By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support local journalism.
GBI looks for man in 1986 slaying
Placeholder Image

Georgia Bureau of Investigation officials say they never close out an unsolved murder.


That was no more evident than last week when a Dawson County grand jury was asked to return a murder indictment in a drug-related killing from 22 years ago.


Fishermen found the body of Donald Wade Smith of Forest Park in a shallow creek in woods off Ga. 136 nine miles north of Dawsonville on March 28, 1986.

He was killed by a small-caliber gunshot wound to the left temple.


The death was a mystery for a while. Smith, wearing jogging pants, a T-shirt and sneakers, carried no identification, and investigators sought the public’s help in identifying him.


Now authorities want the public’s help in locating his suspected killer.


A GBI forensic artist has created a sketch of what 50-year-old murder suspect Manford G. Bruenn may look like now. Bruenn was indicted Thursday on a single count of murder, and a judge signed an arrest order minutes later. His whereabouts are unknown.


Authorities believe Bruenn and three others kidnapped Smith in Cobb County over Smith’s alleged failure to pay a cocaine debt. Smith was driven to Dawson County, taken to a remote wooded area and executed, investigators believe.

Officials say Mary Cross, Donnie Darrell Woods Jr. and Mike Bryant were convicted of kidnapping in the case, but Bruenn always was believed to be the triggerman.


Georgia Department of Corrections records show Woods, now 44, served two years of a seven-year prison sentence and was paroled in 1989.


John Cagle, a former GBI special agent who now heads the Dawson County Sheriff’s criminal investigations division, said the GBI has lately made a push to take a new look at old homicide cases.


A 20-year-old murder case in Fannin County led to an indictment last month, Cagle said.


Said agency spokesman John Bankhead, “The GBI doesn’t close homicide investigations. We assign them to another agent to take a fresh look at evidence.”


Dawson County District Attorney Lee Darragh said he was approached about the case by GBI agents.


“We essentially re-investigated the matter to determine the availability of witnesses and other evidence and the viability of going forward with an indictment,” Darragh said.


Darragh said Smith’s family was contacted after it became apparent the case was provable.


The hardest part of the case may be locating the suspect.


“We don’t know where he is,” Bankhead said. “We don’t even know if he is dead or alive.”


Authorities haven’t known where Bruenn has lived since the early 1990s, Bankhead said. He has family in Milwaukee and may be living in New York City or Washington, D.C., he said.


Anyone who knows his whereabouts is asked to call the GBI’s tip line at (800) 597-8477.


“Any assistance the public could provide would be appreciated,” Darragh said.


DCN regional staff writer Stephen Gurr contributed to this report.


E-mail Michele Hester at