True crime pod­cast brings na­tional at­ten­tion, leads to Durham cold case

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - News - BY BROOKE CAIN [email protected]­sob­server.com

A 46-year-old un­solved mur­der in Durham is get­ting new at­ten­tion – and new hope for a res­o­lu­tion – with the June 30 re­lease of the true-crime pod­cast “The Long Dance.”

The eight-episode pod­cast by Eryk Pruitt and Drew Adamek delves into the 1971 mur­der of two col­lege stu­dents: 20-yearold nurs­ing stu­dent Pa­tri­cia Mann of Sanford and 19-year-old N.C. State stu­dent Jesse McBane of Pitts­boro. It’s a case that came to be known in the lo­cal press as The Valen­tine Day’s Mur­der.

The cou­ple, who had dated for years, at­tended a Valen­tine’s dance at Watts Hos­pi­tal in Durham, where Mann was a stu­dent, on Feb. 12, 1971. Af­ter the dance, they went park­ing in a cul-de-sac near the present-day Croas­daile neigh­bor­hood. When they failed to re­turn, friends and fam­ily con­tacted po­lice and a search be­gan. McBane’s car was found, but no trace of the cou­ple.

Thir­teen days af­ter their dis­ap­pear­ance, their bod­ies were found tied to a tree in the woods in north­west Durham, just in­side the Or­ange County line. They had been stran­gled. In­ves­ti­ga­tors think they were tor­tured, but there was no ev­i­dence of sex­ual as­sault.

De­tec­tives from the Or­ange and Durham county sher­iff’s of­fices, the Durham Po­lice Depart­ment and the State Bureau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion all worked on the case, but it went cold. Then in 2010, Or­ange County sher­iff’s in­ves­ti­ga­tors Tim Horne and Dawn Hunter be­gan re­work­ing the case and came up with a per­son who they said looked like a good sus­pect. That sus­pect re­fused to co­op­er­ate or give DNA, and that was the last pub­lic up­date on the case.

GET­TING IN­SIDE THE IN­VES­TI­GA­TION

Pruitt and Adamek en­tered the story in 2016.

Pruitt, a Durham-based writer of crime fic­tion, had lis­tened to the first episode of the “Se­rial” pod­cast and was in­spired to try to tell a sim­i­lar story.

“It was a re­ally trans­for­ma­tive sto­ry­telling ex­pe­ri­ence,” Pruitt said. “For a while I was try­ing to come up with some fic­tional ap­proach to ‘Se­rial.’ … It just col­lapsed on it­self be­cause it was harder than I thought it was go­ing to be. But I al­ways wanted to do some­thing like ‘Se­rial.’ ”

Some time later, Ada- mek, an in­ves­tiga­tive re­porter who was liv­ing in Durham at the time, con­tacted Pruitt with the idea to col­lab­o­rate on a project and they brain­stormed ideas. When this case came up, Pruitt knew it was the one.

Un­like many pop­u­lar true-crime pod­casts, Pruitt and Adamek weren’t sat­is­fied to just retell the story of the mur­der; they wanted to dig deeper into the lives of Mann and McBane and try to solve the case.

Pruitt said they went to Or­ange County de­tec­tives in Oc­to­ber 2016 and asked for in­for­ma­tion on the case and ac­cess to the fam­i­lies. But since it was an open in­ves­ti­ga­tion, their re­quest was de­nied. So they did their own re­search and came back in 2017 with re­sults.

Horne took one look at the work they’d done and de­cided to let them in.

HARD WORK, NEW LEADS

Pruitt said the qual­ity of their re­search is why Horne de­cided to work with them.

“We had ar­rived at the same con­clu­sion as far as the prime sus­pect,” Pruitt said. “And we ac­tu­ally had some in­for­ma­tion that was new to their in­ves­ti­ga­tion. … Cap­tain Horne – he’s a ma­jor now – de­cided it could be ad­van­ta­geous to work with us.”

“The Long Dance” is well done and the level of re­search is clear start­ing in Episode 1. Pruitt and Adamek sup­ple­ment their nar­ra­tion with nicely edited in­ter­views with de­tec­tives, as well as friends and fam­ily mem­bers of the de­ceased. The re­sult is en­gross­ing sto­ry­telling.

As the pod­cast un­folds, more is re­vealed about ad­vances in the case.

“Over the course of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, we did end up tak­ing an ac­tive role,” Pruitt said. “We ac­quired DNA pro­files which even­tu­ally were tested against the mur­der weapon – the rope. And we did seek out peo­ple who had yet to be ques­tioned in pre­vi­ous in­ves­ti­ga­tions and turned that in­for­ma­tion over to Horne, and he then would ques­tion them. It was kind of ex­cit­ing. I’d never done any­thing like that be­fore.”

Pruitt said since the pod­cast launched on June 30, he and Adamek have been con­tacted by peo­ple with in­for­ma­tion the de­tec­tives have been look­ing for but un­able to find.

“Since this pod­cast has come out we’ve been get­ting emails and phone calls with more in­for­ma­tion,” he said. “In the pod­cast we talk about this in­ci­dent in Duke For­est that was sim­i­lar to our crime and no one had any in­for­ma­tion about it. Well, the orig­i­nal SBI agent who was as­signed to that case came out and gave Capt. Horne the de­tails. As a joke, he keeps call­ing it ‘Episode 9’ or ‘Sea­son 2.’ ”

When we spoke to Pruitt on Wed­nes­day, he had re­ceived im­por­tant in­for­ma­tion by email from lis­ten­ers just the day be­fore.

“Yes­ter­day I got two sep­a­rate emails from two dif­fer­ent women about in­for­ma­tion that we had been look­ing for,” Pruitt said. “Capt. Horne had been look­ing for it for seven years and my­self for nearly two, and then these two ran­dom emails yes­ter­day give it to us. ... They had the proof and ev­ery­thing we were never able to find.

“Our sus­pect has op­er­ated in the shad­ows for nearly 50 years,” Pruitt said. “And our hope was al­ways that this shin­ing the light on him might shake some­thing loose, and it’s al­ready kind of work­ing.”

CAN’T LET THIS ONE GO

Pruitt, un­der con­tract to com­plete a work of fic­tion, says the re­cep­tion to the pod­cast has been “hum­bling” and he wants to do more in the true crime genre.

“I def­i­nitely en­joyed the in­ves­tiga­tive as­pect of this,” Pruitt said, adding that every law en­force­ment of­fi­cial he and Adamek talked to had a fas­ci­nat­ing case from their ca­reer they wanted to talk about. And they get emails ask­ing for help on other cases.

“There’s a lot of crime out there, and peo­ple just want their story told,” he said.

But he and Adamek want to fin­ish telling the story of Mann and McBane. The new in­for­ma­tion com­ing in leaves the door open for more episodes to up­date the progress of the sher­iff depart­ment’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion and even­tu­ally, hope­fully, an­nounce a con­clu­sion. Whether that means an ad­di­tional episode or a sec­ond sea­son de­pends on the de­vel­op­ments, Pruitt said.

“This is a hard one to let go of,” Pruitt said. “We still talk to in­ves­ti­ga­tors and the fam­ily mem­bers. If some­thing shakes out, I have not put away my record­ing equip­ment. I’m ready to con­tinue. Nei­ther Capt. Horne nor I have re­ally been good at just let­ting this go.”

OUR SUS­PECT HAS OP­ER­ATED IN THE SHAD­OWS FOR NEARLY 50 YEARS.

Courtesy of Carolyn Spivey

Pa­tri­cia Mann’s and Jesse McBane’s killer was never caught.

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