Skull found in remote part of Alaska in 1997 identified as New York man

JUNEAU, Alaska — A skull that was found in 1997 in a remote area of Alaska has been identified as a man from New York.

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Alaska State Troopers said that the man’s death was likely caused by a bear mauling, according to The Associated Press.

Genetic genealogy was used to help investigators identify the remains of a man, according to a statement Thursday from troopers, according to the AP. The man was identified as Gary Frank Sotherden. Sotherden was reported missing in the 1970s and his last known whereabouts were in the area where his skull was reportedly found.

“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 Friday in the AP. “It is not known if the bear was the cause of the death.”

In July 1997, troopers were contacted by a hunter who had reported find a human skull along the Porcupine River near the Canadian border, according to the AP. Troopers searched the area to find other remains but were unsuccessful. The skull went to the Alaska State Medical Examiner’s Office and were unidentified.

Alaska State Troopers last year asked the medical examiner’s office to submit bone segments from remains as part of a cold case unit to help identify the remains. According to the AP, the bone segments went through lab processes to create DNA profiles. Once they did, they were uploaded to a DNA database that was open to the public.

Due to this technology, investigators were able to make a “tentative identification” and contacted one of Sotherden’s relatives for a DNA sample, DeSpain said, according to the AP. The relative was notified of the DNA match results at the end of September.

No further information has been released.