Body of woman reported missing in 1990 found in pond
While the search of one local woman was going on last week, the accidental discovery of a second vehicle solved a second missing person case nearly a quarter of a century old.
And the same spot where one car was found was where the 25-year-old mystery began.
Late last Monday evening, the Lee County Sheriff’s Office found the body of 25-year-old Chelsey Green on the south side of the Caloosahatchee off Route 31, along with the white Dodge Stratus she was driving.
But it was at nearly that same location where 25 years ago, when there was a popular nightclub on that spot, a North Fort Myers woman was last seen leaving a birthday party.
The body of Rita Sue Zul, reported missing 25 years ago, was discovered Monday in a rusted out, submerged vehicle near the Lee County Civic Center. The story would make headlines throughout the globe.
The vehicle was discovered in a pond by a man who was actually searching nearby lakes and ponds for Green.
Upon discovery of the vehicle, the Lee County Sheriff’s Office Dive Team responded and located a red sports car in approximately 20 feet of water that appeared to have been submerged for years. Inside the vehicle were skeletal remains.
Those remains have been positively identified as those of Rita Sue Zul, ending decades of wonderment by friends and family members over what happened to her.
Zul’s daughter visited the site Friday and met with detectives
Green was not even a month old when Zuhl, 36, went to Marina 31, then a popular nightspot, for a birthday party on Jan. 14, 1990.
According to the missing persons report Zul worked there as a waitress, but was off duty as she was attending a birthday party for a friend. Shortly after 2 a.m., she left Marina 31 in her boyfriend’s 1975 Datsun 280Z, with Florida license plate number GIQ75L. It was the last time anybody saw her.
A missing person’s report was filed the next day.
Linette Pohl, Zul’s friend who lived down the street from her on Pondella Road, filed the report.
Zul’s parents, now deceased, were living in Crestview.
Flash ahead to Monday evening, when deputies were searching for Green in a small retention pond near the Lee Civic Center just off the intersection of Bayshore Road and Route 31 after Scott Dunlap of Cape Coral discovered an oil sheen, a clue to what he thought may have been Green’s car.
Dunlap used a magnet tied to the end of a fishing pole to confirm there was a metal object, then his friend, David McCauley,, went into the water to check it out and confirmed it was a car.
Dan Griffith, representative of Team Watters Sonar Search and Recovery, a group with a base in North Fort Myers that works to find missing persons believed to have been lost in bodies of water, said he found Dunlap’s primitive discovery method remarkable.
“I applaud him for his genius because they didn’t have sonar or any other way to do it. He came up with this idea to launch a magnet,” Griffith said. “They had the GPS coordinates from Green’s phone in that area. That was a good clue.”
A Lee County Sheriff’s Office dive team went out to retrieve the vehicle submerged in 20 feet of water, but it wasn’t the pearl white Stratus.
It was a rusted out red Datsun, identical to the one Zul drove. Most of its identification markings were eaten away by years of rusting underwater.
Inside the vehicle were the skeletal remains of Zul.
“It took a while to identify the car because all the VIN numbers had rusted off. We had to access the engine block for unique identifying numbers on the engine block to prove it was that car,” Lee County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Scott Lineberger said. “The medical examiner was able to determine the deceased.”
Foul play was not suspected, but authorities are expected to investigate just how she ended up in the water.
The news has received national and worldwide attention, with newspapers such as the New York Daily News, and the Daily Mail in England reporting the story.