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Disappearance of Kent Jacobs from Hope Mills, North Carolina remains unsolved 20 years later

Kent Jacobs’ mother last saw her son before she left for church on March 10, 2002. He went for a walk and never came home.

Jackie Jacobs grew up in Hope Mills, North Carolina. It was a quaint town, a small suburb outside of Fayetteville. The kind of place where everyone knew everyone. “Children could ride bicycles and you didn't ever expect them not to come home,” Jackie told Dateline. “It was a very, very special community. You know, the main street had the library, the police station, the fire department, you know, one caution light at the crossroads.”

Jackie’s youngest brother, Kelvin, agreed. “Families knew each other, kids played sports together,” Kelvin Jacobs told Dateline. “It was a nice place to live.”

There were five children in the Jacobs family. The eldest, Kent, was special needs. “It never really stood out to me that he was especially different,” Jackie remembered from being a kid. “Because my parents didn't differentiate between their children,” Jackie said.

Jackie told Dateline that once he was grown, Kent had the body of an adult, but the mind of someone much, much younger. “He had the intellectual capacity of a child,” Jackie said. “That would vacillate sometimes from a 6-year-old to a 9-year-old.”

By the time Jackie was 6 years old, she said she started to notice that she was learning at a much faster pace than her older brother. “He watched me tie my shoes every day and he then tried every day for nine years to tie his shoes and finally he learned,” Jackie said. “It was such a huge celebration in our family.”

Kent and Jackie Jacobs
Kent and Jackie JacobsJackie Jacobs

Jackie recalled when she turned 16 and was able to get her driver’s license, Kent was not, even though he was older. “He just did not for the life of him understand why he did not have a license and he could not dr-- and he could not drive,” she said.

The Jacobs family made sure Kent was treated like everyone else. “Kent was never excluded,” Kelvin said. They did the type of things any other siblings would. “We would play a lot-- we would, you know, wrestle around a lot.” And even though Kent was 12 years older than he was, Kelvin told Dateline their bond couldn’t have been stronger. “He really loved the band AC/DC, so I bought us tickets,” Kelvin said. “We went on a road trip to Charlotte and went to a late-night concert.”

Kent Jacobs with his brothers, Kelvin (right) and Keith (left).
Kent Jacobs with his brothers, Kelvin (right) and Keith (left).

Rock concerts were just one of the many activities Kent enjoyed. “He was really into the Harley Davidsons,” Kelvin said, so the brothers would go to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina to see the bike show. “He and I would go down there for a couple of nights,” Kelvin said. “He would enjoy that.”

Jackie also recalled her brother’s admiration for the bikes. “One of his hobbies was collecting Harley Davidson replicas,” she said. “No matter where we traveled, he had a Harley Davidson shirt.”

Kent Jacobs
Kent JacobsJackie Jacobs

But what Kent loved more than anything else in the world was his birthday. To him, it was the most important day of the year. “He loved his birthday so much he would start telling you about next year’s birthday the day after his birthday,” Jackie told Dateline.

So when Kent’s 42nd birthday approached, the Jacobs family was gearing up for a fun-filled southern celebration. “He wanted to have a pig pickin’ and have all, you know, his friends and family over,” Jackie said.

But they never got to celebrate. On March 10, 2002, one week before Kent’s birthday, he disappeared. Jackie said her family's "world went from full color to black and white.”

Kent Jacobs
Kent Jacobs

Martha and Jack Jacobs ran a family business in Hope Mills. Kelvin told Dateline that his father owned an upholstery shop and his mother worked alongside him. But when their father died in 1982 and his mother was left with the business and five children to take care of, Kelvin said she sold the shop.

“She got a job as a waitress in the local town diner, trying to do the best she could to make ends meet and continue to deal with challenges that Kent's condition presented,” Kelvin said. “She did a phenomenal job.”

After the death of their father, Jackie said Kent was placed in a group home for people with special needs. He lived and worked there Monday through Friday. “He was a contributing member of society,” she said.

“My mom picked him up every Friday afternoon and brought him home for the weekend,” Jackie told Dateline. “And, of course, extended periods during holidays and his birthday.”

It was a typical weekend in March 2002. Kent’s mother picked him up on Friday, March 8, as she always did and he spent the weekend at home. On Sunday, March 10, Kent went out for a walk. Jackie told Dateline that Kent would often go on walks alone but always came back. “He had a curfew and he knew that every Sunday he would be going home at a certain time,” Jackie said. “That was part of his routine.”

Routine was extremely important to Kent. Jackie said it was something he never veered from. Jackie called her mother that evening to check in and her mother told her Kent hadn’t returned home from his walk yet. It was past his curfew. “The moment she said, ‘Your brother is not home,’ I knew he wasn't coming home,” Jackie told Dateline. “I said, ‘Mama, you have to call the police.’”

Jackie was the one to tell the rest of her siblings the news that their brother had vanished. “I got that phone call in Oklahoma,” Kelvin said. “My heart just sank.”

Jackie was living in Seattle at the time and said she flew home immediately after learning about her brother’s disappearance. “I got on a red-eye,” Jackie said. “I went home to hug my mama and went straight to the sheriff's department to find out who was going to be investigating.”

A week later, the Jacobs family spent Kent’s 42nd birthday searching for him. “Instead of his birthday, we assembled at the local fire department with local law enforcement, community members, and family,” Jackie told Dateline. “People in kayaks, people on four-wheelers, people walking, people on bicycles.”

Kent with his family.
Kent with his family.Jackie Jacobs

They didn’t find anything. Jackie said she retraced her brother’s steps to find out where he might have gone. “There's been so much speculation as to what happened, what possibly could have happened, what might have happened,” Jackie told Dateline. “But to this day, we don't have a hair fiber, we don't have a shoelace. We don't have any evidence.”

Jackie heard rumors that Kent may have gotten into a random car. But she told Dateline that her brother would have never done that. “When I was visiting, if I was driving, if I pulled up behind him or beside him-- he wouldn't get in until he heard my voice and knew it was me,” Jackie said. “He didn't just get into a random car.”

Kelvin had his own suspicions. He told Dateline that he noticed the small town he grew up in was changing. According to Kelvin, drugs were being introduced to the neighborhood and it was becoming more dangerous. He said new people began to make their way into Hope Mills -- people Kent didn’t know.

“I just immediately had a bad feeling that Kent was robbed for his money,” Kelvin said. Kent was typically only given $20 at a time, but Kelvin said this time, “He had a little more than he normally did,” about $200. “And my thought was that something happened to him because he had the money,” he said.

No one knows what happened to Kent, but the family has never given up the search for him, even after 20 years.

Kent and Jackie Jacobs.
Kent and Jackie Jacobs.Jackie Jacobs

Jackie said she has reached out to every agency she could think of to find out what happened to her older brother. “I reached out to multiple missing persons’ organizations,” Jackie said. “I personally reached out to the FBI.”

Jackie told Dateline that many of her efforts paid off. There was an overwhelming amount of support put into finding Kent. “We had more searches for my brother than there have ever been in the history of that county,” she said.

Even with the support they eventually received, one thing Jackie feels frustrated about is that since Kent was an adult at the time of his disappearance, they were unable to get a lot of help at the beginning. “We were in, like, a -- a no-man's-land, and couldn't get agency support, because in the United States of America it is not against the law for an adult to go missing,” Jackie told Dateline. Even though Kent had the mental capacity of a child, he was considered an adult, and therefore resources like the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children were unable to help.

Kent Jacobs and his aunt.
Kent Jacobs and his aunt.Jackie Jacobs

“In 2002, there was no Silver Alert,” Jackie said. Similar to an Amber Alert for children, a Silver Alert is a public notification system that sends out information about missing adults or senior citizens who struggle with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, or other challenges. “Silver Alert came into -- came to fruition as a result of families like mine,” she said.

Jackie believes that if something like a Silver Alert had existed in 2002, her brother might have been found quickly.

Despite the historic amount of help they said they’ve received, the Jacobs family is no closer to finding Kent. “We just know that this -- this case needs a new set of eyes,” Jackie said. “It needs to be energized with new attention.”

The Cumberland County Police Department is assigned to Kent’s case. Detective Patrice Bogertey told Dateline the case is an open investigation and the department is still searching for Kent. “The problem with the people that have been missing for so long is it's hard to locate witnesses,” Det. Bogertey said. “But I'm sure there's somebody out there that knows something that happened to him.”

The detective said she knows Kent’s mother personally and hopes their office can help her and the rest of the family to get closure. “She’s a very nice lady, and she really deserves some answers,” Det. Bogertey said.

Closure is something Jackie also wants for her mother, Martha, who is now 80 years old. “No family should go at night -- go to sleep at night -- especially a mother -- not knowing where their child is,” Jackie said.

Jackie Jacobs continues to advocate for her brother and other missing people with special needs. She told Dateline that her family started a nonprofit, The Kent Jacobs Foundation, to help others in similar situations. “There's so many other families that needed help and -- and didn't know what direction to take,” Jackie said. “I felt like there needed to be a voice not only for Kent but for other families with -- with loved ones with diminished mental capacity,” she said. “Their voices deserve to be heard.”

Kent is described by his family as around 5’6”, with dark curly hair and vision problems. He would be 62 years old today.

Jackie Jacobs

Jackie told Dateline exclusively that she is offering a $15,000 cash reward to anyone who can provide information leading to the location of Kent Jacobs. She is also offering a $100,000 reward if it leads to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for her brother’s disappearance.

If you have any information regarding Kent Jacobs, you may contact Jackie Jacobs at 206-388-9200.

Anyone with information regarding Kent’s case is also asked to contact the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office at 910-323-1500 or CrimeStoppers at 910-483-TIPS (8447).