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Court hears how police caught serial killer Bruce McArthur
WARNING: This story contains graphic details that some readers may find disturbing.
TORONTO -- It wasn’t until Bruce McArthur targeted Andrew Kinsman in June 2017 that police caught onto his killing spree -- and even then, court heard Monday, it took the combination of surveillance video and a one-word calendar entry for them to do so.
The Toronto man seems to have chosen his first seven victims very carefully. They were all men without a lot of local family ties or close relationships outside Toronto’s LGBTQ community. None of them were particularly well-connected in the city.
Kinsman was different. He was well-known both for his tireless volunteer work with the Toronto HIV/AIDS Network and for being the superintendent of his building, where he tried to create a sense of community while also growing the building’s reputation in the community.
When Kinsman disappeared, the grief was widespread and the reaction was swift, launching a months-long effort to track him down.
Meanwhile, Toronto police -- who had been accused of ignoring fears that a serial killer was stalking the LGBTQ community -- soon found the first piece of evidence that would lead them to the murderer they didn’t know existed.
Monday was the first day of McArthur’s sentencing hearing. It was revealed that the Crown does not have any evidence suggesting McArthur committed any murders beyond the eight to which he has admitted.
Court heard the most detailed public explanation yet of how the police investigation into the murders unfolded. It was clear that all the evidence linking McArthur to his first seven victims stemmed from things police learned while investigating his ties to Kinsman’s death
Crown prosecutor Michael Cantlon read from an agreed statement of facts, which outlined the evidence against McArthur and which is not disputed by him.
“For years, members of the LGBTQ community in Toronto believed they were being targeted by a killer,” he said.
“They were right.”
How the case come together
As Cantlon explained it, police caught their break when they combined two key pieces of evidence: an entry in Kinsman’s calendar for the day he disappeared reading “Bruce,” and surveillance video showing a man who looked like Kinsman getting into a red Dodge Caravan outside his home.
Police were able to narrow down the age and exact model of the Caravan in question. Searching a vehicle registration database, they found that only five Caravans in the Toronto area matching the one in the video were owned by someone named Bruce.
McArthur’s name was one of the five. Because he had attracted police attention in 2016 for choking a man who escaped, he became a person of interest.
Officers were able to locate McArthur’s Caravan at a home connected to him in Bowmanville, Ont. A few weeks later, it was gone -- having been moved to a wrecking yard out-of-town. McArthur had replaced it with a much newer Caravan.
Forensic examination of the old Caravan led to what Cantlon called an “investigative breakthrough” -- DNA belonging to Kinsman.
From there, police were able to get a warrant to search McArthur’s home. They made copies of his hard drive and a USB drive, which would turn out to be a key part of their investigation.
The USB drive contained eight subfolders full of pictures of each of McArthur’s victims. Many of the subfolders were labelled with names or known nicknames of his victims, but some had more generic names such as “Folder 03” or “Turkish Guy.”
Some of the photos were profile pictures or other images of the men while they were alive. Others appeared to have been taken after they had been killed; McArthur “staged” the bodies in his bed so that they were naked and wearing a fur coat, with rope around their neck and an unlit cigar in their mouth.
A fur coat, likely the same one, was found by police in a hidden compartment in McArthur’s van. Similar rope was in a duffel bag in his bedroom, along with duct tape, syringes and a surgical glove.
A man who escaped McArthur in 2016 told police that McArthur had asked him to lie down on a fur coat in the back of his van.
Police were able to determine that McArthur had looked at many of the photos on the USB drive months or even years after he killed the men. There was also evidence, Cantlon said, that he tried to delete the images.
There was also a ninth subfolder on the drive, named “John.” John is the name used by a man who was found tied to McArthur’s bed when police -- suspecting McArthur of multiple murders and aware he had a male visitor -- moved in and arrested him. John told police that McArthur had put a leather bag over his head and was attempting to tape his mouth shut when police entered the home.
The remains of all eight men were found at a property on Mallory Crescent in Toronto where McArthur worked as a landscaper. A large portion of the remains were found in large planters, with evidence suggesting some of them had been moved between planters after their initial burial. More remains were found in a ravine area on the same property.
Cantlon noted that McArthur had “extensive and private access” to the property, which he maintained for over a decade. Some of his victims had done landscaping work with him at the home.
Fears in the community
Court heard a series of victim and community impact statements Monday, describing the effects McArthur’s crimes had on his friends and relatives as well as Toronto’s LGBTQ community.
The majority of the statements came from people who knew Kinsman well, reinforcing that McArthur’s other victims did not have similar social networks in the city.
Two of Kinsman’s sisters spoke, noting that the family kept paying Kinsman’s bills from his disappearance until McArthur’s arrest, because up until that point they believed he might still be alive.
Edward Healy, a friend of Kinsman, said he didn’t understand how McArthur could have decided to kill someone he knew.
“I know that he knows what kind of person Andrew was,” he said.
“He knows what he took away from me, from all of Andrew’s friends and family.”
Robin LeBlanc, who lived below Kinsman, said his death had made Toronto seem “darker and more terrifying.”
Other speakers revealed the toll the killings has taken on Toronto’s LGBTQ community, with some people choosing to leave the city and many of those who remain feeling afraid and untrusting.
“I think it is impossible to overstate the impact these murders have had on Toronto’s queer community,” said Rev. Deana Dudley from the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto.
McArthur unexpectedly pleaded guilty last week to eight counts of first-degree murder.
In addition to Kinsman, he admitted to killing Skandaraj Navaratnam and Abdulbasir Faizi in 2010, Majeed Kayhan in 2012, Soroush Mahmudi in 2015, Kirushna Kanagaratnam and Dean Lisowick in 2016, and Selim Esen in 2017.
Kanagaratnam was particularly difficult for police to identify, as he had never been reported missing. He had skipped a deportation hearing and his friends believed he was in hiding.
Lisowick, who had been living in the streets of Toronto for decades, was also never reported missing to police.
Each conviction carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison, with no ability to apply for parole for 25 years.
The only issue for Justice John McMahon to determine is whether the sentences will be served concurrently, in which case McArthur would be able to seek parole after 25 years, or consecutively, in which case parole eligibility would be set at 200 years.
McArthur, 67, was wearing a black sweater over a plaid shirt during Monday’s hearing. He appeared to be paying attention to the proceedings, often looking at whoever was speaking, but did not react in any way that was visible to the gallery. He kept his head down every time he was escorted past the gallery on the way to or from his seat.
Three days have been set aside for the sentencing hearing. It will continue Tuesday with the final community and victim impact statements.
Recap of reporter live blog from Ontario Superior Court. Can't see the feed below? Click here for the mobile version.