Case Notes on the Unsolved Murder of 'Septic Tank Sam'

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April 13, 1977 - Tofield, Alberta, Canada. Charlie and his wife Mavis McLeod decided today they will start installing a new septic tank on their rural property. The sky was clear, the sun was bright, and the temperature was a warm 64.4 degrees Fahrenheit (or 18 Celsius) - a perfect day for such a project. Or so the McLeods thought. 

Two years prior an old farmhouse on the other side of their large property became abandoned by its tenants - and to the McLeod’s this served as the perfect place to search an old existing septic tank for a pump. There’s no need to buy a fancy shiny new pump if they could salvage one, not in use. 

As Charlie removed the lid to this old septic tank, Mavis’ eyes are quickly drawn to what looks like a grey wool sock. Then there was a brown shoe, bobbing in the dark murky septic tank - and worse yet… it looked like… yes… its attached to a leg.

In a time before cell phones, the couple knew they had to call the police as quickly as possible. When Mavis reached her house, she frantically called the emergency line to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). There is a body in the Septic Tank.

In the small Canadian community of Tofield, there was a population of about 1400 people in 1977 - and to say the crime-rate was low would be an understatement. Everyone knew everybody, and more times than not your door was left unlocked. All of that changed this day.

When the RCMP arrived at the abandoned farmhouse, they used empty Ice Cream Pales to scoop out the murky septic tank liquid. The Tank was 5.9 foot or 1.8 meters, deep - which took about an hour to clear. Finally, now at the bottom of the tank, there are human remains of a person. A person who is wrapped in a yellow blanket… and tied up with nylon rope. 

There was no ID found with the remains, the sex of the body was not immediately known. 

RCMP labeled the unknown man as ‘Septic Tank Sam’

After a lengthy and thorough autopsy, the coroner found this person to be a white or native man around 28 years old. I wish that was all they found.

Prior to his death, the man had been tied to a bed and brutally beaten almost to the point of death. Almost. He was burned with a Butane Torch - which is a tool that creates intensely hot flames of around 2,610 degrees F, 1,430 degrees C - and burned with lit cigarettes. He was then sexually mutilated while still alive - before they ended his life with two gunshots. One in the head and one in the chest. He was then rolled up in the yellow bed-sheet and tied with nylon rope before being dumped head first into the septic tank. 

At the time, the septic tank was partially filled with water. After his body was dumped into the tank, quicklime was thrown into the tank in hopes it would dissolve the body by speeding up the rate of decomposition. However, when quicklime is mixed with water it tends to slow the rate of decomposition by drying out body tissue. This resulted in the body being well-preserved. 

Several months to a year later, the McLeod’s would discover his remains.

Now is when I should be telling you how with little decomposition the gender of the man was easily known. However, because of how so badly mutilated he was, it took the Edmonton medical examiner months to determine he was male. 

The man had all of his teeth, in fact, there were signs of recent dental work and fillings. The medical examiner sent his dental fingerprint to over 800 dental practitioners in the Alberta area - and even had it published in a nationwide dental magician and bulletins. However, no lead as to whom this man came forward. 

You probably have noticed I keep referring to this person as ‘the man’. It’s nothing against the RCMP for nicknaming him ‘Septic Tank Sam’ - I get it. Often times it's easier to distinguish between unidentified John Does with a description that fits the crime scene. I like to think that this nickname was given early on in the investigation, with the assumption his identity would be discovered thus changing the name he was going to be referred to. But that didn’t happen, his identity remains unknown. For me, I know that no matter who this man was - he was once loved. He was… he is valued. Calling him ‘Septic Tank Sam’ reminds me of my days being bullied in middle school, when kids would refer to me in a descriptive manner in order to embarrass me - to make me feel unimportant or unvalued. Consider it a personal preference for me, but I would like to call this man Sam. 

At Sam’s time of death he was wearing a blue Levy button up shirt with a white t-shirt underneath and wallabe type shoes. He was 5’6” tall right handed and either white or possibly native about 28 years old - putting his year of birth somewhere around 1948 or 49. The result of a bone exam and test suggest he suffered from a serious illness around the age of 5. The RCMP believe the man to be a laborer and possibly a transient. With how brutal he was treated by his killer they believe Sam knew them personally. Although Sam was probably not someone that lived around the area, the killer most likely was a local. The septic tank that belonged to the abandoned farm house had only been abandoned for 2 years when the McLeods discovered the remains.

This case remains unsolved, and worse yet Sam’s identity also remains unknown. Did he fall victim to a random attack by a predator, or did someone he knew decide to teach him a lesson? In my opinion, I believe Sam knew the person responsible for his murder. This man is a very sick and evil individual that urged to fulfill a fantasy, to not only over power another person - but to take out his anger and pure hatred on his victim. The man responsible knew enough about Sam to believe no-one in the area would come looking for him, he probably assumed his social status made him less of a person. Up until now he was kind of right you could argue…. but now the world will know of Sam - and I can promise that although we may be unable to provide him with Justice - we will at least be able to prove that the world cares.

Join me in sharing this episode on all social media platforms with the hashtag #ICareSam —— visit ACCproductions.org to see photos from this case, including an artist’s facial recreation of what Sam probably looked like at the time of his murder. Sam is now buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave, waiting for the day he may receive justice and possibly an identity. 

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