Police link 2 murders one year after NC man is found dead in burning camper

The deaths of two North Carolina men last summer may be related, including a 57-year-old who was found in a burning camper near a popular lake, the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office said Tuesday.

But investigators say it wasn’t the fire that killed him.

Deputies revealed the possible connection between the two killings after receiving the results of an autopsy on Salisbury resident Michael James Mitchke.

Mitchke died after being shot, the sheriff’s office said in a news release, citing the results of an autopsy by the N.C. Medical Examiner’s Office.

A Charlotte Observer and News & Observer investigation published earlier this year revealed severe delays with state-required death investigations, with many taking more than a year. The backlog has created financial crises for families and slowed down criminal prosecutions, the reporting found.

In Mitchke’s case, a pathologist reviewed the investigative autopsy in September, more than a year after he was found dead, medical examiner’s records show.

Mitchke was found in his burned camper on Aug. 21, 2022, on St. Peter’s Church Road, investigators said. That’s near High Rock Lake. He died before the fire, the sheriff’s office said, citing the autopsy.

His killing may be connected to the fatal shooting of David Kenneth Land in Land’s home on Poole Road on July 20, 2022, according to the sheriff’s office.

The sheriff’s office declined to say why they believe the shootings are connected.

Investigators said they continue to pursue leads in the deaths, including DNA evidence recovered from the scenes.

At the time, a 911 caller told dispatch they saw the camper Mitchke was in was on fire. Fire personnel found the residence completely engulfed. Mitchke was lying inside the home and was dead when firefighters arrived, according to a copy of the autopsy results.

His wife, the autopsy report says, had last seen him five hours earlier. The autopsy says Mitchke was shot four times.

A month prior, Land was found dead in a garage at his home. A friend who lived on his property in a camper found him, the autopsy report says. He’d been shot three times.

A $10,000 reward is being offered for information that leads to an arrest and conviction in each case. Mitchke’s family has offered an additional $10,000 reward.

Anyone with information about either case should call Rowan County sheriff’s Detective Lt. Ryan Barkley at 704-216-8711 or text a tip to 704-213-3677.