Toronto police searching basement of home connected to alleged serial killer
Ben Cousins, CTVNews.ca Staff
Published Wednesday, January 31, 2018 1:42PM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, January 31, 2018 5:27PM EST
While officers are searching through the basement of a property where it's believed an alleged serial killer stored his landscaping equipment, Toronto’s police chief is defending criticism with how his agency handled the case.
Bruce McArthur has been charged with five counts of first-degree murder connected to the cases of missing men in Toronto’s Church-Wellesley Village.
Police were seen bringing gas tanks to the backyard of the home. The gas was being used to thaw the ground so investigators can begin digging around the property. Officers are also using ground-penetrating radar equipment provided by the Ontario Provincial Police to search for evidence.
Det-Sgt. Hank Idsinga told reporters on Wednesday he hopes officers can begin excavating the property by the end of the week or early next week.
“We’ve identified some areas where the earth has been disturbed, so we’re going to be looking in those areas,” he said. “We are looking at areas in the backyard that the canine units have indicated to us.”
Idsinga said the digging is done by a forensic anthropologist “essentially by hand." He estimated investigators will remain at the property on Mallory Crescent for at least a week-and-a-half.
Officers have already found planters containing skeletal remains on the property. On Wednesday, officers seized about a dozen more planters from other properties connected to McArthur’s landscaping business. Many of the planters still need to be examined. So far, the remains of at least three individuals were found inside two of the planters.
Idsinga said it could take months for the remains to be identified by DNA.
Officers are also continuing to search McArthur’s apartment and will be there “for quite some time,” Idsinga added.
The search for evidence has broadened to over 30 locations as more information from the public is brought to light.
Idsinga said police are now acting on tips from international travellers who visited Toronto.
“We are getting tips from around the world,” he said. “We have had people that have come to Toronto in the past, and they have called us and passed on some information that we are following up on.”
Police chief responds to criticism surrounding investigation
While officers continue to piece together the alleged murders, Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders is defending how his agency has handled the investigation to date. The police have come under fire from members of the public who believe concerns over the possibility of a serial killer in the area were not listened to for years.
Saunders said during an interview with CP24 on Tuesday that he’s asked for a review to see how the how investigations into missing persons cases can be improved.
“I’m proud of the work that the officers did and I’m proud of the fact that the community did help us out in this,” he said.
“I’m not going to say (the response) was lacklustre, I will say there are opportunities for us to learn as an agency and as a community and I think we need to have that sit down and figure out what can be done.”
But Nicki Ward, director of the Church-Wellesley Neighbourhood Association, said people in the community raised their concerns to police as far back as 2010 and the response did not meet expectations.
“There was no response,” Ward told Your Morning on Wednesday. “There was denial that there was missing people, there was denial there was an issue, there was denial there was a connection.”
“I don’t think this is an LGBT issue, I think this is a Toronto issue.”
In 2012, officers launched Project Houston, to investigate the cases of missing men in the area, but after 18-months, the program failed to yield a lead.
In August 2017, the Toronto police set up another task force, Project Prism, which began in part due to the public outcry from the disappearances of two men-- Andrew Kinsman and Salim Esen. In December, Saunders said publicly the evidence at the time led police to believe the disappearances were not a result of murders or a serial killer.
"If I don’t have evidence, I’m not walking into a courtroom,” Saunders said on Tuesday. “It doesn’t work that way."
About a month later, McArthur, 66, was charged for the murders of Kinsman and Esen. Earlier this week, McArthur was charged with the murders of three more men, including Majeed Kayhan, one of the missing men identified in the original task force, Project Houston.
Idsinga said conversations he has had with residents of the Church-Wellesley neighbourhood suggest fears are subsiding as the investigation into McArthur progresses.
“They are feeling a sense of relief rather than fear. We think we’ve got the right guy, and hopefully we’ve put this to rest,” he said.
Relationship between the police and the LGBTQ community
Both Ward and Saunders agreed there needs to be an open dialogue between the police and the LGBTQ community if the relationship between the two parties is to heal.
“The solution is legitimate dialogue, not political double-speak, but actual dialogue,” Ward said. “(It) involves very careful listening and action on the part of the Toronto Police Service.”
Ward said the officers on the ground in the neighbourhood are “fantastic,” but that changes need to happen among the higher-up employees within the agency.
Saunders downplayed the rift between the police and the community.
“I’m not going to say that it is fractured,” he said. “There is room for development. We have an open mind, an open door, and we are willing to talk and start those conversations to heal.”
With a report from CTV Toronto and files from CP24