For 38 years, Judy Samson endured heartbreak, frustration and uncertainty around the disappearance of her brother.
She never stopped looking, even when she was on vacation in Hawaii and went to the police department to see if Sandy had returned to the state.
RCMP in Kamloops, B.C., broke the news to her last week that the body of 22-year-old Alexander “Sandy” Gammie had been found in Vancouver in 1975 – the same year he went missing.
Ms. Samson had reported him missing in Kamloops, but the link wasn’t made until decades later when a Vancouver police officer assigned to historical files made a possible connection.
A special unit within the B.C. Coroners Service took over the case and, with Mr. Gammie’s dental records, a match was made.
“I kind of hoped we’d find him alive,” Ms. Samson said, adding she was shocked when RCMP informed her of the link.
Sandy, as the family called him, was an avid bridge player and had travelled to Mexico and several American states, including Hawaii, Ms. Samson said.
He was really her half-brother and was born more than a decade after her and her older brother.
His mother had passed away a few years before he disappeared, and he lived alone at the opposite end of the street from Ms. Samson.
She reported him missing to the RCMP in May, 1975, and while there wasn’t much interest from police, she was tenacious.
She later hired two private investigators, and when she and her brother went on separate vacations to Hawaii, they stopped in to the Honolulu Police Department to see if they’d had any interaction with Mr. Gammie.
“It was not fun, I can tell you, over the years,” she said.
“It happens over a long time. You don’t think that much about it, but you look back and you think, ‘Gee, I’ve wasted all that time doing this work and trying to figure out.’ I even went to a psychic to see if he could help me. That didn’t help me, but I was willing to try anything when he first disappeared.”
Ms. Samson, now 71, said she had no idea that police departments didn’t communicate with each another about missing people, and if it weren’t for the coroner’s Identification and Disaster Response Unit, she may never have known what happened to Mr. Gammie.
The unit was formed in 2006 and went through thousands of files trying to connect names with bodies found in the province. When police pass a missing-person file to the unit, it searches a series of databases, including dental and DNA records, to determine if there’s a match to someone’s body.
Unit manager Bill Inkster said finding a historic match is very rare and it was an exciting day when the link to a case dating back to 1975 was discovered.
Ms. Samson’s advice to other families with missing loved ones is to never give up, regardless of the frustration.
“Keep digging, go after the police, go after the coroner’s office, don’t let it die, don’t sit back and think it’s going to come to you.”
“It always seemed to come up in our conversations with my brother. He’d say ‘I want to find out what happened to him before we both pass on.’ I said, ‘Yeah, me too.’ So now we know.” Ms. Samson didn’t want to say how police believe her brother died.
“I don’t think it matters after 38 years.”