When I saw the yellow crime scene tape blocking off an alley as police searched a dumpster, my first thought was: ‘Not again.’ Poor Altadore. First five-year-old Kimmie Thompson was snatched off a street, drowned and thrown away in a snowy garbage can in 1980.
Then, in 1999, gambling addict Deb Point gruesomly dismembered roommate Audrey Trudeau, storing body parts in boxes in a garage for five months.
Now, a dismembered arm had been found tossed in a dumpster, discovered by a neighbourhood bottle picker. He was traumatized, and my attempts at getting his story weren’t working. For months, whenever I spotted him pushing his shopping cart, I pulled over and tried to coax it from him. I went on rounds with him a few times, and over coffee and root beer, he gave me bits and pieces of his life story. He didn’t reveal much, but it was enough detail that I could verify it.
The day the verdict came down, I knew it was my last chance to tell David Horsman’s story. I drove like a lunatic, sliding on snowy streets before my shift began. Just as I was about to throw in the towel, I caught him from the corner of my eye pushing his ridiculously overloaded cart six blocks away. He is my favourite unlikely hero.
Colleen De Neve, Calgary Herald
Bottle picker’s find cracked murder case: Body part found in trash was key clue
Saturday, February 17, 2007
Calgary Herald ©
After killing his best friend, Dean Aaron Commanda went to unimaginable lengths to cover up his crime.
He carved up the corpse.
He tore up blood-soaked carpet and baseboards.
He set fire to his own car.
He thought he was going to get away with murder.
Commanda’s coverup was foiled by a 44-year-old bottle picker who helped bring Chad Largy‘s killer to justice.
“If he wasn’t there, I still wouldn’t know my brother was murdered. This whole year, we would have thought that he just vanished,” says Largy‘s sister, Miranda Harris. “Dean would have got away from it fully.”
Harris has never met David Horsman, the homeless man who found her 22-year-old brother’s severed arm in an Altadore garbage container Jan. 20, 2006. The discovery launched an immediate homicide investigation. The rest of Largy‘s dismembered body, believed to be buried in Calgary landfills, has never been found.
“It’s awkward, but I owe him a thank you. He helped a lot. If it wasn’t for him — who knows — this year would have been a lot different,” said Harris, 19.
Commanda, 22, was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 10 years in prison Tuesday. Commanda told police he was defending himself when Largy grabbed a knife and wanted to fight. If true, Largy died starting a fight his best friend finished. The deadly, boozy battle over girls began in Commanda’s Bankview condominium on Jan. 19, 2006. It ended with Largy‘s body gruesomely hacked to pieces, tossed like trash into various city garbage bins.
But Commanda didn’t count on a series of events that would lead a homeless man to the evidence. It was the right kind of body part to find — police identified Largy‘s remains through fingerprints on record and by his tattoo. During one of Horsman’s back alley treasure hunts, he reached into a bin and grabbed a human arm instead of a bottle. His blood ran cold when he saw the gory contents of the black plastic bag, he said. Horsman signalled to a man on a cellphone sitting in an SUV.
“I didn’t even think twice. I just told him, ‘There’s an arm in that Dumpster.’ End of story,” Horsman told the Herald.
The entire exchange — from discovery to reporting to police — took less than five minutes. But in that time, Horsman made a world of difference by breaking a cardinal street rule to mind your own business.
“I did my part as a human being. There’s a family missing a member. You have a duty. You can’t just walk away,” he said.
Horsman has been floating on Calgary streets for a half-dozen years. Born in Nova Scotia, he grew up in Ontario group homes. He did some jail time, tried his luck in B.C. and ended up in Alberta. He may be jobless, but he has a strong work ethic. Most days, Horsman works a labyrinthine circuit with a shopping cart in Bankview, Marda Loop and Altadore.
A bit scrawny and bedraggled under his baseball cap, he uses brute force to push his ridiculously overloaded rig with bags hanging like balloons from the side.
He earns between $40 and $80 a day, thanks in part to his regular customers who leave him their bottles. For weeks after the discovery, he was too spooked to return to the 34th Avenue and 14A Street S.W. alley. Horsman was terrified the guilty party would want him dead, he said. But the garbage bin Horsman searched wasn’t the first place body parts were hidden. Hours after killing Largy on Jan. 19, 2006, Commanda threw his best friend’s arms into a different Altadore garbage bin just a few blocks away. Another bottle picker found the bag that night, thinking it contained deer legs. He carried it a few blocks, opened it under a street light and saw a human arm. He dumped it in the first bin he could find. Horsman found it the next morning.
Leading police to evidence for a homicide case has done little to change Horsman’s life. Last April, his 80-year-old mother was killed in a Hamilton, Ont., house fire that also claimed his 14-year-old nephew. He couldn’t afford to go home for the funerals.
When homicide detectives used a warrant to search Commanda’s condo 11 days after the killing and dismemberment, they found their suspect’s belongings packed and ready to go. They also found several bottles of cleaning supplies. But for all of his obvious bathroom bleaching and vigorous grout scrubbing, Commanda missed a spot. On the side of the toilet bowl, crime scene investigators found a drop of Largy‘s blood. That evidence gave homicide detectives proof that Largy had spent his last moments alive in his friend’s home.
The night before the fatal fight, the two had dinner out and drank into the early-morning hours at Cowboys nightclub. Commanda left the bar with two women after midnight. Largy showed up at his friend’s condo around 2:30 a.m., arriving drunk and angry at being left behind. According to court documents, Commanda’s version of the story paints Largy as the aggressor who yelled at him to call and get the women back. Largy punched his friend. The fight was on. Largy grabbed for a knife. Commanda says he was defending himself and did the same. Largy died in the struggle. In the hours that followed, Commanda began the savage task of dismembering his dead friend.
On Jan. 20, 2006, Commanda rented a U-Haul truck shortly after television news reported police were investigating human remains found in a southwest Dumpster. He drove the truck to a Springbank field and burned butcher knives, a hacksaw and Largy‘s cellphone. He also set the rental truck on fire. Then he drove his own car east of Calgary, removed the licence plate and set it on fire, too.
Commanda went to great lengths covering his tracks, but the evidence found by Horsman sunk his chances of getting away with the crime.
“If it wasn’t for him passing on this information, I’m not sure what would have happened,” said former homicide detective Cliff O’Brien, who was the lead investigator on the case.