Police cleared suspect’s brothers before arresting him for gruesome 1983 murders of 2 Toronto women

On the afternoon of November 24, OPP officers and Det. const. Andrew Doyle of the Toronto Police Service arrived in Moosonee, Ont., home of 61-year-old Joseph George Sutherland.

They were there to serve him with a DNA warrant to obtain a blood sample which they planned to match against crime scene DNA from the unsolved 1983 murders of Susan Tice and Erin Gilmour in Toronto.

Typically, police will attempt to surreptitiously collect a suspect’s DNA, then compare it to crime scene evidence before executing a DNA warrant to confirm what they already suspect to be true.

In this case, the police had tried but had been unable to surreptitiously collect Sutherland’s DNA. In a rare move, they managed to convince a judge that it was reasonable to believe that Sutherland had committed the murders and that his DNA could help prove it.

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Sutherland comes from a family of five brothers. The fifth state learned that the police had already cleared the other four, and the process of elimination led them to Sutherland’s doorstep. He was arrested and charged with two counts of first degree murder.

The police had used a technique known as investigative genetic genealogy. This involves entering DNA from the scene of the suspect crime into public DNA family tree websites to identify if not the suspect himself, then distant relatives from whom police and genealogists can eventually reconnect to a suspect.

Joseph George Sutherland, 61, of Moosonee, Ont., is facing two counts of first degree murder in connection with the 1983 murders of Tice and Gilmour. (Joseph George Sutherland/Facebook)

Erin Gilmour’s brother said The fifth state that his family knew that the police had restricted the search to one family only, which made the waiting process all the more difficult.

« I think so [was] just…drives us crazy. Because we…know you have it…up to three people,” Kaelin McCowan said.

Det. sergeant. Stephen Smith of the Toronto Police Service’s Cold Case Unit declined to comment on the warrant or any other details related to the arrest.

“We look forward to the legal process and to being able to test the process of IGG [investigative genetic genealogy] in a Canadian courtroom, » Smith said.

Gilmour’s brothers Sean McCowan, left, and Kaelin McCowan, right, say it was hard to wait when they knew police had narrowed their search to a specific family as part of the investigation about the murder of their sister. (John Badcock/CBC)

If the case goes to trial, it will be the first time a person has been tried in Canada after being arrested for genetic genealogy research.

In 2020, genetic genealogy was used to identify a killer in the case of Christine Jessop, a nine-year-old girl who was abducted from a small town in Ontario and killed in 1984. However, the suspect died in 2015 before charges can be brought. .

“I literally burst into tears”

Erin Gilmour, 22, was killed on December 20, 1983. Her mother, Anna McCowan-Johnson, died two years ago, but she is survived by her father, David Gilmour, and her two younger brothers, Kaelin McCowan and Sean McCowan. Both brothers were present at the police press conference announcing the arrest this week.

« [Det. Steve Smith] called…and I picked up the phone and he said, ‘We got it,’ Sean McCowan said. « I literally burst into tears…there was a lot of swearing and a lot of joy and a lot of tears….That was the best phone call I’ve ever had in my life. »

Gilmour, left, is pictured with his mother Anna McCowan-Johnson. Gilmour’s brother Sean McCowan said their mother, who died two years ago, « would have been so relieved there had been an arrest ». (Submitted by Kristin Basso)

McCowan said the first person he contacted after that was his younger brother, Kaelin.

« I was stunned. I mean, we knew there was some kind of action going on that was leading up to the shrinking…exactly who it was, » Kaelin McCowan said. « I think knowing a name and seeing a face was like…a huge, huge moment. »

He thought back to his mother and how she must have felt losing her only daughter.

« For my mom, going through that — and I know as soon as I had kids — it was like, I can’t imagine dealing with that…losing a kid like that. »

« It was like torture »

Susan Tice’s family did not attend the press conference. Tice had four children: Ben, John, Christian and Jason.

Christian, his only daughter, was 16 when her mother died. She was away at the Calgary camp when her mother was killed in Toronto on August 17, 1983.

She remembers when she first saw the photo of Sutherland shown at the police press conference on Monday.

« The most shocking thing to me was how young he was [in 1983] », said Tice. « Of course, I’m so relieved. And there’s a part of me… doing a happy little dance. There is joy. »

Tice is shown shortly before his death. (Submitted by name omitted)

Although a criminal charge is not a conviction, Tice is confident that the police arrested the right person. She said she punched her mom’s picture at her house and said out loud, « We finally got it for you. »

« That’s what stuck with me for 39 years was that the guy got away with it. »

But she said it was important to her that people do not lose sight of the brutality of the killings.

According to the police, the two women were sexually assaulted before being killed.

« Knowing that their last moments of life were so filled with terror…let’s not beat around the bush, it was like torture. It’s probably the scariest path we have as women, » said Tice said.

The first person Tice called after hearing the news of the arrest was his mother’s best friend, Anne Chisholm.

Met as a teenager

Chisholm, 85, and Susan Tice were the same age. They met at camp when they were teenagers.

Tice, right, with her best friend, Anne Chisholm, left, in 1958, the year they first met at Camp Wapomeo in Algonquin Provincial Park. (Submitted by Anne Chisholm)

Chisolm said he learned of the arrest from watching the news on television. And while a trial and eventual conviction are far from certain, the first thing on her mind was, « They got that bastard. »

« It really pisses me off that she didn’t have all those 40 years that I had, » Chisolm said. « That we didn’t grow old together because I had a great life and it’s terrible that she didn’t. »

The day after his arrest, Sutherland was flown to Toronto, where he is being held without bond.

Sutherland has his first court appearance by video on Dec. 9 at the Old City Hall courthouse in Toronto.

WATCH | Inside the 39-year-old search for a suspect in the brutal murders of 2 women:


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