Suspect charged with murder in disappearance of 2 men from Toronto's gay village
Toronto police have arrested and charged a suspect in the deaths of two men who went missing last spring near the city’s gay village. And, while police have yet to locate any bodies, investigators believe there could be more victims.
Bruce McArthur, 66, described as a self-employed landscaper who frequented the village, is charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Selim Esen and Andrew Kinsman.
"We believe he is responsible for the deaths of Mr. Esen and Mr. Kinsmen, and we believe he is responsible for the deaths of other men who have yet to be identified," Det-Sgt. Hank Idsinga of the homicide squad said at a press conference Thursday.
The announcement comes after police previously dismissed fears that a serial killer was targeting members of Toronto’s gay community.
Esen and Kinsman’s bodies have not been found, but Idsinga said investigators have “a pretty good idea” of how they died.
Police did not say how many more victims could be linked to the case. However, police have known about McArthur and investigated him for “several months,” Idsinga said.
Idsinga said police were able to uncover evidence on Wednesday that allowed them to move quickly and make the arrest. They gave few details about that evidence but they say they are currently searching five properties in the Toronto area as part of their investigation.
Esen, 44, was last seen in mid-April while Kinsman, 49, was last seen in late June, prompting some in the Church-Wellesley Village to raise concerns that a serial killer might be responsible, particularly since three other men from the area have also gone missing from the area since 2010.
Among the other missing men are Skandaraj “Skanda” Navaratnam, 43, Abdulbasir “Basir” Faizi, 44, and Majeed “Hamid” Kayhan, 58.
“We are aware of the other missing men from the village, and we’re trying to identify whether they have become victim to Mr. McArthur as well,” Idsinga said at the press conference.
Police are still investigating McArthur’s relationship to the men, but say it was “sexual” in nature, noting that he was a user of dating apps.
Police refused to say which dating app was used.
McArthur had a relationship with Kinsman for “some time,” Idsinga said, but said police still don’t know how McArthur may have known Esen.
“Whether he had just met him that day or whether he had known him for some time, we just don’t know that yet,” Idsinga said.
Even without finding human remains, Idsinga said the body of evidence was strong enough to lay murder charges.
“I’m well aware of the difficulty of prosecuting people without recovering the bodies, but in this case we believe we have strong enough evidence that we can do exactly that,” he said.
Asked whether police consider McArthur an alleged serial killer, Idsinga said police don’t make that distinction.
“It’s a media definition for serial killer. I’m telling you he has killed at least two people that we know of, and we believe there are more victims. So whether you want to attach that label or not, that’s up to you,” he said.
A serial murder, according to the FBI, is “the unlawful killing of two or more victims by the same offender(s), in separate events.”
At a press conference in December, Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders disputed the suggestion that a serial killer was behind a series of deaths and missing persons cases.
At Thursday’s press conference, Saunders defended those comments, saying they were appropriate at the time.
“In policing, what we do is we follow the evidence. And what I said at the time that I said was accurate at that time,” Saunders said at the Thursday press conference.
He added that the investigation was given a “greater focus” due to the Church-Wellesley community “continually talking to us and making us aware” of the situation.
Saunders said that the investigation has “just begun” and called on anyone with information, no matter how small, to come forward to police.
Police did not release a photograph of the suspect, Idsinga said, in order to protect the integrity of witness statements or other information.
Police denied link last month
Former Toronto homicide detective Mark Mendelson said the case is a good example of what happens when police and the public “work together.”
However, he said some major questions – such as where the bodies are and what evidence led police to make the arrest – have yet to be answered.
Police have not dismissed the possibility that McArthur could be linked to the deaths of other men from the city’s gay community. Asked whether a serial killer could be behind the deaths, Mendelson said police wouldn’t have “haphazardly” suggested that there are other victims.
“They’re building a much bigger picture now,” Mendelson said. “Clearly there is some information that is leading them to believe that there are more victims out there, or they wouldn’t have said that.”
Mendelson said that, in all his years in policing, he hasn’t seen a case quite like this – particularly considering the LGBT community’s early outcry.
“I think this is pretty unique in terms of this being one specific community, a community that has taken the position from the beginning that these were related. And until the evidence identified that as being true, they were dealing with them as separate disappearances.”
Some members of the LGBT community expressed outrage with police over the investigation. Notices for the missing men were posted throughout the village for months, and many were angered that police were not investigating the possibility that the cases were linked earlier.
Just last month, investigators said they did not believe the disappearances of Esen and Kinsman were linked.
Mendelson said that, in a city the size of Toronto, it’s important to remember that “hundreds of people go missing every week.”
“Whether they were hasty at the beginning in sort of dissecting the two and saying they’re not related, that’s something that can be discussed down the road. But certainly something happened in the form of evidence or information that quickly led the police to believe that they are connected.”
Mendelson added that he expects more charges will be laid.
Last December, police said Esen and Kinsman had been active on online dating apps prior to their disappearances. They warned users of apps, such as Tinder or Grindr, to make safety top-of-mind at all times when using such apps.
They suggested meeting dates in a safe space and informing others of meet-up plans.
Despite the charges and what police suggest, none of the allegations have been proven in court.
'Validation' for LGBT community’s concerns
Following the charges, members of the LGBT community expressed a mix of sadness and relief.
Ted Healey, Kinsman’s former roommate, helped organize search efforts when his friend went missing last spring. News of the arrest has left him feeling “happy, angry (and) upset.”
“I’m glad this is starting to end,” Healey told CTV Toronto. “If there are other people affected by this gentleman, I’d just like to say I feel for them. I really do.”
The 519, a community centre that serves Toronto’s LGBT community, issued a statement expressing its grief over the loss of Kinsman and Esen.
“It is a tragic day for the LGBTQ community, our neighbourhood, and the city,” the statement read.
“The concerns and profound impact of systemic homophobia, transphobia and racism are unfortunately not new. We will be working with our partners not only to support our communities but also to collectively advocate for our rights to safety, dignity and justice, especially for the most marginalized and vulnerable.”
The centre said it plans to hold an event to memorialize the two men.
Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, the city’s first openly lesbian member of council, said the arrest brings “validation” to the community that raised concerns about the disappearances long ago.
“It was actually largely because of the community that raised their voice and said, please give us policing that works and please come and talk with us and are you doing enough. So in many ways, it’s happy news.”
Wong-Tam said it’s important to note that police “have done their work.”
“For now I think we can once again say that the Church and Wellesley neighbourhood is a safe place,” she said.
Helen Kennedy, executive director of the LGBTQ advocacy group Egale, said the community was “very, very nervous,” and the news brings a sense of relief.
“Two gay men went missing and the circumstances around their disappearances were very suspect and so people were speculating about what had happened to these two guys," she said.
"I think that we had every right to be afraid and nervous, but at the same time, the police need time to do their work.”