Missing persons website could be key to cracking 20-year-old cold case

U.S.

Raleigh, N.C. (NewsNation Now) — A Department of Justice database has helped bring closure in over 5,000 missing persons cases, some dating back to the 1920s, and hope to the families left searching.

It’s called the NamUs database.

In North Carolina, the Jacobs family has been searching for Kent Jacobs for nearly 20 years. His case is listed in the NamUs database as well.

“It’s not easy. I had talked to my son almost about every day,” his mother Martha Jacobs said.

Kent Jacobs disappeared March 10, 2002; just days before his birthday. His family says although he was 41-years-old, he had the heart and mindset of a child.

His photo was plastered on billboards. Now nearly 20 years later, Kent Jacobs’ disappearance remains a mystery.

“There was a child inside that adult body and we can’t forget that. Somebody destroyed the life of a child and that’s unthinkable and it’s unforgivable,” his sister Jackie Jacobs said.

“A week later he would have been celebrating a birthday. And for Kent, birthdays were just a tremendously huge deal. Kent did have sort of diminished mental capacity. So he was an adult but he had probably the mental capacity of a 10-year-old,” his brother Kelvin Jacobs said. 

Kent Jacobs

Kent was the oldest of 5 children. Days after he disappeared, all 4 siblings came together to search for him.

“It was just mind-boggling to me. How could someone just vanish into thin air in a town this size?” his sister Kimberly Barber remarked. “In the morning, I just remember all of us getting up. And we would just drive and we would just go and find anybody that we felt was connected with him.”

She added, “so for me, it was very disturbing. It was a small town and everybody knows everybody. And everybody knows my family. So it’s very disturbing that people would not be honest with us.”

“My mom called me and said Kent’s missing. The way she said it was concerning. But it didn’t really impact me. I just figured maybe he’s out, you know over at a friend’s place,” Keith Jacobs stated. “I told her not to worry too much about it, and I’d give her a call later. And I gave her a call later that afternoon. And she told me that they still weren’t able to find him that was when I became concerned.”

Cumberland County Deputies say Kent was last seen with some of his childhood friends near Hulon Street in Hope Mills, a small town an hour away from Raleigh, North Carolina.

Sources close to the investigation say those same friends would often take Kent’s money, force him to get high and make him the butt of their jokes.

“Again probably, and not to disparage anyone obviously I didn’t hang out with them so I don’t know. I did on occasion ran into them if I needed to go pick-up Kent,” his brother Kelvin Jacobs described. “I would go pick him up, and I would see the folks who I knew that he grew up with … and yea they did turn to drugs. And it did progress. It probably went from smoking cigarettes as boys to transitioning to smoking marijuana to even more hardcore use.”

NewsNationNow.com‘s Felicia Bolton asked if the family ever stopped Kent from being with these childhood friends.  

“We didn’t, unfortunately. It was one of those things where we… I don’t think really picked up on how far they had fallen and that neighborhood had fallen until after the fact,” responded Kelvin Jacobs.

The case’s lead detective in the early 2000s, Larry Trotter, believes a stranger could have killed him since no one close to Kent failed a polygraph test.

“I think the case went pretty cold when at one point we had offered like a $10,000 reward for any information leading to the arrest or finding Kent. In that world of people that hang around there in Hulon street, $10,000 is a lot of money. And that $10,000 did not stir anybody,” Trotter said. “Well at that time on Hulon Street in that area, it was very sketchy. It was a high drug traffic area. It was prostitution also in that area as well. “

In 2010, Senior Sgt. Nan Trogdon took over and one tip re-kindled the search. To protect their identity, NewsNationNow.com changed the names of key witnesses and informants.

“Another clue that had come in was the fact that Joe Smith went up to Jason Doe and actually said Kent’s buried on my property in a refrigerator. Well as I kept searching through to try to find who and what had taken this a little bit further or tried to investigate it, I couldn’t find it. So that’s what lead me to get the search warrant,” retired Detective Nan Trogdon explained.

After getting the search warrant, she enlisted the help of geologists. They used ground-penetrating radar to see what lied beneath the surface. During the 2010 search, they uncovered large debris, furniture, carpets and large metal containers under the property on Hulon Street, without any sign of Kent.

Finally, a heavily wooded area needed to be explored.

“We went to the edge of the property and it was thick bamboo and coverage and so forth. So our equipment really wasn’t well suited for that kind of terrain. So we had to stop at that point. Our thoughts were is that the only way we can do additional area is that they remove some of the vegetation. That is the problem. The area did appear to be wet and very dense vegetation. It would be very unlikely that we could do a successful survey unless they improve it. So basically at that point in time, we had searched all that we could with our equipment without improving the property, ” Geologist Ron Crowson described.

Because of the rough landscape, Trogdon called off the search. Crowson stands behind their work in 2010.

“There was a meeting later on, I think in 2018 which we looked at the property. (The investigators at the time) decided that it was possible to be able to do it. Then after we had our meeting and everything to discuss it, they had a series of hurricanes that came through. Areas got flooded and so it was put off until a later date,” Crowson said.

Since then, another probe of the property was never conducted. To protect their identity, names of key witnesses and informants have been changed.

Detective Nan Trodgen

“The bamboo and the water, and the darkness, so we had to call off the investigation at that point. I found out years later talking with Ron Smith, that we were even in the wrong place. The property is on an incline and we were searching almost the top of the incline at a leveled-off part. Toward the road, it’s steep. There’s also an old sign that used to be there with a lot of stonework around it. Ron informed me that the bus was actually buried on the bottom part of the incline where the stonework is for the old sign. But Ron didn’t tell me this until years later,” Detective Nan Trodgen said.

“To the Jacobs family, I’d like to say I’m sorry. I am sorry I could not bringing you the closure that you deserve,” Trodgen cried.

Current investigator,  Lt. James Jones, says many witnesses have now passed away and there are several theories as to what happened to Kent.  

NewsNationNow.com’s Felicia Bolton asked the current investigators at the Cumberland County Sheriff Office if they are considering doing another search of that property.

“I’m sure with homicide,  just like any other case, they are going to explore all avenues that come up. So I’m sure if it’s something that looks like it warrants, they’ll definitely take a look at that,” Lt. James Jones said in response.

He thinks the key to cracking this cold case could be NamUs.

On NamUs, there are more than 11,500 unclaimed persons cases listed publicly and about 13,700 unidentified persons cases.

Nearly 20,000 missing persons cases from across the nation are represented on the site, including Kent Jacobs’ case.

Lt. James Jones

Lt. James Jones thinks it will make a difference “because of the amount of information they are able to get in from all areas of the country and that’s a big help.”

Through NamUs, scientists can run Kent’s family’s DNA against any unidentified body in their database in hopes of a match. While the public can see all the details surrounding Kent’s description and when he was last seen.

“I can’t speak on DNA hits or anything of that nature. I do know there are constantly tips that come in on Kent Jacobs. He’s a very prominent person. There used to be billboards and everything else up with his face and name on it. So there are constantly leads that homicide have to vet out and see if it’s something that’s previously been ran down or if it’s something fresh for them to take a look at,” Jones said.

Despite deputies efforts, his sister Jackie Jacobs’ says they are not pleased with how the search in 2010 was handled.

“As much as CCSO did during that initial search there’s more to be done. We’ve made no secret as of the fact as a family that we believe the search ended early. Why can’t we just go back and finish it! I don’t know or understand the thought process that we need another lead. We had the lead. The lead brought us there. Let’s find out if Kent’s in a refrigerator for goodness sake,” Jackie Jacobs said.

With no guarantee of another search, the Jacobs family believes a confession or DNA could be the key to finding out what happened to Kent.

It’s a chance at granting Martha’s last wish.

“I had a lot of people ask me how I’ve gotten through it. With the help of the good Lord, He has taken me through. He’ll give me an answer one day; if not till my last breath almost. The Lord’s going to give me an answer,” Martha Jacobs said.  

For more on NamUs check out these News Nation stories:

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