PITTSBORO — An ongoing partnership between the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office, North Carolina Unidentified Project, and Othram Inc., has led to the successful identification of a victim from a 46-year-old murder case.
In March of 1976, Chatham County deputies opened a homicide investigation after the body of an unidentified man was found in Moncure. Early investigation into the case was hampered by a lack of basic information or viable clues, but with advancements in forensic DNA testing, members of the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office remained open to new methods and opportunities to identify the deceased.
Sheriff’s Office Investigator Ricky Culberson eventually 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 & Forensics Analysis Lab at N.C. State) and Leslie Kaufman (a forensic genealogist with First Genes and member of the Carolinas Cold Case Coalition) in 2020 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.
The project worked with Othram Inc. to employ Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing to build a genealogical profile from skeletal remains. Ultimately, a DNA link to the 1976 case led investigators to a family member of the victim who identified the deceased subject as Jimmy Mack Brooks. Brooks, an unmarried Army veteran, was only 26 years old when he was killed.
“It is bittersweet to be able to share this information with his loved ones who never stopped looking for him,” says Lieutenant 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.”
“I have worked on criminal cases all over the state, but cases involving unidentified bodies really speak to my heart,” explains Kaufman. “These men and women deserve to have their names known and their stories told… That’s what drives me to do what I do.”
Jimmy Mack Brooks is the seventh victim so far to be positively identified by the N.C. Unidentified Project as well as the second Chatham County victim to be identified by the group 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 out of Baltimore, Maryland, in December 1978.
“Identifying these victims has given us a new launch point and fresh leads to follow,” said Chatham County 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.”
“Leslie [Kaufman] and Dr. Ann Ross of the NC 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. “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 Chatham County Sheriff’s Office is now asking other members of the public to share what they know regarding the life and death of Jimmy Mack Brooks. Investigators say a single small detail could potentially lead to the next big leap in the case. Anyone with information pertaining to events or circumstances leading to the disappearance and murder of Jimmy Mack Brooks is asked to call the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office at 919-542-2911.
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