Remains of Murder Victim Discovered near Tofield Identified by Police 44 Years Later

Remains of Murder Victim Discovered near Tofield Identified by Police 44 Years Later

Michelle Pinon
News Advertiser

Forty four years after the discovery of the remains of a man found near Tofield, RCMP say they now know who he was.

Gordon Edwin Sanderson is the name of the man who was murdered. RCMP Staff Sgt. Jason Zazulak with the Alberta Historical Homicide Unit told reporters during a press conference June 30 that Sanderson’s remains were found in a septic tank on an abandoned farm near the community in April of 1977. While he was “obviously murdered” Zazulak said because of the state of his body he could not be identified at the time.

With the help of new technology and experts at a Texas based lab they were able to develop a DNA profile. He was identified through the use of the novel forensic technique of Genetic Genealogy.

Now police are asking the public to “bring justice to Gordie” and to help find who is responsible for his murder. Anyone with information is asked to call Tofield RCMP.

Zazulak said the true homicide investigation didn’t begin until he was positively identified in January of 2021.

According to police, “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.”