WINONA, Minn. (WCCO) — Winona County Sheriff Dave Brand has made a career in law enforcement, but just when he thought he’d seen it all, along came a watery mystery.
And the one he and his investigators have uncovered is just begging to be solved.
“It’s a mystery, or maybe it’s not a mystery to some people who know how it got there or heard of it years ago,” Brand said.
He’s talking about a recent discovery in the Mississippi River in downtown Winona. His dive team was testing out some new sonar equipment along the riverfront when they found what appeared to be a submerged car. When divers went into the murky water, they confirmed the find.
Judging by the vehicle’s wood spoke wheels it appears to be a Ford Model T, dated from the teens or early 1920s.
“It doesn’t happen every day that you find a 100-year-old automobile sitting right off the levy of your city,” said Mark Peterson, the city’s mayor.
Peterson is also executive director of the Winona County Historical Society. He says his staff is now helping assist the sheriff’s investigation by scouring archives and old photos, looking for missing people, cars or unsolved crimes.
One photograph reveals what had been an old wooden bridge crossing the river near the same location. In the photograph is a Model “T” crashed into the guardrail, nearly falling into the river below. Perhaps the driver of the discovered vehicle wasn’t as fortunate.
“It makes me wonder if it was a stolen vehicle and was just dumped there,” Peterson said.
The sheriff says that for the time being the vehicle will remain 70 feet off shore covered by 20 feet of water. Depending on what leads come in, he will likely have the dive team make another attempt next spring or summer to dig around the vehicle and recover more evidence on who the owner was.
“Hopefully they can find a license plate on it and it might lead them to the true owner,” Peterson said.
Divers did find a plate lying on the river bottom near the wreck. Unfortunately, it’s a porcelain plate meant for dinner, not driving.
For now, the sheriff and his investigators will keep working it like a cold case — a very old, cold case.
“The Mississippi River, there are a lot of mysteries out there,” Brand said.