DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – It’s a case that continues to elude the Orange County Sheriff’s Office.
On Feb. 12, 1971, a young couple with a promising future was abducted, tortured and murdered.
Jesse McBane, 19, was a popular, athletic, smart N.C. State University student.
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,” Cpt. Tim Horne with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office said.
Authorities said McBane accompanied Mann to the Valentine’s Day dance at Watts Hospital in Durham. From there, police said they headed to what was then a secluded area on Wayside Place for private time.
McBane’s car found there by a friend the following day.
According to newspaper reports, the car was locked and had been wiped of fingerprints.
Their bodies 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,” he went on to say.
Authorities said the couple was also stabbed several times. Crime scene photos too gruesome to show.
“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 still no arrests.
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.
“We’re dealing with a case that will soon be 47 years old. And so 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 the last 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 was a doctor at Watt’s Hospital at the time of the murders and is still alive.
CBS North Carolina asked Horne if he was a love interest.
“Undetermined, not that we know of,” Horne said. “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 he submit 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 our request for an interview. They said the case has haunted them.
As for the podcast, it’s called “The Long Dance” and it should be out this spring.
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