing the results with the mitochondrial DNA of known female ancestors of Russell Warren it has been conclusively proven that the remains ARE, in fact, those of Russell Warren. The remains have since been given to the Warren family.