Gaston County police identify homicide victim found in 1979
Officers received a call on Oct. 6, 1979, that a body had been found in the woods off of Horseshoe Bend Beach Road.
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GASTON COUNTY, N.C. (WBTV) – After more than 40 years, a Gaston County homicide victim has been identified.
According to the Gaston County Police Department, officers received a call on Oct. 6, 1979, that a body had been found in the woods off of Horseshoe Bend Beach Road, which is located in the northeastern part of the county.
Police said the body had been in the area for some time before being located.
“At that point in time, there was no identification and no way to identify the body,” according to Gaston County police. “All investigators knew was the victim was believed to be a male who was approximately 30 to 60 years old.”
The department’s criminal investigations unit reviewed the case in 2020. Detectives worked with NamUs to process DNA from the skeletal remains that were collected in 1979.
According to law enforcement, NamUs utilized the Florida Institute of Forensic Anthropology and Applied Science at the University of South Florida to create a DNA profile and artist rendition of the victim.
“It was very exciting that we were able to identify this gentleman. Because we know somewhere there’s a family looking for somebody. And we knew there had to be someone from this region or this area,” said Captain Billy Downey, with Gaston County Police Criminal Investigations Unit.
Police said that through the DNA profile, the victim was identified as James Harold Smith of Charlotte.
“Deep down in my heart I knew something like that this was going to end up coming out,” said Elwood Smith, James’ younger brother.
Family members told detectives that he was of Lumbee Indian descent.
“One thing the public should know is DNA results like that takes anywhere from six to 18 months,” Downey said.
Gaston County Police detectives discovered the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department had taken a missing person’s report in 2014 for Smith, who was 33 years old at the time of his disappearance, department officials said. He was last seen leaving a court hearing in Charlotte.
The younger brother says there is a reason to why 30-plus years had went by.
“I kept searching I kept searching. When I got out in 2008 I started searching myself. I couldn’t make no connections and I decided in 2014 to file a missing person on him,” Elwood Smith said.
Authorities are asking for the public’s help with the investigation. Anyone with information is asked to call Gaston County Police at (704) 866-3320 or Crime Stoppers at (704) 861-8000.
A reward of up to $1,000 is available to anyone who provides information leading to the identification and arrest of the suspect or suspects in this case.
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