Alaska News

Skull found 25 years ago in Interior Alaska identified as man who likely died in bear mauling

A skull found 25 years ago in Interior Alaska has now been identified as a New York man who likely died during a bear mauling during the 1970s, troopers said.

A hunter told troopers in 1997 that he found a skull along the Porcupine River, roughly 8 miles from the Canadian border in an area northeast of Circle. The rest of the remains could not be found, but troopers said the skull was sent to the State Medical Examiner Office and the man’s death was suspected to be the result of a bear mauling.

DNA was extracted from the skull in April 2022 and investigators used genetic genealogy to tentatively identify the skull as Gary Frank Sotherden, according to troopers. Sotherden would be 71 if he were alive today.

Capt. Eric Spitzer told KUAC that officials contacted Sotherden’s brother to provide a DNA sample for comparison. The brother told officials that Sotherden had been dropped off in the area where the skull was found during the mid-’70s to go hunting and was never heard from again.

Troopers said they notified Sotherden’s family of the positive DNA match in late December, and they were put in touch with the state medical examiner to help facilitate the return of his remains.

[From 2021: DNA matches remains found on Fire Island in 1989 to Alaskan last seen alive 10 years earlier]