Man whose burned body was found in septic tank on Alberta farm identified by DNA 44 years later

WARNING | This story contains disturbing details

A man whose death in Alberta has fascinated armchair detectives for years has finally been identified by the RCMP using genetic genealogy, The Fifth Estate has learned. 

The victim, whose name is expected to be released on Wednesday, was nicknamed Septic Tank Sam by the RCMP after he was found in a septic tank at a rural farm just outside Tofield, Alta., on April 13, 1977. The farm was owned by Mavis and Charlie McLeod, both now deceased. 

According to their daughter, who asked that her name be withheld for privacy reasons, her father had been looking for a pump in the tank. Instead, he found a brown shoe attached to a leg sticking out of the muck.

“They found that body, so their memories of finding it were not good so they never talked about it,” said their daughter, who is 65 years old and lives in Tofield. 

“I always thought that [the killer] would be somebody local because they would have had to know that the septic tank was there.”

Her parents drove to the RCMP detachment and spoke with now-retired RCMP Sgt. Ed Lammerts, who accompanied them and another officer to the scene. 

Lammerts, who was a corporal in charge of the RCMP detachment at the time, is now 80 years old. When reached by phone on June 23, Lammerts told The Fifth Estate that he didn’t believe the case would ever be solved. 

“He was dumped and they had burned him up,” he said. “You couldn’t tell if [the victim] was a male or a female. Who had that type of capacity to assault someone like that? It’s a little tough for me.”

According to newspaper reports from the time, the 1977 autopsy revealed that the victim had died a painful death. He had been tied up, sexually mutilated by a sharp object, burned and beaten before being shot in the chest and head.

According to the RCMP website, the victim was Caucasian and was between 26 and 32 years old, approximately five feet six inches tall, had a medium build, brown hair and weighed about 154 pounds.

When he was found, he was wearing a blue Levis shirt, grey T-shirt, blue jeans and brown shoes. 

Body rolled in sheet

The body was rolled in a yellow bed sheet and tied with nylon rope before it was dumped head first into the 1.8-metre deep septic tank on the McLeods’ farm, located about 65 kilometres southeast of Edmonton. 

Lammerts said he believes the killer is dead by now but said that if he is still living, he is unlikely to face justice. 

“How [are] you going to punish the guy now anyway?” Lammerts said. “You going to send an 82-year-old guy to jail now? What do you do with an 82-year-old man that killed somebody 50 years ago?” 

The RCMP headquarters in Ottawa did not respond to requests to confirm that they had solved the case.

David Mittelman, a geneticist and the CEO who runs Othram Inc., a private laboratory in Texas, declined to comment on whether his company was involved. 

Othram specializes in the recovery and analysis of human DNA from degraded or contaminated forensic evidence. They also do genealogical research to try to identify the person the DNA belongs to for policing agencies in Canada and the U.S. They first hit the headlines in Canada after they identified the unknown killer in the 1984 murder of nine-year-old Christine Jessop.  

The McLeods’ daughter said that she has been aware that the RCMP started working on the case again within the past two years because she was called in for an interview. 

Septic Tank Sam was buried in an unmarked grave in an Edmonton cemetery.

If there is a case of unidentified human remains from your town or city that has stayed with you, please email fifthtips@cbc.ca. The Fifth Estate is producing a report for the coming season about the gaps in identifying unidentified human remains in Canada for an upcoming documentary.

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