The Mystery of Septic Tank Sam

April 13th, 1977. Tofield, Alberta, Canada. An abandoned farm in a small town along the outskirts of Edmonton, Canada. The McLeod family had gone back to their old homestead to see if they could find a septic tank pump that had been left behind. Once the septic tank had been reached and opened, the family immediately knew something was wrong. Floating atop the murky water was a grey sock. How on Earth could that have gotten there? Not long after questioning the first discovery, they soon realized the sock was still attached to a human leg. The family immediately called local law enforcement and an investigation was soon underway. The family would go on to comment, “We went and got the cops real fast because we knew something was wrong.”  

Forensic bust of Septic Tank Sam.

Forensic bust of Septic Tank Sam.

Slowly, bucketful after bucketful, the septic tank was drained of it’s putrid contents. While initially inspecting the body at the site, investigators were unable to tell how the victim had died, nor could they identify the victim’s gender. It was also determined that after being dumped in the tank, quicklime was also scattered atop the corpse, with the hopes it would quicken the decomposition process. In reality it had just the opposite effect. The combination of quicklime and water, caused the corpse to dry out and preserve itself longer than if it had been left to decompose on it’s own.

No additional evidence was found at the abandoned house but it was theorized, whoever committed the crime had to have been local, which would explain how the culprit or culprits knew about the secluded crime scene. The abandoned farm was well known to most in the area and a stranger or chance encounter would not have been as likely to simply stumble upon the place. Also in using the area, the hope was that the body would not be discovered for a very long time. Authorities were unable to determine if he was murdered at the house or if he was simply disposed of there.

Once the body was brought back to the morgue a more thorough inspection was done of the body. The body was eventually identified as a male, dark brown hair, right-handed, approximately 5’5 to 5’7, close to 150 lbs., and with a medium build. The victim was estimated at being within the age range of 26 - 40. He was initially thought to be white, but later findings state he was more than likely of Native American decent. It was also shown that he most certainly suffered a serious illness as a child, but the illness has not been disclosed. Fingerprints could not be lifted and compared due to the level of decomposition throughout the body. He still had all of his teeth and dental work had clearly been done on him before. The body was also found to be dressed in the following: a blue Levi work shirt, a gray under shirt, blue jeans, gray wool socks & brown Wallabee shoes. Throughout the investigation, the corpse would eventually earn the name “Septic Tank Sam”.

It was also believed that Sam was submerged in the tank anywhere from 4 months to an entire year. The body had also suffered significant trauma and torture before being dumped. First the man’s hands were tied so that he would be unable to defend himself. It was noticed that the body had been burned by an intense flame, suggested to be a blowtorch. It was also believed he was burned with lit cigarettes throughout the ordeal. The unidentified man was also severely beaten and sexually mutilated, cut marks were noticed around the genital area. He would then be wrapped up in a yellow bed sheet, which was fastened by a length of cord. Sam was then lowered head first into the septic tank, but only after being shot in the head and in the chest.


The police had very little to work with. The most important aspect was to identify the murder victim, so composite sketches were drafted and distributed throughout the country, but this yielded nothing. The next step was to distribute the john doe’s dental records. The records were distributed to hundreds of dentists and featured in a number of dental magazines in the hope of putting a name to the face, but again nothing. The case grew colder then cold and stayed in nearly the exact same spot as when the body was discovered. The man with no name would be buried in Edmonton for a short while until in 1979 when his body would be exhumed. New DNA samples were taken to be stored for future testing and multiple different measurements of the man’s head were made so that a forensic pathologist could potentially re-build the man’s face.

The world renowned, Dr. Clyde Snow would first recreate the skull, then he would go on to have the face built over the skull, hoping to recreate a three-dimensional composite. Just like the other leads, this too went cold. For over 40 years, the identity of Septic Tank Sam has baffled and frustrated authorities, as well as puzzled the locals. Someone in the small community knows something but will not say. Some believe that the attack was revenge for an unknown crime that Sam had perpetrated on a local. Other’s believe Sam was simply a transient, riding the rails and was at the wrong place at the wrong time. Maybe he had seen something he shouldn’t have? The one thing we do know is he met a violent end and the true identity and reasons for his death may forever be a mystery.