By Walton Golightly
The town of Totfield lies about 70km south-east of Edmonton, Alberta, in Canada. On Wednesday, April 13, 1977, a man’s body was found in the 1.8m-deep septic tank on a farm near the town. The police were summoned and the body removed.
According to the autopsy, the man had been tied up and beaten. His body had been repeatedly burnt using a small butane blowtorch. He had also been sexually mutilated before he was finally shot in the head and chest. He was then rolled up in a yellow bed-sheet, tied with nylon rope and dumped head first into the septic tank, which had been partially filled with water.
The killer/s then dumped limestone into the tank in order to speed up the rate of decomposition. However, when quicklime is combined with water, only a small degree of superficial burning will occur, with a large amount of body tissue becoming dried out, resulting in the body being relatively well-preserved for the time it had spent in the tank. Even so, the remains were so badly mutilated it took an Edmonton medical examiner months to determine whether he was dealing with a male or female.
Septic Tank Sam, as he became known, had signs of recent dental work. Dental records were sent to more than 800 dentists in the Alberta area, and later published in dentistry magazines, but no leads as to his identity were uncovered. He was eventually laid to rest in an unmarked pauper’s grave.
The body was exhumed in 1979, and a forensic pathologist brought in to reconstruct the skull in order to help with identification. Measurements were fed into a computer programme, which indicated Sam might have been a Native American and was about 35 to 40 years old. The initial post mortem had him as a Caucasian in his late 20s.
Investigators think Sam may have been a migrant worker. Based on his clothing – blue denim work shirt, grey T-shirt, blue jeans – he’s believed to have been a construction worker or farm labourer. Forensic scientists estimate he had been inside the tank somewhere between four months and a year. It’s likely his killer/s knew the area well, knew the farm wasn’t occupied, and chose the septic tank in the belief the body would not be found for a very long time. No evidence was found to suggest that he was murdered on the property itself.
By 1984 the case had gone cold, despite massive publicity. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police decided to release additional details in the hope of kick-starting their investigation again. They told the public about the yellow bed sheet and nylon rope. Detectives also revealed that Sam might have been tied to a bed while being tortured. The work shirt, jeans and one sock all had burn marks, while the crotch of his jeans had been cut with shears.
None of this additional information brought the investigation any further. The case remains open and Sam has never been identified.
By Walton Golightly