'Cars don't just disappear,' Sides said. 'Nine times out of 10 they're in the water.'
Editor's note: This article was originally published on December 15, 2021. It has since been updated.
A YouTuber who has made it his mission to crack unsolved missing persons cases, brought closure to two Tennessee families when he found a car belonging to two teenagers who disappeared 21 years ago. According to The New York Times, the teenagers—Erin Foster (18) and Jeremy Bechtel (17)—were last seen leaving Erin's home on April 3, 2000, in her 1988 Pontiac Grand Am. The Bechtel and Foster families spent the two decades since trying to piece together what could have happened to their children until Jeremy Beau Sides of the Exploring with the Nug YouTube channel stumbled upon the cold case while looking through a missing persons database.
Erin Foster & Jeremy Bechtel went missing 21 yrs ago. Since then, their families have lived in a nightmare, holding out hope that the kids would one day return home. That was until Dec. 1, when a YouTuber made a discovery that solved the cold case. Latest:https://t.co/Fo4JgtQZvv— Jaclyn Peiser (@jackiepeiser) December 10, 2021
"When I saw two teens went missing and vanished in a car, that really stood out to me," Sides told CNN. "When I looked at the town where they were last seen, I saw that a big river ran through it. That just told me to go." The 42-year-old, who describes himself as a one-man crew and handles all the filming and editing for his channel, started documenting his adventures on YouTube in 2016 after he began playing around with a metal detector as a side hobby while running his automotive business. Upon realizing he has a knack for finding missing or stolen items, Sides learned to scuba dive and eventually began diving for cars and missing people.
White Co. Sheriff Steve Page shows us where a car linked to a 21yr old cold case was just pulled from the Calfkiller River.— Levi Ismail (@LeviAIsmail) December 2, 2021
Erin Foster and Jeremy Bechtel went missing in 2000. Deputies found human remains in the car they were last seen driving.https://t.co/wzi4XcHgWO@NC5 pic.twitter.com/TtsiQsfV3r
"I thought, 'I wonder if I can figure out a way to... make a living doing it," he said in an interview with The Washington Post. Once he'd made enough money off the videos, Sides—who now has over 177,000 subscribers—handed over his business to a friend and now focuses on the searches full-time. He explained that he picks intriguing cases from a website that lists cold cases, keeping his eyes peeled for "awkward" cases, especially those of "people who vanished off the planet and vanished in their cars."
JUST IN:— Levi Ismail (@LeviAIsmail) December 2, 2021
New photos of the Pontiac Grand Am that Erin Foster and Jeremy Bechtel were last seen driving in 2000.
White Co. investigators found the car with remains inside just yesterday, but they’re still searching for more evidence in the river.https://t.co/wzi4XcHgWO@NC5 pic.twitter.com/NNHnuf6tVh
"Cars don't just disappear," Sides said. "Nine times out of 10 they're in the water." He found Erin and Jeremy's case a few weeks ago and "snuck into" Sparta, Tennessee, toward the end of November without informing anyone of his objectives as he didn't want to get anyone's hopes up. Sides searched rivers and lakes in and around town using side-scan sonar for a few days before a video he uploaded about the search was brought to the attention of White County Sheriff Steve Page by a Foster family member. Upon watching the video, the sheriff realized that Sides was using technology the department didn't have access to and reached out with an offer to work with the amateur investigator.
Page suggested that Sides look at a different location along the Calfkiller River—which runs along Highway 84 in town—as he'd found a misfiled missing-persons report from 2000 that shed more light on the teens' whereabouts that night and indicated they drove on that road. Taking the sheriff's input, Sides returned to the area on November 30 and shortly before nightfall, his sonar device showed that his boat was floating above a car-shaped object. After spending the night in his van, he dived to confirm the car's make and license plate number first thing the next morning.
Sides documented the discovery in a 20-minute YouTube video. "I don’t have an easy way to say it," Sides told Page in his video after the dive, "but I found them." On December 1, White County police confirmed that the car discovered by Sides matched the one driven by Erin and Jeremy. They suspect the teens lost control of the Pontiac and went into the water as there was no guard rail along the road in 2000. "We have gone in wells, dug up areas, we have used ground-penetrating equipment looking for bodies," Page said. "[But] it was right under our noses the whole time... It's heart-wrenching to know it was that simple, and it was made that hard because of all the rumors and horror stories through the years." While the medical examiner's office is yet to confirm the remains in the car belong to Erin and Jeremy, Page is confident the findings will prove they were in the car.