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Nearly 40 years after a mother and son were strangled in Charlotte, police say they found the killer

Sarah Mobley Hall with her 10-year old son Derrick Mobley

On Mar. 14, 1984, police officers were called to an apartment complex in the Hidden Valley area. They found 27-year old Sarah Mobley Hall and her 10-year old son Derrick Mobley, killed inside their apartment.

Both had been strangled.

For nearly four decades, the double homicide went unsolved. Eventually, the case went cold. This week, police said new technology led to an arrest in this case.

At the time of the killing, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department didn’t have a cold case specific homicide unit. DNA identification was in its infancy — the first crime-solving use of DNA technology wouldn't be for another two years. However, the case was reopened several times, including by police Chief Johnny Jennings in 1998, who was a detective at the time.

When Jennings looked into the case in 1998, he discovered there was possible DNA from a suspect on a pillowcase. However, he had no luck in finding a match to the right person.

Fast forward to 2023 — forensic science and technology has advanced. During the latest attempt to solve the double homicide CMPD Captain Joel McNeely said they tried something new.

“We were able to send some of that DNA off to a company called Forensic Innovative Labs for forensic genetic genealogy testing,” said McNeely. Investigators didn't find the killer — but they found a match to a relative of that person. And that led them to a suspect.

After using both forensic genetic genealogy and familial searches CMPD and the local FBI found a DNA match. It's the same way police have used the huge DNA databases built up by genealogy sites like 23andMe to solve cases like the Golden State Killer.

“We pretty quickly narrowed down a person of interest in this, that person, was now in South Carolina," McNeely said. “And with the help of the FBI, we were able to get a DNA sample from that person. And the great news is that we had a direct match to DNA that was found on the scene of this horrific murder in 1984.”

That match led police and the local FBI to now 60-year old James Thomas Pratt. Pratt was arrested on Feb. 1, in York County. Police said they don’t have a motive for the killings.

Sarah Hall’s sister Mary Dae thanked investigators for sticking with the case.

“And I'm just so grateful that the police have found this person, and I hope he spends the rest of his days behind bars,” Dae said. “I really just can't I can't explain how relieved, you know, it brought closure.”

The investigation is ongoing and anyone with information is asked to call 704-432-TIPS.


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Kenny is a Maryland native who began his career in media as a sportswriter at Tuskegee University, covering SIAC sports working for the athletic department and as a sports correspondent for the Tuskegee Campus Digest. Following his time at Tuskegee, he was accepted to the NASCAR Diversity Internship Program as a Marketing Intern for The NASCAR Foundation in Daytona Beach, Florida in 2017.