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'Person of interest' eyed in 42-year-old cold case murder of young N.C. couple

This undated photo, provided by the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, shows Patricia Mann, 20, and her boyfriend Jesse McBane, 19.

Authorities won't name him, but say they have zeroed in on a "person of interest" in a 42-year-old cold case murder of a young North Carolina couple whose bodies were found tied up and tortured in woods after the two left a Valentine's dance in Durham.

Jesse McBane, 19, and his girlfriend, Patricia Mann, 20, were found tied up, strangled and covered with leaves in a secluded "lover's lane" area just off a dirt road in Orange County, N.C., WRAL-TV reported. 

The murders were dubbed the "Valentine's Day killings" because the bodies were found on Feb. 25, 1971, 13 days after the couple left a Valentine's dance at Watts Hospital in Durham, where Mann was a nursing student, according to the station.

Investigators say the couple, who had planned to marry, were tortured before they were killed in what they described as a sadistic strangling. 

"Evidence from the autopsy and at the scene tended to indicate that they were strangled over a period of time," investigator Tim Horne Horne told the station. "It wasn’t one continuous pulling tight of a rope around their neck to strangle them to death. It appeared to be a situation where the rope was tightened, then they let it go, let them regain their breath, regain consciousness, possibly, and then they were strangled again."

Their fully clothed bodies were found tied to a tree.

The injuries sustained by the two were similar, but Mann suffered another injury. Autopsy reports showed a half-inch tear in her liver, which the medical examiner said could have been caused by a fist blow to the stomach prior to her death, the station reported. 

Authorities have long believed that the killer was very familiar with the area where the bodies were found. They have identified a person of interest, who is still alive, but declined to provide any further details. 

"The suspect knew this area, knew this location. It's our opinion (that) this wasn't the first time he came down here," Horne told WRAL. "He felt comfortable torturing and murdering these two young people, and he felt comfortable enough that no one was going to come and that no one could hear them cry, scream, plead, what have you."

Anyone with information on the murders of McBane and Mann is urged to contact the Orange County Sheriff's Office at 919-644-3050.

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