TORONTO – The recent discovery of dismembered skeletal remains in backyard planters and a Toronto police allegation that a serial killer is responsible for the gruesome crimes have prompted at least one homicide expert to suggest the perpetrator is likely a psychopath.
Criminologist and former police officer Michael Arntfield said the revelations suggest the victims’ bodies were moved and hidden. It’s a relatively rare tactic “strongly co-related with offenders who are in the psychopathic spectrum,” he said, as opposed to those suffering from a mental health issue or acting spontaneously out of anger or under the influence of a narcotic.
“These are people who have fantasized about this for some time, who put considerable mental and physical energy into scouting and identifying locations, preparing for any contingency,” says Arntfield, who is also a professor at Western University in London, Ont.
“The degree of planning and execution with respect to the M.O. (modus operandi) and disposal methodology suggests an offender who’s been at this for some time, and through a sort of trial-and-error has found a way to get away with it.”
The shocking details have drawn international attention for their macabre elements: remains stashed in large planters, the police seizure of several more planters around the city, suspicions that more body parts are buried on other properties.
It’s the disposal methods that grab the attention of Boston-based serial killer expert Enzo Yaksic, who founded an information-sharing collaborative that created a massive database of serial-homicide offenders and their attributes.
He believes the audacious act of stashing remains in private yards would be immensely alluring to a killer by offering a sense of “immeasurable power” to secretly wield over city officials and victims’ family members.
A relatively public burial would also allow a perpetrator to reignite the memory of the crime and relive it any time they choose to pass by the location.
“Serial killers get a thrill when they know things other people don’t know,” says Yaksic, also director of the Murder Accountability Project and co-founder of the Atypical Homicide Research Group. “The thrill for them is revisiting these scenes knowing something that the police and society don’t know.”
The Toronto case is unusual in this respect, says Yaksic, noting most serial killers leave their victims at the scene to avoid increased risk of detection.
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Other experts took a different view on the significance of how the remains in the Toronto case were handled.
The wide disbursement of evidence appears brazen and bizarre, but should not be interpreted as some sort of affront to citizens-at-large, said Neil Boyd, a criminology professor at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver.
He suspects whoever was behind the crime was merely trying to cover tracks with whatever tools were at hand.
“It’s difficult to get rid of bodies. How do you do it in a place like Toronto? You don’t have access to heavy machinery and can’t bury them 30 feet underground,” says Boyd.
“Of course, by definition all of this is extremely risky and displays a kind of contempt for human life that almost all of us find very disturbing.”
Arntfield agrees, adding that he suspects the planters were used as interim storage, and that police would find more victims at an intended interment location – wherever that is.
Yaksic diverges from Arntfield in deeming the killer a psychopath, in part because of the extreme measures taken to hide evidence.
“I sense that there is some type of trepidation in their life where they think that they’re going to be caught, whereas other killers are arrogant and very confident in themselves,” he says.
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The earliest known victim in the Toronto case involves 58-year-old Majeed Kayhan, who was reported missing in October 2012. The other victims are 50-year-old Soroush Mahmudi, reported missing in August 2015; 44-year-old Selim Esen, reported missing in April 2017; 49-year-old Andrew Kinsman, reported missing in June 2017; and Dean Lisowick, who was in his 40s and believed killed sometime between May 2016 and July 2017.
Arntfield says he wouldn’t be surprised if whoever is responsible has been eluding capture for decades, adding that it’s entirely plausible that the crimes began in an era when marginalized targets faced even greater discrimination than today.
“A lot of critics are saying that these (disappearances) weren’t taken seriously as recently as 2014,” he says. “How seriously would these cases have been taken in the ’80s when they were still doing bathhouse raids?”
Arntfield said it is not uncommon for serial killers to go through dormant periods where they may pause from their crimes for months, or even years.
Yaksic, also founder of the Serial Homicide Expertise and Information Sharing Collaborative, points to his database in noting the average serial killer begins in their late 20s to early 30s. But there have been older ones, he says, such as U.S. vagrant killer Ray Copeland who started at age 72.
“Most serial killers actually take time in order to convince themselves that this is who they are,” says Yaksic.
“Some of them have a lot of trepidation about engaging in that behaviour repeatedly so they have to go through this internal process where they have to convince themselves that this is something that they want to commit to.”
Self-employed landscaper Bruce McArthur, 66, faces five charges of first-degree murder. The allegations have not been proven in court.