Local News

New technology may help solve Orange County cold case

Posted June 12, 2018 12:15 p.m. EDT
Updated June 12, 2018 6:25 p.m. EDT

— Almost 50 years ago, a young couple was found dead, tied to a tree, in the woods near the Durham-Orange County line. The deaths of Jesse McBane, 19, and his girlfriend of three years, Patricia Mann, 20, made national headlines after they disappeared after a Valentine’s dance at Watts Hospital in Durham, where Mann was a student, on the night of Feb. 12, 1971.

This week, the Orange County Sheriff's Office is hoping results from a new test will offer new evidence to help close this cold case.

"It's just one of those cases that you can't let go," said Major Tim Horne. He's been working the case for seven of its 47 years, but he is feeling more encouraged now than ever.

Horne has held up his retirement in hopes of closure for McBane and Mann.

"I'm actually eligible to retire today," he said. "I could if I wanted to. I pushed that back just to work on this case a little further."

Horne and others are using an M-VAC System, one of about 100 in the world, to search the rope that tied the couple for tiny DNA samples that could lead to a killer.

"It resembles or reminds me of an industrial-type carpet cleaner," Horne said. "This solution then kind of teases the DNA molecules to the surface where it can be vacuumed up."

Horne said, although there has never been an arrest in the case, there is a prime suspect, and that person is still alive. If the DNA from the rope matches that suspect, it would be enough for an arrest.

"At the end of the day, we're just going to follow the evidence, and where ever it leads us is fine," he said.

Investigators believe someone abducted the young couple, forced them into the trunk of a vehicle, then strangled them over a period of time.

“It wasn’t one continuous pulling tight of a rope around their neck to strangle them to death," Horne said. "It appeared to be a situation where the rope was tightened, then they let it go, let them regain their breath, regain consciousness, possibly, and then they were strangled again.”

McBane and Mann were missing for nearly two weeks before a land surveyor found their bodies tied to the base of a tree.

Autopsy reports show each had tight, knotted ropes around their neck and wrists. Another rope was used to tie their bodies together. They also had puncture wounds to the chest, which likely happened after they died, the medical examiner said.

While the couple’s injuries were similar, the medical examiner found that Mann suffered another injury – a half-inch tear in her liver, which he speculated could have been caused by a fist blow to the stomach prior to her death.

Investigator: 'The suspect knew this area'

After the couple's death, rumors swirled that the killer was a prestigious man in the community, possibly a doctor at Watts Hospital, where Mann was a nursing student.

The Orange County Sheriff's Office has never released information about the suspect other than to say the person was very familiar with the wooded area where the couple was found.

"The suspect knew this area, knew this location. It's our opinion (that) this wasn't the first time he came down here," Horne said. "He felt comfortable torturing and murdering these two young people, and he felt comfortable enough that no one was going to come and that no one could hear them cry, scream, plead, what have you."

Multiple agencies worked the case in 1971, including the Orange County Sheriff's Office, the Durham Police Department and the State Bureau of Investigation. Police also enlisted the help of a famous criminal psychologist, who profiled the killer and said the person was likely a man who was out "to cleanse the world."

Despite the intense initial investigation, the case has gone cold and been reopened numerous times during the past 42 years with no resolution.

Anyone with information about the murders of McBane and Mann should call the Orange County Sheriff's Office at 919-644-3050.