Skull Found in Alaska Belongs to Hunter Who Possibly Died in Bear Slaughter

A skull found in Alaska in 1997 along the Porcupine River belongs to a man who went hunting there in the 1970s.

The New York native likely died from a bear attack, and investigators used genetic genealogy to identify the remains, the Associated Press (AP) reported Friday.

“Genetic genealogy creates family history profiles (biological relationships between or among individuals) using DNA test results in combination with traditional genealogical methods,” the Library of Congress website explained.

Gary Frank Sotherden (Stephen Sotherden)

On Thursday, Alaska State Troopers announced the man’s name was Gary Frank Sotherden.

The Alaska Department of Public Safety detailed the case in its press release:

On July 23, 1997, Alaska State Troopers in Fairbanks received a report from a hunter that they had found a human skull along the Porcupine River about 8 miles from the Canadian border. Soldiers responded to the area but could not locate the rest of the remains. The skull was collected and sent to the state medical examiner’s office as an unidentified human remains.

Skull Found in Alaska Belongs to Hunter Who Possibly Died in Bear Slaughter

Porcupine River (FWS)

Officials took DNA from the remains in April, and “cold case investigators used genetic genealogy to tentatively identify the remains” as those of Sotherden, who would have been 71 had he lived thus far.

Officials contacted a relative who gave them a DNA sample, and the person said the man was dropped off in the area where his remains were found sometime in the early to mid-1970s for a hunting trip.

“The living relative was notified of the DNA match on December 27, 2022 and the family has been connected with CMHO to arrange for the return of Gary’s remains,” the statement read.

When it comes to bear attacks, the National Park Service tells visitors that every encounter with the animals is different.

“Bears exhibit different types of behaviors in different situations, and understanding bear behavior can mean the difference between life and death,” the service’s website says.


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