PITTSBORO, N.C. (WNCN) – Authorities on Tuesday announced they identified a person found dead in Chatham County in 1981 as a man reported missing from Maryland more than three years prior.

An unnamed man was found dead in Pittsboro in February 1981. The early investigation was hampered by a lack of basic information or viable clues, the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office said in Tuesday’s press release.

In 2020, the NC Unidentified Project was founded “to raise and provide funding or assistance with unidentified person cases.” The project obtained a small grant to begin funding DNA extraction and analysis on behalf of participating agencies, the release said.

Ricky Culberson, an investigator with the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office, connected with Dr. Ann Ross and Leslie Kaufman, the founders of the NC Unidentified Project, at a conference. He shared with them the story of the unidentified man found dead in Pittsboro in 1981. The case went on to be one of 13 in North Carolina selected for sponsorship by the project, the release said.

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 man. Further work led to a possible name: Alexander Brown, Jr.

“The excitement in the room was palpable,” said Chatham County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Lt. Sara Pack. “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.”

Brown was the fifth victim to be positively identified by the project.

However, Brown’s identification doesn’t mean the investigation into his death is over, the sheriff’s office said.

“Identifying the victim 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 this amazing revelation. We are hopeful that such technology will lead to similar breakthroughs in other unsolved cases.”

The sheriff’s office is now asking for help. Anyone with information on Brown’s disappearance and death should call 919-542-2911.