The Farmhouse Murder of Septic Tank Sam

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18th July 2018  •  3 min read

The body of "Septic Tank Sam" was discovered in an abandoned septic tank in Tofield, Alberta, on the 1st of April, 1977. He had been brutally tortured and then murdered. His identity - and that of his killer - still remains unknown.


The Farmhouse Murder of Septic Tank Sam

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An abandoned farm in the small town of Tofield, Alberta, Canada, was the scene of an unexpected and grisly discovery on the 13th of April, 1977. This tragic story started to unfold when Charlie and Mavis McLeod made their way to the derelict farm. The couple had owned the farm but had since left it abandoned. They had intended on searching their septic tank for a pump but uncovered something much more gruesome.

As they opened the lid, they noticed a grey wool sock and a brown shoe bobbing in the murky and pungent water. Upon closer inspection, they noticed it was attached to a leg. “We went and got the cops real fast because we knew something was wrong,” recalled Charlie.1 After officers arrived at the scene, they started using ice cream pails to scoop the gooey liquid from the septic tank. It was here that they discovered the body of a male, submerged in the 1.8 metre-deep septic tank. It was determined that he had been submerged in the septic tank for several months.

As if the discovery wasn’t ghastly enough, the man had suffered unfathomable torture at the hands of whoever had killed him and then dumped him head-first into the tank. His autopsy concluded that he had been shot several times. However, before being shot, he had been burned with a blowtorch and cigarettes. He had also been brutally beaten and sexually mutilated. His killer then covered him in limestone and dumped him in the septic tank, hoping his body would dissolve. The autopsy also concluded that the man had suffered from some kind of illness during his formative childhood years.

The Farmhouse Murder of Septic Tank Sam

The young unidentified man became known as “Septic Tank Sam.” Due to advanced decomposition, he was rendered unrecognisable. However, it was determined that he was of aboriginal heritage and anywhere between 20 and 40-years-old. He had brown hair and stood around 5 feet 5 inches tall to 5 feet 7 inches tall. Investigators were going to have a difficult time identifying him and therefore potentially identifying his killer; due to the decomposition, his fingerprints could not be lifted. In fact, the pathologist initially found it difficult to determine whether the body was that of a man or woman. He was wearing a blue Levi shirt with a grey t-shirt, blue jeans and Wallabee shoes.

In an attempt to identify him, forensic experts examined his skull and sculpted a clay model of his face in the hopes that somebody somewhere could identify him. In addition to the clay sculpture, several composite sketches were drawn up and shared throughout the country. His dental records were also sent across the country. They were even published in Canadian dental magazines in the hopes that a dentist somewhere would recognise them. The general consensus was that his teeth were in a bad condition and that what dental work he had done was most likely carried out in Canada.2 One forensic expert theorised that the body was that of a native Indian and came to the conclusion based on his “shovel-faced teeth.” Due to his clothing, investigators suspected he was a farm labourer or construction worker. They also surmised that he wasn’t a local because he didn’t match any missing person reports from Alberta.

The Farmhouse Murder of Septic Tank Sam

Over the forthcoming years, there were many theories as to who Sam was. Some speculated that he may have been killed as revenge for a heinous crime such as child molestation; the sexual mutilation was indicative of this, some theorise. Some also contended that the killer must have known the area to know the location of the abandoned farmland and septic tank. After the initial flurry of publicity and investigation, the homicide investigation that haunted the small farming community quickly went cold.  The identity of Sam along with the identity of his killer is no less a mystery than on the day he was discovered. He was buried in an unmarked grave in Edmonton Cemetery.

Update:

On 29 June, 2021, it was announced that Sam had been identified. He has not yet been publicly identified but public identification is expected soon.

Update:

Sam has been identified as Gordon Edwin Sanderson, an indigenous man from Manitoba.

The Farmhouse Murder of Septic Tank Sam

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Footnotes:

  1. The Globe and Mail, 12 April, 2007 – “Death of Albert’s Septic Tank Sam is Still a Cold Case”
  2. The Gazette, 27 September, 1980 – “Facing Up to Murder”

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Carolyn
Carolyn
3 years ago

I like that you call him ‘sam’ in the article and not ‘septic tank sam’. That is such a degrading name. I dont understand why they could not have come up with a better name. Thats such a violent death too. I imagine it wasnt random…

April
April
1 year ago
Reply to  Carolyn

Not random…because…why? because of why others have theorized, he was picked due to being the source of molestation? Or not random… maybe because a lot of people or okay, an unknown quantity of people are racists, and he was aboriginal?

Barbara E Campbell
Barbara E Campbell
2 months ago
Reply to  Carolyn

I agree, the names given are frequently degrading when it’s the victim care should be used to respect the victim by not calling them by degrading titles. It’s shameful.
0:) B

Mazikeen 777
Mazikeen 777
3 years ago

how 😢 sad

Heather Gehl
Heather Gehl
2 years ago

Such a sad, sad story. Poor fellow. Wonder if someone, somewhere, will help identify him so his family can be located & he can have a proper grave marker. I also hope that whoever did this, if still alive, is also identified & brought to justice.

B. Richards
B. Richards
2 years ago

I never fail to be disgusted by the actions of some Human’s. It is hard to fathom how someone could do this to another human being. The fact that ‘Sam’ was found in a rural farmyard septic tank seems to indicate that the murderer knew the area well enough to know that there indeed was a septic tank at this farm. Surely, the murderer thought this body would never be found. I can’t imagine what the McLeod’s thought when they opened their septic tank and realised that there was a body in it. Truly horrific. One hopes that ‘Sam’ will… Read more »

Barbara E Campbell
Barbara E Campbell
2 months ago
Reply to  B. Richards

Since the neglected farmhouse had been abandoned for quite a long period it may have become a meeting place for drug deals, sex traffickers, gun smuggling. Looks like maybe Sam might have been a revenge kill or an execution. Certainly no evidence was left so professional torture and kill. I believe that the criminal minds out there canvas places in advance then arrange a meet to interrogate, torture, and execute traitors and thiefs among them. Maybe I watch to many police shows but it is plausible.

Heath
Heath
2 months ago

Strange the family never talked about it again. Some things sound fishy about the story and finding him in that location. The attack on this person was personal and the sexual mutilation shows anger toward this person.

Denyse Kennedy
Denyse Kennedy
2 months ago
Reply to  Heath

I think it is Edward Arcand

Denyse Kennedy
Denyse Kennedy
2 months ago

Edward Joseph Arcand maybe?

Denyse Kennedy
Denyse Kennedy
2 months ago
Reply to  Denyse Kennedy

Its really strange because when they first started trying to locate a missing person that could have been a match they ruled him out, because they said the Doe had missing teeth and Edward did not. Well thats not true! Looking back through This particular article the Doe had poor teeth. I think they made a mistake

Nicole Gladu
Nicole Gladu
2 months ago

There have been tens of thousands of mutilated bodies many of them men. Because of being Aboriginal..does not mean to just assume he molested..some one. How about a jealous white white guy or a scorned woman of any race. That is stereotypycal of our people, to be portrayed by this evil conjecture.Why did it take so long to find these remains?? Septic tanks are usually checked at least from one to 3 years top.

Barbara E Campbell
Barbara E Campbell
2 months ago
Reply to  Nicole Gladu

Maybe not, the property had been deserted for awhile. It sounds like a lengthy abandonment but that doesn’t really rule out the owners of the property as the murderers. It’s a plausible theory unless their alibis check out that they were no where near the decrepit farmhouse around the time of the murder. If it was checked 2 years before why would a body be found that was dumped around 4 months before? I like cold cases, they make my brain work as I try to determine theories and motives, and whether their is evidence or just circumstantial theories without… Read more »

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