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DNA from daughter solves 54-year-old Coquitlam RCMP cold case

Having gone missing at age 41, today, the man would have been 94-years-old; RCMP investigators, the BC Coroners Service and a BCIT lab recently connected the man's identity with an unidentified body found on a Gulf Island beach in 1972
DNA forensic test
A forensic scientist at work. RCMP, the BC Coroners Service and a BCIT lab came together to solve the cold case.

The deadly fate of a missing man last seen in Coquitlam in 1967 has been confirmed nearly 54 years later after RCMP matched DNA to a previously unidentified body found on a beach in the Gulf Islands. 

The 41-year-old man, whose identity RCMP has not released, was last seen in Coquitlam on May 27, 1967. At the time, his family reported his disappearance to the Kamloops RCMP detachment. The ensuing investigation had lasted decades, despite the discovery of a body recovered on a Saturna Island beach Aug. 20, 1972. 

“An identity was not established, despite an autopsy of those remains in the 70s,” wrote BC RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Jesse O’Donaghey in a press release Thursday.

In 2014, the cold case was transferred to the Coquitlam RCMP, and after a fulsome review of the investigation by the RCMP Southeast District Missing Person Coordinator, a DNA sample was collected from the missing man’s daughter. 

Then, in September 2020, the BC Coroners Service moved to exhume the unidentified remains of the body found on Saturna Island, which had later been buried in a nearby Salt Spring Island grave. The BC Coroner Services was not immediately available to comment on what prompted the exhumation. 

“Through scientific advancements in identification processes, we are now able to solve such historic cases,” said the director of the BC Coroners Service Special Investigations Unit Eric Petit in a written statement, noting the role a BCIT laboratory played in solving the case. 

In a call with the Tri-City News, Cpl. O’Donaghey added that no criminal activity was suspected in the man’s death.

The family wished to remain anonymous, but according to the RCMP press release, said thank you, “to all RCMP members, the coroners, and the team involved in dedicating their time and efforts to bring this missing persons case to a close.”

Identifying the missing man is the latest in a wider push to solve cold cases across the province. In January 2020, Petit’s unit and the BC Coroners Service teamed up with a New York art school to develop 14 skull reconstructions of unidentified remains found across British Columbia.

Of those, the 3D printed renderings flagged two cold cases in the Tri-Cities, including the unidentified remains of a man found dead in 1995 in the waters near Port Moody’s Reed Point Marina and of another man who body was discovered in the summer of 1998 north of the Port Coquitlam cemetery. 

And in 2019, the BC Coroners Service also released an interactive map detailing about 200 unidentified human remains across British Columbia, including seven in the Tri-Cities between 1970 and 2013.

The hope, said the service at the time, was that the public would come forward with new clues to solve some of the province's most intractable cases.

“We have these cold cases that are unsolved and we’re doing everything possible to try and advance them,” said Cpl. O’Donaghey. “Some of them go forgotten.” 

“So part of this strategy is doing everything we can to find answers for these families that are still dealing with these losses. We don’t give up.”