Toronto police on how they caught Bruce McArthur: ‘We got aggressive and thank goodness we did’

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The weather suddenly changed in early December 2017, when Toronto police investigators obtained a judge’s permission to covertly enter serial killer Bruce McArthur’s apartment — and the patterns of the self-employed landscaper naturally shifted.

Police had been surveilling McArthur for months, as a suspect in the death of Toronto man Andrew Kinsman. Detectives had established when he came and went from this Thorncliffe Park apartment, travelling to jobs around the city, often leaving at 9 a.m. and not returning until after dark.

Insp. Hank Idsinga, right, says serial killer Bruce McArthur "hid in plain sight," going undetected for years with his soft-spoken demeanour. At left is fellow lead investigator Det. David Dickinson.
Insp. Hank Idsinga, right, says serial killer Bruce McArthur « hid in plain sight, » going undetected for years with his soft-spoken demeanour. At left is fellow lead investigator Det. David Dickinson.  (Richard Lautens / Toronto Star)

Snow and cold temperatures changed everything at a crucial time in their probe.

“It made it very difficult to predict anything that he was going to do,” Det. David Dickinson, a lead investigator on the McArthur investigation, said in an interview Monday.

Nonetheless, police went ahead with a surreptitious entry on December 7, 2017, copying a USB drive, and 45 per cent of an old desktop computer hard drive before they realized McArthur was on his way back and had to pull out, after only about an hour. They didn’t know it yet, but they had what they needed.

As heard in court last week, during sentencing submissions after McArthur, 67, pleaded guilty to eight counts of first-degree murder, it was through that search that Toronto police found key evidence: photos of deceased men within the killer’s digital files.

Dickinson noted the photos had been deleted and were cached, meaning they could have been wiped by the computer at any time. It’s possible that, had police gone in a week later, “we may never have found them,” he said.

Discovered on Jan. 17, 2018 — after more than a month of police sifting through roughly 100,000 images — the photos were sufficient grounds to arrest McArthur, which they’d planned to do within a few days, after obtaining the required search warrants. In the meantime, police put McArthur under round-the-clock surveillance with the caveat that he wasn’t to be alone with anyone.

It was only 24 hours later when they had to intervene, after watching McArthur enter his apartment with a man now known only as “John” — a gay recent immigrant, like many of McArthur’s victims. Police would later find that McArthur had kept a folder of photos of each of his eight victims, before and after death, and had created a ninth for “John.”

Ontario Superior Court judge John McMahon said in his sentencing decision last week that he had “no hesitation in concluding that if it were not for the police intervention … John would have been the ninth victim of Mr. McArthur.”

Dickinson said the decision to arrest McArthur once he was seen with “John” was immediate. What followed were a “very stressful” few minutes before the arrest, including an agonizing wait for the only functioning elevator to McArthur’s 19th-floor unit.

“We knocked on his door with the intent that, should he not answer it, we were going through regardless,” Dickinson said.

Ontario Superior Court judge John McMahon said in his sentencing decision last week that he had “no hesitation in concluding that if it were not for the police intervention ... John would have been the ninth victim of Mr. McArthur.”
Ontario Superior Court judge John McMahon said in his sentencing decision last week that he had “no hesitation in concluding that if it were not for the police intervention … John would have been the ninth victim of Mr. McArthur.”  (THE CANADIAN PRESS)

McArthur, he said, did answer the door and “was surprised.”

McArthur was sentenced Friday to life in prison, with no chance of parole for 25 years, when he is 91. Court heard how a break in the case came when police were investigating Kinsman, McArthur’s final victim, who went missing in June 2017. Police found a note on Kinsman’s calendar on the day he went missing, saying “Bruce,” then used surveillance camera footage to zero in on a 2004 red Dodge Caravan.

Cross-referencing the vehicle make and model with owners named Bruce, Dickinson narrowed in on McArthur, while sifting through the records at his dining room table.

Quick to give credit to officers on the Project Prism team, Dickinson said there were times when investigators got “lucky,” including during their search for McArthur’s red van. After they identified McArthur as the owner of the van, and found it in Bowmanville at a residence connected to McArthur, it soon went missing for about two weeks.

It turned out McArthur had “junked” the van, or brought it to a wrecking yard, something Dickinson said he initially thought was suspicious, but may have just been because the van was breaking down. A natural next step in the investigation was to canvass wrecking yards, and Det.-Const. Josh McKenzie and Det.-Const. Patrick Platte soon located the van at a Courtice wrecking yard.

Unlike most wrecking yards, which quickly destroy cars, the van was mostly intact because the yard often salvages parts.

“We got lucky that it was 90 per cent intact. Finding the vehicle was a big day,” Dickinson said.

The men Bruce McArthur killed: They are, top, from left to right: Kirushnakumar Kanagaratnam, Majeed Kayhan, Skandaraj (Skanda) Navaratnam and Abdulbasir Faizi; and bottom, from left to right: Selim Esen, Soroush Mahmudi, Dean Lisowick and Andrew Kinsman.
The men Bruce McArthur killed: They are, top, from left to right: Kirushnakumar Kanagaratnam, Majeed Kayhan, Skandaraj (Skanda) Navaratnam and Abdulbasir Faizi; and bottom, from left to right: Selim Esen, Soroush Mahmudi, Dean Lisowick and Andrew Kinsman.  (Star Wire Services)

McArthur was the only one of five van owners named Bruce to have had a recent encounter with police: in 2016, a man reported that McArthur attempted to strangle him, which resulted in McArthur being arrested but released with no charges.

Professional misconduct charges have since been laid against Toronto police Sgt. Paul Gauthier, who is alleged to have conducted a negligent investigation, including taking only a written statement from the victim when policy required it be taken on video. In a letter written by Gauthier and obtained by the Star last week, he denies his investigation was negligent.

Shortly after McMahon’s decision came down Friday, Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders faced pointed questions about the investigation at a news conference at police headquarters — including whether mistakes had been made in not identifying McArthur as a killer sooner.

Court heard confirmation last week that McArthur was interviewed as a witness in 2013 during Project Houston, an investigation into the killer’s first three victims: Skandaraj Navaratnam, Abdulbasir Faizi and Majeed Kayhan. According to an agreed statement of facts, McArthur confirmed he knew Navaratnam through a friend, and that he’d employed Kayhan and had a sexual relationship with him. An analysis of Faizi’s belongings, meanwhile, showed he knew McArthur.

Saunders told reporters last week that he was committed to transparency around prior investigations, but said “I can tell you from what I know, things were done properly.”

In an interview Monday, Toronto police Insp. Hank Idsinga, also a lead investigator in the case, said “it wasn’t uncommon to interview somebody who knew all three of those men. Very small, close, tight-knit community — everybody knew everybody,” he said.

Former Ontario Court of Appeal judge Gloria Epstein is currently reviewing how Toronto police investigate missing persons cases, and has asked that her mandate be expanded to allow for her to examine how the force handled the probe of McArthur. Some within Toronto’s LGBTQ community and beyond argue more should be done, and that there should be a public inquiry into why McArthur wasn’t caught sooner.

Saunders said he is committed to transparency and that the service will co-operate with any review, no matter which form it takes.

Asked if he could understand how McArthur went undetected for years, Idsinga said the killer is much like he presented last week, shuffling through the courtroom and sitting in the prisoner’s box.

Toronto police officers defended the investigation that led to Bruce McArthur’s arrest. He was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years on Friday after pleading guilty to killing eight men with ties to the city’s gay village.

“He’s not intimidating by any stretch of the imagination, he’s soft-spoken and he just blended right in. Hid in plain sight,” Idsinga said.

With the court phase of the McArthur case completed, Dickinson said an opportunity has arisen to make a change, and pursue an interest he had early on in his career — and one that was key the McArthur probe. He will soon be moving to the K9 unit.

“It was those dogs who found the remains of those eight men, and it was those dogs who ultimately assisted us with bringing closure to the families and at least be able to return the remains, which was something I wasn’t sure we’d ever be able to do.”

Wendy Gillis is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and policing. Reach her by email at wgillis@thestar.ca or follow her on Twitter: @wendygillis

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Vigil to be held for 8 victims of Bruce McArthur on Sunday – Toronto

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A vigil will be held on Sunday for family, friends and community members to grieve the lives of eight men killed by Bruce McArthur after his sentencing hearing wrapped on Friday.

The vigil will be held at the Metropolitan Community Church Toronto at 7 p.m., and it will be led by Rev. Deana Dudley and Rev. Jeff Rock.

“We are offering this Sunday evening at our vigil for a grieving community to be able to come together to mourn the friends and family that we’ve lost,” said Dudley.

“[It’s] to remember and honour the men who were killed as the wonderful individuals that they were and not simply as murder victims.”

A vigil will be held at MCC Toronto on Sunday for the victims of Bruce McArthur.

Erica Vella/Global News

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On Friday, an Ontario judge sentenced serial killer Bruce McArthur to serve life in prison and ordered that McArthur not be eligible for parole for 25 years.

READ MORE: Serial killer Bruce McArthur receives life sentence, no parole eligibility for 25 years

Justice John McMahon sentenced McArthur to life in prison for each of the eight counts. He said McArthur won’t have consecutive periods of parole ineligibility.

Last week, McArthur, a 67-year-old, self-employed gardener, pleaded guilty to eight counts of first-degree murder. Most of the killings, which happened between 2010 and 2017, were described as being “sexual in nature.”


In a statement, Karen Coles, the sister of Andrew Kinsman, told Global News, “We would like to say thank you to everyone on behalf of the Kinsman family. Thank you to Andrew’s friends, the media, the police and the Crown.

“The police worked tirelessly and under much criticism to catch the killer. [Bruce McArthur] was caught because Andrew left a note. Andrew’s death saved many more lives, he is a hero to our family.”

Rev. Dudley spoke in the courtroom, sharing a victim impact statement on behalf of the LGBTQ community.

“There is grief. There is anger. There is immense sadness about all of this,“ she said.

“People continued to be traumatized just by watching that process… It’s the case that just won’t go away.”

READ MORE: Neither Bruce McArthur or Alexandre Bissonnette were served consecutive sentences — here’s why

Reflections and prayers will be read and leaders from other faith groups will be participating during the vigil. Monetary donations will be given to the Alliance for South Asians AIDS Prevention.

“We offer a safe space for people to come and talk about it and be with other people to know that we are a community,” Dudley said.

“This is never going away but I’m hoping this will be the beginning of the end and the beginning of healing.”

– With Files from Nick Westoll.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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How six Toronto lives were fractured by serial killer Bruce McArthur

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There is a ripple effect when someone is murdered.

“Doctors always say it is better to break something over fracturing it. Fractures never really heal as well as a break,” said Greg Dunn, best friend of Andrew Kinsman, the last of eight men murdered by serial killer Bruce McArthur. “My heart, soul and spirit have been fractured. They may heal in time but it will never be the same and it will never go away.”

Dunn’s words were read aloud in court Friday by Justice John McMahon as he described how the pain of the murders of eight men by McArthur reverberated through families, friends, communities and Toronto as a whole.

Six people shared with the Star how fractures in their own lives and communities have emerged since the serial killer was arrested just over a year ago. For some, McArthur’s crimes exposed pain from past traumas and historical violence against marginalized communities. For others, there remain haunting questions that may never be answered and thoughts of reunions that will never be.

These are their stories:

"There is an untold fear in our hearts," Piranavan Thangavel says of refugees like himself following the murder of Kirushnakumar Kanagaratnam.
« There is an untold fear in our hearts, » Piranavan Thangavel says of refugees like himself following the murder of Kirushnakumar Kanagaratnam.  (Toronto Star)

Piranavan Thangavel, who spent three months at sea with Kirushnakumar Kanagaratnam

An unanswered question has been weighing on Thangavel since he learned of his friend’s murder: Just how did Bruce McArthur come into contact with Kirushnakumar Kanagaratnam?

“We have to know,” he says. “That’s what his family still wants to know.”

Knowing how they met could help us know how to better protect people hiding from authorities, as Kanagaratnam was after his refugee claim was denied, Thangavel says.

As far as he knows, McArthur hasn’t shared that information, and that may be the only way to find out. Thangavel is resigned to never knowing.

His friend came here to save his life. Instead, it was taken in a way that Thangavel is unable to contemplate.

“For us now to hear of such a horrible death, we who live in this world as refugees feel like there is no safety for us anywhere in the world,” he said in the victim impact statement he read out in court. “Now when we meet new people, talk to them, or seek employment from them, there is an untold fear in our hearts.”

He says he did not see a reaction from McArthur to his words.

Thangavel’s years in Canada have been difficult — like many of those who came on the boat with him and Kanagaratnam. And though Canada does welcome refugees, he says, it is hard for him not to be angry and bitterfor him not to feel that Canada’s policies led to his friend’s death.

Thangavel is hoping to meet soon with the federal Minister for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship. He hopes to convince him to change the refugee claim appeal process so failed claimants don’t feel they need to go into hiding to avoid deportation — so they don’t have become as vulnerable as Kanagaratnam was and many still are now.

This is the legacy he wants Kanagaratnam to leave.

“He is not with us but maybe we can do something right for other people,” he says.

Read more:

Serial killer Bruce McArthur given concurrent life sentences, can apply for parole after 25 years

Opinion | Rosie DiManno: Questions, questions, more questions about the McArthur investigation

A timeline of the Bruce McArthur case and the police investigation into the Gay Village killings

"When we report that we have been victimized ? we've been assaulted, or raped ? they need to believe us," advocate Susan Gapka says.
« When we report that we have been victimized ? we’ve been assaulted, or raped ? they need to believe us, » advocate Susan Gapka says.  (Toronto Star)

Susan Gapka, an advocate for transgender and homeless rights

Susan Gapka walked out of Bruce McArthur’s sentencing hearing Monday, “raw and weak-kneed.”

She had sat inside the imposing downtown courtroom looking around the police officers, victims’ families and friends, community advocates and journalists and thought: “we all did our part.” Yet she knows the finality of McArthur’s conviction won’t mark the end of a traumatic period for her personally, or for Toronto’s Gay Village, in which she is steeped.

“Sentencing,” she says, “is a bit like the Band-Aid’s being ripped off. But there’s still a wound under there.”

For Gapka, McArthur’s case has highlighted the vulnerabilities of a life she knows well, and it has played out in a part of Toronto where she’d felt most at home. Twenty years ago, she came out as trans at Zipperz, the bar — a now-closed Gay Village institution — where McArthur had been a frequent face. The area, she says, was “a safe space to be ourselves until we feel comfortable enough to expand our network.”

Each of the stories of McArthur’s victims were devastating, but it was Dean Lisowick’s murder that “rocked” her. Once homeless and a drug addict, she spent many nights not knowing where she would sleep. One night, she stayed with a stranger who had picked her up, “and this person, this man, took advantage of me while I was sleeping.”

“It brought something up that I hadn’t even been thinking about, and I hadn’t even considered it to be abuse,” she says. “It brought something up that I had ignored as part of street life, and survival.”

The case has illustrated how the vulnerabilities of people on the margins can be exploited, she says — a scary thought amid a housing crisis and an opioid epidemic. And it has underscored the essential need for trust between police and the public, particularly those within the LGBTQ community.

She stressed that police must take reports of violence seriously, citing the fact McArthur was arrested following a 2016 allegation he assaulted another man, but was never charged.

“When we report that we have been victimized — we’ve been assaulted, or raped — they need to believe us. They need to believe us. I’ll say it again: They need to believe us.”

"That is trauma that is not going to go away," Rev. Deana Dudley says.
« That is trauma that is not going to go away, » Rev. Deana Dudley says.  (Toronto Star)

Rev. Deana Dudley, a minister at the Metropolitan Community Church

The betrayal of a wolf in the fold, of a man who used his own community as a hunting ground, runs deep.

“People trust themselves less. They trust other people less. They trust the police less,” Dudley says.

“I know people who were approached by (McArthur) and got away. I know people who lived on the same floor as him and saw him on a daily basis and heard things and saw things they didn’t put together at the time. That is trauma that is not going to go away,” she says.

She and other ministers at the church have spoken to many who now live with survivors’ guilt, with fear, with disgust, with anger. Spaces once considered safe are tainted, routines that once seemed manageable — like using dating apps — are too dangerous.

“I have been afraid for my friends. I have been angry at the ways people have been traumatized. I am happy to sit and talk with people about the things that happened to them, that have made them afraid, the nightmares,” she says. “But you know what, no one should be going through this and it pisses me off.”

Their grieving process will continue. Pain will surface in ways expected and sudden.

It will not be easy to repair, foster and build connections among community members, especially for the most marginalized people, she says, but it is more necessary than ever.

In the fall, Dudley was part of a group that gathered at the Mallory Cres. home where McArthur hid the remains of seven of his victims in planters. They cleaned up the yard, seeded the grass and planted hundreds of daffodil bulbs. They will bloom brightly this spring in what Dudley describes as sacred ground.

“They are hardy and they are resilient and they will survive,” she said in the victim impact statement she gave in court this week. “Toronto’s LGBTQ community is also strong and resilient. And we too will survive (though) changed forever.”

"Everyone is responsible for this," Haran Vijayanathan says of how his agency and others need to deliver community support after the McArthur case.
« Everyone is responsible for this, » Haran Vijayanathan says of how his agency and others need to deliver community support after the McArthur case.  (Toronto Star)

Haran Vijayanathan, executive director of the Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention

It was only in the quiet pause around the holidays, after Kirushnakumar Kanagaratnam’s funeral, that the horrors of the past year truly sank in. Vijayanathan thought of his mother having to receive a phone call like the ones made to the mothers of Bruce McArthur’s victims, most of whom were South Asian or Middle-Eastern.

“I was sitting there thinking, ‘that could have been me in the casket,’” he says. “That could have been my mother and my family there and they wouldn’t have been able to see me one last time.”

The past year he has focused on supporting families with the logistics that come with loss, organizing funerals and raising funds to defray costs. It was also a time to demand answers, he says.

“Why did it take eight people to be missing and murdered before (McArthur) was found,” Vijayanathan says. “Why wasn’t the same level of attention given to the first three men who went missing?”

The missing persons review is one step in the right direction, he says. But law enforcement agencies have so much work to do to build trust with communities who do not feel safe or protected by them because of racism, classism and homophobia.

“How can the community and the police actually work together to address some of the biases that exist around, for example, someone with a mental health issue coming in to report a friend of theirs didn’t come back to their sleeping bag last night, as was their routine,” he says. “That credibility needs to be applied to everyone.”

The past year has also made Vijayanathan rethink how his agency and others deliver community programming and support, especially important considering some of the men McArthur killed were connected to community agencies and shelters.

“This is a wake-up call. There is a huge spotlight that has been shone on Toronto to see all of the gaps that we have. Some of those gaps are shallow and easily filled, but others are deep and the light has gone deep into those cracks,” he says.

“Everyone is responsible for this.”

"He made a mark on my life," Jeremiah Holmes says of his childhood friend Dean Lisowick.
« He made a mark on my life, » Jeremiah Holmes says of his childhood friend Dean Lisowick.  (Toronto Star)

Jeremiah Holmes, a childhood friend of Dean Lisowick

Relationships that will never be haunt many whose loved ones were killed by McArthur. Dean Lisowick’s daughter will never be able to connect with him or introduce him to his grandchildren. That was Lisowick’s dream too: His cousin Julie Pearo says his face lit up in the times she last saw him, as he described the electric bike he wanted to buy his daughter — something to bring her joy.

Lisowick’s childhood friend Jeremiah Holmes always hoped he’d see Lisowick again. Holmes was 7 when Lisowick came to live in their shared foster home in Udora, Ont.

The boys became close in a happy and strict home with a bullmastiff named Rocky where chores were mandatory.

“He made a mark on my life,” says Holmes. “I have a brother, but Dean became my new brother.”

They attended classes at Morning Glory Public School in Pefferlaw, Ont. Most of their free time was spent outdoors.

“We played together in the summertime until the lights went out. We were little kids, so we were exploring stuff.” That included poking around an old burnt-down house and collecting bullfrogs from the local creek, adventures fuelled by pop and bags of chips.

One winter outing ended with Lisowick freezing and soaking wet, after he walked out on a frozen river to retrieve a large stick.

Lisowick shouted, “I’m the king,” then fell through the ice, says Holmes.

He last saw Lisowick when he was a teen and tried unsuccessfully to find him over the years. Then, in 2018, Holmes saw Lisowick’s name in the newspaper. He felt shock, then hollowness. This wasn’t how he was supposed to find his friend.

Last summer, Holmes visited the Udora home where he and Lisowick spent some of their boyhood years. It was a chance to pause and reflect.

He doesn’t allow himself to think about how Lisowick’s life ended. Instead he hopes Lisowick knew how many people loved and cared about him — how many lives he touched for the better.

“It is just a sad ending for my foster brother and all the other victims that I read about and potential and almost victims,” Holmes says. “I didn’t let myself hold on to any (other) kinds of emotions, other than I think it is just sad.”

"As long as people are vulnerable there will be individuals who exploit that vulnerability," Becky McFarlane says.
« As long as people are vulnerable there will be individuals who exploit that vulnerability, » Becky McFarlane says.  (Toronto Star)

Becky McFarlane, senior director of programs and community services for the 519 community centre

For years, men linked to the Gay Village were going missing and no one had any answers.

“For a lot of people post the arrest of Bruce McArthur, it legitimated a fear I think many people didn’t feel entitled to have, because there was a lot of reassurance that there wasn’t a predator,” she says. “They wanted to believe it couldn’t be possible and I think in the face of McArthur’s arrest it raised a lot of fear.”

The first words of Crown prosecutor Michael Cantlon at McArthur’s sentencing were a validation of sorts.

“For years, members of the LGBTQ community believed that they were being targeted by a killer,” he says. “They were right.”

But just being told that you were right doesn’t make the fear go away, McFarlane says. “It is the reality of what happened that actually creates the fear.”

There was a period of time after McArthur’s arrest where people were more scared than they were before, she says.

The factors he exploited, that made many of his victims vulnerable — refugee status, lack of stable housing, secret lives — have not gone away. They are things people still live with every day in this city.

“How many individuals will it take before we recognize that there is a much more important systemic conversation that we need to have?” she says.

Queer and trans people have long faced targeted violence, she says. Bruce McArthur’s crimes are yet another example.

“As long as people are vulnerable there will be individuals who exploit that vulnerability. That is what makes us scared. There is no relief at the end of the day because people are not left less vulnerable because Bruce McArthur was caught and is in jail and won’t get out. People won’t be harmed by him but they will be harmed by others.”

Alyshah Hasham is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and court. Follow her on Twitter: @alysanmati

Wendy Gillis is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and policing. Reach her by email at wgillis@thestar.ca or follow her on Twitter: @wendygillis

Emily Mathieu is a Toronto-based reporter covering affordable and precarious housing. Follow her on Twitter: @emathieustar

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Judge to decide serial killer Bruce McArthur’s sentence Friday morning

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After hearing new details about the murders of eight men, then carefully listening to the pain inflicted by their deaths, an Ontario Superior Court judge is expected to sentence serial killer Bruce McArthur Friday morning.

McArthur, 67, convicted of eight counts of first-degree murder, faces an automatic sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole for at least 25 years.

The men Bruce McArthur killed: They are, top, from left to right: Kirushnakumar Kanagaratnam, Majeed Kayhan, Skandaraj (Skanda) Navaratnam and Abdulbasir Faizi; and bottom, from left to right: Selim Esen, Soroush Mahmudi, Dean Lisowick and Andrew Kinsman.
The men Bruce McArthur killed: They are, top, from left to right: Kirushnakumar Kanagaratnam, Majeed Kayhan, Skandaraj (Skanda) Navaratnam and Abdulbasir Faizi; and bottom, from left to right: Selim Esen, Soroush Mahmudi, Dean Lisowick and Andrew Kinsman.  (Star Wire Services)

Citing the unique enormity of McArthur’s crimes — “even amongst those who commit multiple murders” — Crown prosecutor Craig Harper earlier this week asked for a parole ineligibility period of 50 years. McArthur would be 116, effectively assuring he would die in prison and sparing his victims’ families a parole hearing.

McArthur’s lawyer, James Miglin, argued before Justice John McMahon that, given McArthur’s guilty pleas and his age, 25 years of parole ineligibility is appropriate.

Either way, McArthur will be in prison until he is at least 91 years old, factoring in credit for time served in jail since his arrest.

As many of those statements were read out in court, McMahon listened intently, thanking each person for sharing their loss and grief.

McArthur pleaded guilty in court late last month, admitting to murdering eight men with ties to Toronto’s Gay Village between 2010 and 2017. He showed little expression throughout the two-day sentencing proceedings, even as victims’ family members, friends and members of Toronto’s LGBTQ community spoke about how he has shattered their lives and sense of safety. On Tuesday, he waived his opportunity to address the court.

The sentencing hearing saw a fulsome agreed statement of fact read out in court, detailing for the first time the manner and location of McArthur’s murders and new details about how he posed and photographed his victims after death.

Court heard the serial killer maintained digital folders of images of each of his eight victims — photos taken before and after their deaths — and had created a ninth folder for a Middle Eastern man police found handcuffed to McArthur’s bed on the morning of his Jan. 18, 2018, arrest.

McArthur, court heard, selected victims with certain commonalities, seeking out and exploiting certain vulnerabilities to “continue his crimes undetected.”

“Most of the deceased had traits that made victimization more likely or harder to detect. Some were forced to live parts of their lives in secret because of their orientation. Some lacked stable housing,” reads the agreed statement of fact.

In his submissions to McMahon, Harper, the Crown lawyer, called McArthur a serial killer said the term was in fact “woefully inadequate to describe his moral blameworthiness … and heinousness of the offences.”

With files from Alyshah Hasham

Wendy Gillis is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and policing. Reach her by email at wgillis@thestar.ca or follow her on Twitter: @wendygillis

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‘They need a scapegoat,’ officer who released Bruce McArthur says of Toronto police

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The Toronto police officer facing disciplinary charges related to a 2016 arrest and release of serial killer Bruce McArthur has accused the force of turning him into « a scapegoat » to divert attention from other errors made during the investigation.

Sgt. Paul Gauthier made the comments in a letter, emailed to colleagues on Wednesday, which has been obtained by CBC Toronto. (See below.) 

Gauthier is accused of breaching the force’s policy on how to handle reports of domestic violence. 

Lawrence Gridin, Gauthier’s lawyer, says the charges relate to allegations that when he obtained a statement from a man complaining about McArthur, he did not record it on video as the policy requires. He is also accused of failing to take photos of the complainant’s injuries within 72 hours. 

Gauthier adamantly disputes those charges in his two-page letter. He claims to have followed all proper procedures and that the decision to release McArthur was approved by his supervisors.

« Based on years of investigative experience, I didn’t believe there were grounds to charge McArthur, » he wrote.

Not aware of investigation

Gauthier goes on to say that, at the time, he was not made aware of McArthur’s connection to Project Houston. McArthur had been interviewed as part of that investigation, which was launched in 2012 after the disappearances of three men he was later found to have killed.

« I had no idea there had even been a project with respect to missing men from the LGBT community downtown, » he wrote.

Gauthier claims that concerns about his investigation only surfaced after Chief Mark Saunders « embarrassed himself » by saying that members of the LGBT community could have come forward to police sooner with information about McArthur.

My employer has effectively set me up to be their fall guy.– Sgt. Paul Gauthier

He suggests that Det.-Sgt. Hank Idsinga, the lead investigator on the McArthur case and a former partner of Saunders, began investigating the 2016 arrest in order to divert attention away from the chief’s comments.

« The past year has taken a tremendous toll on me both personally and professionally. There have been many sleepless nights thinking about Mcarthur’s unspeakable crimes, his victims and their families, and the fact that my employer has effectively set me up to be their fall guy for all this. Simply because they need a scapegoat, » he wrote.

Not present at tribunal

Gauthier is charged with insubordination and neglect of duty, but the allegations had not previously been released by police because he was not present for what was meant to be his first appearance before the police tribunal on Tuesday.

Gridin has said he is confident the evidence will show his client did not hamper the investigation into McArthur’s crimes.

The lawyer has also argued the case should be heard by a judge rather than, as usual, by a high-ranking officer appointed by Chief Saunders. 

But the prosecution and the superintendent who oversaw Tuesday’s hearing said it was too early in the process to make submissions on that issue.

McArthur pleaded guilty last week to eight counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of men with ties to Toronto’s Gay Village.

He was arrested in January 2018 and shortly afterwards, the force’s professional standards unit launched an internal investigation related to the case.

McArthur pleaded guilty to killing these eight men. Top row, from left to right: Skandaraj Navaratnam, Andrew Kinsman, Selim Esen and Abdulbasir Faizi. Bottom row, from left to right: Kirushna Kumar Kanagaratnam, Dean Lisowick, Soroush Mahmudi and Majeed Kayhan. (John Fraser/CBC)

McArthur deemed ‘credible’

The review was sparked during a probe of two previous investigations into missing men from the Gay Village.

McArthur had been interviewed by police a few years ago in a separate, unrelated incident.

McArthur’s sentencing hearing was told that a man called 911 and gave a statement to police in June 2016 after escaping from McArthur’s van.

An agreed statement of fact read in court said the two knew each other and had agreed to meet in the van. When the man arrived, he found the back seat was gone and the floor of the van was covered with a plastic sheet and a fur coat.

McArthur, seen here in a court sketch, gave an ‘exculpatory’ statement after his 2016 arrest according to an agreed statement of facts revealed during his sentencing hearing. (Pam Davies/CBC)

Court heard McArthur told the man to lie down on the coat and then grabbed his wrist « with an angry look on his face. » He then grabbed the man’s throat and started strangling him, court heard.

The man tried pleading with McArthur and eventually managed to roll free and escape, court heard. « He was unable to swallow properly again for a week, » the statement said.

After the man reported the attack, McArthur was arrested and gave an exculpatory statement to police, it said.

« An officer released McArthur without charges, believing his statement to be credible, » court heard.

Police later found photographs of the man on McArthur’s electronic devices, court heard. In some, he is wearing a fur coat that appears identical to the one with which McArthur posed the men he killed, the statement said.

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Crown calls for consecutive life sentences for serial killer Bruce McArthur

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Crown attorneys said Tuesday that « sexual predator » and serial killer Bruce McArthur should be sentenced to six consecutive life sentences with no chance of parole for 50 years.

McArthur, 67, pleaded guilty to eight counts of first-degree murder last week.

However, two of the killings took place before 2011, when federal laws were introduced that allow for consecutive life sentences. For offences committed before the law went into effect, all life sentences and related parole ineligibility periods are served concurrently.

The murders of Skandaraj Navaratnam, 40, and Abdulbasir Faizi, 44, happened in 2010.

Crown attorney Craig Harper argued that McArthur’s decision to plead guilty should not be considered a sufficient mitigating factor in the sentencing « when you take the enormity of McArthur’s crimes » into account. The fact that McArthur revisited images and « trophies » from the killings shows a lack of shame or remorse, he argued.

He also told Justice John McMahon that granting McArthur a parole hearing after 25 years means the families of McArthur’s victims may have to face him again in court.

« There are no similar offenders to Mr. McArthur, » Harper said to the court. He added that McArthur’s killing spree stoked widespread fear in Toronto’s LGBT community, forcing people to compromise how they lived their lives.

The Crown has avoided using the term « serial killer » during the trial, saying that it is « woefully inadequate » to describe his killing spree.

In addition to the murders of Navaratnam and Faizi in 2010, McArthur has also admitted to the killings of Andrew Kinsman, 49, Selim Esen, 44, Kirushna Kumar Kanagaratnam, 37, Dean Lisowick, 47, Soroush Mahmudi, 50, and Majeed Kayhan, 58.

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A note in a calendar led to the undoing of serial killer Bruce McArthur

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He became McArthur’s eighth and last — far as is known — murder victim.

It’s not clear why an investigation of missing males that had slogged along for six years — first came Project Houston, then came Project Prism — abruptly triggered a massive undertaking by police. A person with knowledge of the investigation says the explanation is straightforward: Kinsman had been reported missing only a day after he was last seen, on June 26, 2017. In the other disappearances, the time lag was longer. In a couple of cases, the men were never reported missing at all.

But Kinsman, 49, superintendent of a residential building on Winchester St., enjoyed a close-knit community of family and friends. He was known to tenants as a responsible custodian with an established day-to-day routine. It was odd when chores around went unattended. Stranger still that he would leave his cat alone, in his unit, unfed.

On this occasion, police responded with alacrity. They searched Kinsman’s home and discovered that calendar notation. Cops had at least a first name to follow up, a lead.

They seized closed-circuit video from Kinsman’s neighbourhood and were able to track some of his movements. Crucially, one of the detectives found two pieces of footage from around 3 p.m., June 26, that showed a man fitting Kinsman’s description getting into a red Dodge Caravan. The video did not capture the van’s licence plate. The driver’s face was unclear.

But the van, with its roof racks, rain deflectors on the passenger window and silver rims with five spokes, was distinctive. Police visiting a Dodge dealership on Front St. where the manager, shown a photo, identified the vehicle as a 2004 Anniversary Edition model. That piece of information was vital because — as Crown attorney Michael Cantlon told court on Monday during a sentencing hearing, reading into the record an agreed statement of facts — it narrowed down the scope of the police search dramatically.

Police obtained a list, from the Ministry of Transportation, of all Dodge Caravans/Grand Caravans registered in the GTA: 6,181 matched the criteria.

But, in a moment of smart cop thinking, Det. Dave Dickinson — co-lead of the investigation — cross-referenced the list with the name “Bruce.” That shrunk the vehicles of interest to five.

Among the owners was Bruce McArthur, the only individual from among those five who’d had any recent encounter with Toronto Police Service.

That previous contact would subsequently loom as an opportunity missed and rued.

In June of 2016 McArthur hooked up with a man he’d known for years. In the back of McArthur’s van, he directed that man to lie down on a fur coat, to put one arm behind his back. (The fur coat would pop up repeatedly in photographs police obtained depicting McArthur’s other victims, both alive and deceased.)

McArthur held the man’s wrist with “an angry look on his face,” Cantlon told court. Despite the man’s objections and pleadings to be freed, McArthur squeezed his larynx, started strangling him. The victim managed to roll away and escape. (He would be unable to swallow properly for a week.) He then reported the assault to 911 and gave police a statement. McArthur turned himself into a police station, gave an “exculpatory” statement deemed to be credible and was released without charges.

Cantlon stressed that, even if police had run a criminal check on McArthur at that point, they would not have been able to access details from a 2003 incident for which McArthur pleaded guilty to assault with a weapon, wherein he’d struck a man — a gay hustler — numerous times with a metal pipe. He’d received a conditional sentence of two years, but the conviction had been expunged in 2014.

“At the time he received the record suspension, he had committed three murders undetected,” said Cantlon.

In any event, armed with the knowledge they now had, police, in October 2017, tracked the Caravan to a wrecking yard in Courtice, Ont., impounded the vehicle and sent it to the Centre of Forensic Sciences for testing.

Found: eight blood spots on the seats and in the trunk, and semen traces. The samples spit up four DNA profiles — one of them belonging to Kinsman, one of them to McArthur. (Another would eventually be traced linked to Selim Esen, missing since April 2017.

In December 2017, investigators conducted a covert search of McArthur’s home. They copied a USB drive and a digital external drive located in McArthur’s bedroom. On the digital devices, they discovered more than 100 photos of Kinsman, dating as far back as 2007. Also: A metal bar wrapped with tape, believed to be a murder weapon. That pipe shows up in several photographs and would later be seized from McArthur’s new vehicle.

In 18 of the photos, Kinsman is dead, his body staged for the camera. Lying on top of a fur coat, naked, with a rope looped around his neck, knotted at one end. The pipe is looped through the knot, allowing it to be tightened, to apply pressure. There are close-ups of Kinsman’s genitals and ligature marks around his throat.

Kinsman’s remains would be found, following McArthur’s arrest, in large planters removed from the backyard of a Mallory Cres. property where McArthur had worked as a landscaper and where he’d stored his equipment, under an arrangement with the owners, for many years. Dismembered remains of six other victims were also discovered in the pots.

Cause of death for Kinsman was strangulation, the pathologist determined.

His head had been shaved — an apparent kink of McArthur’s with some victims, who also had their beards removed, apparently post-mortem.

Obstructing Kinsman’s airway was a ball of paper towelling that may have been inserted after death.

A man who’d beaten cancer, had come to this horrific fate.

In his first interview with police after being arrested, McArthur claimed he’d had sex with Kinsman only once, a decade earlier, and had not seen him since December 2016.

That poor man. That trusting friend.

Impassive in the dock, McArthur showed not a flicker of emotion during the two hours that Cantlon intoned the facts into the record. Nor did he react in the afternoon as grief-ridden family and friends stepped into the witness stand to deliver victim impact statements.

Karen Coles, sister to Andrew Kinsman, recalled her “baby” brother as a “generous, compassionate and thoughtful man.

“He gave back to the community in which he lived, worked and volunteered. He wanted to make the world a better place for those struggling to survive. He was a champion of the underdog.”

She misses their conversation, aches that she never got a chance to say goodbye.

They had searched and searched and searched, his family and friends.

“When he was missing, I’d lie awake at night, wondering where he was and what he might have suffered. Now, I lie awake and think about how he was murdered and dismembered by someone he knew.”

Another sister, Patricia Kinsman, recalled how they’d searched tirelessly for six months.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I envision his life ending the way it did.

“A person that strangled Andrew, dismembered him, threw him in a planter, and then admired his work for seven months.”

They’ll never be whole again, Kinsman’s loved ones.

“Murdered by him. We never say his name,” Patricia Kinsman said.

They will look for comfort in the knowledge that a jotting in a calendar by Andrew Kinsman sparked the unravelling of Bruce McArthur and breathed life into all the murdered men.

As another friend, Ted Healy — and many friends who spoke — said: “Andrew never suffered fools and it baffles me how he” — McArthur — “got Andrew to trust him.”

McArthur took Kinsman’s life and thought he’d silenced him forever.

“But Andrew outsmarted him.”

Let that be his epitaph.

Rosie DiManno is a columnist based in Toronto covering sports and current affairs. Follow her on Twitter: @rdimanno

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What we learned from Day 1 of serial killer Bruce McArthur’s sentencing

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WARNING: This article contains graphic content.

Inside a downtown Toronto courtroom packed for the first day of sentencing submissions in the case of serial killer Bruce McArthur, the Crown prosecutor began with a grave acknowledgement.

“For years, members of the LGBTQ community believed that they were being targeted by a killer,” Michael Cantlon said in his opening address Monday.

“They were right.”

Cantlon went on to describe an unprecedented Toronto police investigation, revealing new details about past police contact with McArthur, new information about the deaths of the eight men McArthur murdered, and revelations about the ways he preyed on Toronto’s LGBTQ community.

Here are some major take-aways from the Day 1 of the serial killer’s sentencing.

How detectives broke the case

A combination of two key pieces of evidence lead Toronto police to “crack the case” of serial killer Bruce McArthur wide open, Cantlon said.

First, there was surveillance video that showed a glimpse of a red van outside the home of Andrew Kinsman, McArthur’s final victim. Second, there was a simple note in Kinsman’s calendar from June 26, 2017, the day he went missing: “Bruce.”

Toronto police Det. David Dickinson was able to determine the make and model of McArthur’s van — a special-edition 2004 Dodge Caravan. He then searched registry information to produce 6,181 matches for similar vehicles. Of those, five owners were named Bruce.

But only McArthur had any recent contact with Toronto police — he had been arrested, but not charged, in 2016 over a report the 67-year-old had attempted to strangle a man.

McArthur was made a person of interest in Kinsman’s disappearance. It was the start of the months-long investigation that led to his Jan. 18. 2018, arrest.

Two weeks after he was interviewed as part of Project Houston, McArthur purchased a new van: the 2004 Dodge Caravan that would lead to his arrest.

McArthur’s plan for a ninth victim and his rescue

McArthur was under police surveillance on Jan. 18, 2018, when a younger man was spotted entering his Thorncliffe Park apartment. It was then that Toronto police made the decision to arrest the killer, Cantlon said, reading the statement of facts.

The man told McArthur his name was “John.” He said he was a recent immigrant to Canada who was married and whose family and friends were unaware of his sexual orientation. The man told police he had been intimate with McArthur on several occasions, and on that day McArthur had asked if anyone knew the two were meeting.

“John told McArthur it was a secret and no one knew,” Cantlon said.

The two arrived at McArthur’s apartment, where the killer told the man to go to his bedroom. McArthur returned with handcuffs and told him “they were going to try something different.”

He then put a black bag over the man’s head. The man took it off then McArthur tried to tape his mouth closed.

That’s when police, “due to exigent circumstances, knocked on the door and arrested Mr. McArthur.”

Forensic analysis later revealed McArthur had a USB drive containing nine subfolders — one for each of the men he had killed , and a ninth labelled “John.”

That folder contained photos of the man police found handcuffed to McArthur’s bed.

On the day of Kinsman’s murder, forensic analysis found, McArthur had searched for “John” and downloaded photos of him from social media.

How McArthur ‘staged’ his victims

Court heard McArthur’s bedroom was a “frequent” site of the killings, most of which were made possible under the pretence of sex.

The investigation uncovered what Cantlon called “post-offence rituals,” including that McArthur posed his victims, took photos of them and kept some of their belongings.

McArthur took photos of Kinsman, Kayhan, Kanagaratnam, Selim Esen, Soroush Mahmudi and Dean Lisowick after killing them. Forensic analysis showed McArthur looked at these photos, which were organized into separate folders, “long after the killings.”

The 2016 choking incident

Cantlon described new, detailed information about a June 20, 2016, incident in which a man told police McArthur had attempted to choke him, but the killer was released without charges.

The victim reported McArthur showed up at his place of work and asked him to meet later that evening in his van in a parking lot. The man did so and reported finding McArthur had removed the seat behind the driver’s seat so that there was room to lie down, revealing a plastic sheet on the floor of the van and a fur coat on top of that.

McArthur asked the victim to lie on the coat and instructed him to put an arm behind his back. Then, “with a look of determination on his face,” he “grabbed the victim’s throat and started strangling him,” Cantlon said.

“What do you want from me,” the victim asked. McArthur did not respond and “continued squeezing the larynx” of the victim, who was unable to swallow properly for a week, Cantlon said.

The victim managed to roll away and escaped the van. He later called 911.

McArthur went to the police station on his own and was arrested, but gave an exculpatory statement.

“An officer released Mr. McArthur without charges, believing his statement to be credible,” Cantlon said.

Police later located photos of the victim on McArther’s electronic devices. In some of those images, he is seen wearing a fur coat that “appears identical” to the one seen in photographs of McArthur’s victims.

The similar lives of the people he killed

McArthur’s eight victims shared several things in common, court heard, including ties to Toronto’s Gay Village and a “social life” within the community. Many also met and corresponded with McArthur through dating apps.

They also had physical similarities, including that most had facial hair or a beard. Six victims were immigrants of South Asian of Middle Eastern descent.

Read more: Eight men, eight stories: What we know about serial killer Bruce McArthur’s victims

“Most of the deceased had traits that made victimization more likely or harder to detect. Some were forced to live parts of their lives in secret because of their orientation. Some lacked stable housing,” according to the statement of facts.

“There is evidence that Mr. McArthur sought out and exploited these vulnerabilities to continue his crimes undetected,” it reads.

What police found in McArthur’s van

Investigators located a significant amount of evidence inside McArthur’s two vans: the 2004 Dodge Caravan he’d attempted to get rid of at a wrecking yard in Courtice, Ont., and a 2017 van he later bought.

That included: the DNA of some of McArthur’s victims; a metal bar wrapped in tape that contained Esen and Kinsman’s DNA; dark brown leather lacing, later found to contain Navaratnam’s DNA; and the fur coat police believe McArthur used to pose with his victims, in a hidden compartment.

Wendy Gillis is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and policing. Reach her by email at wgillis@thestar.ca or follow her on Twitter: @wendygillis

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Toronto police officer to be charged with misconduct in connection with Bruce McArthur case

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A Toronto police officer is expected to be charged with two counts of professional misconduct in connection with the case of serial killer Bruce McArthur.

Sgt. Paul Gauthier is set to appear at a tribunal Tuesday on charges of insubordination and neglect of duty under the Police Services Act, his lawyer Lawrence Gridin tells CBC News. The allegations are not criminal in nature and have not been tested. 

On Tuesday, McArthur, 67, pleaded guilty to killing eight men, many of whom had ties to Toronto’s Gay Village, between 2010 and 2017. 

But the allegations against Gauthier relate to an early interaction between McArthur and police, which is regarded by some as a missed opportunity.

In 2017, Chief Mark Saunders publicly dismissed the idea of a serial killer in the Village, remarks that drew the ire of residents once McArthur was arrested.

But a police source close to the investigation previously told CBC News officers spoke to McArthur as part of a investigation not connected with the broader investigations into disappearances in the Village. 

McArthur’s monstrous nature was difficult to uncover because he led a life of extreme deception.– Lawrence Gridin, lawyer for Sgt. Paul Gauthier

Reports emerged that a man had once told police McArthur had tried to strangle him. Police questioned, then released McArthur sometime before 2017, a move that later prompted the Toronto police professional standards unit to launch an internal investigation into the matter.

In a statement Friday evening, Gridin said, « The decision not to charge Bruce McArthur for the 2016 incident was made in conjunction with Detective Gauthier’s supervisor and based on the information available at the time. »

At least three of McArthur’s victims are believed to have been killed after 2016. His victims were Skandaraj Navaratnam, 40, Andrew Kinsman, 49, Selim Esen, 44, and Abdulbasir Faizi, 44, Kirushna Kumar Kanagaratnam, 37, Dean Lisowick, 47, Soroush Mahmudi, 50, and Majeed Kayhan, 58. 

McArthur pleaded guilty to killing these eight men. Top row, from left to right, Skandaraj Navaratnam, 40, Andrew Kinsman, 49, Selim Esen, 44, and Abdulbasir Faizi, 44. Bottom row, from left to right: Kirushna Kumar Kanagaratnam, 37, Dean Lisowick, 47, Soroush Mahmudi, 50, and Majeed Kayhan, 58. (Toronto Police Service/CBC)

Police believe Lisowick was killed sometime between 2016 and 2017. Unlike most of McArthur’s other victims, Lisowick was never reported missing.

Esen disappeared from area of Yonge and Bloor streets over the Easter weekend in 2017. He was reported missing on April 30, never to be seen again.

Just two months later, Kinsman vanished from Toronto’s Cabbagetown neighbourhood, one day after the annual Pride parade. He was reported missing three days later.

Further details the allegations against Gauthier are expected after his appearance Tuesday. 

The statement from his lawyer went on to say Gauthier conducted a « proper » investigation of McArthur, and made the information available to all other investigators involved.

« McArthur’s monstrous nature was difficult to uncover because he led a life of extreme deception, » the statement said. « Det. Gauthier has great sympathy for the victims and the community. »

How the Toronto Police Service has handles missing persons cases is now the subject of an independent review led by former Ontario Court of Appeal judge Gloria Epstein. 

In a statement late Friday night, Toronto Police said homicide investigators immediately contacted the professional standards unit when investigative concerns were identified.

« As a result, an officer has been compelled to attend a tribunal in efforts to provide an explanation for his actions. »

The statement went on to point out the role that community members played in solving the cases of the missing.

« The success of the McArthur investigation was a result of the community working with the police. »

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