Human skull found in remote Alaska linked to New York man nearly 47 years after he was likely mauled by bear during a hiking trip
- Gary Frank Sotherden’s remains were identified decades after he went missing
- Sotherden, then 25, disappeared at Porcupine River, Alaska, in 1976
- His skull was found two decades later. It was determined he was likely mauled by a bear
Authorities linked a skull found in Alaska more than two decades ago to a New York man who went missing in 1976.
Gary Frank Sotherden, then 25, traveled to the Arctic Circle in the mid-70s but never made it out as investigators later determined he died after likely being mauled by a bear.
Gary went to the Porcupine River with his friend the day he went missing. The two planned on splitting up and walking on opposite sides around the river until the water froze over – but Gary never met back with his friend, his brother told The New York Times.
A search party looked rigorously for Gary on foot, in the water, and in the air but were unable to find him. More than two decades later in 1997, a hiker discovered a human skull at the same river Gary was last seen.
At the time, investigators were unable to extract DNA, but the cold case was reopened in April. Officials narrowed down the skull as likely belonging to Gary and reached out to his brother Stephen Sotherden in late December to test his DNA to confirm the match which they said could take up to a year.
On Thursday, Stephen and his family received closure behind the mystery of his brother’s disappearance.
Gary Frank Sotherden, then 25, travelled to the Arctic Circle in the mid-70s but never made it out as investigators determined he died after being mauled by a bear
The day he went missing, Gary went to Porcupine River with his friend. The two planned on splitting up and walking in opposite sides around the river until the water froze over – but Gary never met back with his friend
Stephen Sotherden, who described Gary as being a ‘free spirit,’ searched 45 years for answers about what happened to his brother.
He finally came closer once investigators contacted him last year and used his 23andMe DNA test to confirm the match.
At the time of Gary’s disappearance, his brother claimed investigators and search parties were unable to locate Gary despite deploying multiple efforts, including canoeing on the Porcupine River. The Sotherden family even hired their own mountain guide.
‘He did find my brother’s site,’ Stephen told the news outlet. ‘He found his broken glasses. He found identification.’
The Sotherden’s eventually gave up on the search and concluded that Gary died due to the extreme conditions in Alaska.
To honor Gary, his family added a tombstone in their family cemetery that reads: ‘Lost in Alaska in the 1970s.’
Investigators and search parties were unable to locate Gary despite deploying multiple efforts, including canoeing on the Porcupine River. Pictured: the snow covered hills in the Porcupine River
Stephen claimed his family is planning to have a memorial for Gary late spring now that his remains have partially been found.
‘It’s been hard all the way along, but it’s nice to at least know what happened,’ he said.
Gary was known by his family as a traveler and hunter. He journeyed across the US and Canada after he graduated from high school and eventually ended up in Alaska.
At the time of his death, he worked for the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System.