Serial-killer capital of the world? A look at London, Ont.'s dark history
The London, Ont. skyline is seen in this undated photo. (Tourism London)
Fan-Yee Suen, CTVNews.ca
Published Monday, March 10, 2014 9:49AM EDT
Last Updated Monday, March 10, 2014 10:10AM EDT
Known as the "Forest City," London, Ont., is a typical Canadian community in many ways.
Located approximately two hours southwest of Toronto, the city is home to a major university and has a thriving medical research community. But underneath the ho-hum description, there lies a dark history unknown to many people.
In a new book that is expected to be published later this year, Western University criminology professor Michael Arntfield says London may have had up to six serial killers operating all at the same time, from 1960 to 1985.
Based on that disturbing number and London's total population of 200,000 at the time, Arntfield says the city was once considered the serial-killer capital of the world.
"No other city in the world, including Los Angeles, at any point in history has had so many at once," Arntfield, who is also a veteran police officer with more than 15 years of experience in the field, told CTVNews.ca. Arntfield earned his PhD from Western University.
In their book, Arntfield and his co-author Lee Mellor, write that police in London investigated 32 homicides that may have been committed by serial killers during that 25-year period.
"They all involved grotesque mutilations," Arntfield said, adding that the victims, many of whom were teens and children, were considered "true innocents."
"This history is not something you put on the sign when you come into town or the tourist brochures," Arntfield said. "Families of these victims say, back in that time, you did not walk the streets at night in London."
Of the 32 victims, 13 were linked to three serial killers: Gerald Thomas Archer, who targeted female hotel workers; Russell Johnson, who was known to scale balconies; and Christian Magee, dubbed the "mad slasher."
Arntfield said both Johnson and Magee were sent to a maximum security forensic mental health facility in Penetanguishene, Ont., where they remain. Archer was convicted of one murder and was paroled in 1985. He died in 1995. According to Arntfield, Archer’s wife later came forward and implicated her late-husband in other London "chambermaid murders."
Arntfield said the remaining 19 cold cases could be grouped into three categories based on "signatures" that investigators found at the time.
In the world of criminology, Arntfield says signatures are what differentiate a serial killer from a "standard killer." They serve as a perpetrator’s calling card or unique personal stamp that can be found at a crime scene.
In the pending book, Arntfield and Mellor also examine the reason for London's high number of serial killers per capita.
Arntfield says the city's proximity to the highways, its stratified social class at the time, and the fact that it was culturally isolated from larger urban centres may have all been factors making the city conducive to such criminals.
"(London) had a social ecology of a frontier town," he says.
Arntfield's book is tentatively titled "Murder City: A social history of the world's capital of serial homicides."
He currently stars in a new real-life crime series called "To Catch a Killer," which was inspired by his work at Western University. In the eight-part documentary, Arntfield leads a team of tech-savvy civilians as they try to solve cold cases.