Friends, paid content and crowdfunding

Back last fall I tried a crowdfunding experiment to see if I had enough interested readers willing to pay to read a series about a sexual assault trial. Sexual assault is a huge topic these days and I had done a previous but very different series in 2015, which was well received. Given that I have a decent mailing list and a small but devoted social media following interested in true crime, I thought I’d give crowdfunding a try to see if it might work for journalism.

Unfortunately, things did not go at all as I had planned. I wanted to find 500 readers willing to pay $10 each but instead, my very generous friends started chipping in $100 here and $50 there. This was vaguely embarrassing as I didn’t want my friends supporting me. I wanted readers to pay a fair amount for a product they valued.

I had also hoped that a legacy publisher might chip in, but the idea of crowdfunding an article wasn’t something accounting departments could wrap their heads around. In the end, the Walrus magazine made a generous offer to buy the new series in the conventional way and I put a halt to the crowdfunding campaign.

Because it was an “all or nothing” campaign — which means no one gets charged unless and until the funding goal is met — my friends didn’t end up paying a cent.

I have now embarked on a new crowdfunding campaign, but with some modifications to avoid past mistakes. I’m out to reach people willing to pay a minimum of $10 to read in-depth coverage of a trial that interests them. So far, I haven’t told any of my friends so unless they read my blog or newsletter they don’t know about this.

This time around, I’m not doing an “all or nothing” campaign because I’m hopeful that once the trial gets going and people see how interesting it is, they will want to pay for coverage. I’m trying to keep my options open.

The  goal for this pre-trial period is to build momentum so that the first two days are funded before the trial begins and I can guarantee at least two days of coverage.

If this model works, I will be thrilled as it will be a win/win situation both for me and interested readers.

Please check out the campaign if you want to read about this trial. If I didn’t think it were going to be very interesting, I wouldn’t be so keen to attend.

Trial Funding – Click Here

Dark Ambition chronicles the Tim Bosma murder investigation and trial

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screen-shot-2016-09-16-at-2-37-55-pmDark Ambition: The Shocking Crime of Dellen Millard and Mark Smich went on sale November 8. (Yes, that day.) In between the wall-to-wall Trump election coverage, I did a number of radio and TV interviews about the book, two of which have been posted online.

If you’re curious, my talk with John Gormley can be found here, the last item on the November 9th list. I also spoke to Scott Radley of CHML in Hamilton, who wondered what more there was for the public to know about the Tim Bosma case after the very extensive trial coverage. You can hear my response by going the station’s audio vault and filling in the date (Nov. 9) and time (7:00 p.m.) of the interview and then fast forwarding to 7:42 p.m.

Radley is not the first person to ask me if they will learn something new from the book. Here’s what some readers said:

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Comments like this are extremely gratifying. One of my goals with this book was to take people inside the courtroom and help them understand in detail what it’s like for the police to investigate a murder, and then for the prosecutors to bring the case to trial. Another thing I try to do is give readers a feel for how this tragic and extremely high-profile murder  was discussed in social media and occupied armchair detectives at sites like Websleuths, which not everyone is familiar with.

You can buy Dark Ambition in most bookstores and order it online at Chapters/Indigo and Amazon although the hardcover version is temporarily out of stock until Nov. 17th at Amazon Canada. A few copies are still available at Amazon.com.

I’d be happy to answer any questions you might have about the book in the comments section. Or you could come out and talk to me in person at a special literary evening on Thursday November 17th in Burlington. Writers Stephen Brunt and Brent van Staalduinen will also be there discussing their new books. There’s a $20 admission fee with all proceeds to the East Plains United Church.

Come hear about ‘Dark Ambition’

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Pre-order at Amazon or Chapters/Indigo

I’ll be speaking about my new book, Dark Ambition: The Shocking Crime of Dellen Millard and Mark Smich on Thursday November 3 at the Barbara Frum library.

Although Dark Ambition won’t be officially released until November 8, there will be special copies for sale on Thursday.

Also speaking will be Jeremy Grimaldi, author of A Daughter’s Deadly Deception, the story of the fascinating Jennifer Pan case.

Here are the details.

Hope you can make it if you’re in the GTA.

Questions re that London Review of Books article on Bitcoin

So I finally read the London Review of Books’ magnum opus on Craig Wright, apparent pretender to the Bitcoin throne. I had never bought that Wright invented Bitcoin and the article — all 35,000 words of it — did nothing to convince me otherwise.

wright_twitter_profile

Wright had always struck me as a self promoter not a self effacing type prepared to forego the praise and attention lavished on brilliant inventors. He also seemed very concerned about his image as projected by his clothes and the photos he used to represent himself. Modest types don’t tend to call themselves “Dr.” and show themselves off in evening wear on social media.

The whole Canadian investor thing didn’t sit right either. Robert MacGregor and his company nTrust say they are in the “cloud money” business, but when I looked at their website, MacGregor was no longer listed as CEO. Nor could I figure out what exactly nTrust did and why it would be beneficial to use it. It certainly didn’t strike me as a company making so much money that its CEO would have $15 million to invest in bailing out the broke supposed inventor of Bitcoin. (nTrust apparently set up nCrypt, a new subsidiary to handle at lease some of the Bitcoin business.)

I also found it strange that while the LRB strongly hints at the involvement of Calvin Ayre in this whole Wright/Bitcoin affair, it didn’t mention that MacGregor too has ties to Bodog and Ayre going back years.

MacGregor worked at the Bodog affiliate, Riptown Media, in Vancouver for years. When he set up nTrust, it was with a group of former Riptown employees. nTrust also appears to have ties to Ayre. When police raided Ayre-linked companies in the Philippines in 2013, Robert MacGregor’s name was listed on the search warrants.

The Manila Times reported that nTrust, also known as Fenris Ventures, was suspected by Filipino police of being a front for Ayre’s illegal gambling operations. Ayre flatly denied all accusations of wrongdoing and took prosecutors and police to court, claiming there was no basis for the warrants. The Philippines appeals court recently ruled in his favour that it was an illegal search and seizure operation.

That’s about the extent of what I know for now but if you have further information I would love to hear from you. The Bitcoin inventor saga fascinates me and I would like to know more about the relationships between Robert MacGregor, Craig Wright, Stefan Matthews and Calvin Ayre.

The big question in my mind and for now is whose idea was it that Craig Wright should claim he invented Bitcoin?

ann.brocklehurst@gmail.com

 

What a rape trial looks like: Inside the court room for eight days of a sexual assault prosecution

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OnTrialForRapeByAnnBrocklehurst

My series about a criminal rape trial is now an Amazon ebook.

This true story tells the tale of an alleged victim, seventeen years old at the time, and her alleged assailant, a star athlete on his way to winning a full sports scholarship to a US university.


“I said, ‘Stop, you’re being ridiculous.’ I kept repeating stop. I asked him, ‘Please take me home.’ He said, ‘You want it,’ and put the passenger seat back.”


She had substantial credibility problems on the witness stand. His testimony seemed far more convincing—most of the time. But this was more than just a “she said, he said”—or, as it turned out, “she lied, he lied”—case. There was an element of physical evidence against him: bruises on her arms and legs. The judge had to decide if the totality of the prosecutors’ case against the defendant was enough to send him to jail, brand him a sexual offender, and destroy his promising future.

Despite its sensational nature, this was a case that never made headlines. What I observed during my reporting was the farthest thing from a Jian Ghomeshi courthouse scene, with mobs of press and police. I was the sole reporter at the superior court trial and, on most days, the only observer not directly related to the case. The mother and grandmother of the accused, whom I will call Matthew in the reports that follow, attended throughout the trial. The complainant, who will be known as Ava, was supported by a representative from victim services and the detective in charge of her case.


“You left your panties behind,” says the defence lawyer, who reminds me of Matlock.  “No I did not,” replies the weeping complainant


Ava’s family and Matthew’s father were not permitted in the courtroom as they were all considered to be potential witnesses. They spent much of their time in the courthouse hallways, pacing or sitting nervously. Like everyone else, they knew that the events unfolding on the other side of the courtroom door would deeply affect the two young people’s lives.

The first two chapters of On Trial For Rape can be read for free here. To read the entire story, you can buy the ebook on Amazon:

Part 1: She Said
Part 2: Are You Sure?
Part 3: Can the Complainant Continue?
Part 4: The Facebook Test
Part 5: He Said
Part 6: “I’m Not a Rapist”
Part 7: Closing Arguments
Part 8: The Verdict


The complainant is reporting someone to the judge for making faces in court. “It was the girl with black hair,” she tells Justice Trotter, referring to the mother of the accused


Buy On Trial For Rape on Amazon

I’ll be watching on Amazon for your feedback and reviews.

Crown seeks direct indictment in Laura Babcock murder case

The Crown is seeking a direct indictment in the Laura Babcock murder case, raising further questions about the original investigation into her disappearance by Toronto police.

If the direct indictment is granted, it should be announced over the next few weeks and the case against the accused, Dellen Millard and Mark Smich, will proceed directly to trial without a preliminary hearing.

A direct indictment was granted last July for the related murder trial of Tim Bosma, where Millard and Smich are also charged. At the time, Attorney General Madeleine Meilleur commented: “I’m not going to speak about the case, but when this procedure is supported, it’s because there is good evidence that the person being accused will become convicted.”

Brendan Crawley, a spokesperson for the Attorney General, said the ministry does not comment on whether requests for direct indictments have been made in a specific case.

Smich and Millard are pleading not guilty on all counts and none of the allegations against them have been proven in court.

The Babcock case is very different from the Bosma murder in terms of what the public knows about the evidence. Police have said that Tim Bosma’s remains, burned beyond recognition, were found on Millard’s farm near Ayr, Ontario, and that Bosma’s truck was found in a trailer parked in the driveway of Millard’s mother, Madeleine Burns, in Kleinburg, north of Toronto. The Hamilton Spectator has reported that the victim was incinerated in a livestock incinerator found on Millard’s animal-less farm and purchased through Millardair.

In contrast, none of the evidence in the Laura Babcock case has been made public. There is also no body although the Hamilton Spectator reported that its sources believe Babcock was incinerated shortly after her disappearance in July 2012.

Many questions have been raised about how the Laura Babcock investigation was originally handled by Toronto police, who have been severely criticized for not following up on a mobile phone bill showing that the last eight phone calls she made were to Dellen Millard.

Sgt. Stephen Woodhouse — who was the lead detective in the original 2012 search for Laura Babcock told the National Post in May 2013 that investigators were never aware of any relationship between her and Dellen Millard. Contradicting her parents and ex-boyfriend, who said they had repeatedly brought the phone records to police attention, Sgt. Woodhouse said police did not see them until after Millard was arrested for the Tim Bosma murder. (Although, according to TPS operating procedures, investigators should have acquired the phone records of anyone missing under such circumstances, whether given to them by the family or not.)

“In this case we had no idea where Laura was living at the time, who her circle of friends were, what she was doing,” said Sgt. Woodhouse, who has since taken another position within Toronto Police and is no longer assigned to the case.

“In a city of 3 million people, where do you start?” he said. “We did the standard press release and put her picture out there… We followed the leads that we had.”

That the Crown would apply for a direct indictment indicates that they think they have a very strong case against Millard. This means that once police got serious about the Babcock disappearance investigation they don’t appear to have had too much difficulty finding evidence. It raises the question once again of why the investigation into Laura’s disappearance was so different pre- and post-Millard’s arrest.

In addition to the Bosma and Babcock murders, Dellen Millard has also been charged with the murder of his father, Wayne. No direct indictment is being sought in that case. Given that the Babcock and Bosma murder cases are being handled by different jurisdictions, it’s highly unlikely they will be joined and tried together.

Once again, none of the allegations against Millard and Smich have been proven in court. They are innocent until proven guilty.

A day in court with Matthew Ward-Jackson and his lawyer, Deepak Paradkar

Do you see the man with the blacked-out eye in the top righthand corner?

Matthew Ward-Jackson’s head tattoos include a man with a blacked-out eye. Wayne Millard was reportedly shot in the eye.

It’s Friday September 12th at Toronto’s Old City Hall courthouse. I’ve come to see Matthew Ward-Jackson aka Krucifix14 aka Big Iisho, who currently has three sets of charges pending against him, including having supplied Dellen Millard with the gun he allegedly used to kill his father Wayne. That’s the case I’m really interested in but it’s not the one on the dockets today. This session is about an earlier drug possession and intent-to-traffic case. (Ward-Jackson is pleading not guilty to all three sets of charges against him.)

Things were supposed to get underway at 10 a.m. but, because many judges operate in a parallel time universe, at 10:30 we were still all sitting around waiting for her honour to arrive. There was the accused, Matthew Ward-Jackson; the co-accused; the co-accused’s mother; the two defence lawyers, making (minimum) $300 an hour small talk; the wife and paralegal of one of the defence lawyers; the Crown; the court clerk; the court reporter; me; and the Toronto police constable guarding the prisoner and fixing her wonky chair.

When the door finally opened, we were all expecting the judge, but no, not yet. Instead it was a 50-something down-on-his-luck looking guy with long thinning brown hair, a leather Harley Davidson jacket, torn jeans, and some very well worn cowboy boots.

“Hey MJ,” he said to Ward-Jackson in the prisoner’s box.”How’re you doing? I put some money in the canteen for you. It’s only 20 bucks.”

“Thanks for coming,” Ward Jackson replied graciously. It was the second occasion I’ve seen him in person and he’s lost weight over the past two months. He’s also better dressed than he was last time, wearing what looks like a brand new Roots Maple Leafs jacket, a blue plaid shirt, dark wash jeans and navy sneaker-type shoes, all fresh and clean. He has enough hair growth on his shaven head that I can’t clearly make out the tattoos underneath, including the one I’d really like to see of the man with his eye blacked out.

MJ’s buddy sits down next to me while the police constable guarding the prisoner gives him the once over. “I know you,” she says. “You’re Butch. We went to high school together.”

Butch does a double take. “You’re the boxer,” he says. “You still box?”

Their conversation gets cut short as the judge finally makes her entrance. Apologetically, she tells us all she’d like to take care of the other case on her agenda, a brief sentencing, before hearing the further evidence in the Ward-Jackson case.   She says it will take half an hour so we all clear out of the courtroom. By now, it’s almost 11.

I ask Butch if he has time to talk. And he tells me I can join him for his smoke break. On the courthouse steps, he explains that he was Ward-Jackson’s cellmate at the Toronto South Detention Center from the Canada Day long weekend until a few days ago when he was released. He was there for violating probation for an assault charge. He’d run into his lawyer in the courthouse halls earlier and she’d asked him what in hell he was doing here. Just showing support for a friend, he had explained much to her relief.

I told Butch I was interested in Ward-Jackson because of the gun trafficking charges related to the Millard case. “Whaaat?” he asked “Who?” I gave him a primer on Tim Bosma, Wayne Millard, Laura Babcock, etc. Butch only knew the vaguest of outlines. He said that prisoners don’t talk to each other about stuff like that.

He also emphasized that Matthew was a good guy, not dumb, and not guilty. That’s why he’d come to court to support him.

“At the very least he did some dumb things,” I suggested.

“Who hasn’t?” said Butch. “That’s why pencils have erasers.”

I kind of liked Butch. If you’ve got to have a cellmate, he seemed like just about the best you could have. Putting $20 in the canteen for MJ was a generous move.

We headed back inside and up to the courtroom where I spotted some familiar faces. There was a young blonde woman who looked like one of the Gotass Girls from Big Iisho’s various videos. And the guy with her was definitely Blanco Oro, a rapper and music producer.

“You’re Blanco Oro, right?” I said as I introduced myself. He looked simultaneously worried and disappointed. No doubt when he’d imagined people recognizing him from his videos, it was young fangirls not nosy reporters old enough to be his mother.

Like Butch, Blanco said he knew nothing Millard-related. He just wanted to see Matthew — who he described as an “up and coming artist” — get back to making music. I gave him my business card and a high five and sat down to wait for the judge. The sentencing was taking way longer than half an hour.

Butch was now talking to Blanco who had taken him aside to show him something on his phone. I assume it was my National Post article on Matthew Ward-Jackson and his ties to the Millard case because after that Butch stopped speaking to me. At noon when we eventually filed back in to the court room, no one wanted to sit beside me. Given that the kickboxing police woman was now chatting and joking with Ward-Jackson as she escorted him in and out, I felt it was unjust that I was the most feared and unpopular person in the room.

According to the dockets, we were there for a further evidence session, which began with the crown summing up the evidence against the accused. In a nutshell, some $50,000 worth of cocaine and $13,000 in in cash had been found in an apartment allegedly occupied by Ward-Jackson and his co-accused, who was his ex-GF. In my laywoman’s opinion, the crown made some good points but it was hardly an airtight case.

I was especially puzzled by the crown’s reference to marijuana supposedly found in the apartment between the mattresses.The crown said veteran drug squad officers recognized it as marijuana and not, for example, oregano, which would have been in the kitchen not the bedroom.

WTF?! I thought. This all seems very vague. Why didn’t they just test it? You don’t need to be CSI to tell oregano from marijuana. As it turned out, this was a subject the defence would later address although not the oregano angle.

Ward-Jackson’s lawyer for these charges is Deepak Paradkar, who is also Dellen Millard’s lawyer, defending him against all three charges of first degree murder. Along with wanting to talk to people who knew Ward-Jackson, Paradkar was the other reason I’d come to court. I wanted to see him in action.

As the crown wrapped up and we were about to break for lunch, he asked the judge if he could have two minutes. One of the points he raised was the marijuana issue. “If these officers are so veteran, why didn’t they seize it and inventory it?” he asked. “I have serious concerns.”

After lunch, both Paradkar and the co-accused’s lawyer made their case for a directed verdict. Paradkar is an impressive and forceful speaker, with a sarcastic streak when it comes to the cops. He was out to show the crown needed more proof his client had lived in the apartment where the cocaine was found. “Where is the lease, cable records, Bell records?” he asked. “Police college 101.”

“My friend,” he said, referring to the Crown, “emphasized that these were veteran officers, but that can be to their detriment.” Paradkar went on to cite a kidnapping case where 25-year veterans hadn’t followed the basic rules of evidence collection or performed what should be standard due diligence.

Amused, at one point, by his turn of phrase, I LOLled, which caused Butch to turn around and give me the stink eye. I wanted to explain I wasn’t laughing at his friend’s lawyer, I was laughing with him. But it was too late. I’d lost Butch.

As court wrapped up, Ward-Jackson thanked the judge for everything including her order that he receive a meal. Is he flirting with her? I wondered. Earlier, he’d called out cheekily to his co-accused as she walked by the prisoner’s box, plus there was all that chitchat with the kickboxing constable. Ward-Jackson appeared to think — not necessarily incorrectly — that he had a way with the ladies. Or maybe he was just genuinely grateful to be getting a non-prison meal. Butch had told me earlier that the food at Toronto South sucked and, as the old joke goes, there wasn’t enough of it.

The judge’s ruling is scheduled to be delivered on October 29 at 10 a.m. Ontario standard judge time. I promise to let you know what happens.

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What happened to Jeffrey Boucher? Read my new e-book on the case of the missing runner

Read my new e-book: The Mysterious Death of Jeffrey Boucher

You can buy it on Amazon

It’s an account of the events surrounding the disappearance of the Whitby dad and my theory on what happened to Jeffrey Boucher.

Buy The Mysterious Death of Jeffrey Boucher (or read the free sample)

Tim Bosma murder trial may be fast tracked

In an unusual move, the Crown attorneys in the Tim Bosma murder case have asked the Ontario attorney general to go straight to trial, skipping a preliminary hearing scheduled for September, the Hamilton Spectator has reported:

The Spectator has learned assistant Crowns Tony Leitch and Craig Fraser of Hamilton have applied for a direct indictment, which — if granted — would eliminate the need for a preliminary hearing.

Direct indictments are very rare, are only granted in the most serious and complicated cases and generally indicate the Crown believes it has a strong likelihood of conviction.

The preliminary hearing for Dellen Millard, 28, and Mark Smich, 26, is scheduled to begin Sept. 8 and is set to last eight weeks. Its purpose is to allow a judge to determine if there is enough evidence to commit the case to trial.

There are a number of upcoming court dates for Millard and Smich. While they are just brief appearances designed to deal with procedural issues, mostly by video, some interesting information does occasionally come out.

Here are the scheduled appearances including for the accused in a related weapons trafficking case :

Matthew Ward-Jackson has been accused of illegal possession of an AK-47

Matthew Ward-Jackson has been accused of illegal possession of an AK-47 among other things. Source: Instagram

June 26 Matthew Ward Jackson, charged with weapons trafficking and believed to have provided Dellen Millard with the gun he used to allegedly kill his father, will appear in person in Toronto court over a previous set of drug and weapon possession charges. Also appearing in person on those charges will be Joseph Michael Horth aka Spiken Mike.

July 7 Dellen Millard and Mark Smich will appear via video for the first degree murder of Laura Babcock. The charges against Millard for the murder of his father Wayne Millard will also be addressed.

July 7 Matthew Odlum and Matthew Wawrykiewycz on weapons trafficking charges allegedly related to the death of Wayne Millard. Unlike his co-accused, Matthew Ward-Jackson who is in custody, Wawrykiewych is out on bail, as is the third co-accused Matthew Odlum, whose case is scheduled for July 21.

August 7 Dellen Millard and Mark Smich will appear via video in Hamilton for the Tim Bosma Murder. Millard’s girlfriend, Christina Noudga, charged as an accessory after the fact, is also scheduled to make a video appearance.

August 8 Matthew Ward-Jackson trial for drug possession with intent to traffic begins in Toronto court. His lawyer for the case is Deepak Paradkar, who is defending Dellen Millard on all three of the murder charges against him.

Keep up to date on the Dellen Millard legal proceedings and investigations. Receive my newsletter. Just add your email address below:


Matthew Ward-Jackson: Believed to have sold Dellen Millard the gun used to kill his father, Wayne Millard

Matthew Ward-Jackson

Matthew Ward-Jackson, not as he appeared in Toronto court via video earlier today

Full story tomorrow. Here’s some background in the meantime.

Update June 10: My story is now up at the National Post. The first two paragraphs are below and here’s another photo of Matthew Ward-Jackson.

Do you see the man with the blacked-out eye in the top righthand corner?

Do you see the man with the blacked-out eye in the top lefthand corner?

The active social media life of a man believed to have sold a gun to accused triple murderer Dellen Millard has added another layer of mystery to what was already a bizarre case.

Matthew Ward-Jackson, charged with weapons trafficking in April, has almost no web presence  under his own name. Instead, the 27-year old with a tattooed face and body uses  the online aliases @Krucifix14, Krucifix North and @BIGiisho to document his life as an aspiring gangsta-style rapper. Instagram photos, YouTube videos and Facebook posts show him pouring champagne over women’s thong-clad backsides, literally throwing money around, driving classic cars and, more incongruously, taking bubble baths in a heart-shaped red tub.

Read the whole thing at the Post.

Keep up to date on the Dellen Millard investigations. Receive my newsletter. Just add your email address below: