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When a twisted life imitates twisted art

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The Devil's Cinema

The Untold Story Behind Mark Twitchell's Kill Room

By Steve Lillebuen

McClelland & Stewart, 338 pages, $30

In October 2008 a murder investigation in Edmonton made headlines around the world, not because of the severity of the crime, but because of its strange link to the controversial hit television series Dexter.

Based on a series of novels by Jeff Lindsay, Dexter follows its titular antihero through his double life as a blood-spatter analyst with the Miami police by day and serial killer by night.

The series was a huge influence on aspiring filmmaker Mark Twitchell, who was convicted of first degree murder in 2011 for killing 38-year-old Johnny Altinger.

Parts of his crime appeared to mirror methods used in the series and he quickly he became known in the media as the "Dexter Killer."

The Devil's Cinema, the first book from Edmonton journalist Steve Lillebuen, 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.

Also included are excerpts from a document found on Twitchell's computer that was used as a major piece of evidence against him. The only slightly fictionalized document, called S.K. Confessions, begins with these chilling words from Twitchell: "This is the story of my progression into becoming a serial killer."

Thankfully, he managed to claim only one victim.

On Oct. 10, 2008, Altinger went missing after going to his first date with a woman he met on the singles website plentyoffish.com. He was never seen again, but according to emails and Facebook status updates he was on an extended holiday in Costa Rica with this new mysterious girlfriend.

Meanwhile Twitchell had just completed filming a low-budget film about a serial killer who targets men who meet women on dating sites, and gets away with his crimes by updating his victims' email and Facebook accounts.

Twitchell's fiction was clearly not far off from his twisted reality.

A year earlier, the soon-to-be killer seemed to have a lot going for him. The 30-year-old had recently married and was a new father. A creative sci-fi enthusiast, he had won $6,000 for one of his elaborate Halloween costume creations. And his Star Wars fan film was gaining media attention, helping him to raise more than $30,000 from private investors to produce a feature film.

A longtime Star Wars fan, the Internet-savvy Twitchell was known in online fan communities by handles like "Achilles of Edmonton" and "Psycho Jedi."

But when his obsessions turned to Dexter, he assumed another online identity, creating a Facebook profile for the fictional serial killer, writing chilling status updates like "Dexter is patiently waiting for his next victi... uh, play date buddy" -- with his followers having no idea how true the posts really were.

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.

Alan MacKenzie is a Winnipeg-based writer and editor.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 31, 2012 J2

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