#UNSOLVED: Man found dead on Thanksgiving Day in 1979

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ONSLOW COUNTY, NC (WWAY) — In November 1979, a man went missing in Onslow County leaving his family puzzled.

A few days later, on Thanksgiving day, a former sheriff’s deputy found his body while hunting.

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After almost forty years, Joel Petteway said investigators have never interviewed him about what he knows in a murder that remains unsolved. His story has never been told until now.

What was supposed to be a day filled with joy for Mary Rouse Gaskins quickly turned into a nightmare.

“On November 19, 1979, I went to my mother’s for my birthday and we ate and he left ahead of us and we lost him or he lost us,” Gaskins said.



Gaskins younger brother, Paul Rouse, disappeared after leaving his mom’s house.

“My momma, the next day, she went and he hadn’t slept in his bed or anything and she didn’t know what happened and he didn’t go to work and they reported him missing,” Gakins said.

Rouse’s sisters said it did not make any sense.

“He was the type of person that would do anything for you,” Gaskins said.

“He was real smart. He worked hard,” Rouse’s sister Lottie Dixon said. “He saved his money. He didn’t drink. He didn’t smoke. He didn’t go out gambling. He was just a good person. He looked out for mama and daddy.”

They did not know what happened until three days later.

“Some hunters found him on Thanksgiving Day,” Gaskins said.

Rouse’s sister, Lottie Dixon, said she agreed to identify the body for their mom.

“He had been hit right across like this,”Dixon said. “This eye was gone. Half his nose was gone. Half his mouth was gone.”

Gaskins said he was beaten to death.

“We were told that they hit him across the neck and it cut his wind pipe in two,” Dixon said. “You have to think how much he suffered.”

After almost 40 years, they still do not know who did it or why, but they have never stopped calling the sheriff’s office looking for answers.

“It’s always the same thing when you call and ask them,” Gaskins said. “They didn’t know nothing.”

Over the years, they did find something or someone who had one piece of the story: Joel Petteway, the hunter, who found Rouse’s body while hunting on Thanksgiving Day.

“On George Early’s property off Libb Lane,” Petteway said.

It was off Dawson Cabin Road in Onslow County.

“I saw a car,” Petteway said. “I knew Mr. Early didn’t want anybody down there hunting so we stopped.”

Petteway said he started looking around.

“Saw some footprints, some large footprints where somebody pushed it backwards,” Petteway said. “No one was around so I started walking around the car. I saw where something had been drug from the car.”

He said he followed the trail to some bushes where he saw something else.

“Little writing pens and some little screw drivers that go in your shirt pocket,” Petteway said. “I saw some bushes mashed down, so I walked on over to the woods, stood up on a log and saw something looked like a bunch of rags or something.”

When he went over to it, he said he noticed it was a body.

“It appeared to be dead, so I left it and went to call the sheriff’s department,” Petteway said.

Petteway said word traveled fast.

“By the time I got back down, people was coming from everywhere so I tried to keep them away from the scene,” Petteway said.

Petteway said he used to work for the Onslow County Sheriff’s Office, so he has experience with a crime scene.

“Wasn’t long before the sheriff’s department come and they told me to leave, so I left,” Petteway said.

Petteway said, since he left that day, the sheriff’s office has never interviewed him about what he saw.

“I haven’t heard anything else from the sheriff’s department until about a year, maybe two years ago,” Petteway said.

He said a deputy called and wanted to ask him some questions.

“He never showed up to ask me so,” Petteway said.
“So no one has ever talked to you?
“No one has ever talked to me ,” Petteway said.
“No one has ever heard your story?”
“No.”

Gaskins said there have been rumors about why this might have happened.

“They say he might have been gay. I can’t say if he was gay or he wasn’t gay,” Gaskins said.

But she said that should not matter.

“I don’t think nobody should be killed like that,” Gaskins said.

While Petteway is still waiting to tell his story and Rouse’s family is still looking for answers, they all just want one thing.

“I would like to know who did it just to see why he did it,” Gaskins said.

“I hope they catch whoever did it and he has to pay for what he did and he’s been living free all these years,” Dixon said.

“He might get away with it here, but he won’t get away up there.”

They all want closure to their brother’s brutal murder, a nightmare, that remains unsolved.

We have gone back and forth with the sheriff’s office trying to get more details about the case. Sheriff Hans Miller said it is difficult because it is such an old case. We are still waiting to hear back.