Cold Case Homicide Victim Identified 26 Years Later; Victim Found Floating in ICW Identified as Robert Bruce McPhail

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The Flagler County Sheriff’s Office has identified a homicide victim who had been nameless for 26 years. With help from Othram, a private forensic genetic genealogy corporation, Cold Case Detective Sarah Scalia was able to identify the victim to be Robert Bruce McPhail. The discovery is being announced as FCSO hosts the 2023 Florida Sheriffs Association Cold Case Advisory Commission training day and commission meeting on August 16th and 17th.

On September 10, 1997, FCSO deputies were notified of a body floating in the intracoastal waterway (ICW) northeast of Sea Ray Boats (now Boston Whaler, located at 100 Sea Ray Dr, Flagler Beach, FL 32136). FCSO deputies arrived and recovered the body of an unknown white male from the water. When the body was recovered from the water, deputies determined the male had been bound, shot, and stabbed multiple times before being dumped in the water.

At the time, investigators from FCSO and the Medical Examiner’s Office estimated the victim to be between 30-50 years old, approximately 5’08” and 170 pounds following a forensic anthropology exam. Since 1997, the victim had been unidentifiable, until recently.

In 2020 Sheriff Rick Staly created the Cold Case Unit with a dedicated full-time detective.  In 2021, 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 as Robert Bruce McPhail.

McPhail was 58 years old at the time of his death 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”, and he had a passion for boats. There are no known photos of McPhail, however, a facial approximation of McPhail was created by Betty Pat Gatliff of Skullpture Inc. in 1997.

“Cold cases, especially with unidentified victims, and forensic genetic genealogy is a time-consuming process to identify and solve,” said Sheriff Rick Staly. “This case required a lot of outside-the-box research and the cooperation of multiple agencies to give the victim a name. 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. 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 killer(s) are caught.”

“This case serves as a clear demonstration of how collaborative efforts within this network have brought us one step closer to resolving a cold case that was once dormant,” said Citrus County Sheriff Mike Prendergast, Chairman of the Florida Cold Case Advisory Commission. “The Cold Case Advisory Commission of the Florida Sheriffs Association plays a crucial role in ensuring that justice is never forgotten. 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.”

If anyone has any information about Robert Bruce McPhail’s life or has information about his murder please submit a tip through email at TIPS@flaglersheriff.com or directly to Cold Case Detective Sarah Scalia at SScalia@flaglersheriff.com or call 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.

By Kim Hunt

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