Font size: +

Genetic Genealogy identifies victim from 1997

Sheriff's office identifies Flagler Beach cold case murder victim as investigation continues

August 17th, 2023

Robert Bruce McPhail's body was found bound, shot and stabbed in the Intracoastal Waterway.

A cold case is one step closer to being solved now that the body of a man found in the Intracoastal before the turn of the century has been identified.

Flagler County Sheriff's Office Cold Case Detective Sarah Scalia, with the help of Othram, a private forensic genetic genealogy corporation, was able to identify the victim as Robert Bruce McPhail, whose body was found in 1997.

The discovery was announced as the Flagler County Sheriff's Office hosts the 2023 Florida Sheriffs Association Cold Case Advisory Commission training day and meeting Wednesday and Thursday.

It was Sept. 10, 1997, when the Flagler County Sheriff's Office was notified of a body floating in the Intracoastal Waterway northeast of what is now the Boston Whaler plant at 100 Sea Ray Drive in Flagler Beach.

Deputies recovered the man's body from the water. The man had been bound, shot and stabbed.

Flagler County Sheriff's Office and the Medical Examiner's Office estimated the man to be between 30 and 50 years old, approximately 5 feet, 8 inches and 170 pounds.

In 2020, Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly created the cold case unit to which he assigned a full-time detective. The next year, the cold case unit submitted the victim's bones to Othram, and through work by Othram's genetic genealogy team and Detective Scalia, the victim was identified.

McPhail was 58 years old at the time of his murder and originally from Kenora/Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, area. McPhail had moved to the South Florida area sometime in the mid-1990s. McPhail went by his middle name "Bruce," according to the sheriff's office, which said he had a passion for boats.

Scalia said during a press conference that McPhail had no known connection to Flagler County and it's unknown why he was in the area. Staly said both of McPhail's parents have died and are buried in Canada, but officials located a distant relative in Canada.

Scalia said the relative was pleased to receive an update.

"She was surprised to say the least," Scalia said. "She's happy she has some information about her long-lost relative."

There are no known photos of McPhail, however, a facial approximation was created by Betty Pat Gatliff of Skullpture Inc. in 1997.

Staly said the Flagler County Sheriff's Office has 10 unsolved homicides dating back to 1980 and five unsolved missing persons cases dating back to 2003, which he said more than likely are homicides.

"I started this cold case unit because I believed we must be the voice for victims, especially murder victims because they can no longer speak for themselves and we owe it to the families to bring closure for their loved ones."

More work remains to be done now that McPhail has been identified.

"Now that we have identified the victim as Robert Bruce McPhail, our cold case unit can work on finding who murdered him and why to bring justice for him and his family," Staly said in the release. "I commend Detective Scalia for diligently working on this case but there is more work to do. We know someone out there has more information and I ask you to call us or Crime Stoppers. We won't give up until the killer or killers are caught."

Citrus County Sheriff Mike Prendergast, chairman of the Florida Cold Case Advisory Commission, stated in the release that continuing to investigate cold cases is a matter of justice.

"The Cold Case Advisory Commission of the Florida Sheriffs Association plays a crucial role in ensuring that justice is never forgotten," Prendergast stated. "By revisiting unresolved cases with fresh perspectives and utilizing advancements in technology, officials like Detective Scalia can strive to provide resolution to the families and communities affected by these unsolved mysteries."

He said during the press conference that the Cold Case Advisory Commission was formed in 2015 so that sheriffs' offices across the state could share information and learn about best practices and cutting-edge technology to help in investigations.

"So that we can go out and attempt to identify remains and so that we can go out and help families learn what happened to their loved ones," he said.

Anyone with information about McPhail's life or his murder is asked to submit a tip through email at or directly to Cold Case Detective Sarah Scalia at or by calling 386-313-4911. If you would like to remain anonymous, tips may be submitted to Crime Stoppers of Northeast Florida by calling 1-888-277-TIPS (8477), where you could be eligible for a reward of up to $9,500.

Backed logged rape kits - What are you doing with ...
It is not just in the United States - Stolen Evide...

Related Posts

Comment for this post has been locked by admin.


Search IAPE

Blotter - Latest News

This login form is for IAPE Staff ONLY!