Bruce McArthur pleads guilty to eight counts of first-degree murder
TORONTO — A serial killer sexually assaulted many of his victims, all men from Toronto's gay village, before murdering them and hiding their remains around a property where he worked as landscaper.
Bruce McArthur, 67, pleaded guilty Tuesday to first-degree murder in the deaths of eight men who went missing between 2010 and 2017.
"Mr. McArthur intended and caused all of their deaths," said Crown attorney Michael Cantlon. "After he murdered the men, Mr. McArthur, in an effort to avoid detection, dismembered their bodies."
McArthur, wearing a black sweater over a collared shirt, avoided looking at the crowd in the courtroom that included members of victims' families and the city's LGBTQ community.
"Guilty," he said in a soft voice over and over — eight times in total — when asked how he pleaded to each count.
Police arrested McArthur a year ago and eventually charged him in the deaths of Selim Esen, Andrew Kinsman, Majeed Kayhan, Dean Lisowick, Soroush Mahmudi, Skandaraj Navaratnam, Abdulbasir Faizi, and Kirushna Kanagaratnam.
Prosecutors laid out previously unheard details about the case in court Tuesday, saying investigators found victims' belongings in McArthur's home, including a bracelet owned by Navaratnam, jewelry that belonged to Lisowick and a notebook that belonged to Esen.
They also found a duffel bag containing duct tape, a surgical glove, rope, zip ties, a bungee cord and syringes in McArthur's bedroom. Items with victims' DNA and the murder weapon used in two cases were also found in McArthur's van — although court didn't specify the weapon used.
Many of the killings involved sexual assaults and ligatures, Cantlon said, adding that some also included confinement with ropes.
He said several of the slain men had also been "staged," but did not elaborate on what that entailed. The term is typically used to suggest a body has been repositioned for a specific purpose.
McArthur buried his victims' remains in planters at a home where he worked as a gardener and in a ravine next to the property, Cantlon said.
Karen Fraser, one of the home's owners, said she can't reconcile the energetic, enthusiastic man who worked on her property with the killer he turned out to be.
"The man I knew actually didn't exist," she said outside court. "This is someone else entirely."
McArthur was married and had two children, but grappled with his sexuality until his relationship dissolved in the late 1990s, according to a personality assessment conducted after he pleaded guilty in 2003 to beating a man with a pipe. A psychological report concluded his risk for violence was minimal.
Fraser recalled meeting two of the victims when McArthur brought them to her home and said she would forever be haunted by those encounters, though she would not specify which men they were.
First-degree murder carries an automatic life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years. A sentencing hearing for McArthur is scheduled for Feb. 4, when the court is expected to hear from those affected by the killings.
Some expressed relief at McArthur's plea, but said nothing can bring back the men he killed or undo the harm he caused.
"These losses have forever changed the lives of families, friends, loved ones and have left our communities shaken and aggrieved," said The 519, an organization serving Toronto's LGBTQ communities. "The fact that it remained unknown and unseen for so many years is its own inconceivable tragedy."
The LGBTQ community had long said someone was targeting men who were vanishing from the city's gay village. In the neighbourhood on Tuesday, some said a rift still exists between the community and police.
"I'm glad McArthur pleaded guilty, but we have been pleading with police to take our safety concerns seriously while all these men went missing," said Dave Oh.
John Thornton said he appreciated the work of the homicide squad but noted it had taken a long time for police to make an arrest.
"Even the chief didn't seem to appreciate what we had to say about a serial killer in our midst," he said.
In December 2017, Chief Mark Saunders said there was no evidence a serial killer was preying on men missing from the gay village. Tensions between police and some in the LGBTQ community were reinforced last week when Pride Toronto members voted to ban uniformed officers from marching in annual Pride parades.
Toronto police Det. David Dickinson said police continue to investigate the case.
"If there were mistakes made or lessons learned, absolutely we should learn from them," he said, adding that he didn't know why McArthur committed his crimes. "I don't know if we'll ever know why."
Toronto Mayor John Tory called McArthur a "monster."
"Our city deserves two things: justice and answers," he said. "I will continue to make sure that justice is served and that all questions raised by this tragic case are answered."
Police had spent years investigating the disappearances of many men who would later be confirmed as McArthur's victims.
In November 2012, they launched Project Houston to investigate the disappearances of 42-year-old Faizi, 40-year-old Navaratnam and 58-year-old Kayhan. They closed the probe in April 2014 after being unable to identify a suspect.
In the summer of 2017, police launched a separate investigation known as Project Prism into the disappearances of 49-year-old Kinsman and 44-year-old Esen. Within months, McArthur came on the police radar, according to court documents.
On Jan. 17, 2018, investigators uncovered evidence alleging McArthur was responsible for both Kinsman and Esen's deaths, along with the deaths of other unidentified people.
The next day, police arrested McArthur at his apartment and charged him with the murders of Kinsman and Esen. They brought cadaver dogs the following day to a property where McArthur stored his landscaping equipment, eventually finding the dismembered remains of all the victims in the area.
Lead investigator Insp. Hank Idsinga said the case marked the largest forensic examination in the force's history. Officers spent four months scouring McArthur's apartment, seizing 1,800 exhibits and snapping more than 18,000 photographs. They also searched more than 100 properties where McArthur worked.
Liam Casey and Paola Loriggio , The Canadian Press