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UNIDENTIFIED

DNA test identifies victim in decades-old homicide

Posted on May 26, 2022

Updated on June 1, 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.

lkay@springhopeenterprise.com | 252-265-8117

Jimmy Mack Brooks

Jimmy Mack Brooks

MONCURE — A killer’s diabolical effort to disguise a slain man’s identity worked for nearly 50 years, as the body of a headless, fingerless victim remained a mystery until a recent investigation by forensic experts sent the case into high gear.

Jimmy Mack Brooks’ mutilated body was found March 31, 1976, in the Cape Fear River near Moncure, a small Chatham County town with a couple of manufacturing plants, gas stations and not much else.

Stuck in an intake valve for Carolina Power & Light, Brooks’ body — bound with 15 feet of chains — was likely placed upstream in either the Haw River or Deep River, according to archived articles that appeared in The Sanford Herald.

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. This is one of their stories.

After decades of the cold case going unsolved, Ricky Culberson, an investigator with the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office, connected with the N.C. Unidentified Project, an initiative co-founded by Dr. Ann Ross, a board-certified forensic anthropologist and director of the N.C. Human Identification and Forensics Analysis Lab at N.C. State University in Raleigh, and Leslie Kaufman, a forensic genealogist with First Genes and member of the Carolinas Cold Case Coalition.

In 2020, Kaufman and Ross got together to raise money and assist with unidentified person cases. Forensic testing can quickly drain any law enforcement agency’s resources, so the N.C. Unidentified Project obtained a small grant to begin funding DNA extraction and analysis on behalf of participating agencies, organizers said.

The group worked with Othram Inc. to employ forensic-grade genome sequencing and build a genealogical profile from the skeletal remains. A DNA link to the 1976 case led investigators to a family member of the victim who identified the deceased subject as Brooks, an unmarried Army veteran, who was only 26 years old when someone killed and decapitated him.

Brooks had been dead for around two weeks prior to discovery on March 31, according to an autopsy report. The remains were unrecognizable due to decomposition and putrefaction.

The cause of death is unknown, meaning medical examiners couldn’t determine whether decapitation caused the man’s death or was performed postmortem.

“It is bittersweet to be able to share this information with his loved ones who never stopped looking for him,” said Lt. Sara Pack of the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office. “Although his identity has finally been revealed, there are many more questions to be answered. We will continue to seek justice for Jimmy and his family.”

Kaufman said she’s worked on criminal cases all over the state, but cases involving unidentified bodies speak to her.

“These men and women deserve to have their names known and their stories told,” Kaufman said. “That’s what drives me to do what I do.”

Brooks is the seventh victim to be positively identified by the N.C. Unidentified Project and the second Chatham County victim the group identified using advanced DNA technology. In April, the sheriff’s office revealed the previously unknown identity of another homicide victim, Alexander “Alex” Brown Jr., who was reported missing from Baltimore in December 1978.

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

Pack said Kaufman and Ross provide an incredible service to law enforcement agencies and victims’ families throughout the state.

“They are brilliant at what they do, and we are excited to continue partnering with them in the future,” Pack said. “We are also deeply appreciative of the support we have received from the NCSBI Cold Case Investigation Team, Othram Inc. and the N.C. Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. Without their assistance, none of this would be possible.”

The sheriff’s office is now asking members of the public to share what they know regarding Brooks’ life and death. Investigators say a single small detail could potentially lead to the next big leap in the case.

Anyone with information pertaining to Brooks’ disappearance and death is asked to call the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office at 919-542-2911.

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