True crime meets forensic science
Nov. 9, 2022

Unraveling a Mystery for More Than Forty Years

When Alexander Brown disappeared from his home in Baltimore in December 1978, his family was floored. In their minds, there was no way the engaging and kind man they called “Alec” would just walk away from his life. But the search for Alec went cold. For more than forty years, generations of his heartbroken family continued to tug at the mystery of his disappearance, hoping to solve it. 

Most people give up trying unravel a mystery after a short period of time. Unraveling mysteries and figuring out complicated puzzles are both mentally and emotionally exhausting. But sometimes, taking another look at a cold case with fresh eyes can give you the clarity you need to solve it. 

A nonprofit dedicated to finding answers 

The North Carolina Unidentified Project does just this. North Carolina State University forensic anthropologist Dr. Ann Ross and forensic genealogist Leslie Kaufman started the nonprofit to help identify remains that have sat in boxes in the custody of the state for years.  

In 2021, they teamed up with the Chatham County Sheriff’s office in a rural part of central North Carolina to help them solve two of their coldest cases. One involved a man found dead in 1981. After uploading the man’s DNA profile into multiple DNA databases, Leslie finally found a woman she believed was a relative of Alexander Brown. She emailed the woman and got this chilling response: “We've been looking for my uncle for 43 years.” 43 years. Can you imagine waiting that long for answers? Can you imagine the feeling of finally getting them? 

Working with degraded DNA 

The other case Leslie took on in Chatham County was 46 years old. The DNA was so degraded, no lab had been able to get a good profile. But a lab in Texas was touting its ability to handle degraded DNA, and they went for it.  

In this episode of the What Remains new eyes and new DNA technology are solving even the oldest cold cases. And Alec’s niece walks us through their decades-old search for answers that finally paid off.