'A funny smell, like rotting': Accused killer Dellen Millard's mechanic testifies about incinerators
Accused killer Dellen Millard's former mechanic told a jury on Wednesday he saw ash, and something that looked like bones, inside in his boss' animal incinerator — a heavy-duty piece of farm machinery the Crown alleges was used to burn Laura Babcock's body after she was killed.
The mechanic, Shane Schlatman, spent all day in the witness box, and testified about more than what he saw in late July 2012 when he stopped by Millard's farm in the Waterloo, Ont. region, to fill the incinerator's propane tank.
There was a smell too.
"I could smell a funny smell. Like rotting. Not nice. There was stuff inside of it," he told the jury as Babcock's murder trial continued in Ontario Superior Court.
Babcock, 23, kept in constant communication with friends and family but hasn't been heard from since early July 2012. Her body has never been found.
Millard, 32, of Toronto, and Mark Smich, 30, of Oakville, Ont., are charged with first-degree murder. They have both pleaded not guilty.
The trial in Toronto has heard an abundance of evidence about two incinerators — one purchased for $15,424 by Schlatman on behalf of Millard, and a homemade one — both of which were found by police on Millard's rural property.
Schlatman, 45, told the jury he started working for Millard in 2006, mostly as a mechanic, out of Millard's airport hangar, also in the Waterloo, Ont. region.
But he testified his boss, who gave him a 1968 red Camaro as a wedding gift, also assigned him a number of odd jobs, including building a garbage and animal incinerator.
The court saw a series of text messages exchanged between them.
On May 16, 2012, Millard wrote: "Soon, I'm going to want you to put together a homemade incinerator. How many steel drums do we have of the same diameter? 3 or 4 welded together end to end I think would do the job."
Schlatman, eager to please, says he Googled how to make homemade garbage incinerators.
Over the following few weeks, Schlatman updated Millard on his progress.
"Not looking good for the incinerator today. Having to wash the barrels out real well. Had small fireball out of one barrel. Luckily had barrel facing out overhead door so No prob other than dirty underwear! Lol," he wrote on May 25, 2012.
Eventually Schlatman got the machine working — the finished product had several green barrels welded together, standing 12 feet tall, more than twice his height.
Crown counsel Ken Lockhart then presented Schlatman with a number of photographs, showing a very different looking apparatus.
His handiwork, rusted out and in pieces, was scattered at Millard's farm.
"Have you ever seen the incinerator in this condition?" Lockhart asked.
Schlatman said he'd never seen the machine he built like that, or the photos, for that matter.
Pet cremation business
Shortly after he finished the project, Schlatman testified Millard instructed him to purchase a much larger incinerator — this one for animals.
Schlatman said he understood Millard wanted it for himself and his uncle, a veterinarian, because they were going into business together.
"Somehow it was expensive to dispose of the deceased animals from the veterinary clinic," he told the court.
"[Millard's] idea was to have a mobile machine that he could not only do that for his uncle, but for other businesses around Toronto."
Schlatman again turned to Google, and eventually found the Super Nova Incinerator from a company in Winnipeg.
He offered two models to Millard, who responded with his pick, in a text:
"Interesting. double capacity for 18% higher cost… put in an order for the larger one."
'BBQ was top priority'
Once the machine — also known as "The Eliminator" by the manufacturer and "the BBQ" by Millard and Schlatman — arrived from Manitoba on July 5, 2012.
The Crown contends Babcock was killed sometime between the evening of July 3 and morning of July 4.
Schlatman said getting the machine to work took a couple of weeks,
Court again saw a flurry of texts between Schlatman and Millard, from around this time, the latter repeatedly asking for updates, writing "the BBQ was top priority."
Previously, at the Laura Babcock murder trial:
- Day 10: Former detective describes data on seized computers, devices
- Day 11: Accused killer, girlfriend compared Babcock to 'herpes'
- Day 12: Jury sees animal incinerator Crown alleges was used to burn body
- Day 13: Expert says photo appears to show human bones burning
- Day 14: Photo of burning bones challenged by defence
Read CBC News's full coverage as the trial continues.
Then at 9:34 a.m. on July 23, Schlatman sent a celebratory text, "Eliminator is eliminating," he wrote Millard.
Schlatman explained he tested the machine by running an eight-hour burn cycle at the farm.
The jury has previously seen messages exchanged between Millard and Smich from the same day.
"Bbq has run its warm up, it's ready for meat," Millard wrote on the afternoon of July 23.
The jury also saw a photo of objects engulfed in flames from inside the Eliminator, which was taken on July 23, at 11:20 p.m.
'Willing to take out the garbage'
Late Wednesday, Schlatman came face to face with his former boss, as Millard is acting as his own lawyer.
The two shared steady eye contact, Schlatman, in the witness box, angled his body directly towards Millard, who stands at a tall wooden podium during his cross-examinations.
"I wasn't the kind of boss afraid to get dirty?" he asked. "I didn't put myself above my employees? I was willing to be a guy who took out the garbage?"
Millard continued, confirming with Schlatman they tossed out about five to six industrial-sized bags a week, back when they worked together.
Millard asked: "Did I say what I was doing with the garbage? Taking it to the dump? Burning it? Taking it to the farm?"
Schlatman responded Millard never said.
Millard then asked Justice Michael Code to pause for the day, telling the courtroom he wasn't as prepared as he'd like for his final line of questioning to Schlatman.
The trial continues Thursday at 10 a.m. ET.
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