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Septic Tank Sam: The Grisly Farmhouse Body

by Les Hewitt

Without any detectable history, how Septic Tank Sam wound up dead in Tofield, Canada, is a mystery.

Approximately 42 miles southeast of Edmonton, Alberta, in Canada, the small town of Tofield sits adjacent to the large Beaverhill Lake. There is a farmhouse just outside of Tofield that Mr. and Mrs. McLeod owned at the time, but they had left the property abandoned. While the McLeods were searching their septic tank for the pump one day in April 1977, they discovered something grisly. Someone had used the 1.8-meter deep septic tank as a dumping site for a body. It became evident that someone had brutally tortured the individual. However, the body was in a bad state of decomposition and investigators were unable to identify the gender until later when they realized it was a male. Investigators nicknamed him Septic Tank Sam. Till this day, the case has never been solved and Sam has never been identified.

septic tank sam, tofield

Facial reconstruction of Septic Tank Sam. Source: Canadian Unsolved Crimes.

Investigators described the individual as having a height of 5 feet 6 inches but perhaps 3 inches taller than that. He had dark hair and likely weighed somewhere between 150-180 pounds. The corpse was wearing a white tee-shirt beneath a Levi’s button down work shirt, jeans, and Clark’s Wallabee shoes. They estimated the man to be in his late 20s.

Sam’s Tortuous Death

After the McLeods discovered Septic Tank Sam, police immediately started an investigation. There was nothing on or around the corpse to indicate his true identity, but several things were clearly obvious. The fact that someone had dumped him inside a septic tank indicated foul play. The post-mortem examination merely confirmed this. His clothes showed signs of burns – likely the result of a butane blowtorch. The torch burns also appeared on the man’s skin in addition to cigarette burns.

Someone had also tied up the man and brutalized him with a savage beating. The autopsy revealed a little bit more about the horrific final moments of this man’s life. He had been sexually mutilated and shot twice in the head and chest. After all of this, someone deposited the man head first into the septic tank where the discovery of his body occurred. His killer tried to dissolve the body by using quicklime. However, instead of accelerating the decomposition process as the culprit believed, the quicklime actually slowed it down. This was due to the small amount of water already in the tank. A quicklime and water mix will only burn on a superficial level and dry out the chemical reaction expected to otherwise take place.

Investigation Without Leads

Without a positive identification of their victim, investigators nicknamed the man Septic Tank Sam. All of their inquiries to try to discover Sam’s true identity failed. Neither publicity nor artists’ impressions of the man drew in leads. Even now, four decades later, Septic Tank Sam’s true name is still unknown. Investigators sent out Septic Tank Sam’s dental records to 800 dentists, but none could match them to any patient on file. It seems more likely that the man was a transient, perhaps a casual laborer. It was possible the killer had transported him very far away from the actual crime scene.

His identity may be unknown, but we can surpmise other details about the crime. Whoever is responsible is probably familiar with the area around Tofield. Many residents of Tofield are aware that the farm is derelict. That doesn’t automatically mean that the killer or killers originate from within the town. However, the chances are good that whoever tortured Septic Tank Sam had sufficient local knowledge to understand that concealing the corpse within the tank would mean that a discovery would not be made for a long time – if it would be made at all. Scientists estimate that Sam had been inside the tank somewhere between four months and a year.

Officers seemed to have been at a loss about where to exactly continue with their investigation. Nobody knew who Septic Tank Sam was, which in turn meant that identifying those responsible would be that much harder. Any motive was also open to interpretation. It is clear that someone desperately hated Sam, enough to warrant such intense violence and sadism. But who? Investigators did not even have a crime scene to forensically examine. Whoever murdered Sam did so at a location separate to the farmhouse.

Details After Exhumation

During the autopsy, the possibility that Sam had an illness during his formative childhood years came to light. Indications from his teeth and bones may have meant that he had contracted some malady around the age of five. Two years after his discovery, investigators invited Dr. Clyde Snow to help with a possible identification. Sam was exhumed and Dr. Snow took 125 measurements of the skeleton. He input the data into a computer program. This work led to a pair of conclusions. Septic Tank Sam was seven years older than originally thought and he may have been a Native American. Concerned that this might have been a factor into a lack of positive identification, investigating officers revised the description. Sam was either a Native American or Caucasian between the ages of 25 and 40.

Four years later, the investigation had stalled, despite massive press publicity. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police took the decision to release additional details in the hope of kick-starting their investigation. The killer had rolled Septic Tank Sam into a yellow bed sheet which he had tied with nylon rope. Additionally, detectives revealed that Sam might have also been tied to a bed during an intense torture session. The work shirt, jeans, and one sock all had burn marks. The crotch of the jeans had also been cut with shears. None of this additional information brought the investigation any further.

Local gossip could provide an answer to the mystery. At the very least, one of the explanations does seem to fit the facts. It also might explain the nature of Septic Tank Sam’s injuries. He was a pedophile that someone had caught red-handed.

You May Also Enjoy:
The Hinterkaifeck Murders
Severed Human Feet on Canada’s Shores

Canadian Unsolved Crimes
The Globe and Mail
Sites pulled: 22 July 2017

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