Victim in 1970s murder case has been identified | The Enterprise
The Enterprise

Victim in 1970s murder case has been identified

Posted on April 12, 2022

Updated on April 14, 2022

Local newsUnidentified


Unidentified is a weekly series examining the more than 120 cases of unidentified human remains discovered in North Carolina. News Editor Lindell J. Kay produces each installment for The Enterprise of Spring Hope and other Restoration NewsMedia newspapers.

Click here to read previous installments in the series, along with case updates and additional resources, on Kay's Unidentified blog.

PITTSBORO — A partnership between the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office and the N.C. Unidentified Project has led to the identification of a body found 44 years ago.

Alexander Brown Jr. went missing in Baltimore in December 1978. In February 1981, an uninvolved witness found a partial skeleton scattered along a rural road in Chatham County, several miles north of Pittsboro.

The Enterprise featured the case in its Unidentified series in January. Click here to read that story.

Early investigation into the case was hampered by a lack of basic information or viable clues, but with advancements in DNA technology, members of the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office held out hope that the victim might one day be identified, Chatham County Sheriff Mike Roberson said last week in a news release.

In 2020, the N.C. Unidentified Project was co-founded by Ann Ross, a board certified forensic anthropologist and director of the N.C. Human Identification & Forensics Analysis Lab at N.C. State University in Raleigh, and Leslie Kaufman, a forensic genealogist with First Genes, LLC, and member of the Carolinas Cold Case Coalition, to raise and provide funding or assistance with unidentified person cases. Forensic testing can quickly drain the resources of any law enforcement agency, so the N.C. Unidentified Project obtained a small grant to begin funding DNA extraction and analysis on behalf of participating agencies, according to the press release.

Sheriff’s Office Investigator Ricky Culberson attended a training conference provided by the Carolinas Cold Case Coalition, a non-profit, volunteer-based organization including retired local, state and federal law enforcement officers with extensive background and experience in death investigations and unsolved violent crimes. There, he connected with Kaufman by sharing the story of an unidentified person case from 1981. This case soon became one of 13 cases statewide selected for sponsorship by the N.C. Unidentified Project.

Kaufman and the team extracted, sequenced and analyzed DNA collected from the unidentified male subject. 

Exactly 43 years from the date the missing person report was filed, Kaufman revealed that a DNA link was found to a family member of the victim. Further digging led to a potential name for the deceased: Alexander “Alex” Brown Jr. 

“The excitement in the room was palpable,” said Lt. Sara Pack of the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office, who was in attendance as Kaufman first shared her findings with investigators. “It was incredible to finally have a fresh lead after hitting so many dead ends. Hearing Leslie (Kaufman) announce his name was an emotional moment for all of us, especially as we imagined Brown’s family and the prospect of providing them with some semblance of closure after 43 years.”

“I have worked on criminal cases all over the country, but cases involving unidentified bodies really speak to my heart,” Kaufman said. The unidentified men and women deserve to have their names known and their stories told.

“That’s what drives me to do what I do,” Kaufman said.

The results were later confirmed through expert medical examination, making Brown the fifth victim to be positively identified by the N.C. Unidentified Project.

Investigators stress that this does not mean the investigation into Brown’s death is over.

“Identifying the victim has given us a new launch point and fresh leads to follow,” Roberson said. “We are endlessly grateful for all of the hard work and partnerships that led to this amazing revelation. We are hopeful that such technology will lead to similar breakthroughs in other unsolved cases.”

The sheriff’s office is now asking other members of the public to partner in the search for answers surrounding Brown’s disappearance and untimely death. 

“Leslie (Kaufman) and Dr. Ann Ross of the N.C. Unidentified Project are providing an incredible service to law enforcement agencies and families of victims throughout the state. They are brilliant at what they do, and we are excited to continue partnering with them in the future,” Pack said. “Thankfully, Alexander Brown Jr.’s name has been returned to him, and his family can finally cease their search for him … but our pursuit of justice isn’t over.”

Washed ashore, unearthed in shallow graves, stumbled upon in the woods, discovered in abandoned houses, killed on busy roads and located in rivers, ponds and along railroad tracks, more than 120 bodies remain unidentified in North Carolina. Alexander Brown is just one of the stories.

Brown’s case number 3349 in the National Missing and Unidentified Person System has been closed.

This investigation remains ongoing. Anyone with information about this case, including Brown’s disappearance or murder, is asked to call the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office at 919-542-2911.

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