Pittsboro, NC – 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 1976, human remains belonging to an unknown man were found in the Cape Fear River near the CP&L plant intake valve near Moncure, North Carolina. Investigators thought that the unknown man might have been put in the water upstream via the Haw River or Deep River. The man had appeared to have an athletic build and was likely in good health before his death. His head and hands were not found with the body. Chatham County deputies subsequently opened a homicide investigation into the unknown man’s death.
With few clues to the man’s identity, the case went cold. The unknown man, eventually known as Chatham County John Doe, was estimated to be a Caucasian male likely 25-35 years-old at the time of death. He was 5’9″ tall and weighed 150 pounds. The unidentified persons case was entered into NamUs in 2008 but traditional forensic methods did not yield answers on the case. 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 NC Unidentified Project, an initiative 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) 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 NC Unidentified Project obtained a small grant to begin funding DNA extraction and analysis on behalf of participating agencies.
The NC Unidentified 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.
Jimmy was born on Feb 16,1950 in Allegheny County, NC. He was an Army veteran and had been stationed at Fort Bragg and had left the service only a few years before his death.
“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 NC 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, MD, in December 1978.
“Identifying these victims 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 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,” explains Pack. “We are also deeply appreciative of the support we have received from the NCSBI Cold Case Investigation Team, Othram Inc., and the NC 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.