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DNA test helps identify missing Winston-Salem man 36-years after his death

In 1986, Dwight Gordon's family reported him missing to the Winston-Salem police department. Three decades later, the investigation is finally resolved.

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — After 36 years, the case of a missing man in Winston-Salem has finally been resolved.

Investigators at the Winston-Salem Police Criminal Investigation Division identified living relatives of Dwight Michael Gordon using DNA sampling. The case serves as a benchmark for Winston-Salem investigators. 

"Those with loved ones that are missing should not lose hope," Winston-Salem authorities said.

On October 21, 1984, police in Alabama discovered the body of an unidentified white man laying on the side County Road 459. The Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences determined the man died from multiple blunt force injuries his head, officials said.

A murder investigation was opened, leading to the arrest of James Cleckler, officials said. Cleckler plead guilty to manslaughter in 1987 and was sentenced to life in prison. He's was released after serving his time as structured for Alabama sentencing guidelines at the time, officials said.

Gordon's family reported him missing to the Winston-Salem Police Department nearly two years after his death. Family members said they last saw Gordon in June 1984, WSPD officials said. At the time, Gordon had yet to be identified. 

In 2016, Gordon's remains were dug up for DNA testing. The University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth processed his DNA into a national FBI database, known as the Combined DNA Index System.

The entry lit a chain reaction in the investigation. In September 2019, Winston-Salem authorities teamed up with investigators in Alabama and officials with the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System. A year and a half later, investigators identified Gordon's sister and brother and performed a DNA test. The test results revealed the unidentified body was, in fact, Dwight Gordon, concluding a 36-year investigation.

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