RCMP use DNA to identify homicide victim after 40 years

The body of a man killed and dumped in a septic tank near Tofield, Alta. in 1977 has been identified by RCMP with the use of forensic genetic genealogy.

On April 13, 1977, a body was found in a septic tank on an abandoned farm 55 kilometres east of Tofield.

The body was covered in lime, wrapped in a bed sheet and tied with a nylon rope. Police say parts of the body were mutilated, and the victim was shot twice with a .32 calibre semi or automatic weapon.

The crime has been unsolved for more than 40 years.

RCMP say the state of the body prevented it from being identified until now.

The man has been identified as Gordon (Gordie) Edwin Sanderson. He was born in Manitoba on Oct. 22, 1950. Police say he was in his mid-20s when he died.

After seeing officers in California use genetic genealogy to find the Golden State Killer, officers in Alberta decided to try a similar technique.

“We in the serious crimes branch saw the potential of this new technique,” said Zazulak.

RCMP partnered with a lab in Texas to create a DNA profile, and then that profile is uploaded to a public genealogy website in compliance with the site’s terms and conditions.

“We were fortunate that someone within Gordie’s family had participated and had consented to having their DNA profile shared and matched against others and then we were able to find Joyce.”

“There have been many different RCMP investigators over the years trying to solve this crime,” Staff Sgt. Jason Zazulak.

“Until we know the answers and gather evidence and hopefully provide enough information and evidence to see these through to court, we’re never finished. The use of the term cold case is a bit of a misnomer, as investigations never end.”

Police say Sanderson was part of the 60s Scoop, and was put into foster care at the age of nine.

“He struggled with addictions and has various run-ins with police,” he said.

In the 1970s he was living in Edmonton, and was going to visit his brother Arthur in Calgary when he disappeared.

RCMP believe Sanderson was killed by associates of his involved in various criminal acts in the Edmonton area. However, they do acknowledge that his killer may not be alive today.

“Between the passage of time and just some of the lifestyles that people were involved in at the time as well it’s very possible that they have passed away.”

RCMP want to speak with anyone who may have known Gordie Sanderson, or have information about his death to contact the Tofield RCMP at 780-662-3353.