RCMP: Body of man found in septic tank in 1977 identified using genetic genealogy

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RCMP: Body of man found in septic tank in 1977 identified using genetic genealogy
RCMP: Body of man found in septic tank in 1977 identified using genetic genealogy

More than 40 years after his body was discovered in a septic tank in Tofield, the unknown murder victim, known as “Septic Tank Sam,” finally has a name.

Gordon “Gordie” Edwin Sanderson, from Edmonton, was identified with the help of a Texas DNA lab that uses genetic genealogy, a novel forensic technique, Alberta RCMP told media Wednesday. He was about 25 when he was violently killed, and his body was found on an abandoned farm in 1977. Family made efforts to report him missing but police say there was never any evidence connecting him to this case.

His killer has never been identified. Detectives are now seeking tips in the homicide investigation.

Using DNA extracted from Sanderson’s bones, Houston-based Othram Inc. built a genetic profile and family tree by uploading his information to American public genetic databases. Mounties used the results to reach out to possible family members, and then matched his DNA to his sister, Joyce Sanderson, last year.

Staff Sgt. Jason Zazulak with Alberta RCMP’s serious and historical crimes units said the family has a lot of emotions to process.

“I think it was a combination of a sense of mourning but also relief, definitely some feelings of anger towards what Gordie went through in his life and what was done to him,” he said.

Dr. Bernard Bannach, assistant deputy medical examiner with the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, said some cases go unsolved for years, but he’s glad some answers have been found.

“The main drive for the medical examiner’s office is to give a voice to the dead and to assist the living next of kin in understanding the final moments of one of their loved ones’ deaths,” he said. “It’s satisfying for us in that regards, and also hopefully provides some closure.”

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