Sheriff: Community tips, recent clues could help cold case investigations

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The John Doe and Jane Doe sketched in this image are the subject of two separate unsolved death investigations in Brunswick County. Detectives are searching for their identity and clues about their death. Sketched photos courtesy of BCSO.
The John Doe and Jane Doe sketched in this image are the subject of two separate unsolved death investigations in Brunswick County. Detectives are searching for their identities and clues about their deaths. All photos are courtesy of BCSO.

The Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office has recently acquired new details that have brought two decades-old unsolved death investigations to life.

Help from a sketch artist and forensic anthropologists have provided the first pictures of what these victims probably looked like in life, which investigators hope will spark a memory and lead to a tip that will begin to unravel their mysteries. Neither the man nor the woman, whose bodies were found separately near roadways, had been reported missing. How they died has not been apparent, which has added to the cases’ respective mysteries.

More than three decades ago, the body of an African-American woman was found in the Leland area, according to Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office Spokeswoman Emily Flax. Hunters found her in the woods about 2,000 feet from what is now Hooper Road in Leland, near the Hooper Hill Section, on Dec. 8, 1979.

“Her cause of death could not be determined. And to this day, she has not been reported missing,” Flax said.

Detectives believe the Jane Doe was between 42 and 55 at the time of her death. She was about 5 feet 4 inches tall, but her weight could not be calculated. The woman was found with a tan sweater, red scuffs over knee-high stockings and black slacks or pajama pants, Flax said. She wore a gold Timex “Snoopy” watch with a yellow band on her left wrist.

In another unsolved death, a contractor found the skeletal remains of a white man while mowing a grass median on U.S. 17, just east of U.S. 421 on Nov. 3, 2003, Flax said. The grass had not been mowed in five years, and investigators determined the victim, a “John Doe,” died sometime between 2000 and November 2003.

The man is thought to have been between 5 feet 2 inches and 5 feet 9 inches tall, and between the ages of 50 and 75. He was found with size 10 black leather steel-toed boots, white socks, green or blue fabric labeled “Fruit of the Loom” size L 42 – 44, and a “PB SPORTS” baseball cap with a metal adjustable clasp in the back. He also had 18 cents in coins, a pocket lighter, a brown glass bottle and a plastic wrapper from a pack of crackers in his possession.

The body of John Doe was found in a media of U.S. 17 in Brunswick County.
The body of John Doe was found in a media of U.S. 17 in Brunswick County.

“Autopsy showed that he suffered from periodontal disease as well as a chronic, progressive inflammatory disease,” Flax said. “Was John Doe a transient, just passing through? At this time, we cannot know.”

The sheriff’s office is turning to the community to find answers in these cold cases, Flax said. Mainly, the detectives are searching for clues about each individual’s identity, what may have happened to them to cause their death and why they were not reported missing.

Flax said the Unsolved Case Unit recently obtained new information about the decades-old cold cases though forensic examinations and were able to put a face to both Jane Doe and John Doe through sketches.

“The Unsolved Case Unit is grateful to Deputy Mike Mullins of the Wake County Sheriff’s Office for the artist’s drawings and to Doctors Ann Ross and Chelsey Juarez — Forensic Anthropologists at N.C. State University — who have examined Jane Doe’s remains and who are performing studies to give us more detailed information,” Flax said.

Jane Doe was found with this watch on her left wrist.
Jane Doe was found with this watch on her left wrist.

The sheriff’s office has asked the university to examine John Doe’s remains as well, in hopes to provide the public with more information, Flax said.

Before the recent examinations and sketches, Flax said there was very little information for each case. The sheriff’s office hopes these tests, along with more advanced forensic testing such as isotope analysis, will provide even more information that can help bring about an identity of the deceased.

The Unsolved Cases Unit is a team of six volunteers with law enforcement backgrounds and Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Phil Perry. Formed in 2009, the group meets twice a week to look into unidentified death cases as well as unsolved murders. The sheriff’s office has a total of four unidentified deaths and six unsolved homicides, Flax said.

“They brain storm, make calls and dig,” Flax said. “Sometimes just laying a fresh set of eyes on a case can really make a difference. This dedicated team continuously works multiple unsolved cases.”

Any help from the community, combined with the skills of the doctors and the Unsolved Cases Unit, may allow the sheriff’s office solve many unanswered questions, Flax said. Anyone with information is asked to contact Perry at 910-880-4920.