Moosonee man pleads guilty to murdering 2 Toronto women in 1983

Click to play video: 'A Moosonee man has pleaded guilty to murdering Susan Tice and Erin Gilmour in 1983'
A Moosonee man has pleaded guilty to murdering Susan Tice and Erin Gilmour in 1983
Joseph Sutherland pled guilty in a Toronto Courtroom Thursday to two counts of Second-Degree murder. Catherine McDonald reports. – Oct 5, 2023

Joseph George Sutherland, 62, from Moosonee, Ont., pleaded guilty in a Toronto court on Thursday to second-degree murder in the homicides of Susan Tice and Erin Gilmour — found dead in their respective homes four months apart in 1983.

During the hearing, Crown attorney Michael Cantlon read an agreed statement of facts, which set out the use of DNA evidence to narrow the search for the killer.

These cold case files remained unsolved for decades until police used a new technology known as investigative genetic genealogy (IGG) to identify Sutherland.

Sutherland was served with a DNA warrant in November 2022. After giving a blood sample, he told a friend who was a retired OPP officer about the police taking his DNA. He confessed to his friend about committing the two murders when he was living in Toronto. His friend contacted police and made arrangements for Sutherland’s arrest.

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Sutherland was subsequently taken into custody by Ontario Provincial Police in Moosonee, where he was living and transferred to the Toronto Police Service.

Tice, a 45-year-old mother of four, was found stabbed to death in her Toronto home on Aug. 17, 1983. She had moved to Toronto from Calgary a month before her death. She was attacked in her bedroom and raped. Defensive wounds on her head and hands reflect that a struggle took place, according to the statement of facts. She was stabbed 13 times and died of those injuries.

Gilmour, 22, was found dead in the bedroom of her home on Hazelton Avenue on Dec. 20, 1983. Police said she had just gotten home from work at Robins Knits. Sutherland also attacked and raped Gilmour. He bound her mouth and hands, then stabbed her twice.

The statement of facts suggests there was no evidence that Tice and Gilmour knew each other or either of them knew Sutherland.

Homicide detectives and, later, the Toronto police cold case squad, investigated the murders but viable suspects were not uncovered. Sutherland was living in Toronto at the time of the incidents, police say, and has lived in several places across Ontario since 1983.

The two murders had not been linked until DNA profiles from each scene were matched in 2000. The DNA profiles were later uploaded to the National DNA Databank for comparison with offenders nationwide, however, no hits were reported.

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In 2021, through genetic genealogy research, the Sutherland family, particularly five brothers, were identified as persons of interest. A further police investigation eliminated four of the brothers, leaving Joseph Sutherland as the sole person of interest.

The Centre for Forensic Science confirmed that Sutherland’s DNA was a match for DNA discovered at both murder scenes, after he surrendered to police.

Sutherland did not contest the DNA results during the court proceeding or the admissibility of it as evidence. A sentencing hearing will be held in December.

Outside court, Gilmour’s two brothers described the guilty plea as surreal.

“I don’t think that five or 10 years ago, I’m not sure that any of us thought we’d get here. And it’s nice to know there’s still a way to find a little bit of goodness and get some justice. It will never bring Erin back or Susan Tice, for that matter, but at the same time, it’s a little bit of closure for us and the rest of our family and Erin’s friends knowing that this guy’s being put away for hopefully a long time,” said Gilmour’s brother Sean McCowan.

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