Alberta RCMP successfully identifies a 1977 homicide victim found near Tofield, Alberta

Tofield, Alberta — The Alberta RCMP Missing Person Unit (MPU) and the Historical Homicide Unit’s (HHU) investigation into the 1977 homicide of an unidentified male continues. The male, found in April of 1977 in a septic tank on an abandoned farm near Tofield, has recently been identified as Gordon Edwin Sanderson of Edmonton. He was identified through the use of the novel forensic technique of Genetic Genealogy.

Collaborative efforts by the RCMP and the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) to identify the male victim spanned over 40 years, with various RCMP investigators interviewing potential witnesses and tracking down leads, and OCME medical examiners working with forensic anthropologists to develop biological profiles and forensic dentists to compare dental records to reported missing persons.

In October 2017, the AB RCMP MPU announced that a National DNA program focusing on the identification of unidentified remains was being launched. The program allows investigators to obtain DNA from people who have a missing family member for potential match against unidentified human remains on the DNA index. It was hoped that this new program would provide some answers in this case.

In 2019, AB RCMP MPU sent a partial DNA profile from the 1977 unidentified human remains that had been developed in 2012 to be compared to this new Canadian DNA database, without success.

It would take the emerging field of Genetic Genealogy to provide a break in this case. In 2020, Alberta RCMP MPU and the OCME sent biological samples to Othram Labs of Woodlands, Texas in the hopes a full-DNA profile suitable for analysis could be developed. Othram was successful in developing a DNA profile and then searched the profile against public DNA databanks. As a result, they were able to develop a “family tree” with a number of possible relatives to the unidentified remains.

Alberta RCMP MPU conducted further investigation and with the help of those identified relatives the AB RCMP were able to obtain familial DNA samples that were then sent for forensic testing in August 2020. In October 2020, Alberta RCMP MPU received confirmation that the familial DNA was a match to the 1977 unidentified human remains.

Alberta RCMP were able to confirm that the identity of the homicide victim in 1977 was Gordon Edwin Sanderson of Edmonton, who would have been approximately 25-years-of-age at the time of his death. In discovering Mr. Sanderson’s identity, the Alberta RCMP were able to provide his relatives with some information on what had happened to their loved one some 40 years prior.

The Alberta RCMP were also able to provide family members with information on Gordon Sanderson’s brother, who had also lost contact with family for many years and unfortunately passed away in Edmonton several years ago.

Alberta RCMP is seeking anyone who they may not have already spoken to, who may have spoken to Gordon Sanderson before his death, or may have information regarding this homicide. Please contact the Tofield RCMP Detachment at 780-662-3353, or your local police. You can also reach the Alberta RCMP Historical Homicide Unit via email to RCMP/[email protected]

Background:

Dec. 1978

RCMP Gazette 1978 Vol. 40 No. 12

Unidentified Human Remains – Assistance to Edmonton GIS and Tofield RCMP Detachment, Alberta

In April of 1977 a badly decomposed body was found stuffed into a septic tank on an abandoned farm near Tofield, Alberta. An exhaustive investigation has failed to identify the deceased. The descriptive data gained at the autopsy is presented here in the hope that it may match that of a reported missing person, or otherwise identify the deceased.

Subject: male, Caucasian, with black, graying hair, about 180 to 188 cm (6’ to 6’3”) tall. Age estimation: 26 to 32 years old (mean: 29). Extensive dental work had been done on the subject’s teeth and dental charts are available.

Any pertinent information on this case should be forwarded to the Edmonton Support Services, RCMP, GIS, Box 1320, Edmonton, Alberta, T5J 2N1 (CPIC: AB15002, Phone 403-425-7746).

May 17, 1977

No. 255 – Special Wanted Circular RCMP Identification Services

Unidentified Human Remains

(Murder)

The RCMP, GIS, Edmonton is endeavouring to identify a badly decomposed male body that was located April 13, 1977 on a abandoned farm 35 miles east of Edmonton near Tofield, Alta.

The body was located in a septic tank, wrapped in a bed sheet and tied with nylon rope, lime was placed on the body. Upon examination, it was noted that parts of the body were mutilated and that the victim was shot twice with a .32 calibre semi or automatic weapon.

The following is the only available description of the body:

Race: Caucasian – male

(Could include mixed races)

Age: 23 to 32 years

Height: Approximately 5’10”

Weight: Approximately 180 lbs

Hair: Black

Teeth: All natural teeth present, with some fillings, dental charts available.

Clothing: Blue jeans; blue Levi shirt; size M, grey work socks, imitation Wallybee shoes

Anyone who has information regarding the identity of this man or of a similar case, should communicate immediately with the nearest police authority or the RCMP, GIS, Homicide Section, Edmonton, Alta., Tel: (403) 425-7743 or CPIC AB15002) with advice to the Commissioner, RCMP, Ottawa, Ont.



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