Nearly four decades after a young single mother and her son were beaten and strangled to death in their North Carolina apartment, a man has been arrested for their deaths.
James Thomas Pratt, 60, was arrested and charged on Feb. 1 in the murders of 27-year-old Sarah Mobley Hall and her 10-year-old son, Derrick, in 1984, police announced on Thursday. Pratt was arrested at a hotel in York County, South Carolina.
“It’s just so exciting to hear that after all these years, we’re able to bring some closure,” the victim’s sister, Mary Dae, said in a video from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department. “I’m just so grateful that the police have found this person, and I hope he spends the rest of his days behind bars.”
In a news conference announcing the arrest, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department Capt. Joel McNelly said that forensic DNA helped lead to the suspect in a case many have long forgotten.
“Society has probably forgotten about these folks. It’s been a long time,” he said. “A lot of things have happened. But the family never forgot, and we never forgot.”
McNelly outlined the chronology of that tragic day on March 14, 1984.
It began when Charlotte police officers discovered a horrific crime scene on Ventura Way in Charlotte’s Hidden Valley neighborhood.
Sarah, a single mother, worked with children with disabilities during the day, he said. One of those special needs kids was her son Derek, he said. Everyone described Derek as a very happy kid, friendly to everyone.
Someone had come into their home and brutally murdered them both.
Detectives did a tremendous amount of work chasing down possible suspects back then, McNelly said, but the case went cold.
“So to put the age of this in perspective, if there was a rookie police officer that started on the day of this crime, that person would be retired for more than 10 years now,” he said. “But more importantly than that, there’s been a family that’s been waiting 39 years wondering what happened to their sister, to their daughter. In fact, their parents have both since passed with no news of what happened to their daughter.”
Over the years, detectives revisited the case.
In 1998, one of those investigators was a young homicide detective named Johnny Jennings, the current police chief today.
Back then, DNA analysis was new, McNelly said.
But investigators say DNA evidence that Jennings found then helped lead them to the suspect through a relative, the first time in North Carolina’s history that such a match was made in a murder case, McNelly said.
“That’s where this investigation really started to take off with our detectives, doing the kind of genealogy research of who are these relatives that the state has identified and who could this person be,” he said.
Investigators were led to a person of interest in South Carolina. With the help of the FBI, Charlotte police got a DNA sample from that person, identified as Pratt.
He was arrested on Feb. 1 and charged with two counts of first-degree murder, McNelly said. He is in custody and being held without bail. McNelly said that the suspect and the young mother had been in a relationship, but did not elaborate on a motive or any other details about the case, saying it’s part of an ongoing investigation.
The relatives of the victims were elated about the arrest, McNelly said.
“You can imagine sitting for four decades, not knowing what happened to your sister, not knowing what happened to your son or your nephew. And to have this resolution is really, really important for this family.”
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