Mark Andrew Twitchell
July 4, 1979
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
|Criminal status||Imprisoned at Saskatchewan Federal Penitentiary|
|Criminal charge||First degree murder|
|Penalty||25 years to life imprisonment|
Mark Andrew Twitchell (born July 4, 1979) is a Canadian filmmaker convicted of first degree murder in 2011 for killing John Brian "Johnny" Altinger. His trial attracted particular media attention because Twitchell had allegedly been inspired by the fictional character Dexter Morgan. The character appears in a series of novels by Jeff Lindsay and the television drama Dexter.
Born in Edmonton, Alberta, Twitchell dreamt of making blockbuster films. Twitchell had also directed Star Wars: Secrets of the Rebellion, a 2007 full-length fan film prequel set a few days prior to the original film. Secrets of the Rebellion included a cameo by Jeremy Bulloch, a British actor best known for his role as the Star Wars bounty hunter Boba Fett. The film, still in post-production, never saw release. He had also scripted Day Players, a buddy comedy. In September 2008, he shot a short horror film entitled "House of Cards" at a garage he rented in the south end of Edmonton.
Arrest and trial
Twitchell's victim, John Brian "Johnny" Altinger was a 38-year-old man who worked as an oilfield equipment manufacturer. On October 10, 2008, Altinger informed his friends of his plans to meet a woman he had been chatting with on the online dating website PlentyOfFish.
Following his disappearance, Altinger's friends became concerned after they received emails in which "Altinger" claimed that his date had taken him off on an extended vacation to Costa Rica. At work, a resignation letter arrived by email, but without a response to a request for a forwarding address for sending a final paycheck.
Altinger's friends broke into his condominium only to find his passport, dirty dishes and no indication of his having packed from a trip. A homicide investigation was soon launched by the Edmonton Police Service.
Twitchell, interviewed a second time by police, related an improbable account of having met Altinger before his trip to Costa Rica. According to Twitchell, Altinger then sold his car to Twitchell for $40 CAD, all the cash Twitchell had on hand.
The key piece of evidence presented by the Crown at Twitchell's first degree murder trial was a document, entitled "SKConfessions", which stood for "Serial Killer Confessions". The document had been recovered from Twitchell's laptop, despite having been deleted. The document begins with the passage:
"This story is based on true events. The names and events were altered slightly to protect the guilty. This is the story of my progression into becoming a serial killer."
It presented an account of its narrator's planning, failed first attempt, and successful second attempt to lure a man to his garage and murder him, with fake online dating profiles used as bait. It went on to the describe the process of dismembering the victim's body and attempts to dispose of the remains.
During his trial, Twitchell admitted to killing Altinger and authoring the document but said he had acted in self-defense. He described the document as fiction based on fact, as if he had planned Altinger's death deliberately, in order to craft a compelling story.
Attempted murder charge
Twitchell was convicted of first degree murder for the death of Altinger. He still faced an attempted murder charge for his alleged attack on Gilles Tetreault. Tetreault testified that he had lured Tetreault using the website PlentyofFish expecting a date with a woman, only to be attacked by a man in a mask with a stun baton when he arrived at a garage rented by Twitchell. Tetreault escaped with his life. Crown prosecutors had not immediately decided if they would pursue the charge of attempted murder upon securing a conviction of first degree murder as a conviction of attempted murder would not add to the life sentence Twitchell had already received.
On June 17, 2011, an attempted murder charge against Twitchell was stayed in the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta, meaning that Crown prosecutors could resurrect the charge within a one year period.
The attempted murder charge against Twitchell was dropped. Detectives were adamant they had gathered a mountain of evidence – much of it revealed during the murder trial – while even Twitchell himself admitted on the witness stand to committing the attack. In preparing the case for trial, the Crown had argued in court for both the attempted murder and first-degree murder charges to be heard simultaneously as they were part of the same "transaction" of his attempt to become a serial killer. Under Canadian law, charges can only be heard together if they are linked in some way. Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Terry Clackson was not convinced by the prosecution’s argument that the attack on the first victim, Gilles Tetreault, and the murder of Johnny Altinger were part of the same transaction. He ordered the charges to be severed and heard separately. "The offences are related and connected, but remain discrete," Justice Clackson wrote in his reasons for the decision. "As a result, the attempted murder charge cannot stand on the same indictment as the charge of murder because they are different transactions." A conviction of first-degree murder in April 2011 secured a maximum sentence — life in prison with no parole eligibility for 25 years — and, therefore, eliminated any need to proceed with more charges.
Extensive media coverage of the case created debate both inside and outside of the courtroom. Observers argued for and against the media's reporting on the more sensational details of the crime.
Prior to the criminal trial, Crown prosecutors and the defense sought vast publication bans and sealing orders over the police evidence, preventing the media from reporting on the details of the case until the jury would hear it during the future trial. The media fought the application, but the judge agreed to both a sealing order and publication ban, stating in his ruling that "there is a real risk that pretrial publicity will undermine the accused's constitutionally protected right to a fair trial." The jury pool was then polled through a "challenge for cause" procedure to determine if a potential juror had been influenced by the media coverage prior to the publication bans taking effect.
Following his first degree murder conviction, Twitchell used the extensive media coverage of his case as grounds for an appeal. He argued in his notice of appeal that "the media attention surrounding my case was so extensive, so blatant and so overtly sensationalized that it is unreasonable to expect any unsequestered jury to have remained uninfluenced by it, regardless of judges' instructions in the charge." However, he then abandoned his appeal in 2012.
Post-trial media converage
In December 2012, Michael C. Hall, the actor who played Dexter Morgan on the Dexter television series, was interviewed by Jian Ghomeshi on the Canadian radio show Q. Hall stated that he did not think Dexter supported the lifestyle of serial killers. "I would hope that people's appreciation was more than some sort of fetishization with the kill scenes," he said. Ghomeshi brought up Twitchell and Hall said, "I wouldn't stop making Dexter because someone was fascinated by it only in that way. I try to tell myself that their fixated nature would have done it one way or the other, but it seems that Dexter had something to do with it. It's horrifying."
In May 2013, it was reported that Twitchell had purchased a television for his prison cell. Twitchell stated that he had caught up on every Dexter episode that he missed since he was arrested and convicted of first degree murder.
Twitchell's case was featured on the American newsmagazine Crime Watch Daily on May 1, 2017. Much of that day's program focused on Twitchell's methods and featured interviews with Gilles Tetrault, his first intended victim, and Steve Lillebuen, author of the book The Devil's Cinema, which focused on case. Part of the report included a return trip by Tetrault to the garage in which the incident had taken place.
Books concerning the case
- The Devil's Cinema (2012) by Steve Lillebuen, a true crime account of the case and trial, written with the cooperation of Twitchell.
- The One Who Got Away (2015) by Gilles Tetreault, a personal account by the original intended target of Twitchell.
- "Mark Andrew Twitchell bio". Edmonton Journal. March 15, 2011. Retrieved February 12, 2012.[permanent dead link]
- Wingrove, Josh (April 12, 2011). "Jury finds Edmonton filmmaker guilty of murder". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved April 16, 2011.
- "Family of dismembered victim of Mark Twitchell says trial evidence hard to bear". The Canadian Press. April 8, 2011. Retrieved April 15, 2011.
- Bennett, Dean (March 27, 2011). "Accused killer Mark Twitchell had big dreams of making blockbuster movies". The Canadian Press. Archived from the original on March 22, 2012. Retrieved April 15, 2011.
- "Johnny Brian Altinger bio". Edmonton Journal. March 16, 2011. Retrieved April 16, 2011.
- Blais, Tony (March 23, 2011). "Friends worried over victim's 'date'". Edmonton Sun. Retrieved April 16, 2011.
- "Read: Altinger's e-mails before and after his disappearance". Edmonton Journal. March 23, 2011. Retrieved April 16, 2011.
- Zabjek, Alexandra (March 23, 2011). "Victim's friend uneasy about mysterious blind date". Edmonton Journal. Retrieved April 16, 2011.[dead link]
- "Filmmaker charged with first-degree murder". Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. November 2, 2008. Retrieved August 20, 2012.
- "Read: Document from Mark Twitchell's laptop". Edmonton Journal. March 29, 2011. Retrieved April 16, 2011.
- Tumilty, Ryan (April 6, 2011). "Twitchell admits killing Altinger". St. Albert Gazette. Retrieved April 16, 2011.
- "Gilles Tetreault bio". Edmonton Journal. April 2, 2011. Retrieved July 3, 2011.
- "Twitchell could face attempted-murder charge". Edmonton Journal. April 12, 2011. Retrieved July 3, 2011.
- "Court stays attempted murder charge against Twitchell". CBC News. June 17, 2011. Retrieved July 4, 2011.
- "First draft done; 2nd Twitchell charge dropped". Steve Lillebuen. Journalist. August 6, 2011. Retrieved August 6, 2011.
- McConnell, Rick. "Sensationalism stirs up storm of debate". Edmonton Journal. Archived from the original on January 18, 2013. Retrieved October 19, 2011.
- Justice Clackson, T.D. "Reasons for Judgment, Application for a Ban on Publication and Sealing Order". R. v. Twitchell. Court of Queen's Bench of Alberta. Archived from the original on January 15, 2013. Retrieved October 19, 2011.
- "Convicted murderer Twitchell files appeal". CBC Edmonton. May 10, 2011. Retrieved October 19, 2011.
- "'Dexter killer' drops appeal". Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. March 29, 2012. Retrieved April 3, 2012.
- "Michael C. Hall, 'Dexter' Star Horrified By Mark Twitchell Case, Convicted Killer Who Took Inspiration From Show". Huffpost Alberta. December 14, 2012. Retrieved May 15, 2013.
- "Michael C. Hall on Q". Q. December 13, 2012. Retrieved May 15, 2013.
- Lillebuen, Steve (May 5, 2013). "'Reliving his fantasy': 'Dexter Killer' still allowed to watch ultra-violent TV series in maximum-security prison". National Post. Retrieved May 15, 2013.