WARNING: This story contains graphic details.
For the first time since serial killer Bruce McArthur was charged with eight counts of first-degree murder, Crown attorneys presented disturbing detailed evidence of how McArthur’s victims died as family and friends got the chance to address the court.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I envision his life ending the way it did. The night before court, I could not sleep,” Patricia Kinsman, the sister of Andrew Kinsman, told the court during her victim impact statement Monday afternoon, adding she learned he was missing through a Facebook post.
“I think about Andrew every day, a life that was snuffed out by someone that knew him for close to 15 years — a person that strangled Andrew, dismembered him, threw him in a planter and then admired his work for seven months.”
Patricia was one of approximately a dozen people to speak in court after the Crown Attorney Michael Cantlon presented an agreed statement of facts as it relates to the case.
“For years, members of the LGBTQ community in Toronto believed they were being targeted by a killer. They were right,” he told the court, noting the victims shared commonalities with many having ties to Toronto’s LGBTQ community.
“Most of the deceased had traits that made victimization more likely or harder to detect. Some were forced to live parts of their life in secret because of their orientation. Some lacked stable housing. There is evidence that Mr. McArthur sought out and exploited these vulnerabilities to continue his crimes undetected.”
McArthur pleaded guilty on Tuesday to eight counts of first-degree murder in connection to the deaths of Selim Esen, Andrew Kinsman, Majeed Kayhan, Dean Lisowick, Soroush Mahmudi, Skandaraj Navaratnam, Abdulbasir Faizi and Kirushna Kanagaratnam.
Cantlon, who got choked up while reading a list of the victims, said McArthur, a 67-year-old self-employed gardener, met many of them through websites and online dating apps.
McArthur kept a large selection of photographs of each of his victims, both when they were alive and dead. Many images showed dead or unconscious men without clothes wrapped in the same fur coat, some with a cigar in their mouths.
“These photographs were then accessed by Mr. McArthur long after the killings,” Cantlon said.
In McArthur’s bedroom, officers found a bag with duct tape, a surgical glove, rope, zip ties, a bungee cord and syringes as well as DNA belonging to multiple victims inside McArthur’s van and on the fur coat. Cantlon said McArthur kept items belonging to some of his victims, such as jewelry belonging to Lisowick and Navaratnam.
The court also heard that McArthur dismembered his victims’ bodies at a home on Mallory Crescent in Toronto’s Leaside neighbourhood where he kept his gardening materials in “an effort to avoid detection.” Remains were found in planters at the property and at the side of the ravine behind the home.
Cantlon told the court a forensic expert determined McArthur moved and mixed the body parts after the remains were already decomposed and skeletonized.
In 2010, Navaratnam and Faizi — both of whom were last seen in Toronto’s Church and Wellesley Village — were reported missing, while Kayhan was reported missing in 2012. All three men died close to when they were reported missing.
Shortly after Kayhan’s disappearance, Toronto police launched Project Houston to investigate the disappearance of men from the village. Police ended Project Houston in 2014, saying the evidence at the time didn’t result in a criminal suspect.
Mahmudi, who was reported missing in August 2015, died that same month. Lisowick and Kanagaratnam — neither of whom were reported missing — died in 2016.
As Global News previously reported, McArthur was arrested in 2016 for assault for choking a man in the back of his van. The man escaped after a struggle, but police never laid any charges. Court also heard that police interviewed McArthur as a witness years earlier in relation to the disappearances of three of the victims.
On Friday, Global News learned that 32 Division Det. Paul Gauthier was charged with neglect of duty and insubordination related to the 2016 incident. Gauthier’s lawyer said the decision to release McArthur was made in consultation with Gauthier’s superior and “based on the information available at the time.”
Esen and Kinsman died in 2017, prompting Toronto police to launch Project Prism in August of that year to investigate their disappearances. Both were last seen in downtown Toronto. In September 2017, McArthur was identified by investigators assigned to Project Prism as “someone to be included or excluded as being involved in the disappearance of Andrew Kinsman.”
However, Cantlon said it was Kinsman’s disappearance that led investigators to McArthur. On June 26, Kinsman met up with McArthur in downtown Toronto. Police later found an entry on Kinsman’s calendar with the name “Bruce.” Kinsman was seen on surveillance video getting into a red van later identified as McArthur’s.
The van was identified by a dealership as a 2004 20th anniversary edition Dodge Caravan. It notably was missing fog lights and had silver trim.
With that “critical piece of evidence,” homicide detectives had a narrower search parameter. Det. David Dickinson then cross-referenced the name Bruce, as noted in the calendar, with Ministry of Transportation records and came up with five results (down from 6,181 results).
McArthur stood out on the narrowed-down list because of the attempted strangling in 2016.
Late in 2017, Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders denied there was evidence of a serial killer in the city. He also announced a review of practices surrounding missing persons investigations.
Cantlon said a man named John was found handcuffed to McArthur’s bed when police, who had the serial killer under surveillance, rushed in to make their arrest on Jan. 18. He said earlier during the encounter, McArthur handcuffed the victim to the bed and put a bag over his head. After John was able to get the bag off, McArthur tried to tape the man’s mouth shut.
While searching a USB drive belonging to McArthur, there were nine subfolders — eight belonging to eight men who died and a ninth with the name “John.” In the folder with John’s name, there was a photo of the victim on McArthur’s bed.
McArthur was arrested on Jan. 18, 2018, and charged with first-degree murder in connection with the deaths of Esen and Kinsman. Investigators uncovered evidence the day before suggesting that McArthur was responsible for their deaths along with the deaths of other victims.
On Jan. 29, 2018, McArthur was charged in connection with the deaths of Mahmudi, Kayhan and Lisowick. Less than a month later, he was charged with Navaratnam’s death. On April 11 and 16, McArthur was charged with Faizi and Kanagaratnam’s deaths, respectively.
After the detailed presentation of evidence, friends, family and community members took turns remembering the victims and describing how McArthur’s actions have affected them.
Nadia Wali, who spoke on behalf of Esen’s brothers and family, had harsh words for McArthur and police.
“We can’t come to terms with his savage murder … We also find it hard to believe that the serial killing of eight innocent gay persons went unnoticed for eight years,” she said.
The Crown, who was visibly emotional at times, read out a statement by Lisowick’s daughter, Emily Bourgeois. She said she never knew her biological father and was raised by her mother and stepfather.
“I was told he lived on the streets downtown. Growing up knowing that wasn’t easy,” she wrote.
“I have a child and another baby on the way and unfortunately one day they will ask about my father and where he is and I will have to tell (them) how he was taken away from the world.”
Cantlon said McArthur has shown some remorse by waiving his right to a preliminary hearing and pleading guilty to the charges. He said there is no evidence that McArthur has murdered anyone else.
Throughout the proceedings, McArthur, who was wearing a plaid shirt and a black sweater with dark blue jeans, sat in the prisoner’s box looking toward the front of the court.
Court is expected to hear more victim impact statements on Tuesday followed by submissions from the Crown and defence attorneys on what McArthur’s sentence should be.
Justice John McMahon said a sentencing judgment could come down by the end of the week.
— With files from The Canadian Press