1976 – Photos and renderings of the male and female victims were circulated nationwide for possible identification
2007 – Sumter County Coroner Verna Moore had the bodies exhumed to take samples for DNA extraction and identification
June 2019 – Samples were sent to DNA Doe Project for testing
July 2020 – Samples also sent to California and Alabama for DNA extraction and comparison
The 44-year-long mystery of who the 1976 Sumter County John and Jane Does were has come to an end after the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office and the DNA Doe Project announced their identities during a news conference on Thursday.
On Aug. 9, 1976, the bodies of a man and woman were discovered off Old St. John Church Road in Lynchburg off Interstate 95.
The autopsy report showed the victims were each shot three times in the chest, back and head, not throat as had been previously thought, according to Sumter County Coroner Robbie Baker. Both suffered fatal shots to the head. Both were also shot with the same gun.
“Photos of both victims were circling nationwide for possible identification,” Sumter County Sheriff Anthony Dennis said. “Many of these followed with no reveal.”
The case of the killings went cold for several years after investigators decided to focus on identifying the two victims. In 2007, at-the-time Sumter County Coroner Verna Moore had the bodies exhumed and retrieved DNA samples.
Dennis said it wasn’t until the samples were sent to the DNA Doe Project, a nonprofit that identifies deceased persons using forensic genealogy, that Sumter County’s ongoing mystery “Does” were identified a few months ago.
The woman, Pamela Buckley, who was 25 at the time, was originally from Minnesota and was reported missing from Colorado Springs, Colorado, in 1975, according to Dennis.
The man, James Freund, who was 30 at the time, was from Langston, Pennsylvania, and also reported missing in 1975, Dennis said.
Both victims’ families were contacted by the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office, and the families confirmed their identities, Dennis said. The relation of the two was unknown.
Matthew McDaniel, a Clemson resident who helped identify Buckley and Freund and suggested the sheriff’s office reach out to the DNA Doe Project in 2019, was glad the more than 44-year-long mystery of their identities came to an end.
For the past eight years, McDaniel dedicated himself to solving the case of the unidentified pair, and he said it was genetic genealogy that cracked it.
He has shared research and a potential list of suspects with the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office.
“Hopefully, justice will be served for James and Pamela,” McDaniel said.
Dennis said he thinks this homicide was an isolated incident, and he did not wish to share much information regarding the homicide case, as the sheriff’s office plans to delve back into the investigation.
“We do have persons of interest,” Dennis said. “We’re definitely going to reopen the case, and we want to find out who actually committed these crimes.”
Buckley and Freund were buried locally at the Bethel Methodist Church in Sumter County with “unknown male” and “unknown female” written on their tombstones. The bodies will be removed from the church upon the families’ request, Dennis said.
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