Matthew McDaniel lives in Clemson, South Carolina, some three hours from where the bodies of two people found shot to death by the side of I-95 in 1976 were identified Thursday as those of a man from Lancaster and a woman from Colorado.
McDaniel doesn’t work in law enforcement. No connection to the victims — he wasn’t even alive when James Paul Freund, 30, and Pamela Mae Buckley, 25, were killed.
But authorities in South Carolina on Thursday credited him with helping in the case. He suggested they contact the DNA Doe Project, which they did in 2019.
McDaniel, 41, first came across the case on the internet about eight years ago. He became intrigued.
“This case just kind of stands out basically because it’s two people who were murdered and never identified … That’s part of the intrigue,” he said. Also: “...the way they were murdered. It was very cold. It was an execution-style murder. It made me mad.”
About five years ago, he created the webpage, sumtermysterycouple.com, with information about the case. He kept it anonymous until Thursday, when authorities announced the victims’ identities.
He went over the case files. Interviewed people associated with the case. Shared information he put together and he developed theories — he thinks the killings were drug-related, theorizing Freund was the target and Buckley was collateral damage.
He thinks the killings will be solved, citing information he’s developed and shared with authorities.
McDaniel, who is single and describes himself as an entrepreneur — he buys and sells things: “You know that show ‘American Pickers?’ That’s what I do.” — said family and friends used to think he was crazy. “But not anymore.”
He said he was surprised when the identities were developed.
“It was surreal seeing them basically solve it. I about fainted,” he said. He participated in online meetings on the case, he said.
McDaniel was hesitant to talk about some aspects of the work, because it’s unsolved, but credited work by the DNA Doe Project, which used information uploaded to GEDmatch, a public genealogy database.
The amateur sleuth said he’s had trouble sleeping because of the case, but he feels a measure of closure now that the victims have been identified.
Just a measure: The who and why remain.
“The mystery deepens,” he said.