The new investigative podcast “The Long Dance” is bringing fresh attention to a 47-year-old cold case in Durham. In February 1971, 20-year-old Patricia Mann and her 19-year-old boyfriend Jesse McBane left a Valentine’s Day dance. Their bodies were found two weeks later tied to a tree in a wooded area near Durham. It appeared they were strangled.
Eryk Pruitt spent the past two years trying to solve the murder mystery with the help of Tim Horne, an investigator with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. Pruitt is one of the hosts of the “The Long Dance." He joined WFAE's Marshall Terry to discuss the case.
This interview is edited for brevity.
On the crime's impact on the community:
Eryk Pruitt: There’s a lot of people around there...that grew up with the spectre of this story. There’s a period of time they weren’t allowed to go into the woods or they weren’t allowed to play while this was going on because no one knew if what happened to Patricia Mann and Jesse McBane was going to happen again. I found that absolutely fascinating.
Marshall Terry: You say this case is unlike anything you’ve seen before. What makes it so strange?
Pruitt: We always hear that metaphorical onion, that when you peel it you get another layer. In this one, the onion keeps getting bigger and bigger. I was a fiction writer by trade previous to this and I could spend so much time making up some plot and still not come into something that’s just as deep and convoluted and crazy as this story has been and still continues to be.
Terry: The person you identify as the prime suspect through your investigation is the same person police identified as their prime suspect. Can you talk about why this person has never been arrested or charged?
Pruitt: It’s a very tricky answer, which is why the podcast is eight episodes long. I think the number one reason was in 1971 law enforcement agencies did not communicate as well as they could today, either through competition or just through a lack of technology. Patricia and Jesse went missing in Durham. It started as a missing person case in Durham. Their bodies were found 300 yards over the Orange County line, which involved the Orange County Sheriff’s Office and later the SBI, the Durham Sheriff’s Office, and for reasons we go into much deeper, the Department of Motor Vehicles. You end up having six investigative bodies on this and all six of them want to be the one that brings it home. They weren’t sharing information. This allowed our suspect to kind of slip through the cracks.
Terry: Do you think we’ll ever really know what happened at this point?
Pruitt: I don’t know if we’ll ever get full understanding of exactly what happened that night or the why. But Maj. Horne and myself are pursuing a new lead that we are hoping can bring at least some kind of closure. I don’t know if we’ll ever get the true, full story of what happened that night, but we’re still holding out hope.