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Skull found in Alaska suspected ‘bear-mauling victim’

Alaskan authorities say a skull found in 1997 has been been identified as belonging to a hunter, suspected to have died after being mauled by a bear.

US Alaska A skull found in Alaska in 1997 has now been traced to a New York man who went hunting there.
February 5, 2023
By BECKY BOHRER (Associated Press)
5 February 2023

A skull found in 1997 in a remote part of Alaska’s Interior has been identified as belonging to a New York man who was probably mauled to death by a bear.

Investigators used genetic genealogy to help identify the remains as those of Gary Frank Sotherden, according to a statement from the Alaska State Troopers.

“Based on the shape, size and locations of tooth penetrations to the skull, it appears the person was a victim of bear predation,” Tim DeSpain, an agency spokesperson, said in an email on Friday. “It is not known if the bear was the cause of the death.”

Sotherden was reported missing in the late 1970s, DeSpain said. The location in which the skull was found was the general area of Sotherden’s last known whereabouts, he said.

In July 1997, a hunter contacted troopers in Fairbanks and reported finding a human skull along the Porcupine River, around 13 kilometres from the Canadian border. 

The skull was sent to the state medical examiner’s office as unidentified. 

DeSpain said “relatively recent successes in the department using genetic genealogy to identify unknown perpetrators and victims” prompted a cold case unit last April to ask the medical examiner’s office to submit bone segments from a number of remains.

“These bone samples then went through various laboratory processes to generate DNA profiles, which were then uploaded into public DNA databases,” he said.

Troopers contacted a relative of Sotherden who provided a DNA sample, the agency said.

That relative told troopers Sotherden had been dropped off in the area where the skull was found “sometime in the early- to mid-1970s to go hunting.”

The relative was notified of the DNA match in late December, troopers said.

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