He Was ‘Mr. X’ Before a True Crime Podcast Stirred Investigators - The World News

He Was ‘Mr. X’ Before a True Crime Podcast Stirred Investigators

For nearly 50 years, a man whose body was found by a hunter in Greenville County, S.C., was known only as Mr. X, but law enforcement officials announced on Monday that they had identified the remains. The case was revived after investigators were inspired by a local true crime podcast.

He was Oscar James Nedd, a young man who had moved from his small hometown in Georgia to White Plains, N.Y., for college, in the hopes of becoming a journalist.

“Murder, etc.,” the podcast that brought new attention the case, was not focused on the unsolved killing and unidentified body, but mentioned the cold case briefly in one of its more than two dozen episodes. Still, Sheriff Hobart Lewis of Greenville County said at a news conference on Monday that the true crime series prompted his office to re-examine the case.

Sheriff Lewis said that Mr. Nedd, who would have been 23 around the time of his death, was a murder victim.

“It is believed that Oscar was killed in New York and ultimately brought to South Carolina for reasons we do not know,” Sheriff Lewis said.

The death will now be investigated in New York.

Brad Willis, the producer and host of “Murder, etc.,” said that it was gratifying for him and his researcher, Andy Ethridge, to learn that Mr. Nedd’s family came to know where he had been for the last 50 years.

It was also a huge surprise. The podcast’s last episode was released in February 2020 and it was not about the cold case. Instead, it investigated the murders of Frank Looper, a police officer, and his son, Rufus, also in 1975. Some of their family members and former co-workers have shared doubts that the man convicted of the murders, Charles Wakefield, is responsible for the deaths, and key pieces of evidence have since been questioned. Mr. Wakefield is pursuing a new trial.

Mr. Willis, formerly a TV news reporter in South Carolina, created the podcast after calling Mr. Wakefield, who was released from prison in 2010, to apologize because he thought that his work as a reporter had been partially responsible for keeping Mr. Wakefield in prison longer than was fair.

The fact that the sheriff in Greenville County listened and was motivated to look back at the Mr. X mystery was an unintended consequence, though a welcome one, said Mr. Willis, who had since stopped podcasting because of the emotional and financial toll of the investigation.

“Even though I’ve not picked up a podcast microphone for several years, it’s possible that something good came out of all of it,” he said.

One podcast episode, “Greenville, We Have a Problem,” was about there being more than one murder a week in Greenville in 1975, and it discussed Mr. X because he was the first murder victim of the year.

“Mr. X, now known as Oscar Nedd, he represented a lot of what was happening in Greenville, South Carolina, at the time, which was people who were killed and almost forgotten,” Mr. Willis said.

The unsolved killing got the attention of Sheriff Lewis, who said on Monday that he revamped the cold case unit when he became sheriff in March 2020. The team has since solved 11 cases by following old leads, interviewing new witnesses and using new technology, the sheriff said.

Sheriff Lewis said that the initial investigation of Mr. X’s death began on Jan. 4, 1975, after a hunter found the body. It was wrapped in a sheet and was smoldering, indicating it had been set on fire, the sheriff said. The coroner’s office ruled the death a homicide by blunt-force trauma and strangulation.

The authorities in Greenville County exhumed the body in July 2020 and sent the skeletal remains for DNA testing. A profile was also created in the National Unidentified and Missing Persons System, a database of missing- and unidentified-person cases that is accessible to investigators across the country.

Things were relatively quiet until February 2024, when White Plains Public Safety contacted the Greenville County Sheriff’s Office about a potential match for Mr. X.

“We began comparing notes and reviewing case files,” Sheriff Lewis said. “The comparisons between the missing person and our discovered body were strikingly similar.”

Investigators sought out Mr. Nedd’s family and were able to confirm his identity.

Mr. Nedd was born in his family home in Marshallville, Ga. His relatives told The New York Times in 2005 that he was a star high school athlete and an excellent student. His family could not immediately be reached for comment.

Austin Avery, who died in 2014, investigated Mr. Nedd’s disappearance for decades. He resigned from the White Plains Police Department in anger in 1978 because he felt it wasn’t devoting enough resources to the case.

Mr. Avery, who was white, told The Times in 2005 that he thought the department had little interest in Mr. Nedd’s disappearance because he was Black and from a poor family in rural Georgia. The police commissioner at the time, John Dolce, denied Mr. Avery’s allegations.

Since the announcement on Monday, people have been encouraging Mr. Willis to restart the podcast, though he said he is hesitant. Yet he said he couldn’t ignore Mr. Wakefield’s trial if it happens.

The popularity of true crime has brought helpful attention to cold cases, leading to important developments. In recent years, podcasts have prompted the authorities to re-examine cold cases and wrongful convictions. They have also in some cases turned tragedy into entertainment and given amateur sleuths power to control the narrative of a case, which can have painful ramifications for the victims’ loved ones.

Mr. Willis had covered the police and courts as a reporter and said that some of the tragedies he covered are still stuck in his head. “If anyone’s listening to this because they just want to be entertained for 30 minutes on a commute to work, then I’m doing my job wrong,” he said.

Mr. Willis said that even though a lot of true crime media is crafted for entertainment, there is value in deep investigations.

“I really, sincerely hope that both law enforcement and independent journalists can see this as an opportunity that a difference can be made,” Mr. Willis said. “It’s amazing what you can find if you actually just look and listen.”

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