In October 2008, Johnny Altinger, a 38-year-old Edmonton man, was on his way to a tryst with a woman he had met on an online dating website when he emailed the directions to their rendezvous to a concerned friend. He was never seen again. Two weeks before Altinger's disappearance, independent filmmaker Mark Twitchell began shooting a low-budget horror film about a serial killer who impersonates a woman on an online dating website to lure his victims to their gruesome deaths. But these are just the starting points of the stranger-than-fiction case of Mark Twitchell, a man with a startling plan to turn his life-long love of fantasy and desire for fame into reality:
- Did Twitchell, in a horrific example of life imitating art, act out the grisly premise of his own script?
- Obsessed with Dexter, the popular TV show and book series about a fictional vigilante serial killer, Twitchell assumed Dexter Morgan's profile on Facebook. But how far did he intend to take his fascination with Dexter?
- Is the shocking document "S.K. Confessions" a graphic work of fiction that, as Twitchell claims, he wrote to promote his film? Or is it a diary he kept of his transformation into a killer, and proof that the police stopped a prolific serial killer at the very beginning?
Veteran journalist Steve Lillebuen provides a gripping investigative account of the nesting doll intricacies of the case, plunging us into the world of pop culture fanaticism and into the mind of a self-professed psychopath. Drawing on extensive interviews, Lillebuen illuminates what can happen when some of our culture's darkest obsessions are pushed to extremes.
|Publisher:||McClelland & Stewart|
|Sold by:||Random House|
|File size:||4 MB|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
It was half-past five on October 22. After a couple of long days and late-night interviews, Detective Bill Clark was getting ready to head home when one of the steel doors to the homicide unit creaked open.
Clark’s buddy, fellow homicide detective Mark Anstey, walked in with a huge grin. Behind him was Jeff Kerr, another detective on the Twitchell investigation. Clark took his eyes off his desk as the two of them approached. Anstey was beaming. “Bill, you won’t believe what we’ve just found.”
What?” His ears perked up.
Kerr had a stack of paper in his hands. He lowered them briefly so Clark could read the top of the first page he was holding:
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. Like anyone just starting out in a new skill, I had a bit of trial and error in the beginning of my misadventures. Allow me to start from the beginning and I think you’ll see what I mean.
Clark’s jaw dropped.
Anstey couldn’t contain his excitement anymore. “It’s a diary of how he killed the guy!”
“Holy shit!” Clark smacked his head. “Gimme a copy! Come on! Come on!”
Kerr yanked the papers away from Clark. “No, no, no. Hang on, hang on here. This is the original. We’ve gotta be careful how many of these we make.”
Eventually a few photocopies were made – on Clark’s insistence – but only enough for all the major detectives. They wanted to keep this unexpected development very quiet.
The text had been pulled off the laptop found in Twitchell’s car. Constable Michael Roszko in the tech crimes unit had found two temporary files buried in the hard drive and stitched them together. Both files had been made automatically in Microsoft Word by a user logged in to an account titled “Xpress Entertainment.” One temporary file was likely created when the text was copied to the clipboard; the second was likely made during an auto-recovery backup. The original Word document, however, had been deleted. There were 35 pages of writing. The document appeared to have been saved as “SKConfessions.doc.”
Clark huddled around his copy at his desk, reading as fast as he could.
I don’t remember the exact place and time it was that I decided to become a serial killer, but I remember the sensation that hit me when I committed to the decision. It was a rush of pure euphoria. I felt lighter, less stressed, if you will, at the freedom of the prospect. There was something about urgently exploring my dark side that greatly appealed to me and I’m such a methodical planner and thinker, the very challenge itself was enticing to behold.
“This is incredible!” Clark kept repeating as he read, at times covering his face in disbelief or clutching the back of his head. “Wow!”
The first page described the decision to begin killing as the “hand of fate,” an idea taken from a fantasy book by David Gemmell. The second page detailed the method: targeting men through online dating websites. At first, the diary stated, the plan had been to lure cheating husbands, a way of “taking out the trash”—a line borrowed from the fictional Dexter Morgan, who justified his actions because he only killed people society already held in contempt. But the plan of targeting married men was too risky, the diary concluded, so it was changed to luring “middle-aged single men who lived alone.” The writer reasoned it would be easier to get away with killing such men. With no roommates or wives to worry about them, a victim could disappear for longer before people would notice. A fake female profile would do the trick: an attractive girl, using photos of a real woman’s profile living in another city, but under a fake name and fake personal details. The girl would be flirty, toying with the man until he was so eager his guard would drop and he would fall for the trap.
The document revealed that a “kill room” had been chosen: a double-door detached garage with a dirt driveway in the south end of the city. All the killer had to do was remove the address sign from the back wall of the garage and give out strange directions so nobody would know the physical address. The diary detailed the killer’s disguise: a black hockey mask, the forehead painted with gold streaks. It served the “double purpose of facial protection and identity shield to give the victim a false sense of security in thinking they would be let go.” Then he picked out his “kill knife” from a military surplus store for the “nasty mayhem” about to transpire:
The trap was set, and now it was time to bait the hook . . . My kill room was perfectly prepped. Plastic sheeting taped together and around my table; a large green cloth screwed into the drywall ceiling to shield view of it from my guest’s line of sight, and to shield me too, of course. I now stood but a few feet away from the front door, which I had locked of course. The plan was to wait in the shadow of my curtain until he approached the door and shock him with the stun baton followed by a sleeper hold that would sap away his consciousness so that I could tape him up and set him on my table.
Clark’s eyes flared as he kept reading. He knew what was coming next: Johnny was going to show up at that garage and be killed by Mark Twitchell.
But that wasn’t what happened.
Apparently, Johnny wasn’t the first victim.
The document described another attack on October 3, the Friday before Johnny disappeared. During the earlier attempt, the attacker’s stun baton had failed and the victim had fought back, reached for the man’s gun, and somehow managed to escape.
Clark realized they had to find the surviving victim. And the Twitchell file had suddenly become something much bigger: a serial killer investigation. Thank God the detectives had the foresight to order twenty-four-hour surveillance, he thought. Now that the surveillance team had confirmed a positive sighting of Twitchell at his parents’ house shortly after Clark’s visit, he was at least being watched while they gathered more evidence.
Clark took the diary home with him that night, as did every other detective on the file. For the first time in his 30-year career, he was overwhelmed with evidence in a homicide file. Reading the diary was an odyssey, a startling descent into the criminal persona, with the depths of human depravity presented to the reader in the form of entertainment. A detective usually never knew this level of detail about their suspects. Eyewitnesses were unreliable, even an admission from an accused was often embellished or twisted in some way. But what Clark and the team believed they had found this time was a virtual blow-by-blow account, an honest and full confession, relishing in every sordid detail. They had total insight into what the killer was likely thinking. Twitchell had written an extremely comprehensive account of how Johnny was killed. The descriptions were disgusting, some too graphic to repeat, words strung together about unspeakable and grotesque acts. Twitchell wrote at length about the difficulty in trying to hide Johnny’s body. He had scoured the river valley for the perfect spot, but there were too many people around so he had to think of another plan.
Clark made it to the last section, hoping for a big conclusion.
Once again necessity is the mother of invention and my need to get rid of this evidence brought the solution to me like a child showing a parent their latest pencil crayon drawing.
The sewer. Of course, how obvious. No one ever goes down there. The body would rot away completely before anyone ever discovered the bones and by then it would be way too late to identify the person.
Clark flipped the page. “Where’s the rest?” he asked out loud, pinching the paper, trying to see if a couple were stuck together. But there was nothing else. “Where’s the body?” Either Twitchell had left out the ending or tech crimes had failed to locate it. “It doesn’t say where the body is!”
What People are Saying About This
“A detailed, well-constructed account of a diabolical real-life Dexter. Lillebuen has written a riveting, true crime page-turner about aspiring filmmaker Mark Twitchell, who turned his obsession with fantasy into horrible reality.”
—Robert Remington, co-author of Runaway Devil: How Forbidden Love Drove a 12-year-old to Murder Her Family
“The Devil’s Cinema uses police reports, news coverage, social media and interviews with those involved including Twitchell himself to create a compelling and frightening account of the crime. . . . Lillebuen takes readers deep inside the mind of this creative pathological liar who blurred the lines between fantasy and reality. The author creates a fascinating and detailed narrative, from the killer’s and victim's early lives to the dramatic and bizarre courtroom trial. With its ties to online communities, dating sites, pop culture and modern filmmaking, The Devil's Cinema is a terrifying and intriguing account of murder in the digital age.”
—Winnipeg Free Press
“Based on reams of first-person interviews, newspaper reports and court documents, The Devil’s Cinema is a meticulous reconstruction of Mark Twitchell’s Dexter-worthy shenanigans. . . . [The book is an] admirably structured, thoroughly readable parsing of a psychopathic mind.”
“Show[s] how Twitchell went from a husband and father working sales jobs to the prime suspect in an outrageous murder case.”
“Lillebuen does an admirable job in pulling together a story that has more real-life twists and turns than anything famed director Alfred Hitchcock could have applied to the silver screen. Truth is, indeed, always stranger than fiction.”
“Remind[s] us how the borders of human interaction and connective technology have shifted so drastically, and in so little time.”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Really read like a novel. Pretty crazy case. Saw it on TV one night and thought I could try the book. Keep me going and I wanted to keep reading. I don't read a lot of true crime but really liked this one.
The Good Stuff Fast paced & truly fascinating Very detailed and obviously very well researched Not too sensational or descriptive of the more gruesome aspects of the case (I would have liked a lot less, but I am sensitive) Author really tries hard not to put in his own opinions -- slips a little sometimes, but it would be hard not to Impressed with the dedication of the Edmonton police force on making sure he didn't have the opportunity to kill again Also impressed with the fact that justice system tried to protect his wife and child and I very much hope that they have a chance to have a decent life Learned some interesting information on the work done by the police to catch someone like Twitchell Writing style is easy to read, story sucks you in and disturbs you, but keeps you wanting to know what happened Could lead to some fascinating discussions I had never even heard of this case before I got the Random House list of books for review You get a little glimpse into Jeff Lindsay's thoughts on what he thinks about this case Good index (I know I am such a nerd, but hey it helped when I forgot things while I was writing this review)The Not So Good Stuff Could have done with a bit less of the gruesome descriptions (I am sensitive 'kay) I am concerned that Twitchell will get attention from the publications of this, which he obviously gets off on Concerned with the fact that the thought of him getting killed in prison wouldn't be all that bad to me& that disturbs me The constant mentions of the comparison between Twitchell and the fictional Dexter were almost to the point that the author was saying that if it wasn't for Dexter, Twitchell never would have killed - think that is a cop out Might be moving to Alberta and the crime statistics are very scary to me - definitely not moving to Deadmonton now!Favorite Quotes/Passages"Edmonton is not the end of the world -it's just easier to see it from there; Once quipped Ralph Klein, a colourful and well known politician. Many have adopted a similar self-deprecating attitude, wielding such ethos like an invaluable tool while residing in the northernmost major city of North America.""Antsey had been waiting for lab results for three days, trying to be patient, but he was frustrated. Detectives started rolling their eyes when told the lab results for the new items taken from Johnny's condo still weren't back. They would joke that lab techs from television crime shows like CSI could get DNA results in an hour. In real life, there were city cases that had been stalled on DNA analysis for weeks, sometimes months."The burn lasted only a few minutes and died down as the fuel disappeared. Twitchell might have been smarter to mix some oil with the gasoline to make it burn longer, but he was a city boy and some things can't be learned on the internet."Who Should/Shouldn't Read Obviously fans of true crime will eat this up Those living in Edmonton might be a little offended by the less than stellar comments about their city Fabulous book for a book club or classroom discussion4 Dewey'sI received this from Random House in exchange for an honest review