Brunswick County John Doe (1977)

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John Doe was discovered on May 13, 1977 after a wildlife officer found the burlap sac he’d been wrapped in snagged on the banks of the Brunswick River, just south of the US Route 74 and US Route 76 bridge, in Leland, Brunswick County, North Carolina.

From the looks of it, his body hadn’t travelled far. Along with being wrapped in burlap, there was also a burlap strap tied in a simple loop around his right wrist and another in a double loop around his neck.


An autopsy was conducted upon John Doe being brought to the medical examiner’s office. As the remains were bloated and beginning to decompose, it was determined he’d died weeks prior. Due to the level of decomposition, it was difficult for the coroner to determine a cause of death, but it was eventually ruled a homicide by drowning.

As his hands were sticking out of the burlap sac when found, it appears he had unsuccessfully tried to escape before he drowned.


John Doe is described as African American, and is believed to have been between 18 and 30 years of age. He stood at 5’9″ and weighed approximately 112 pounds. While his eye colour was unable to be determined due to the level of decomposition, his hair is noted as having been black. There was no evidence of any marks or scars, and his spine showed mild scoliosis.

When found, he was only wearing a pair of blue socks.

John Doe appeared to have had extensive dental work done, which would have been expensive. It had likely been done by multiple dentists, as all but seven teeth had been extensively restored. There was no sign of dental decay, and he had a stainless steel crown on one of his teeth. Despite attempts to locate local dentists who may have performed the work, investigators turned up empty. When the case was brought in front of the Director of the University of Maryland’s Museum of Dentistry, it was noted that the work didn’t appear to have been done in the United States.

It was initially thought that John Doe had been dropped from the bridge near where he was found. It was later determined that he likely originated around the Cape Fear River, located near Elizabethtown and Fayetteville, both located in North Carolina.

As there is a large sea port in Wilmington, North Carolina, there have been many theories regarding how John Doe came to be in the area in which he was found. Given he wasn’t reported missing, it’s believed he could have travelled to the area via one of the ships that had docked at the port. It’s also been theorized that he could have been a military member or a dependent family member of someone who was stationed with the military overseas.

Unfortunately, investigators currently looking into the case do not have access to John Doe’s DNA. Upon the initial autopsy being completed, his remains were cremated and he received a burial at sea.


John Doe’s fingerprints and dentals are currently available for comparison.

Those with information regarding the identity of John Doe are asked to contact the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office at 910-880-4920. Tips can also be called into the North Carolina Office of the Chief Medical Examiner at either 919-743-9000 or 1-800-672-7042.

Image Credit: The Doe Network

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