‘My gut feeling was that Denver was inside’ – Detective recounts terrible discovery.

Denver Chance. Two years after his disappearance, the man accused of murdering him is on trial. Photo / SuppliedA detective says he had to stop and process just what he was seeing when he opened a freezer during the search for Denver Chance.
Chance vanished in early 2019. Police searching for the missing Auckland man that March zeroed in on Jay Christopher Lingman’s property on the city’s outskirts.
Lingman has pleaded not guilty to murdering Chance and is on trial at Auckland High Court.
Detective Senior Sergeant Callum McNeill said nobody was home when he and two colleagues visited Lingman’s property in Kingseat on March 10, 2019.
The trial heard Lingman attracted police interest the day before.
McNeill said the police walked towards a green shed near Lingman’s house.
“There was a security fence around it. I could also see CCTV cameras around the shed which I found interesting because the house had no CCTV,” McNeill said.
The detective said inside the shed was a big cool room, of the sort one might find in a commercial kitchen.
“Once inside, it was pitch black. I had to turn on a torch,” he told jurors today. “It struck me as being a clandestine-type drug lab.”
Grow lights hung from chains in the ceiling, and ventilation ducts were inside the room, McNeill said.
Worthless parts of cannabis leaf stalk were scattered about and the detective said pill presses and other common drug manufacturing items were present.
The cops started leaving the shed and McNeill followed the others.
But then, he said he noticed a white chest freezer.
“I glanced down to it and noticed there was smeared blood on the top left corner of the freezer. That sort of stopped me in my tracks,” McNeill told jurors.
“My thoughts at that time were, it was a rural environment, potentially an animal had been butchered for the meat and put in the freezer.”
But he added: “My gut feeling was that Denver was inside.”
After donning a latex glove to avoid disturbing any evidence, he lifted the freezer lid.
“It took me a few seconds for my mind to process exactly what I was looking at. But it was Denver Chance.”
McNeill said he recognised a tattoo Chance had on his left shoulder, and a chunky watch still on Chance’s wrist.
“There was obvious blood around the front of Denver’s face and what appeared to be bruising,” the detective said.
“It appeared to me he’d had some sort of trauma to the back of his head.”
“I got the impression that whoever had put him in there had placed him onto his back head first into the corner and then realised his legs were sticking out and wouldn’t fit.”
Jurors have repeatedly been told a chainsaw was used on Chance’s legs, partially severing the limbs.
The jury was shown postmortem photos.
“You will find them confronting,” Justice Melanie Harland told jurors.
Ruben Miller, an ESR forensic scientist, said waterblasting at Lingman’s property appeared to align with attempts to remove visible blood stains.
The Crown has claimed Lingman shot Chance four times just outside the front door.
Miller described how police used the chemical luminol, which reacts with very low levels of blood, to show areas of probable or possible blood.
“There seem very few areas where the probable blood exists but there’s not also waterblasting marks,” Miller said.
“It’s pretty clear that the waterblasting marks were focused on removing whatever blood was visible on the driveway originally.”
The defence has argued Lingman shot Chance in self-defence, and kept quiet about the homicide because he didn’t want police attention and had a child to look after.
The trial continues.