DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – A young couple with a promising future were abducted, tortured, and murdered around Valentine’s Day in 1971. The case is one that still puzzles authorities.
Jesse McBane, 19, was a popular, athletic, and smart North Carolina State University student. He was voted most likely to succeed. His fiancé and high school sweetheart, 20-year-old Patricia Mann, was a nursing student.
“I’ve never had a case quite like this one and I’ve been in investigations over 21 years,” said Capt. Tim Horne with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office.
Authorities said McBane accompanied Mann to the Valentine’s Day dance at Watts Hospital in Durham on Feb. 12, 1971. From there, police said they headed to what was then a secluded area on Wayside Place for private time.
McBane’s car was found there by a friend the following day. According to newspaper reports, the car was locked and had been wiped of fingerprints.
Their bodies were discovered two weeks later several miles away.
“They were found by a surveyor that was doing some work in a wooded area. It’s part of now what’s Duke Forest. At the time, it was privately owned land. And he was doing some surveying in that area and he came upon the bodies that were partially covered by leaves and some other debris,” Horne said.
“It looks like they were strangled and then let down, strangled and then let down, over a period of time, to the point where their shoes still had mud on them and there were little troughs where their feet had been thrashing around.”
Authorities said the couple was also stabbed several times. Crime scene photos were gruesome.
“So, a certain degree of planning absolutely. Absolutely. And, there’s a strong possibility, and we do believe, that the suspect knew the victim. To what level, to what degree, that’s undetermined,” Horne said.
Several law enforcement agencies worked the case over the years, but no arrest was ever made.
Then, in 2011, Horne found a discarded box of evidence. He also happened to be working when Mann’s cousin called and asked for an update. Together, they petitioned the sheriff to have the case reopened. The sheriff agreed.
“It’s very hard to develop new information. You have to rely on the photographs and the files and the evidence of that time period and how it was collected and preserved and stored,” Horne said.
The case is the subject of a podcast. Horne opened up his files to Eryk Pruitt, a writer and filmmaker, and Drew Adamak, a journalist. The pair have been looking into the case for a year and a half.
“This is a story that is impossible, impossible not to get drawn into,” Adamak said.
“We did our own level of investigation and we arrived at one conclusion, one suspect, that we thought stood out that had never been identified,” Pruitt said.
Horne said he reached that determination as well. That suspect is a doctor at Watt’s Hospital at the time of the murders. He’s still alive.
“Undetermined, not that we know of,” Horne said about whether the doctor may have been a love interest. “We’re not at that stage (for an arrest) yet. It’s still an open investigation.”
Horne said they paid the suspect a visit and requested his DNA for testing. His attorney quickly called back and said his client refused.
Horne remains optimistic the case will be solved.
“I very much want to be able to solve this case for them and for the victims. The victims, obviously, didn’t deserve what occurred, and whoever did this horrible crime needs to be held accountable,” he said.
The McBane and Mann families declined a request for an interview. They said the case has haunted them.
The podcast, titled the Long Dance, has helped with leads, but no arrest has been made.
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