The following column appeared in The Herald-Sun in November 2013:
Jesse McBane and Patricia Mann saw a future together.
In 1971, he was an N.C. State student and she attended nursing school at Watts Hospital – now part of the N.C. School of Science and Mathematics campus within blocks of my home. He was 19; she was 20. They planned to marry.
On Feb. 11, on a cold, misty night, they went to a Valentine’s Day dance. Then they drove a car Jesse shared with his brother Marty to Crosdaile Country Club and parked near a pond.
Nearly two weeks later, they were found strangled, bound to an oak in an unpaved cul-de-sac just a couple of miles away over the Orange County line. It appeared that the killer repeatedly tightened and loosened the ropes around their necks, taking them to the brink of unconsciousness and bringing them back. It’s not clear how long that went on.
The murder drew detectives from the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, Durham County Sheriff’s Office, Durham Police Department and the State Bureau of Investigation. But in the past 42 years, none of those agencies has managed to crack the case.
A few years ago, Orange sheriff’s detective Tim Horn stumbled across a box of evidence from the cold case. He sifted through the reports and photographs of a crime committed when he was just a toddler. The case drew him in.
Working with fellow detective Dawn Hunter, he reached out to other agencies to collect more pieces of the puzzle.
“It’s like taking a novel, tearing the pages out, throwing them on the floor and then trying to put them back in a logical order,” Horn said.
In 1971, 40 years before planes crashing into buildings in a major American city would usher in a new age of inter-agency cooperation, different investigators could take a parochial approach to their work, play their cards close.
“They were all working on the case,” Horn said, “but none of them were really working together on it. They didn’t share information. Had they combined resources, in my opinion, this case would be closed.”
It was also 25 years before DNA evidence examination became common. Now, the SBI lab is studying evidence in this case for clues. “We are hopeful that it might yield something positive,” he said.
The detectives have reason to believe the killer may still be alive and, in fact, may still live or work in Durham.
On Dec. 29, 1995, a man called one of Jesse McBane’s relatives and, although he didn’t come right out and confess to killing them, said: “I’m responsible for their deaths.” Investigators traced the call to a pay phone at Loehmann’s Plaza on Hillandale Road – not far at all from Croasdaile Country Club.
Horn and Hunter think their suspect is a man in his 70s. They think he might even have been a suspect back in 1971, but authorities never managed to make a case against him. Perhaps the most persistent rumor is that it might have been a doctor affiliated with Watts Hospital.
Carolyn Spivey, a cousin of Patricia Mann’s who grew up with her almost like a sister, said this week that the worst part about the case after so many years is not knowing; a lack of closure.
“I really just think, even though it’s 42 years later, justice needs to be served,” Spivey said. “Their memory needs to be honored in a good way. This person feels a burden. I understand he has made phone calls. I just wish he would go ahead and confess and give the family peace.”
Know anything about this case? Give detectives Horn or Hunter a call at the Orange County Sheriff’s Office at 919-644-3050.