The box sits neatly in the back corner of Detective Tim Horne’s office inside the Orange County Sheriff’s Office in downtown Hillsborough.
Scribbled across the front in black magic marker are the words “Mann/McBane.”
What lies inside is a complex tangle of evidence that has confounded and frustrated even the most seasoned of investigators for decades.
“I’ve been involved in tons of investigations in the 28 years I’ve been here. It just had a different feel. It read like a Hollywood script,” Detective Horne said.
Nearly a half century ago, two young lovers - Jesse Allen McBane and Patricia Ann Mann - were brutally and sadistically murdered in a secluded rural path just across the Orange-Durham County lines. No one was ever charged or tried for the double murder.
But if Orange County Sheriff’s Office officials have their way - and modern DNA technology does its part - this 47-year-old tragedy just might have closure someday.
A Missed Curfew
Two young people - they’ve been described as lovebirds.
She is 20 years old - a nursing student at Watts Hospital in Durham. He is a 19-year-old freshman at North Carolina State University. They’re getting their education behind them. They’re starting their life. There is talk of engagement in the near future.
The date was Friday, Febuary 12, 1971- two days before Valentine’s Day. It was a cold night in central North Carolina, with misty rain falling throughout much of the evening.
There was a dance on the campus of Watts Hospital that night, and Jesse McBane made his way from his parent’s home in northern Chatham County to Durham to visit his girlfriend, Patricia Mann.
“Jesse was not supposed to have the car that night,” Detective Horne said in a recent interview. “He and his brother shared the car, and it wasn’t his night. He made a deal with his brother, and they traded days, worked it out. So at the last minute, Jesse gets the car. He talked to Patricia - the dance was on - so they go to the dance.”
At approximately 11:30 p.m., McBane and Mann left the dance, and Mann signed out of her dormitory, which had extended its nightly curfew from midnight to 1:00 a.m. in order to accommodate the dance.
They go parking to a nearby lover’s lane near the present-day neighborhood of Croasdaile. At the time, developers had cut numerous cul-de-sacs into the neighborhood, but they hadn’t yet built the houses.
“The rule was, if the nurses wanted some private time with boyfriends, they could go to a close-by area they knew,” Horne said. “The unwritten rule was if someone was in a cul-de-sac, you go down to the next cul-de-sac. But many of the girls had their spot. It wasn’t etched in stone. But it was kind of unofficially, ‘This is ours.’”
McBane and Mann never came back.
An Abandoned Automobile, A Grisly Discovery
The following Saturday morning, it was quickly determined that Mann didn’t return the night before. This was highly out of character for Mann, who was described by all as a responsible young woman who wouldn’t miss curfew and not return to her dormitory at night without a reasonable explanation.
“The girls (her fellow nurses) knew that this was not Patricia,” Detective Horne said. “She was a good girl. Jesse was a good guy, by everyone’s account. They knew something was wrong.”
They called local hospitals, asking if there had been a car accident. They made efforts to file an initial report with the Durham County Police Department within hours of Mann and McBane not coming back.
Some of Mann’s co-workers at Watts Hospital went out looking for her and her boyfriend. They go to the lover’s lane area, where they find McBane’s car abandoned. The automobile is sitting in one of the empty cul-de-sacs.
Their coats are in the back. Everything appears to be normal. Nothing in disarray. There are no signs of a struggle.
Back in those days, cars had triangular vent windows that could be pushed in and out. It was unsecured, so one of the girls was able to reach in and unlock the car to see what was going on.
Nothing seems overtly out of place - aside of the fact that Jesse McBane and Patricia Mann are nowhere to be found.
At this point, the Durham County Police Department gets involved.
“The initial thought was that Mann and McBane may have eloped,” Detective Horne indicated.
The case, originally deemed a missing person’s case, begins to evolve into a full-blown investigation.
“No one knew at that time it was a homicide. But it became fairly apparent, within a day or two, that something was not right,” Horne stated.
For nearly two weeks, a frantic search was undertaken, while Durham and Orange County detectives worked numerous leads in an effort to locate the missing pair.
But twelve days after McBane and Mann went missing - on February 25, 1971 - a surveyor working in a heavily-wooded area along a one-lane dirt road found what he initially thought was a mannequin.
“There was a leg that could be seen (sticking up) outside a pile of leaves. But when he (the surveyor) got close to it, he realized that it was actually a human body,” Horne said.
McBane and Mann had been tied to a tree, with thick knots around their heads and hands. The victims were strangled. McBane was still wearing his class ring and watch. There were no signs of theft, or any type of sexual assault. Patricia had an internal injury, where she may have been punched hard, kicked, or stomped.
The Orange County Sheriff’s Office was called. They immediately responded to the crime scene.
“There was some issue about jurisdiction,” Horne said of the initial law enforcement inquiry. “Where is the county line? It was really, really close (to the border between Durham and Orange County). That area was a lover’s lane. It was a road that had been pushed in, and had a cul-de-sac at the end. It was about a quarter of a mile into the woods. Very, very secluded. There were beer bottles and cigarette butts in the cul-de-sac. People would go down there and drink.”
Soon after locating the bodies, it was determined that these were the bodies of the missing couple.
A Murder Investigation Begins
After locating the bodies of McBane and Mann, an extensive investigation began, involving the Orange County and Durham County Sheriff’s Offices, the Durham Police Department, the State Department of Investigation (SBI), the Federal Bureau of Invesigation (FBI), and what was then called the Department of License and Theft, which would eventually be rolled into the North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).
Regrettably, there was an overall lack of collaboration on the part of the law enforcement agencies at the time, resulting in an investigation that didn’t put the entire picture together for decades.
“Everybody individually worked on the case,” Horne said. “It didn’t catch a whole lot of traction. There was a lot of work done, but it was individual. Not a lot of information was being shared by the various agencies. So there were some missed opportunities. There were a ton of initial suspects that were developed. But in talking with some of the retired detectives, as well as looking at the paperwork, it was clear that the overwhelming majority of these suspects weren’t realistic.”
“This is a horrible crime. Who lives within five miles of the area who was mean as a snake, or would have done such a thing?” Horne continued. “The names on the list, there was nothing to substantiate that. It was just a name. So that slows them down a bit, and they have to work through it.”
As the dust started to settle, however, a handful of promising suspects emerged.
Some of those were later cleared by the case officers, based on polygraph tests. Some were not cleared.
One in particular was a doctor at Watts Hospital, who knew Patricia Mann. He has been a focus in the case, and Detective Horne says he is still a focus, a person of interest.
The doctor has repeatedly refused to cooperate with the authorities.
Technology Offers Hope
Although no one has ever been charged with these heinous crimes, there remains a possibility that the Orange County Sheriff’s Office could eventually catch a huge break in this case.
M-Vac is a wet-vacuum DNA collection system that was originally designed to determine possible pathogens in food samples. Similar to a hand-held carpet cleaner, the M-Vac system can extract DNA from difficult places - such as inside the knots that were used to tie McBane and Mann up to strangle them.
“It’s basically an industrial type of carpet cleaner. It sprays a solution out, and that fluid is captured and condensed down onto a filter. And then all the DNA profiles on that have to be extrapolated,” Horne said.
Only 80 M-Vac machines exist in the world, with 40 in the United States.
Fortunately for local investigators, Guilford County recently received a new M-Vac system.
“We have the ropes where the victims were found individually, and then lashed around a tree to one another,” Horne said. “The rope has been preserved and protected.”
So after 47 long years of futility, there remains a chance that this case could have closure. That a potential suspect could be taken into custody and tried for these brutal murders.
“What a horrible tragedy, especially for young kids just starting out their life. To be kidnapped and abducted from a lover’s lane, transported to a second lover’s lane. And then marched up a small embankment, bound and tied to a tree, and strangled,” Horne said. “We believe - and we’ve had a lot of consultants look at this, everybody is in agreement - somewhere on that rope, you’re going to have a suspect’s profile. And this new technique is the best one to obtain that DNA. So we’re very hopeful.”