Shortlisted for the 2017 Kobo Emerging Writer Prize, Nonfiction Category
Longlisted for the 2018 Frank Hegyi Award for Emerging Authors
Tim Bosma was a happy young father with a promising future when he listed his pickup truck for sale online, went for a test drive with two strangers, and never returned. The story of the Hamilton man’s strange disappearance in May 2013 captured headlines across the country and took over social media, resonating with everyone who had ever taken a test drive or bought and sold goods online.
When Dellen Millard and Mark Smich were eventually arrested and charged with Bosma’s murder, the mystery only deepened. Millard was the wealthy heir to an aviation business. Smich was his ne’er-do-well best friend from a middle-class family. There was no obvious reason why the pair had made it their deadly mission to steal a truck, murder its owner, and incinerate the body. Tim Bosma was their randomly chosen “thrill kill” target.
Veteran journalist and private investigator Ann Brocklehurst had a front-row seat at Millard’s and Smich’s 2016 trial, where many of the questions about their shocking crime were finally answered. Others still linger, waiting to be further explained at two more murder trials set for 2017. Both Millard and Smich have been charged with the first-degree murder of Laura Babcock, who disappeared in summer 2012. And Millard alone faces murder charges in the death of his father, which previously has been ruled a suicide.
Compelling and suspenseful, Dark Ambition chronicles an unfathomable crime and its chilling perpetrators.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.40(d)|
About the Author
ANN BROCKLEHURST is a veteran journalist, licensed private investigator and communications professional. Before working on the crime and courts beat, she reported from Berlin for the International Herald Tribune, worked on the Asia desk of Reuters News Agency in Hong Kong, and covered banking and finance in Toronto. She lives in Toronto.
Read an Excerpt
FOR SALE BY OWNER
A 2007 Dodge Power Ram 3500 Diesel 4x4 pick-up truck
170,000 kilometres – mostly highway
5.9 litre engine
Extended cab – short box Gray cloth interior
New transmission, new brakes
Address: Ancaster, Ontario
This is the ad posted online by Tim Bosma’s wife, Sharlene, in the spring of 2013. And it is also the starting point of prosecutor Craig Fraser’s opening address at the first-degree murder trial of the two men accused of Bosma’s murder, Dellen Millard and Mark Smich. Fraser has turned his podium sideways so that he can face the fourteen members of the jury as he explains the case the prosecution intends to prove. His delivery is measured and dry. He is not the type of lawyer who sets off fireworks, inspires TV characters, or wins oratory awards. But for this trial, no special effects are required. Fraser’s style suits the story he is telling—a story that is sensational, tragic, and almost beyond belief. And it all begins with the problems caused by that black Dodge Ram diesel.
The truck had been running up hefty repair bills, causing stress for its owners, a young family on a tight budget. A plan was put in place to sell it and replace it with a cheaper, better functioning truck, but unfortunately there weren’t many prospective buyers. An earlier version of the ad that had run in April had failed to attract even one serious prospect. A man who Tim Bosma referred to as a tire kicker had emailed a few times to ask a lot of questions then never bothered to view the vehicle in person.
The first person to actually want to see the truck was a caller from Toronto who was prepared to drive one hundred kilometres to Bosma’s home in Ancaster to check it out. That seemed like a good sign, so in preparation for the visit Bosma washed and waxed his truck. Then, at 7:25 on the morning of the planned appointment, he sent a text to confirm: “Good morning. It’s Tim. I’m working in Hamilton today if you want to meet or do you still want to meet at my house tonight for 7 pm?” He was upset when the text went unanswered and then relieved when the man from Toronto finally called at 7:22 that evening to say he was en route to see the truck and would be there within an hour.
What happened after that would make headlines around the world. Tim Bosma left with two strangers on a test drive from which he would never return. Social media exploded with the news of his disappearance. The police requested help from the public in their search for the missing man and his truck, and their almost daily news conferences were live-streamed online and then endlessly dissected on the internet. Within days, an arrest was made, and then two weeks later another one. But the arrests didn’t make things any clearer. The opposite, in fact: they made the disappearance of Tim Bosma more puzzling than ever.
The first man police arrested was Dellen Millard, a wealthy young heir to his family’s aviation business who owned several million dollars’ worth of properties in Toronto. On the day after he went for the test drive, he had closed on the purchase of a condo for which he was reported to have paid more than $600,000 in cash. As his lawyer and hordes of online commentators kept insisting, he could easily have afforded to buy a brand-new truck. Others pointed out that if Millard were a psychopath, devoid of empathy and seeking thrills, how much money he had was irrelevant.
The second man arrested was Mark Smich, an unemployed drug dealer who lived with his mother in her suburban middle-class home. His last arrest, a few months earlier, had been for spray-painting graffiti on a highway overpass. Until this trial, he had never inspired anywhere near the same level of interest as Millard.
On their first day of trial, both defendants tell the court that they are pleading not guilty to first-degree murder and that they are ready to proceed.
Because of the very public nature of the early investigation into Bosma’s disappearance, it has long been known that the evidence in this case is strong. Two days after Millard’s arrest, Bosma’s truck was found concealed inside a transport trailer parked in Millard’s mother’s driveway. Human remains burned beyond recognition were discovered at Millard’s Southern Ontario farm. And most sinister of all, Millard was revealed to own a portable livestock incinerator, named the Eliminator, despite the fact that he kept no animals on his farm.
Fraser tells the jury that he and his two fellow prosecutors will prove that in the late evening of May 6, 2013, Tim Bosma was killed in his truck, shot by the two accused at close range, and that his body was then incinerated hours later by Millard and Smich. To make the Crown’s case, there will be testimony from multiple forensic scientists, including blood-spatter and gunshot-residue experts as well as the anthropologist who examined the bones and remains found in the Eliminator. There will be video showing the Eliminator being towed to the Millardair hangar at the Region of Waterloo International Airport and then being ignited outside the hangar door—and still more video taken from the security system in the hangar. There will be extensive analysis of the cell phones used by the accused and their friends. There will be testimony from the friends and girlfriends of Millard and Smich, some of whom knew they planned to steal a truck. And there will be letters sent from jail by Millard to his girlfriend, Christina Noudga, who was charged as an accessory after the fact to Tim Bosma’s murder almost a year after her boyfriend’s arrest.
In his letters, Millard asks Noudga to witness tamper and get his best friend to change his statement to police. “If he knew that his words were going to get me a life sentence, he would want to change them,” Millard wrote. “Show him how he can, and he will change them.” He instructed Noudga to destroy his letters, but—whether for sentimental reasons or as an insurance policy or both—she defied his wishes and kept them. The very damaging letters were seized from her bedroom when it was searched upon her arrest.
Noudga’s arrest occurred the same day Millard and Smich were charged with another murder, that of twenty-three-year-old Laura Babcock, on or around July 3, 2012, in the area of Toronto, ten months before Bosma’s death. Millard alone was also charged with the murder, on November 29, 2012, of his father, Wayne. Although not a word will be heard about those cases at the Tim Bosma trial, the complications of prosecuting three overlapping murder cases, not to mention their multijurisdictional nature, are among the reasons it has taken almost three years for the trial for the murder of Tim Bosma to begin. From the test drive on May 6, 2013, to February 1, 2016, when Craig Fraser addresses the jury, a thousand and one days have elapsed.
Throughout this time, someone from Tim Bosma’s family has attended every single court date for Dellen Millard and Mark Smich, from two-minute video appearances to the full days of pretrial motions that took place in the fall of 2015. In the face of trial delays and tedious legal arguments about evidence admissibility and the like, Tim’s parents, Hank and Mary, have remained outwardly stoic—and frequently cheerful. Hank, a small, wiry man with a grey moustache, bald head, and glasses, will often approach journalists to tell them he likes an article they wrote or a TV report they did about his son. He will joke in the elevator of Hamilton’s John Sopinka Courthouse about little things like where to get a coffee and make it back to court in time. Mary, a petite blonde, is more shy, but like her husband she smiles when she wishes everyone Merry Christmas on the last day of pretrial motions. The Bosmas’ faith—they are active members of the Ancaster Christian Reformed Church—has helped carry them through, as have the many friends who have accompanied them to court in the days, months, and years since Tim was taken from them.
Except for some members of the defendants’ families, a few of their friends, and the usual handful of conspiracy theorists, this is not, for the vast majority of people, a trial about guilt. It’s far more about the how and the why of what happened to Tim Bosma and the very nature of evil. It’s also about the dread that almost every major murder trial brings to the surface—the fear that justice will not be done. There might be a “glove doesn’t fit” moment, a secret “deal with the devil.” Or, in this case, one of the accused might succeed in blaming the other and walk away with no more than a few years in jail.
Table of Contents
Cast of Characters xi
1 It's Just a Truck 1
2 The Crown's First Witness 23
3 Mother's Day 43
4 Forensics 65
5 Suspect Number Two 85
6 Caught On Camera 101
7 Three Generations 117
8 The New CEO 133
9 Suspicions 159
10 The Bros 173
11 Investigations Are Ongoing 199
12 The Girlfriends 221
13 Letters 245
14 Cutthroat 277
15 Team Smich 293
16 The Plan 313
17 The Verdict 337