Author Topic: SEPTIC TANK SAM: M, 26-32, found in septic tank in Tofield, Alberta - 13 April 1977 *Gordon Sanderson*  (Read 247 times)


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This man was the victim of a vicious attack and was found in a septic tank outside of a house in the Tofield, Alberta area. It is suspected that he was a labourer and was likely not from Alberta.

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Reconstructions of the victim; likeness of victim's shoe.

Date of Discovery: April 13, 1977
Location of Discovery: Tofield, Alberta, Canada
Estimated Date of Death: Months prior
State of Remains: Not recognizable - Decomposing/putrefaction
Cause of Death: Homicide

Physical Description
Estimated Age: 26-40 years old
Race: Native American with possible Caucasian admixture
Sex: Male
Height: 5'5" to 5'7" or 168cm
Weight: 145-165 lbs. or 70kg
Hair Color: Brown
Eye Color: Unknown
Distinguishing Marks/Features: Medium build. Right-handed. He likely suffered an illness around the age of five.

Dentals: Available. He all of his teeth, some fillings, and noticeable recent dental work.
Fingerprints:Not available.
DNA: Available.

Clothing & Personal Items]
Clothing: Blue Levi work shirt with snap buttons, gray T-shirt, blue jeans, gray wool socks, brown imitation Wallabee shoes.
Jewelry: Unknown
Additional Personal Items: Unknown

Circumstances of Discovery

Residents searching an abandoned 1.8-metre-deep septic tank to retrieve a pump discovered the victim's decomposing remains. The victim had been rolled up in a yellow bedsheet tied with nylon rope and thrown head-first into the septic tank.

An autopsy revealed that he had been shot several times, burned with a blowtorch and cigarettes, beaten, and sexually mutilated. His body was then covered in limestone.

Police suspect the killer(s) was familiar with the area given the rural location of the abandoned and derelict property.

Based upon the victim's clothing, it is suspected that he was a farm laborer or construction worker and was likely not from Alberta. He was nicknamed "Septic Tank Sam" by investigators and laid to rest in an unmarked, pauper's grave in an Edmonton Cemetery.

Investigating Agency(s)
Agency Name: Chief Medical Examiner's Office
Agency Contact Person: N/A
Agency Phone Number: 780-427-4987 or toll-free within the province of Alberta at 310-0000
Agency E-Mail: N/A
Agency Case Number: ME: 7690-77; LE: 77-001-38 / 2012502446
NCMPUR Case Number: 2014001122


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"Septic Tank Sam" was the name given by investigators to an unidentified man found in a septic tank outside of Tofield, Alberta, Canada in 1977.


"Sam" was found in a 1.8-meter deep septic tank on an abandoned farmhouse, 13km west of Tofield (a community with strong aboriginal roots), by owners of the property who had been searching the old septic tank for a pump. Investigating officers described his death as "one of the most vindictive and sadistic crimes" that they had ever encountered.

According to the autopsy, he had been tied up and beaten while his body had been repeatedly burned using a small butane blowtorch and cigarettes. 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 headfirst into the septic tank, which had been partially filled with water.

The killer (or killers) then dumped limestone into the tank in order to dissolve the body and speed up the rate of decomposition. However, unbeknownst to them, 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 that it took an Edmonton medical examiner months to determine whether the remains were male or female.

Medical examiners sent dental records to over 800 dental practitioners in the Alberta area- even having them published in Canadian dental magazines and nationwide bulletins- but no leads as to his identity were uncovered. He was laid to rest in an unmarked pauper's grave in an Edmonton Cemetery.

His body was exhumed in 1979, and a forensic pathologist named Dr. Clyde Snow from Oklahoma was brought in to reconstruct the skull in order to help with identification. Dr. Snow took numerous measurements of his skull and bones, and input the information into a computer program, which indicated that Sam was likely of aboriginal heritage and approximately 35 years old, disputing the original claim by the medical examiner that he had been a 28-year-old Caucasian man. DNA samples were taken, and facial reconstructions were posted in various newspapers around the country.

The investigators believe that he may have been transient, a migrant worker, or otherwise not a long term resident of Alberta. Based upon his clothing, he is suspected to have been a construction worker or farm laborer. It is likely that his killer/s knew the area well and chose the remote location in the belief that 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. The investigation is still ongoing.


    "Sam" still had all of his teeth, some fillings, and had signs of recent dental work.
    He had a medium build.
    He had dark hair.
    His eye color is unknown.
    Measurements of his hands suggested he was right-handed.
    Examination of his bones and teeth revealed he suffered from an unspecified illness at five years old.


    Blue 'Levi' work shirt with snap buttons.
    Gray T-shirt.
    Blue jeans.
    Gray wool socks.
    Brown imitation 'Wallabee' shoes.


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Could new national DNA database provide a break in one of Alberta's most gruesome cold cases?
By Jonny Wakefield
Publishing date: October 8, 2017

Septic Tank Sam lies in an unmarked grave in an Edmonton cemetery, his identity no less a mystery then when his tortured body was pulled from a rural septic tank on a spring day in 1977.

But 40 years after Sam met his grisly end, cold case investigators hope a new national DNA database will give fresh leads on who he was — and who killed him. Set to launch in 2018, the RCMP’s national children and missing persons unidentified remains database will allow investigators to compare DNA from unidentified human remains to DNA from living relatives who offer a sample in hopes of finding answers about a missing loved one.

Staff Sgt. Jason Zazulak, with the Alberta RCMP’s historical homicide unit, said the chances the database will yield a break in the case are slim. But the prospect is still exciting.

“We knew about DNA technology from our friends in the lab,” he said. “What (law enforcement) had to do was build the proper legal framework so those (samples) could be used and compared. It’s very exciting to be on the brink of that happening.”

A brutal death

Septic Tank Sam’s remains were discovered on April 13, 1977, in a septic tank on an abandoned farm near the small town of Tofield, around 70 km east of Edmonton.

Charlie McLeod, a farmer in the area, found a brown shoe attached to a leg sticking out of the muck while searching for a pump in the tank, a Journal article said. Officers arrived on scene and used ice cream pails to scoop the gooey liquid from the tank, uncovering remains that were so decomposed it took medical examiners months to determine whether they were looking at a man or a woman. Eventually, police gave him his alliterative nickname.

An autopsy later revealed horrific details of the man’s death. The victim had been beaten, tortured, burned, sexually mutilated and shot before being dumped head-first into the tank and covered with lime. Investigators initially believed he was around 28 years old and had been in the tank for as long as a year.

The case, which has generated thousands of tips but few breakthroughs, continues to captivate Albertans. This summer, a thread on the social media site Reddit spawned more than 150 comments and dozens of theories. Some suggested the victim could have been killed in retribution for a horrible crime, such as child molestation. Others said the killer must have been local to know the location of the abandoned tank.

Previous advances in DNA tech haven’t yielded much

DNA samples weren’t taken from the remains until “significantly down the road,” said Zazulak, after the advent of DNA fingerprinting. “Fortunately, DNA is pretty robust — if they’re taking it out of an ancient woolly mammoth, under certain conditions DNA is still there,” he said.

In 2014, the federal government passed legislation allowing RCMP to create a DNA-based missing persons index. The legislation was named Lindsey’s Law in honour of Lindsey Nicholls, a 14-year-old girl who disappeared in British Columbia in 1993. The database was supposed to launch this year, but was delayed.

Zazulak said when the database comes online, investigators will be able to solicit DNA from people who have lost a loved one and match it against unidentified human remains.

“What we’ll be able to do is check that against a database of people who were giving voluntary samples, knowing that they have a missing loved one or family member,” Zazulak said, adding the DNA can only be used to test against unidentified remains. “The technicians and scientists involved with this can give you a probability that the people were related.”

Still, the likelihood a curious family member would offer up DNA after 40 years is low. And each advance in DNA technology has been met with similar hopes — in 2001, the Edmonton Sun ran a story under the headline “Police closing in on Septic Tank Sam’s ID.”

Retired RCMP Sgt. Ed Lammerts, one of the first Mounties on the scene after the body was discovered, is doubtful Septic Tank Sam will ever be identified. Now 76, Lammerts said the force has probably spent $1 million on the case, including sending Sam’s dental records to dentists across Canada.

He said the last best hope Septic Tank Sam will be identified is a guilty conscience. “Assuming the guilty people were in their early 20s, the only thing we can hope for is that just before they pass away they tell a priest or something,” he said.


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Cold case haunts retired RCMP officers decades later
24/11/2019 / AP

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.

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 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

Or email the National Centre for Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains at


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


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On April 13, 1977, a couple was scavenging an abandoned property when they noticed a leg bobbing in a septic tank in Alberta, Canada. Police slowly drained the septic tank and revealed the badly decomposed body of an unidentified male. Lime had been poured on the body in order to hasten decomposition. The victim's cause of death was gunshot wounds to the head and chest; the victim also was tortured, tied up, and sexually mutilated. Police had little evidence and speculated that multiple people were involved in his death and were familiar with the area. The unidentified descendent was given the name "Septic Tank Sam" until his identification. It was speculated that Sam may have been a transient or a migrant worker from outside Alberta.

On June 29, 2021, 44 years after his body was discovered, it was reported that Septic Tank Sam was identified and more information would be released the following day. On June 30, 2021, Alberta RCMP identified the decedent as Gordon "Gordie" Edwin Sanderson, a 27-year-old Indigenous man from Manitoba who was living in Edmonton, Canada at the time of his death. Just before he disappeared, Sanderson stated to his family that he would be visiting his brother in Calgary. Sanderson is survived by a daughter and an older sister, whose DNA was used to positively identify him. The investigation into his homicide is ongoing, with authorities working under the theory that Sanderson's killer may have been someone he knew, although they concede that the perpetrator may already be deceased.[110]


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''Identified as 26-year-old Gordon "Gordie" Edwin Sanderson


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Man whose body was found in septic tank on Alberta farm in 1977 was Sixties Scoop survivor, RCMP say

WARNING | This story contains disturbing details

A man whose burned body was found in a septic tank on an Alberta farm in 1977 has been identified as Gordon Edwin Sanderson.

The RCMP said Wednesday that the remains found on the farm outside Tofield are those of Sanderson, a 26-year-old Indigenous man from Manitoba who had been living in Edmonton.

"He was known as Gordie to his family and friends. Gordie had a hard life. He was separated from his family at nine years old during the Sixties Scoop and placed in foster care," Staff Sgt. Jason Zazulak of the Alberta RCMP major crimes unit said during a virtual news conference.

"He was a resident of Edmonton from the 1970s and was last heard from by family when he was going to meet his younger brother, Arthur, in Calgary. Sadly Gordie did not make it to that meeting."

Police said the investigation into the killing remains open.

Police began investigating the death again after the Golden State killer was arrested in 2018 following comparisons of crime-scene DNA evidence with information on genealogy websites that track ancestry.

The RCMP submitted Sanderson's DNA to Othram Inc., a private laboratory in Texas.

Othram specializes in the recovery and analysis of human DNA from degraded or contaminated forensic evidence. It also does genealogical research for policing agencies in Canada and the U.S. It first hit the headlines in Canada after identifying the killer in the 1984 murder of nine-year-old Christine Jessop, who was abducted from Queensville, Ont.

Police said they identified Sanderson in January 2021 and that the case became an active homicide investigation after that.

Sanderson was nicknamed Septic Tank Sam by the RCMP after he was found on April 13, 1977, in the septic tank on the farm owned by Mavis and Charlie McLeod. Both are now deceased.

Their son Greg McLeod, who was 15 at the time Sanderson's body was found, told The Fifth Estate that he didn't know any of the details surrounding Sanderson's death before this week.

"It's such a sad story because Dad never talked about it….  I didn't know any details about it."

McLeod said he is glad that Sanderson's family finally has some answers.

"It's good for everybody that way. I mean, it's still sad what happened. I just can't believe it."

David Mittelman, a geneticist and CEO of Othram, said it was "extremely gratifying" to help with the identification of Sanderson.

"It was exciting to know also that his sister was alive, so she was able to receive in her lifetime an answer to what happened to her brother."

Mittelman's company started working on the case approximately a year ago. He said although they have worked on several hundred cold cases, seeing Sanderson's picture was sad and still hit him hard.

"He was a young guy … and his life was cut short," Mittelman said.

"I'm glad they shared the photo because it reminds you again that these are not statistics and scientific data points. They're real people with actual stories behind them."   

Sanderson is survived by an older sister and a daughter.