Skull found in ’97 in remote Alaska belongs to New York man

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — A skull found in a remote part of Alaska’s Interior in 1997 belongs to a New York man who likely died in a bear mauling, state authorities said.

Investigators used genetic genealogy to help identify the remains as those of Gary Frank Sotherden, according to a statement Thursday from Alaska state troopers.

In July 1997, a hunter contacted troopers in Fairbanks and reported finding a human skull along the Porcupine River, around 8 miles (13 kilometers) from the Canadian border. Troopers who went to the area did not find any other remains, the agency said in a statement, and the skull was sent to the state medical examiner’s office as unidentified. The suspected cause of death was a bear mauling.

DNA was taken from the remains in April, and cold case investigators used genetic genealogy to make a tentative identification. Troopers contacted a relative of Sotherden, who also provided a DNA sample, the agency said.

That relative told troopers Sotherden had been dropped off “sometime in the early- to mid-1970s to go hunting” in the area where his skull was found, according to the troopers.

The relative was notified of the DNA match in late December.

The troopers did not immediately respond to questions seeking details, including Sotherden’s hometown and whether the analysis indicated the type of bear.