NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Florida investigators are asking for Tennesseans’ help as they believe someone in Nashville or the surrounding areas could be the key to cracking one of the state’s oldest active homicide cases.
Detectives have been trying to figure out what happened to 24-year-old James Norris for nearly 50 years, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), the lead agency on the case.
Norris was a San Francisco, California resident. However, on the morning of Oct. 4, 1974, he arrived on a commercial flight to Miami with a considerable amount of cash. Authorities said he was traveling under the alias Richard Gunning.
Investigators believe he intended to purchase Colombian-grade marijuana that could not be found in California. That afternoon, Norris mailed a postcard to his family from Inglis, Florida, in Levy County on the border with Citrus County.
That postcard would be the last contact his family had with him. On April 16, 1976, a bulldozer operator cutting through the woods off of U.S. Highway 19 in northern Dixie County near the Taylor County line came upon skeletal remains.
At the time, DNA technology was still in its infancy. The remains were unidentified for decades, until 2009 when FDLE Special Agent—now Special Agent Supervisor—David Wilson recognized that recent advances in DNA testing might yield some positive results.
The remains were sent to the University of North Texas (UNT), where scientists were able to obtain a DNA profile a year later, but according to the FDLE, it was not enough to enter into the Combined DNA Index System, which serves as a national database of DNA profiles.
The case was instead entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUS), and after reviewing the information, FDLE Special Agent—now Special Agent Supervisor—Mike Kennedy recognized some possible connections to Norris.
Agent Kennedy observed that Norris was listed as missing about 18 months and 100 miles from where the skeletal remains were found. NamUS also noted that Norris’ family had placed their DNA on file with the California Department of Justice (DOJ) for use as a comparison.
Agent Kennedy requested that the DNA profiles with the California DOJ be sent to UNT for comparison. The results came back as a match, and an active homicide investigation was initiated. In April 2011, Norris’ family members flew to Florida to claim his remains.
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Through further investigation, detectives were able to uncover the names of some of the members of an organization they believe Norris was meeting with to purchase marijuana.
Some people with information about what happened to Norris may have lived in or have associates in the Nashville area or other parts of Middle Tennessee. Anyone with information is asked to contact FDLE Tallahassee at 800-342-0820.