Alberta's cold cases

Who killed ‘Septic Tank Sam?’

Cold case haunts retired RCMP officers decades later

WARNING: This story may be disturbing to some readers.

A man was tied to a bed, tortured with a butane blow torch and cigarettes, sexually mutilated with farm shears and beaten before being shot in the head and chest and then dumped into a septic tank.

His body was dumped headfirst into an abandoned septic tank near Lindbrook – 45 minutes east of Edmonton – and limestone poured over him to hide the heinous crime.

RCMP found him April 13, 1977, in a 1.8-meter deep septic tank on land at an abandoned farmhouse. He was found rolled in a yellow bed sheet, which was tied with nylon rope.

The abandoned farmhouse where the septic tank was and the victim’s body discovered
April 13, 1977. (Criminally Listed photo)

RCMP investigating the case described the murder as one of the most vindictive and sadistic they had ever seen.

Forty-two years later the murder remains an unsolved Alberta cold case.

The autopsy by an Edmonton medical examiner confirmed the victim was tortured. The sexual mutilation was so severe it took the medical examiner several months to positively confirm that the body was that of a male.

His teeth and bones suggested he suffered from an unspecified illness at about the age of five.

According to RCMP, there wasn’t any evidence the victim was murdered on the property where his body was dumped.

RCMP composite drawing of the victim.

RCMP name the victim ‘Septic Tank Sam

RCMP investigators working on the murder back in 1977 named the unidentified victim Septic Tank Sam.

According to a missing person’s website (Government of Canada), Septic Tank Sam is believed to have been a laborer and likely wasn’t from Alberta.

He was either a Native or Caucasian and was about 26 to 32 years old. He was about five-foot-six with a medium build, had brown hair and weighed about 154 pounds.

At the time of his death, he was wearing a blue work shirt, grey T-shirt and blue jeans. He was wearing brown shoes that were an imitation Wallabee brand. During the time of his death, there were a lot of laborers working on the construction of power lines in the area.

RCMP believe he may have been murdered as early as April 1976.

Retired Tofield RCMP Sgt. Ed Lammerts – who was a corporal in charge of the detachment at the time of the crime in 1977 – said the victim was likely a transient.

If the victim was from the area there would have been a missing person’s report on him or a close family member would have reported him missing so police surmised he was a transient. However, they can’t be certain because the victim was never identified.

Sgt. Lammerts was a corporal at the time when he got a phone call about a body discovered in a septic tank.

Sgt. Lammerts, another officer and the caller, went to the septic tank on April 13, 1977, found a piece of screen and a piece of wood. They nailed the screen onto a piece of board, got a five-gallon pail and put a rope on it and started bailing. The body eventually surfaced. It was dumped headfirst.

An Edmonton coroner was called and Sgt. Lammerts stayed for the autopsy. They started at 7 p.m. and by 1 in the morning the corner told the sergeant “It’s a male person and possibly Caucasian but maybe Native.”

RCMP try to identify the victim

About 20 RCMP officers worked on the initial investigation. They canvassed the area and handed out brochures. The deceased’s dental records were sent to dentists across Canada and published in dental magazines.

Sgt. Lammerts said the victim had a lot of dental work done, the work was consistent with less finished work, which means the victim may have been someone on government financial assistance.

Sgt. Lammerts said they didn’t get many tips initially.

Even though the composite drawing didn’t gain tips, Tofield RCMP got tips decades later because of a website run by amateur sleuths, said Sgt. Warren. RCMP did a tip sheet on them and they were all researched and discounted.

Forensic pathologists say the victim was in the septic tank for four months to one year.

In 1979 the body was exhumed and a forensic pathologist made a facial reconstruction from his skull.

Even though the sketch was circulated nationally he wasn’t identified.

Retired RCMP Sgt. Jim Warren, who was a junior constable at the Tofield detachment in 1979 and worked on the file, said that if the victim was from a northern Native village, his family may not have seen the sketch.

The victim is buried in Edmonton in an unmarked pauper’s grave.

To this day, Sgt. Lammerts has his suspicions of who may be the killer(s).

Questions linger

There were numerous theories.

Some Tofield and area residents thought criminals or drug dealers from Edmonton used the Lindbrook septic tank to dump the body.

Others believed the killer was someone local.

They surmised who else but someone local knew about the abandoned septic tank? After all, the septic tank was hidden in a remote area on a two-and-half-acre lot off what was then Hwy 14. They said what were the chances of criminals from Edmonton finding a barely visible septic tank?

Besides, Wye Road – from Sherwood Park to Lindbrook – has many spots with miles and miles of only thick trees and muskeg, perfect for dumping and hiding a body.

Back in 1977, the deserted stretch of highway was even less populated with more locations for criminals/drug dealers from Edmonton to dump a body. They didn’t have to drive about 45 minutes to Lindbrook and increase the risk of being caught.

Still, Sgt. Lammerts said if someone from Edmonton dumped the body in Lindbrook, then perhaps the killer(s) went to the area first looking for a dumpsite before committing the crime.

He said the killer either knew the area or it was a fluke the killer found the abandoned septic tank.

Some of the theories were that Septic Tank Sam was sexually mutilated for committing a sex crime or cheating. Some suggested there were swingers in the Tofield area and the murder and mutilation were a result of something that went wrong in that sub-culture scene.

There were many local theories and RCMP worked hard on all of them but couldn’t prove any – but some suspicions have never gone away, said Sgt. Lammerts.

And Sgt. Lammerts has his own theory.

Back in 1977 – only a few months before the body was found – Sgt. Lammerts, who was new to the Tofield detachment back then, responded to a call about a two to five-minute drive from the septic tank. He described the call as a “peculiar incident” but said he couldn’t “expound on that,” because if “you can’t prove it, you can’t say it.”

He thinks there may be a connection.

Sgt. Warren said there weren’t any strong suspects but he also had his own idea who may have been the killer(s).

“I have my suspicions and I will leave it at that.”

Identifying the victim key to solving the crime

Sgt. Warren said identifying the victim may be the piece they need to help crack the case.

In the 1970s the Tofield RCMP Detachment spent more than one million dollars trying to solve the case.

Even after all these years Sgt. Warren still thinks about the murder.

“This tends to be one of the more baffling,” said Sgt. Warren who had a 41-year career with the RCMP.

Sgt. Lammerts said it’s clear the body wasn’t supposed to be found. The killer(s) went to great lengths to hide the body.

“There’s no doubt in my mind. Five to six months tops and there would have been nothing left.”

Who was capable of the brutal murder

Sgt. Lammerts said someone capable of the torture and murder isn’t normal and without a doubt is cruel.

“That type of cruelty; beaten, burn marks all over, torture, you have to have a different background to do that.”

The person who committed the murder – if still alive – would be 67 to 72 now (2019) and it hasn’t bothered his conscience (yet), he pointed out.

He said, however, that RCMP always believed that decades later, someone in their 80s, would have a guilty conscience and confess to the police, thinking at that age they wouldn’t get much, if any, jail time.

Where to call in tips

If anyone has information about this cold case they are asked to call Tofield RCMP at 780-662-3353.

The reference case number is 2012502446. Or, if you want to remain anonymous, call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477). Or go online to https://www.tipsubmit.com/webtipsstart.aspx. 

Or email the National Centre for Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains at
canadasmissing-disparuscanada@rcmp-grc.gc.ca

READ MORE: RCMP apologizes to family of Fort McMurray murder victim Amber Tuccaro saying ‘Not our best work’

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Editor’s note: Alberta Press is running a series “Alberta’s Cold Cases” about unsolved murders in the province. If you know a cold case our investigative journalists should investigate and write about, please email us at reporter@albertapressleader.ca