NC Unidentified Project partners with Chatham Sheriff’s office to identify murder victim from 1978

Pittsboro, NC – A partnership between the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office and the North Carolina Unidentified Project has led to the identification of a person reported missing in Baltimore, MD, in December 1978, who was later found deceased in North Carolina. 

In February 1981, the body of an unnamed man was found in Pittsboro, Chatham County, NC. 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.

In 2020, the NC Unidentified Project was co-founded by Dr. Ann Ross (Board Certified Forensic Anthropologist and Director of the NC Human Identification & Forensics Analysis Lab at North Carolina State University in Raleigh) and Leslie Kaufman (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 NC Unidentified Project obtained a small grant to begin funding DNA extraction and analysis on behalf of participating agencies.

In a twist of fate, Sheriff’s Office Investigator Ricky Culberson attended a training conference provided by the Carolinas Cold Case Coalition, a non-profit, volunteer-based organization comprised of 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 thirteen statewide selected for sponsorship by the NC Unidentified Project; Kaufman and the team quickly set to work extracting, sequencing, and analyzing 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,” says Lieutenant 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 forty-three years.”

“I have worked on criminal cases all over the country, 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.”

Kaufman’s results were later confirmed through expert medical examination, making Alexander Brown, Jr., the fifth victim to be positively identified by the NC Unidentified Project so far. 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,” says Chatham County Sheriff Mike Roberson. “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 Chatham County 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 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,” explains Pack. “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.”

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.