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OPP believe Karen Caughlin may not have been 'deliberately killed'

Karen Caughlin was last seen alive on Brock Street S. in Sarnia around midnight on March 16, 1974 after spending the night roller skating with friends at Rose Gardens in Point Edward. Her battered body was found in a ditch outside Petrolia hours later.

Police plead for anyone with information to come forward

Karen Caughlin, 14, was found by a farmer in a shallow ditch by a gravel sideroad northwest of Petrolia. (Ontario Provincial Police/YouTube)

A 14-year-old Sarnia girl whose death has been at the centre of a 43-year-old cold case may have been unintentionally killed by a motorist, according to provincial police.

Karen Caughlin was last seen alive on Brock Street S. in Sarnia around midnight on March 16, 1974 after spending the night roller skating with friends at Rose Gardens in Point Edward. Her battered body was found in a ditch outside Petrolia hours later.

These cases are never closed. They remain open and active until they are resolved by charge or other means.- OPP Detective-Inspector Chris Avery

He injuries are consistent with being hit by a vehicle, but police believe her body was moved 22 kilometres from the location of the collision, according to Detective-Inspector Chris Avery, who has been working the case for five years.

Her purse was found days later, at the bottom of a ravine about 1.6 km from her body, leading investigators to initially rule her death a homicide.

'Not necessarily a murder'

During a Thursday press conference, Avery said that police now believe "Karen may not have been deliberately killed." 

"This is a death investigation, It does not necessarily mean it was a  murder," he added.

He called on anyone who hosted a party after stopping by the Rose Gardens that evening, or who noticed a damaged vehicle that night, to contact police.

"We know there are people out there who know what happened to Karen and we strongly urge them to come forward."

Police have been working the case for decades, but even a $50,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of her killer hasn't helped police make an arrest in the case.

43 Christmases without Karen

Avery also noted the pain the family has gone through in the past decades as police try to piece together how the teen was killed.

"At the time of her death, Karen was a vibrant teenage girl full of energy," he said. "This will be the 43rd Christmas that Karen's family will mourn her loss."

Provincial police are committed to finding out how she died, he added.

"These cases are never closed. They remain open and active until they are resolved by charge or other means."

with files from the Canadian Press