Toronto police arrest the 1983 murders of Erin Gilmour and Susan Tice

Nearly 40 years after the high-profile murders of two Toronto women, police announced they have arrested and charged a man with the 1983 murders of Susan Tice and Erin Gilmour – the latest decades-old cases to be cracked using genetic engineering. genealogy.

Toronto Police Chief James Ramer said Monday that 61-year-old Joseph George Sutherland of Moosonee, Ont. attacked.

“This is a day that I – and we – have waited almost a lifetime for,” Sean McCowan, Gilmour’s brother, told a news conference at Toronto police headquarters.

Joseph George Sutherland, 61, of Moosonee, Ont., seen here in Toronto, has been arrested with photographs of police handbooks in the 1983 cold case murders of Erin Gilmour and Susan Tice.

“In a way, it’s a real relief that someone has been arrested. But it also brings back so many memories of Erin and her brutal, senseless murder,” he said.

Police are now investigating Sutherland’s past, searching his history to determine if he may be connected to other crimes. Since the murders, Sutherland has left Toronto but remained in Ontario for 39 years, police said.

“Obviously, we’re going to investigate every possible connection to every possible case across Ontario to make sure he’s not responsible for any other wrongdoing,” Det said. Sergeant Stephen Smith, the lead investigator on the case, told the press conference.

Smith told the Star Sutherland could be considered a person of interest in other unsolved cases in the county involving sexual assault, except where he has already been ruled out via DNA evidence.

Sutherland is currently in custody and will appear in court on December 9.

Tice, a mother of four teenage children and a social worker, was found dead on August 17, 1983, in the upstairs bedroom of her recently purchased home on Grace Street near Harbord Street. She had moved to Toronto from Calgary just two months earlier and separated from her husband, who lived in a townhouse downtown.

A 61-year-old man living in northern Ontario has been arrested for the murder of two Toronto women who were found dead in their home nearly four decades ago. Toronto police say advances in genetic technology have helped them solve the cold cases. (NOV 28 / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

By the time her body was found by a relative, mail had piled up outside her home. She had suffered multiple stab wounds to the chest, although an autopsy could not determine exactly when she died, the Star reported in 1983.

“We have no suspect at all,” said a detective at the time. Police later said her home had been searched and the door was left open.

Four months later, Gilmour, an aspiring clothing designer from a wealthy family, was found dead in her nearby Yorkville apartment on December 20, 1983. Her father, David Gilmour, was the business partner of tycoon Peter Munk, co-founder of the mining company Barrick Gold; she was fatally stabbed in her home by Munk’s son, the Star reported.

Police later went door to door in Yorkville trying to find her killer.

Both investigations went cold and haunted police for decades, until a major breakthrough came in 2008, thanks to advances in DNA technology, which allowed police to conclude that Tice and Gilmour had been attacked and killed by the same man.

But who that man was remained a mystery for another ten years. In 2019, the Toronto Police Department partnered with US-based Othram Inc. to create a viable DNA profile from genetic material left at the scene.

The profile was challenging to develop, said Dr. Kristen Mittelman, Chief Development Officer at Othram Inc., in an interview Monday. It was contaminated, degraded and mixed with the genetic material of its victims.

The stakes are high, Mittelman notes, because DNA sequencing is a destructive process: the genetic material can be destroyed during profiling. They only do the sequencing “when we know we can build the profile,” she said.

In general, once a genetic profile has been created, researchers submit the genetic information to an ancestral website, such as GEDmatch, which allows them to compare the sample to the hundreds of thousands of other genetic profiles submitted by people looking for genealogical information.

Forensic genetic genologists working together eventually drew closer to Sutherland, who had never previously been a suspect or interested party in the case, police said. He was living in Toronto at the time of the murders, but had later moved to Moosonee, a remote town of 1,500 near James Bay.

“If we hadn’t used this technology, we never would have come up with his name,” Smith said.

Genetic genealogy has been used to solve decades-old murder cases, including in Toronto in 2020, when Calvin Hoover was identified as the killer of the high-profile 1984 murder of Christine Jessop.

“As relieved as we are to announce this arrest, it will never bring Erin or Susan back,” Ramer said.

For 39 years, their sister’s killer was “a ghost,” said McCowan, speaking to reporters with his brother Kaelin McCowan.

Their mother died two years ago; the murder of her only daughter had always stayed with her and was “very, very hard to talk about,” he said.

“She would have been so relieved that there had been an arrest and so happy that after 39 years of being anonymous someone is coming to justice,” McCowan said.

Toronto Police released a mugshot photo of Sutherland on Monday, which police said was for investigative purposes as they continue to investigate whether he is connected to other crimes.

Wendy Gillis is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and policing for the Star. Reach her by email at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter: @wendygillis

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