Slain man called friend after garage visit, Twitchell jury told

Johnny Altinger called one of his closest friends after he left the garage where he thought he was meeting a woman the day he was last seen alive, an Edmonton courtroom heard Tuesday.
A court sketch of Mark Twitchell at the start of his first-degree murder trial. (CBC)

Johnny Altinger called one of his closest friends after he left the garage where he thought he was meeting a woman the day he was last seen alive, an Edmonton courtroom heard Tuesday.

Dale Smith told the jury at the Mark Twitchell first-degree murder trial that Altinger told him there was no woman at the garage. Smith said Altinger told him there was just a man with a replica gun who said he was making a movie.

Less than an hour later, Smith said he received an email from Altinger with a one-line message: "She's home now. I'm heading over again. HEHE!" Altinger was never seen again.

Twitchell, 31, is on trial for first-degree murder in Altinger's death.

The Crown alleges the aspiring filmmaker killed and dismembered Altinger after luring him to the rented garage through a dating website. His trial in Edmonton Court of Queen's Bench is in its second week.

Email not from Altinger, friend testifies

Smith told the jury he and Altinger were life-long friends. The two met in elementary school and then reconnected when Altinger moved to Edmonton a decade ago.

Johnny Altinger is shown here in an undated photo. ((CBC))
Smith testified Altinger called him the evening of Oct. 10, 2008 and said he was going to meet a girl.

"What stood out is the instructions to meet this girl," Smith said, adding they seemed "out of the ordinary."  The woman provided no phone number or address to his friend, just a set of directions to get him to the south Edmonton garage.

After he received the email from Altinger, Smith said he tried calling him numerous times that night and over the weekend, but received no reply.

Then Smith received an email from Altinger's email account that Monday morning: "I've met an extraordinary woman named Jen who has offered to take me on a nice, long tropical vacation. We'll be staying in her winter home in Costa Rica, phone number to follow soon.

"I won't be in town until December 10th but I will be checking my email periodically."

Smith told the jury that the way the email was written told him Altinger wasn't the author.  There were other signs that worried Smith.

Altinger didn't like warm places, and if he was to go away, Smith said his friend would have asked him to store his bike.

Smith sent an email in response. When he didn't hear back, friends contacted police who said they needed more evidence.

Several days later, friends went to Altinger's apartment where they found his passport, suitcase and a shaving kit.

'Just tell them you don't know anything'

Earlier in the day, the jury heard how Twitchell warned friends not to talk to police.

"If they ask you questions, just tell them you don't know anything," he wrote less than a week after Altinger was reported missing Oct. 17, 2008.

"I have to recommend everybody stop talking to the police or not to start if you haven't already," he wrote to a group of friends on Oct. 23. "You all have a right to silence and you should exercise that right."

Twitchell suggested police were lying to his friends and making things up.

"I'm sure no one in this group carries guilt so you have nothing to fear, but I've been screwed around with and don't appreciate it, so it's time to stop this and make them do their own jobs.

"Sometimes what we see on TV is in fact a true representation of how they work," Twitchell wrote. "Sometimes they do lie and make things up in order to make you say things they otherwise would not just so they could have an answer for the media.

"I'm serious," he wrote. "The time for dry, sarcastic humour and flaky jokes is over and this is no prank."

Earlier Tuesday, the Crown introduced emails sent by Twitchell on Aug. 27, 2008 to people he wanted to work with on a film .

Twitchell said he had a "month to kill" and wanted to shoot a "short thriller" called House of Cards in a rented garage in south Edmonton on the weekend of Sept. 27, 2008.

Film about a serial killer

"This one is about a serial killer who gets his kicks from taking people out who think they're getting away with something," Twitchell wrote.

He was casting a killer, he said, who "needs to be able to expertly perform through a mask without getting corny or overdoing it."

"I need [a] cold, quiet and calm yet intimidating sociopath type with a strong, even-tone voice."

He was also casting an actor as "your average working stiff who considers himself quite smooth at hiding things from his wife, but loses all his bravado when he's tied to a chair in a dark room revealing the wuss within."

The script for House of Cards was entered as evidence at the trial Tuesday. 

With files from CBC's Janice Johnston and Briar Stewart