A 1971 Durham cold case remains cold. New technology not advanced enough
Retirement was approaching, but unfinished business needled his professional pride.
Tim Horne, who has worked with the Orange County Sheriff's Office since 1990, was set to retire on June 12 but decided to delay the date until the end of the year in hopes of solving one last case: the murders of 19-year-old Jesse McBane and 20-year-old Patrica Mann in Durham on Feb. 12, 1971.
“I like to use football analogies,” said Horne, a 49-year-old captain at the sheriff's office. “We all know that game: Time is running out; they throw a Hail Mary; everyone jumps.”
Advancements in forensic technology had afforded Horne a final play. A new device capable of collecting smaller samples of DNA would analyze uncovered evidence — 47-year-old rope, collected from the crime scene and recently rediscovered in a dusty box in the basement of the sheriff's office.
Instead of enjoying his first day of retirement, Horne was sipping coffee at McDonald’s on June 12, thinking about going in to work, when he got a call. The voice on the other end of the line let him know that his Hail Mary effort had failed. The analysis of the rope had yielded inconclusive results.
Holding a half-empty cup, Horne felt deflated. Any chance of identifying the killer would hang on a last-ditch, all-or-nothing gambit. Horne chuckles to himself thinking about how he handed over his case files to two journalists who created a podcast.
Horne hopes the podcast, "The Long Dance," will prompt a breakthrough that will help him close the case.
For years, Horne has ruminated over the fragmented facts, grainy photographs, witness lists, testimonies, handwritten notes scribbled by former deputies and details — the way that rope looped the necks of those two, young lovers.
“You have to put yourself in their mindset," he said. “Rewind the clock to early February 1971. It was misty rain. A steady drizzle all day."
Rumors about a forthcoming engagement of McBane and Mann buzzed in the weeks leading up a to Valentine's dance on Feb. 12, 1971.
Friends described the young couple as lovebirds. McBane attended N.C. State University, and Mann was a nursing student at Watts Hospital in Durham, where the dance was held.
McBane shared a 1968 Ford with his brother, Marty, and the dance fell on one of Marty's nights to use the car. But after buying a box of candy for his date, McBane managed to cut a deal.
“He got the car to go to the dance — the fateful dance,” Horne said. “He was so excited that he barreled out of the driveway – a plume of dust – and forgetting the candy.”
When the shindig ended, Mann walked back to her dormitory and signed out with her house mother, noting she'd be back by 1 a.m.
She didn't make that curfew.
The next day, her friends went looking for her to no avail.
“I knew immediately,” Carolyn Spivey, Mann's cousin and childhood neighbor, told The News & Observer in 2014. “I just got the sickest feeling in my stomach that something terrible had happened.”
Mann's fellow nursing students contacted Durham police, who weren't too concerned, Horne said. “Why would they be? A 19- and 20-year-old, boy and girl, missing for a night?”
Once police did get involved, it took four days to locate McBane's Ford on Medford Road, which was then a lovers' lane. The car was locked, undamaged and abandoned. Two coats lay across the seats, and Mann's pantyhose were found neatly folded on the passenger floorboard.
An extensive search of northwest Durham followed, but it took eight more days after finding the car to uncover the bodies just inside the Orange County line. A surveyor of Duke Forest spotted what looked like a mannequin's leg jutting out from a pile of leaves near Cedar Creek Drive.
The couple had been tied to a tree with their arms tied behind their backs. Their torsos had slumped over the ropes wrapped around their waists, like they were lying side by side.
Ringed bruises ran the length of their necks. Investigators concluded that the pair suffered repeated hangings to the point of unconsciousness, were awoken and then strangulated again, as a form of torture.
“Back then you didn't have a case like this,” Horne said. “So it drew national attention.”
Dubbed “The Valentine's Day Murder,” the story appeared on television shows, radio programs and in newspapers and detective magazines across the country.
Horne's father retired from the Chapel Hill Police Department in 1998. When Horne started as a deputy patrolling Orange County in 1990, one of his uncles worked as a Carrboro police officer.
Following family footsteps, Horne dedicated his entire career to law enforcement. The deaths of McBane and Mann have stuck with him since he took on the case about seven years ago. Many mornings, he said, it runs through his head before he's begun breakfast.
Horne wasn't the first investigator to become obsessed with the case. Durham police Sgt. Tim Bowers was first assigned to the double murder, after he had just been promoted to detective in the winter of 1971.
There were hundreds of suspects initially, Horne said. Police fielded calls from concerned citizens by the droves – implicating neighbors, accusing acquaintances.
“Anybody in Durham seen as a hellion, people with lengthy criminal records and everybody that anybody thought was mean made it onto those original suspect lists,” Horne said.
Most suspects cooperated and agreed to take polygraph tests. Horne said the number of suspects was boiled down to four.
Police then developed a “strong number one suspect,” Horne said. “All I'll say is, he's male and a doctor who worked at Watts Hospital at the time.”
That man has never agreed to undergo a polygraph test or provide DNA for analysis, Horne said. But his DNA "was collected from a public space."
Years passed, and rewards for information skyrocketed. Bowers commissioned a New York psychiatrist, Dr. James Brussel, celebrated for aiding high-profile investigations with personality profiling. But the case went cold.
When Bowers retired in 1994, the former detective told The N&O that over his 23-year career it was his first case that haunted him.
In all, six law enforcement agencies conducted investigations of the murders. When Horne took up the case, he said, “It was apparent information had not been shared across the six different agencies.”
So the first step was to gather relevant evidence, tucked away and stored by the law enforcement agencies that collected it in 1971.
“It took six months to get it all back in order,” Horne said.
He re-interviewed the surviving witnesses, but nothing popped. Then in 2017, the sheriff's office learned of the M-VAC, a new machine able to detect, collect and analyze smaller DNA samples than ever before.
“It sprays a solution onto whatever you want it to test,” Horne explained. “This solution is supposed to rehydrate and tease any little molecules to the surface. In addition to spraying the solution, it also vacuums it out.”
The solution amasses inside a container, Horne said, and “the container is then filtered through a membrane that catches all the little DNA particles.”
Horne processed a piece of rope that had bound McBane and Mann. But the genetic material "was so small that we only learned that there were three contributors,” Horne said. “You're going to have two contributors from the victims' DNA. It's odd to only have one more.”
Believing they'd exhausted the available evidence, investigators started to think outside the box.
Horne entered into a partnership with two investigative journalists, Eryk Pruitt and Drew Adamek, after the men presented the sheriff's office with new evidence they'd found themselves.
“What we've found is, there are a lot of people that will talk to law enforcement but won't talk to reporters and vice versa,” Horne said. “They actually pulled in a lot of information that we didn't have.”
Taking any opportunity available to solve the murders' mystery, the sheriff's office opened the case file to the journalists, beginning a collaborative relationship.
"It's the coolest thing I've ever done in my life," Pruitt said. "We gave him info they didn't have, and the day that he decided to work with us we bought ourselves a fancy lunch."
"The Long Dance” discloses some new information, including an interview with “suspect number one."
Horne hopes the eight-episode podcast will prompt more people to come forward with information.
He wants to go hiking in southern Utah.
The investigator wishes to retire unhaunted.