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Arrest made in gruesome 1983 murders of 2 Toronto women

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A 61-year-old man has been arrested in connection with the gruesome murders of two Toronto women nearly 40 years ago.

Police said DNA linked Joseph George Sutherland to the deaths of Erin Gilmour, the daughter of a wealthy Toronto businessman, and Susan Tice, a mother of four. Both women were killed inside their homes in 1983.

Detectives were able to connect both crime scenes through DNA evidence in 2000.

Sutherland, who was living in Moosonee, Ont.was arrested on Thursday and brought back to Toronto the following day with the assistance of the Ontario Provincial Police, police said.

He was living in Toronto at the time of the killings.

Sutherland is charged with two counts of first-degree murder and is set to make his first court appearance on Dec. 9.

“Toronto police homicide detectives have never stopped investigating these reprehensible crimes or seeking to find the person responsible,” Toronto Interim Chief of Police James Ramer said Monday.

Joseph George Sutherland, 61, of Moosonee, was arrested on Thursday. (Supplied)

“This [arrest] demonstrates that the Toronto Police Service will never give up on finding people who commit crimes in our city.”

Det. Sgt. Stephen Smith, the lead investigator on the case, said that because Sutherland has been living in Ontario for 39 years since the murders, investigators are going to look into “every possible connection” to any other cold case throughout the province.

In Toronto alone, Smith said, there are some 700 cold cases — 43 of which have a link to known offender DNA.

Erin Gilmour, the daughter of mining magnate David Gilmour, was 22 years old when she was stabbed, strangled and sexually assaulted in her Yorkville apartment on the night of December 20, 1983.

She lived alone above the store she had been working at on Hazelton Avenue in Toronto. Her boyfriend would make the grisly discovery at approximately 9:20 pm

Four months earlier, and fewer than three kilometers away, 45-year-old Tice was found stabbed to death after being sexually assaulted in her Bickford Park home on Grace Street.

Erin Gilmour and Susan Tice are seen in these undated images provided by Toronto Police Services.

ADVANCES IN DNA TESTING KEY TO ARREST

Smith said the “only” reason the investigation into the deaths of Gilmour and Tice was solved was due to the advances in genetic genealogy testing.

Specifically, detectives used a tool called investigative genetic genealogy (IGG), which cross references the genetic information voluntarily uploaded to family tree websites to track down potential suspects.

In the case of Sutherland, Smith said, investigators sent DNA samples in 2019 to Texas-based Othram Inc.a company that specializes in forensic genealogy to solve cold-case murders.

Following that testing, Smith said, the investigative team was able to narrow down a suspect family, which eventually allowed them to zero in on Sutherland.

An image of Joseph George Sutherland. (Facebook/Joseph G. Sutherland)

“The IGG in this case has just shown us that previously, unsolvable cases are now solvable by the advances with science,” Smith said.

That sample was sent south of the border for testing, along with a piece of evidence linked to the unrelated 1984 murder of nine-year-old Ontario girl Christine Jessop.

Police identified her killer as Toronto resident Calvin Hoover in late 2020, which, Smith said, speaks to the complicated and timely process that led up to Sutherland’s arrest.

“This case in itself is probably the most complex case that I’ve ever worked in my 25 years,” Smith said.

Smith went on to say that Sutherland was served with what’s known as a DNA warrant and that police obtained a DNA sample from the accused “at some point.”

‘SOMEONE WILL FINALLY FACE JUSTICE’: VICTIM’S FAMILY REACTS TO ARREST

Sean McCowan, Gilmour’s brother, admitted at Monday’s news conference that, after four decades, the family was beginning to wonder if there would ever be a resolution in the case.

“Until just a few days ago when I received the best call I’ve ever received,” McCowan said.

“They finally put a name and a face to someone who for all of us has been a ghost. It’s truly incredible that we are here today.”

McCowan went on to describe the many milestones Gilmour missed out on when her life was cut short at 22 years of age.

“She had her whole life ahead of her before she was killed five days before Christmas. She’d never had a chance to be an aunt to her four nieces and three nephews. She never had a chance to live her life. Never get married . Never be a mother and never had a chance to see what could have been. There was an incredible life to be lived that was taken away from her and the rest of us,” McCowan said.

Sean and Kaelin McCowan, brothers of Erin Gilmour, are seen at a press conference in Toronto on Monday November 28, 2022. Toronto police say they’ve arrested a 61-year-old man in the DNA-linked cold-case murders of Gilmour. and Susan Tice, who were found dead in their homes within months of each other almost four decades ago. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

He said that their mother, Anna McCowan, was never the same following Gilmour’s murder.

The family’s matriarch died in 2020 and McCowan said that she would have been so “relieved” that an arrest had been made and “so happy that someone will finally face justice after being anonymous for 39 years.”

SUSPECT HAS A FAMILY, WAS NEVER QUESTIONED

While little is currently known about Sutherland, Smith revealed that the suspected killer has a family and that most of his relatives live in northern Ontario.

Asked if he has a wife and children, Smith said he did not want to get into the specifics.

The rarity of the Thursday arrest was highlighted by the fact that Sutherland was not listed as a suspect in either murder and was never questioned by the police while he was living in Toronto.

“In this case, if we hadn’t utilized this [IGG] technology, we never would have come to his name,” Smith said.

Moreover, Smith said that there were no “issues” upon Sutherland’s arrest and that “when you commit these crimes, you’re just waiting for that knock to come at the door.”

Toronto Det.-Sgt. Steve Smith of the force’s homicide and missing persons unit cold case section speaks during a press conference in Toronto on Monday November 28, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

POLICE STARTED TO CLOSE IN ON SUSPECT LAST YEAR

Speaking with CTV News Toronto in October of 2021, Smith divulged that detectives weren’t actually sure if their suspect was alive – putting the chances at “50/50.”

Despite that, his team continued to work around the clock to eventually identify Sutherland if for nothing else but closure for the victim’s families.

“Most of the motivation comes from the family members. We speak to the family members in, I would say, at least 100, maybe more, of our murders on a weekly or bi-weekly basis,” Smith said at the time.

“The drive of the family members to get closure, to find out not necessarily why their loved one was killed, but who killed them, it gives us motivation to keep these at the top of our mind.”

Although the arrest would come more than a year after that conversation, even then, Smith said he knew the suspect was from a “small town in Canada.”