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