Napoleon McNeil’s family lost hope of finding him more than a decade after his disappearance.
His family believed that he was homeless somewhere in the Raleigh area, so they did not file a missing persons report, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Lt. Bryan Crum said during a news conference Wednesday.
McNeil had not been heard from since November 2009, Crum said.
In October 2010, human remains were found on Wadsworth Place, just off North Tryon Street near uptown.
Then in April, “hope” came back when remains were identified as McNeil’s through a partnership between CMPD and the North Carolina Unidentified Project, police said.
It’s believed McNeil was living on the streets in Charlotte, police said. McNeil was 45 when he died.
“His family never knew what happened to him,” Crum said. “At least we’re able to provide them with some closure.”
McNeil’s death is listed as “undetermined” because there wasn’t any indication of trauma on the body, homicide Detective Matt Hefner said.
It is unknown why McNeil was in Charlotte at the time of his death, Crum said. McNeil and most of his family are from Garner in Wake County, he said.
“It’s sad to know that he passed away but also good to know what happened to him,” Hefner said.
The NC Unidentified Project
The nonprofit North Carolina Unidentified Project launched in February 2020 by Ann Ross, a forensic anthropologist, and Leslie Kaufman, a forensic genealogist.
Their forensic genealogy work is funded by a UNC Interinstitutional grant intended to assist in identifying nearly 130 individuals in North Carolina. The first phase of the funding paid for DNA extraction and analysis of 13 unidentified people, Crum said.
“When they extract DNA from the remains of these individuals, they are loaded into ancestry and genealogy databases, such as GEDmatch and FamilyTreeDNA,” he said.
The project has identified seven victims so far, including McNeil, Kaufman said.
“It’s thrilling to be able to give these people back their names and give the family answers,” she said.
The project worked for nine months to identify McNeil, Kaufman said. His brother provided a DNA sample, which helped them find a match, she said.
Kaufman said she initially began looking into a third cousin, which led her to McNeil’s brother.
“That is your great, great, great grandparents’ grandchild,” she said. “I had to go back about six generations and then work my way forward.”
A tool to solve open cases
CMPD plans on continuing its work with the project by offering resources and funding in the hopes of solving 11 cases with unidentified human remains, Crum said. Some of the cases are homicides and others are not, but they do date back to 1975, he said.
The technology used for the project also could help solve sexual assault and open murder cases, Crum said.
“This is a really awesome tool for us,” he said.
Anyone with a missing relative is encouraged to call CMPD’s Missing Persons Unit so investigators can collect DNA samples, Crum said.
“If somebody has the belief that one of their relatives is missing and may be one of ours, we would love all the information and potentially DNA that we can get from them.”