Body in sunken car identified 20 years later; case far from closed

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CHARLOTTE COUNTY - A car and human remains were pulled from a Punta Gorda canal earlier this month, and authorities now say that they have confirmed the identity of the driver as a woman that’s been missing for 20 years. However, they say the case is far from closed.

Using dental records Monday, the medical examiner confirmed what investigators believed: the remains pulled from the sunken car belonging to Frances Hendrickson. "It was the first questioned answered of many in this case after 20 years," says Capt. Tom Lewis.

So they have the car, they have the once missing person -- what they don't know for sure is how both got 18 feet underwater in a neighborhood canal without anyone knowing. "We don't have any answers other than the fact we have identified who she is."

Investigators will need to recreate possibilities. "Our traffic homicide unit is also going to be analyzing what we believe to be the point of entry as well as the physical evidence recovered at the scene."

Detectives say inside the car was Hendrickson's purse, ID, and wallet. No signs of a robbery, no motive to want her gone. "At this point right now we don't have any reason to believe that there is any foul play or any more to come of the case. With that said we are keeping an open mind and making sure we investigate every corner."

Many believe the 64-year-old Hendrickson, who did not like to drive, simply made a wrong turn just blocks from her home. Determining it without a doubt all these years later won't be easy. "There is a lot of analysis still left to go in. I would say authorities really have their work cut out for them at this point."

Punta Gorda Police say they have contacted Hendrickson's family up north. They plan to now have her remains shipped to them for a proper burial.