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Victim in 1979 Gaston County homicide identified

James Harold Smith was last seen leaving a court hearing in Charlotte in October 1979. His body was later found in Gaston County.

GASTON COUNTY, N.C. — Gaston County investigators have identified a man who was killed in a 1979 homicide. 

On Oct. 6, 1979, Gaston County police were called to a report of a body being found in a wooded area off Horseshoe Bend Beach Road, which is in the northeastern portion of the county. The victim had been left in the area for some time before he was found. At the time, detectives had no way of identifying the victim, only believing it was a man believed to be between 30 and 60 years old. 

The case was reopened in 2020, with detectives working with the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System to process DNA from the victim's remains that were collected in 1979. Scientists at the University of South Florida were able to create a DNA profile and artist rendition of the victim, who was identified as James Harold Smith, who was from Charlotte. 

“We may not be able to charge anyone on this case," Gaston County Police Captain Bill Downey said. "Our person of interest is already deceased. We have an idea who did this crime now that we know who our victim is.”

Credit: Gaston County Police Dept.

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Octavius Boozier is Smith's grandson, who he never got the chance to meet. Boozier said he learned about the latest developments in this cold case in the most unexpected way. 

“All these years I’ve been looking for my grandfather and I always thought I’d meet him in person, but come to find out I meet him on social media," Boozier said.

He came across his grandfather's photo on the missing person flyer in his news feed and immediately recognized it.

“I literally broke down when I seen that picture… I knew who that was," Boozier said.

Smith's family said he was of Lumbee Indian descent. During the investigation, Gaston County detectives found a missing person's report from 2014 that was filed with Charlotte-Mecklenburg police. Smith was 33 years old when he was last seen leaving a court hearing in Charlotte. 

Gaston County police are asking for the public's help with the investigation. Any person with information about the disappearance of James Harold Smith is asked to call 704-866-3320 or Gaston County Crimestoppers at 704-861-8000. A cash reward of up to $1,000 is available to anyone who gives information that leads to an arrest.

"Every victim has a family and those family members deserve to know,” Downey said. 

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