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Aberdeen woman believes remains found in sunken car could be uncle who vanished in 2006

Officials confirm car was registered to him
Posted at 4:09 PM, Jun 12, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-13 17:14:53-04

ABERDEEN, Ohio — Belinda Dolan thinks her suspicions about her uncle, missing since 2006, are turning out to be right.

After hearing that remains were found in a car pulled out of the Ohio River Wednesday, Dolan called WCPO and said she thought it could be him - Jesse Howard Flaugher.

On Thursday, the Brown County sheriff confirmed that the car was registered to Flaugher and the remains are human. The sheriff's office said the remains have been turned over to the Montgomery County Crime Lab for positive identification.

Dolan said her family thought her 85-year-old uncle, who was ill and recently widowed, might have driven into the river. The discovery could bring her family bittersweet closure.

"We've been living for the past 13 years not knowing," she said Thursday. "Why didn’t his car ever show up? No evidence of where he went.

"What’s in my heart right now... I feel this is closure. I feel this is him. The remains are going to come back that are his," Dolan said.

Thirteen years ago, Dolan hadn't been in touch with her uncle, who was living more than 100 miles away in Brookville, Ohio - northwest of Dayton.

“All of a sudden, one evening, on my birthday — he called me on birthday, actually, in October the first of 2006," Dolan said.

They didn’t talk about anything special, she said. He wished her happy birthday and asked about her children. They talked about getting together soon. Later that night, he laid a folder containing his driver’s license and other personal documents on his sister’s doorstep.

After that, nothing. Flaugher and his red 1998 Buick LeSabre vanished.

"His body's not been found, and his family, of course, is from Aberdeen, Ripley, Ohio,” Dolan said. “We just figured that ... we suspected that he drove his car into the river."

Police investigated him as a missing person but found nothing, according to Dolan. Flaugher would be declared dead in absentia years later.

Dolan said the lack of a real answer haunted his surviving family members, including his sister and daughter. And her.

"It's really hard,” she said. “You don't have closure, but it's been like, ‘He was such a good person. Why would you do something like that?’” 

She was at work Wednesday when she overheard the news that a car had been pulled out of the river. When she saw pictures online, she said, she thought she recognized the old red La Sabre under rust and water damage. That was when she called WCPO.

She still has one of Flaugher’s license plates, she added.

"I'm kind of happy because now it's closure,” she said. “It's telling us that's what happened and that was his remains and it's closure."

Dolan doesn’t like to think about her uncle killing himself, she added, but she doesn’t believe anyone else would have been involved in his disappearance.

She wants to remember him as a kind-hearted, easy-going man who built his life around loved ones.

“He enjoyed Florida, enjoyed being with family,” she said. “We would go down (to Florida) every February and visit him, he and his wife.”

The car was first discovered about a month ago by a fisherman near the Simon Kenton Bridge in Aberdeen. It's not uncommon for people to dump old cars in the river, so officials decided to wait until a scheduled divers' training exercise Wednesday to retrieve it.

That's when they discovered the remains.