Deputies identify homicide victim 26 years after body found floating in Intracoastal

FLAGLER COUNTY, Fla. — Flagler County deputies finally know the identity of the man whose body they found floating in the Intracoastal Waterway nearly 26 years ago.

With help from a private forensic genetic genealogy corporation, Othram, Cold Case Detective Sarah Scalia was able to identify the victim as Robert Bruce McPhail.


Investigators said McPhail was 58 years old when he died.

On September 10, 1997, deputies found his body floating in the Intracoastal northeast of Sea Ray Boats, now Boston Whaler. Deputies determine he’d been bound, shot, and stabbed multiple times before being dumped in the water.

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Deputies said McPhail was originally from Kenora/Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, and moved to the South Florida area sometime in the mid-1990s.

Deputies said McPhail went by his middle name “Bruce”, and had a passion for boats. There are no known photos of McPhail, but deputies said a facial approximation of him was created by Betty Pat Gatliff of Skullpture Inc. in 1997.

Read: Flagler County deputies ask for help identifying 1993 cold case victim

For the past two decades, all detectives had to work with was a facial reconstruction.

In 2021, the department submitted the victim’s bones Othram and new technology finally allowed investigators to put a name with the face.

“This case required a lot of outside-the-box research and the cooperation of multiple agencies to give the victim a name,” Sheriff Rick Staly said. “Now that we have identified the victim as Robert Bruce McPhail our Cold Case Unit can work on finding who murdered him and why to bring justice for him and his family.”

Detective Sarah Scalia, who is working the case, says it’s still not clear why McPhail was in Flagler County when hew as killed. So far, Scalia has been able to locate one living relative who plans to bury McPhail next to his parents in Canada.

Read: ‘Every parent’s nightmare’: Florida man serving life terms charged in 1993 killing of girl, 12

“She was surprised to say the least, but she was happy to have some information about her long, lost relative,” Scalia said.

The Flagler County Sheriff’s Office is working 10 unsolved homicide cases dating back to 1980, including McPhail’s.

If anyone has any information about McPhail’s life or information about his murder, you are asked to submit a tip through email at TIPS@flaglersheriff.com or directly to Cold Case Detective Sarah Scalia at SScalia@flaglersheriff.com or by calling 386-313-4911. If you would like to remain anonymous, tips may be submitted to Crime Stoppers of Northeast Florida by calling 1-888-277-TIPS (8477), where you could be eligible for a reward of up to $9,500.

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Sarah Wilson

Sarah Wilson, WFTV.com

Sarah Wilson joined WFTV Channel 9 in 2018 as a digital producer after working as an award-winning newspaper reporter for nearly a decade in various communities across Central Florida.