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'The beginning of the end': families of 2 women killed in 1983 speak at sentencing

Erin Gilmour, 22, left, and Susan Tice, 45, right, were both killed in their homes in 1983. (Submitted by Sean McCowan, Tice family - image credit)
Erin Gilmour, 22, left, and Susan Tice, 45, right, were both killed in their homes in 1983. (Submitted by Sean McCowan, Tice family - image credit)

The August 1983 murder of Susan Tice tore apart the Tice family and taught her daughter the lesson that "men used sex as a weapon."

Christian Tice, who was 16 years old when her mother was killed in Toronto, spoke at a sentencing hearing Monday, saying she has been left with lasting trust and relationship issues following the "gut-wrenching, soul-shattering" loss.

"This type of crime teaches you about a boogeyman, a monster, unknown, unseen, hiding, someone to blame," she said. "On a profound level, that changes you."

Last October, Joseph George Sutherland pleaded guilty to the sexual assault and murder of Susan Tice, 45, and Erin Gilmour, 22, who was killed in December 1983. The two women lived in Toronto and did not know each other.

At the time of his November 2022 arrest, Sutherland was living in Moosonee, Ont. He was 61 at the time.

Joseph George Sutherland, 61, of Moosonee, Ont., is facing two counts of first-degree murder in connection with the killings of Susan Tice and Erin Gilmour in 1983.
Joseph George Sutherland, 61, of Moosonee, Ont., is facing two counts of first-degree murder in connection with the killings of Susan Tice and Erin Gilmour in 1983.

Joseph George Sutherland was living in Moosonee, Ont., when he was arrested in November 2022 for the 1983 killings of Susan Tice and Erin Gilmour. (Toronto Police Service)

During Monday's hearing, several family members and friends of both women shared victim impact statements.

During her victim impact statement, Tice recalled spending sleepless nights "worrying if this evil will find me the same way it found my mom."

She said she keeps a baseball bat in her bedroom and considers her squeaking front door "an early alarm system" in case of an intruder.

Following her mother's murder, Tice said her family shut down with grief — signalling "the beginning of the end of our close knit family." She said Monday that her family is still estranged today.

Susan Tice shortly before her death.
Susan Tice shortly before her death.

Susan Tice shortly before her death. (Submitted by name withheld)

Tice described her mother as "the centre of my world," recalling her kindness, her laughter and her unique cooking inventions, including "spaghetti hamburger pie."

"She loved us all as fiercely as we loved her," Tice said.

Sutherland apologizes for not confessing sooner

After all the victim impact statements were read, Sutherland apologized for not confessing to the murders earlier in a tearful address to the court.

"The things I have done broke me," he said. "I broke my heart, my mind and my spirit."

Sutherland said he has sought forgiveness from Tice and Gilmour by pursuing a spirit quest, in accordance with his Indigenous faith.

Toronto police released this image of homicide suspect Joseph George Sutherland which they say was taken in the 1980s. Investigators are now reviewing other cold cases to see if there may be any connection between the victims and Sutherland.
Toronto police released this image of homicide suspect Joseph George Sutherland which they say was taken in the 1980s. Investigators are now reviewing other cold cases to see if there may be any connection between the victims and Sutherland.

Joseph George Sutherland, pictured above in the 1980s, tearfully apologized to the loved ones of Susan Tice and Erin Gilmour, during his sentencing hearing. (Toronto Police Service)

Sutherland said he felt a "rush of relief" after confessing to the murders. He said he hoped Tice and Gilmour's loved ones could forgive him, and he wished them closure and healing.

"I am learning the path of a good human being," he said. "I have not fallen from that path since then."

'Why take from this world?' 

Tice's two adult sons, Ben and Jason, also spoke at the sentencing hearing.

Ben Tice said he was unable to read his statement out loud until he visited his mother's grave the day before.

"This exercise has been one of the most difficult and painful tasks of my life," he said.

Tice said he learned through counselling that he has post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following his mother's death.

Susan Tice with her husband, Fred Tice, on their wedding day on May 27, 1961.
Susan Tice with her husband, Fred Tice, on their wedding day on May 27, 1961.

Susan Tice with her husband, Fred Tice, on their wedding day on May 27, 1961. (Submitted by name withheld)

At one point, he addressed Sutherland directly.

"Why take from this world? What right did you have?" he asked.

Jason Tice said his mother's death taught him that he is always alone. To this day, he said he is not particularly close to anyone.

"I don't regret who I've become, but it's not at all the person I expected," he said.

As a child, he said he used to fantasize about vengeance for his mother's death.

"Now, in the twilight of my grief, there's no solace to be found in thoughts of retribution," he said. "Only grim acceptance."

'You also killed a part of our mother'

Erin Gilmour's siblings emphasized the impact of her murder on their mother, Anna, who died in 2020 before Sutherland was arrested.

"Make no mistake, when you murdered Erin, you also killed a part of our mother," said Sean McCowan, Erin Gilmour's brother.

McCowan said his mother "would have been the most relieved of all of us" to know Sutherland had been apprehended. She had worked hard to find the strength to carry on after her only daughter's murder, he said.

"She was, as many of her friends told me, never the same," he said.

Caption: Anna McCowan-Johnson with her only daughter Erin.  Sean McCowan told The Fifth Estate in an interview, "Our mom Anna passed away two years ago and she would have been so relieved that there had been an arrest." (Photo provided by Kristin Basso)
Caption: Anna McCowan-Johnson with her only daughter Erin. Sean McCowan told The Fifth Estate in an interview, "Our mom Anna passed away two years ago and she would have been so relieved that there had been an arrest." (Photo provided by Kristin Basso)

Erin Gilmour, left, is shown with her mother Anna McCowan-Johnson. (Submitted by Kristin Basso)

Gilmour's brother, Kaelin McCowan, said McCowan said that Sutherland was able to live his life freely for the past 40 years, including marrying and having a child.

"I had a sister and she didn't get to do any of those things," he said, adding she would have been the next matriarch in her family.

McCowan described the past several decades waiting to find his sister's killer as a marathon.

"With each new development in the case came hope, followed by eventual disappointment, and always a rehashing of her murder," he said.

Judith Tatar, Gilmour's close friend, said she maintained the "pilot light" of her friend's life through stories and memories, particularly for Gilmour's mother.

Sean McCowan as a toddler with his sister, Erin Gilmour.
Sean McCowan as a toddler with his sister, Erin Gilmour.

Sean McCowan as a toddler with his sister, Erin Gilmour. (Submitted by Sean McCowan)

She recalled how Gilmour threw her a surprise pink-themed birthday party weeks before her murder, calling it "a final act of kindness that now haunts me in retrospect."

Now, Tatar said she feels a constant ache around each birthday.

"A precious soul, once vibrant and promising, now only echoes through memory," she said.

The Crown is recommending Sutherland be sentenced to between 20 to 22 years in prison. Mitigating factors in Sutherland's sentencing include his guilty plea and that he is an Indigenous offender, according to the Crown.

The judge said she plans to give her sentencing decision the week of March 18.