After four decades, justice may finally be in sight for the families of two Toronto women brutally murdered in 1983. Joseph George Sutherland, a 61-year-old from Moosonee, Ont., pleaded guilty on Thursday to two counts of second-degree murder in the deaths of 22-year-old Erin Gilmour and 45-year-old Susan Tice.
Gilmour, an aspiring fashion designer and the daughter of mining tycoon David Gilmour, was discovered lifeless at her Hazelton Avenue apartment in Yorkville on December 20, 1983. She had been sexually assaulted and stabbed. Tice, a family therapist and mother of four teenagers, faced a similar fate just months earlier. She was sexually assaulted and stabbed to death in her Grace Street home in the Bickford Park neighbourhood.
“The homicides were investigated separately using only the limited forensic capabilities available at the time,” the court documents stated. Techniques involved fingerprint, hair, fiber analysis, and blood grouping.
However, a significant breakthrough came with the advancement of DNA technology. In 2000, the two murders were linked through this emerging technology, but a suspect remained elusive. It wasn’t until 2021 when the Toronto Police Service began harnessing genetic genealogy to unveil new leads in cold cases that investigators found their way to Sutherland.
A crucial moment arrived when officers journeyed to the remote town of Moosonee on November 23, 2022, to obtain a DNA sample from Sutherland. Prior to the DNA results, Sutherland, in an unexpected turn, reached out to a friend — a retired police officer — confessing to the crimes committed during his time in Toronto. This confession led to his arrest the following day, initially on two counts of first-degree murder.
Details of the investigation, spanning over forty years, were presented in an agreed statement of facts submitted this week, following Sutherland’s guilty pleas. The court documents indicate that there’s no known evidence that the victims were acquainted with each other or with their assailant, Sutherland.
Gilmour, on the night of her demise, had only planned a brief stop at her apartment after work before meeting a friend. Her friend discovered the horrifying scene less than an hour later, finding Gilmour’s body under a comforter, bound, gagged, and having sustained two fatal stab wounds.
Tice, on the other hand, encountered her attacker on the night of August 16, 1983. The evidence suggests she fiercely resisted her attacker, evident from the defensive wounds. Tragically, she was stabbed 13 times, with her brother-in-law discovering her the next day.
Joseph George Sutherland is scheduled for sentencing on December 14, 2023, at 10 a.m.