Tim Bosma case: How did police zero in on Dellen Millard?

Police used cellphone records, suspect descriptions and a witness's recollection of a unique tattoo to identify a suspect in the Tim Bosma case. Those pieces all led them to Dellen Millard, court heard Wednesday.

Cellphone records and a unique tattoo helped lead police to their main suspect, court hears

Det. Sgt. Greg Jackson is seen here entering the John Sopinka Courthouse in Hamilton on Wednesday. Jackson testified about the police investigation that led to the arrest of Dellen Millard, who is accused of first-degree murder in the case. (CBC)

Dellen Millard's cellphone was pinging off the same cell towers as the last phone that called Tim Bosma in the hours before he vanished, a Hamilton court heard Wednesday at the trial of two men charged with first-degree murder in connection with the slaying of the 32-year-old.

We couldn't actually identify who Lucas Bate was or find Lucas Bate.- Sgt. Greg Jackson, Hamilton police

The phone used to contact Bosma, however, was paid for in cash by a man who gave the name Lucas Bate — and police have not found anyone by that name.

The intricacies of using phone records in a criminal investigation were on full display in Superior Court Wednesday, as two Hamilton police officers laid out for the jury the steps that led to Millard's arrest.

Millard, 30, of Toronto, and Mark Smich, 28, of Oakville, Ont., are charged with first-degree murder in connection with Bosma's death. Both men have pleaded not guilty.

Cellphones and a tattoo

The phone records were one of the methods police used to zero in on Millard in the days before his arrest on May 10, 2013, with a  unique tattoo recalled by one witness also playing a key role. Armed with those records, a suspect description from Bosma's widow Sharlene and a description from another man who was trying to sell a similar truck, police found themselves investigating the heir to the Millard aviation dynasty.

The day began with the court hearing testimony from Sgt. Greg Jackson, who was part of the initial investigation into Bosma's disappearance on Monday, May 6, 2013, after taking two men on a test drive of a Dodge truck he was trying to sell.

By May 8, the homicide unit had been called in to investigate. Jackson testified that investigators learned that Bosma's cellphone hadn't been active since the night he disappeared. Court later heard the phone was eventually discovered in the grass near Kemira Water Solutions Canada in Brantford, Ont.

Officers obtained Bosma's phone records, and found that one of the last numbers that called his phone was registered to a "Lucas Bate." But who was he?

Key calls to Bosma's phone

Jackson outlined a back and forth between the number registered to Bate and Bosma's phone on May 6:

  • At 5:13 p.m. on May 6, Bosma's phone called the Bate phone.
  • At 7:22 p.m., the Bate phone contacted Bosma's phone.
  • At 9:04 p.m., the Bate phone called Bosma's phone.

The Crown has said that one of the two men who arrived at Bosma's home on May 6 to check out the truck was on his phone coming up the driveway.

The Bate phone was also used a few days earlier to arrange a test drive of another Dodge truck similar to Bosma's, Jackson said.

Dellen Millard is shown here in this courtroom sketch from Hamilton Superior Court on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016. (Pam Davies)

Police tracked down the Toronto man who went on that test drive and gave a description of the two men who came to see his truck. One of them, he said, had a tattoo on his wrist that read "ambition."

So local investigators reached out to other police services in an effort to locate anyone with that tattoo. Two reliable police sources in Toronto and Peel, court heard, told local police that Millard had an "ambition" tattoo.

So Hamilton police pulled Millard's phone records as well, and found that his cellphone was pinging off similar towers at around the same time as the Bate phone on the day that Bosma disappeared. 

"The phone towers were very similar to the Lucas Bate phone," Jackson said. "They were very similar — travelling from Etobicoke to Ancaster."

Visit to Millard at hangar

Investigators also made efforts to track down the Lucas Bate who had purchased the phone that was used to call Bosma.

On Tuesday, Hamilton police officer Steve Lassalin told the court that he attempted to get video surveillance footage from a Mobile Tech location in Etobicoke from when a phone was sold to a person who gave his name as Lucas Bate. But there wasn't any video going back that far for the police to obtain.

Tim Bosma has been described by friends and family as a kind-hearted man who was "generous with laughs and love." (Hamilton Police)

The address given on the phone records for the Bate phone purchase was actually a high school called Lakeshore Collegiate. Investigators checked, and there was no Lucas Bate at that school.

"We couldn't actually identify who Lucas Bate was or find Lucas Bate," Jackson said.

Court also heard testimony from Staff Sgt. Paul Hamilton, who went to the Millard Air hangar in Waterloo, Ont., back in 2013 to interview Millard. Investigators did so, court heard, to verify if Millard matched the description of the suspect they were seeking.

Hamilton told Millard that he was there investigating Bosma's disappearance, and asked if he could have a look around, he told the court. 

"He said 'I thought you were going to say that,'" Hamilton said. After that interview, Millard was put under surveillance.

By then, police had pulled Millard's cellphone records and compared them to the Bate phone, court heard, and saw how they lined up. Millard was arrested later that night. 

Another possible test drive

When Hamilton was asked to point out if Millard was in the courtroom and was the same person he spoke to at the hangar in Waterloo, the accused waved at the officer in the witness box.

Millard's lawyer, Ravin Pillay, cross-examined Hamilton, and focused on a satchel that Millard got from the office and slung over his shoulder over the course of the interview. 

"At one point [Millard] took a satchel out of the desk that was in the reception area and put it over his shoulder," Hamilton said. Pillay asked if it seemed Millard was taking any steps to hide the satchel, and Hamilton said no.

Court also heard from Dennis Araujo, who had listed his 2006 black Dodge pickup on Autotrader around the same time Bosma did. He too got a call from the Bate phone — but he missed the call, and didn't get an answer when he called back.

CBC reporter Adam Carter is in the courtroom each day reporting live on the trial. You can view a recap of his live blog here:

On mobile and can't see the live blog? View it here.