Bruce McArthur entered the same plea in the murders of eight men: GUILTY
THE VICTIMS Majeed Kayhan, 58 Soroush Mahmudi, 50 Dean Lisowick, 47 Selim Esen, 44 Andrew Kinsman, 49 Skandaraj (Skanda) Navaratnam, 40 Kirushnakumar Kanagaratnam, 37 Abdulbasir Faizi, 42
Packed court hears grim details of killer’s pattern of holding on to victims’ mementos
The bracelet worn by the first man he killed. Jewelry belonging to another victim. The notebook kept by yet another.
Serial killer Bruce McArthur held on to items that belonged to men who, one by one, began to go missing from Toronto’s Gay Village — victims whose lives McArthur admitted he ended in a murderous spree that began nearly a decade ago.
“Guilty,” McArthur uttered eight times in Ontario Superior Court Tuesday, once for each count of first-degree murder he faced in deaths ranging from 2010 to late 2017.
McArthur, 67, frail and expressionless, stood as the names of his victims were read out into a downtown Toronto courtroom, tense and packed with grieving family and friends, members of Toronto’s LGBTQ community, and Toronto police investigators who first narrowed in on the self-employed landscaper and grandfather in late 2017.
Those officers located the victims’ belongings when they entered his Thorncliffe Park apartment just over a year ago, their discovery part of the revelations contained in a brief summary of evidence Crown prosecutor Michael Cantlon read out in court.
Also found by police was a clue in the calendar belonging to McArthur’s final victim, Andrew Kinsman. Written on June 26, 2017, the day Kinsman went missing: “Bruce.”
Entered before Justice John McMahon Tuesday morning, McArthur’s guilty plea is the beginning of the end of a disturbing and unprecedented case that unfolded amid a sprawling investi- gation that brought praise and criticism to Toronto police.
“We unfortunately can never bring these men back.
“But I’m hoping that we can start bringing some closure to the families and to the community,” Toronto police Det. David Dickinson, who led the investigation that culminated in McArthur’s arrest, told reporters outside court Tuesday.
Emphasizing the role victims’ families and friends played in identifying McArthur as the killer — and the traumatic toll of the investigation on everyone involved — Dickinson called the plea “the best possible outcome,” avoiding a lengthy trial.
“We did this because we wanted answers too and I hope we brought some closure,” Dickinson said of the investigation.
But why McArthur committed his crimes may always be among the unanswered questions.
“I don’t know if we’ll ever know why,” Dickinson said.
Although the new evidence presented in court Tuesday was limited — a more fulsome set of facts will be read out at sentencing submissions beginning next week — Cantlon revealed that six of the eight killings were sexual in nature. Some of the deaths involved a ligature and confinement, as well as “staging,” which was not defined in court but is generally understood to involve a body being posed after a killing.
Serial killers will sometimes pose and photograph victims to “deliberately shock” investigators and the public, but also for their own gratification, said Jooyoung Lee, a sociology professor at the University of Toronto who teaches a course on serial killers.
“There’s usually some kind of perverse satisfaction in humiliating a person’s memory by manipulating their body in that kind of way,” he said.
He added it is common for organized serial killers to take a memento or souvenir from their victims, as McArthur did.
“They enjoy the memory and they relive the memory and it feeds this fantasy life that’s quickly spiralling out of control,” he said. “It’s something they can refer to and go back to in the interim between different kills.”
After the murders, McArthur dismembered the bodies “to avoid detection,” Cantlon said, disposing of body parts at a picturesque Leaside home where McArthur had worked as a gardener.
Police also found a duffel bag belonging to McArthur that contained duct tape, a surgical glove, zip ties, a black bungie cord and syringes, court heard.
McArthur admitted to killing: Kinsman, 49; Selim Esen, 44; Majeed Kayhan, 58; Soroush Mahmudi, 50; Dean Lisowick, 47; Skandara j (Skanda) Navaratnam, 40, Abdulbasir Faizi, 42, and Kirushnakumar Kanagaratnam, 37. Many of the victims had ties to the Gay Village and were of South Asian or Middle Eastern descent.
Prior to his arrest, McArthur was known as a skilled landscaper who had a wife and two children before coming out as gay and moving to Toronto from Oshawa. Reached by the Star shortly after the plea was delivered, McArthur’s sister Sandra Burton said she had no comment.
First-degree murder carries an automatic life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years. A concurrent sentence would see McArthur first become eligible for parole at 25 years; a consecutive sentence could push his eligibility far into the future.
Next week’s proceedings, expected to last three days, will also include at least two dozen victim impact statements.
Accepting the plea after ensuring McArthur understood what he was doing, McMahon called the case “a terrible tragedy.” The judge told the court that the only issue to be decided at McArthur’s sentencing is whether his parole ineligibility period will run concurrently or consecutively.
Either way, it’s unlikely McArthur will ever be released from prison, according to one criminal defence lawyer.
“Someone who is found guilty of multiple murders is never likely to be released into the community, regardless of what
the parole ineligibility is set at,” said criminal defence lawyer Daniel Brown, who is not involved in the case.
“Certainly his age could be a factor in deciding whether or not he’s a continuing risk to the community if released, but the gruesome nature of the crimes and the number of homicides alone will likely keep him behind bars for the rest of his life.”
McArthur was 58 at the time of his first murder in 2010 — an anomaly among serial killers, who are typically much younger men.
Before his arrest, McArthur had one prior conviction for a 2001 assault on a male sex worker in the Gay Village, striking him with a metal pipe. McArthur turned himself in and pleaded guilty to assault with a weapon and assault causing bodily harm.
At the outset of the 2017 police investigation into McArthur, scores of officers were brought in from police services across Ontario to search properties across the Greater Toronto Area, many owned by clients of Artistic Design, McArthur’s landscaping company.
Police quickly narrowed in on just one property, a residence at 53 Mallory Cres., where they discovered dismembered, skeletal human remains buried in- side large planters and in a forested ravine immediately behind the Leaside home.
Karen Fraser, who lives in the Mallory Cres. house, told reporters after Tuesday’s court appearance that “surreal” is the best word to describe the past year. The man she saw shackled in court Tuesday morning was not the same person who tended her garden and stored tools in her garage in a years-long arrangement, she said.
“I’m not big on forgiveness and I’m not big on closure. Terrible things were done,” she told reporters.
Before his arrest last January, McArthur was a familiar face in Toronto’s Church and Wellesley area, known as the Gay Village. He was registered on male dating sites, posting on one that he enjoyed finding a guy’s “buttons and then pushing them to your limits.”
His arrest followed long-held suspicion within Toronto’s Gay Village that a serial killer had been preying on their community, concerns denied by Toronto police up until weeks before McArthur was charged. Many within the LGBTQ community and beyond have raised concerns that the succession of missing people from the Gay Village was not sufficiently investigated.
After the disappearances of McArthur’s first three victims — Navaratnam, Faizi and Kayhan — Toronto police launched a probe called Project Houston in 2012. McArthur was questioned by police around the time of this probe, police sources told the Star, but the initiative ended in 2014, with no arrests.
Mounting questions about police handling of the case led to calls for a public inquir y, prompting the Toronto police board to last year bring on former Ontario Court of Appeal Justice Gloria Epstein to lead an independent review examining Toronto police’s handling of missing person’s cases.
Stressing that the detectives in the case did an “amazing job,” Haran Vijayanathan, the executive director of community group Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention, said police nonetheless need to examine how McArthur was able to quietly kill men undetected for so long.
“Why did it take 10 years? I think the challenge still remains for me, how do front-line officers get the supports that they need to do their job better so that we find people sooner rather than later,” he told reporters outside court.
Candace Shaw, a neighbour and friend of Kinsman, said police have “some soul searching to do” about how they approach missing persons cases and interact with members of the LGBTQ community, who had long-standing concerns about a possible serial killer. Reached at home Monday before McArthur’s court appearance, Mahmudi’s wife, Fareena Marezook, said she was hoping for a plea, which would put an end to a horrific ordeal she’s lived through this past year.
“I feel really weak. I’m not sleeping and I get sick,” she said.
Lou Locke, Faizi’s former boss at a Mississauga industrial printing company, said seeing Faizi’s picture on the news was a “sad reminder of what happened to our friend.” He described McArthur’s guilty plea as the “appropriate response.”
“It’s been hard enough on the families,” he said.
“Justice is being served,” said Jean-Guy Cloutier, a friend of Navaratnam. “It still doesn’t bring Skanda back though.”
Toronto police will continue to probe historic murders looking for any connection to McArthur, who grew up on a farm in small-town Ontario and, in the late 1970s, worked alone as a travelling salesman — but no links have been announced by police.
Asked if there is an end in sight to the McArthur investigation, and the ongoing review of cold cases, Dickinson was uncertain. “Maybe one day down the road. But it’s not ending any time soon.”
Bruce McArthur is shown at Tuesday’s hearing, where he pleaded guilty to eight charges of first-degree murder.
Karen Fraser said the man she saw in court Tuesday was not the same person who looked after her gardens over the years.
Lead investigator Det. David Dickinson called the plea, which avoided a lengthy trial, “the best possible outcome.”