Accused serial killer Bruce McArthur has pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the deaths of eight men, admitting to killings that began in 2010 and continued until late 2017.
The plea, entered in Superior court before Justice John McMahon on Tuesday morning, brings to a close a tragic and disturbing case that was unprecedented in this city, and a sprawling police investigation that brought praise and ardent criticism to Toronto police.
McArthur, appearing frail and standing next to his lawyer James Miglin, was expressionless as the names of the men he admitted he killed were read out into a packed courtroom.
“Guilty,” McArthur said eight times, not showing emotion.
McMahon called the case “a terrible tragedy.”
McArthur has admitted to killing: Andrew Kinsman, 49; Selim Esen, 44; Majeed Kayhan, 58; Soroush Mahmudi, 50; Dean Lisowick, 47; Skandaraj (Skanda) Navaratnam, 40, Abdulbasir Faizi, 42, and Kirushnakumar Kanagaratnam, 37.
A short summary of the facts read out in court showed that some or all of the killings were sexual in nature, involved staging, and that there was evidence of confinement. McArthur kept some items belonging to his victims, such as jewelry or a notebook. In some of the deaths, there was evidence that a ligature was used.
Police located a Duffel bag belonging to McArthur that contained duct tape, a surgical glove, zip ties, black bungie cord and syringes.
His sentencing hearing will start Feb. 4.
McMahon told court that for sentencing, the only issue to be decided is whether the parole ineligibility runs concurrent or consecutive. There is an automatic life sentence with no parole for 25 years for first-degree murder.
One criminal defence lawyer told the Star that it’s unlikely that McArthur will ever be released from prison.
“Someone who is found guilty of multiple murders is never likely to be released into the community, regardless of what the parole ineligibility is set at,” said criminal defence lawyer Daniel Brown, who is not involved in the case.
“Certainly his age could be a factor in deciding whether or not he’s a continuing risk to the community if released, but the gruesome nature of the crimes and the number of homicides alone will likely keep him behind bars for the rest of his life.”
Victim impact statements will be filed or read during that hearing. The issue of parole eligibility will be discussed at that time.
The 67-year-old self-employed landscaper — who was a familiar face in Toronto’s Church and Wellesley area, known as the Gay Village — was arrested in January 2018. Police charged him with first-degree murder in the deaths of two men, but alleged he killed others.
“We believe he is responsible for the deaths of other men,” Insp. Hank Idsinga, a lead homicide detective on the case, said at a hastily called news conference Jan. 18, 2018, hours after McArthur’s arrest from the Thorncliffe Park apartment he shared with a roommate.
The news followed long-held suspicion within Toronto’s Gay Village that a serial killer had been preying on their community, concerns denied by Toronto police up until weeks before McArthur was charged. And it marked only the beginning of an extensive police probe that crossed international lines and became the largest forensic investigation in Toronto police history.
Many of the victims had ties to the Gay Village and were of South Asian or Middle Eastern descent.
Candace Shaw, a neighbour and friend of Kinsman, said the plea is “definitely good news in a lot of respects,” as it saves the friends and families of the victims the “time and energy” of a “long, drawn-out trial.”
“It’s satisfying to know that he will go to jail and probably not leave jail,” she told the Star, adding that she hopes that the slow drip of devastating information surrounding the case will now stop.
“It’s a relief.”
She added the police have “some soul searching to do” about how they approach missing persons cases and how they interact with members of the LGBTQ community. Shaw feels their concerns about a possible serial killer were not taken seriously.
She also urged the public not to lose sight of McArthur’s eight victims, including her friend Kinsman who she remembers as a “lovely person” with a sardonic sense of humour, who did so much good in his community.
“To have all of these lives snuffed out by one man is pretty devastating,” she said. “It’s just a big weight of misery that one person is responsible for inflicting on hundreds or even thousands of people.”
Another one of Kinsman’s friends, Nicole Borthwick, said McArthur should have pleaded guilty months ago, to save the families from the trauma of waiting in anguish to have a resolution.
“He’s had a lot of the community hanging in the balance for over a year,” Bortwick said. “It could have been done sooner.”
Borthwick, a self-professed ally of the LGBTQ community, lives in the Gay Village, where she met three of the victims.
“I don’t know if this is truly justice,” she said. “He may die in prison, but I’m not sure if that’s adequate justice for friends and loved ones.”
Though she was acquainted with both Esen and Lisowick, Borthwick was closest with Kinsman, with whom she volunteered at Toronto People With AIDS Foundation until he mysteriously disappeared in the summer of 2017.
“Now that McArthur is off the street, there is some sort of relief,” she said.
Lou Locke, Faizi’s former boss at a Mississauga industrial printing company, said seeing Faizi’s picture on the news was a “sad reminder of what happened to our friend.”
He described McArthur’s guilty plea as the “appropriate response.”
“It’s been hard enough on the families,” he said, adding he hopes they can now have some sense of closure.
Jean-Guy Cloutier, a friend of Navaratnam who was known to many as Skanda, said he has “mixed feelings” about the plea.
“Justice is being served,” he said, adding he feels “sort of relieved.”
“It still doesn’t bring Skanda back though.”
Toronto police Insp. Idsinga told reporters Tuesday that he won’t comment on why McArthur chose to plead guilty. He said the investigation continues into other possible victims of McArthur.
Toronto police continue to probe historic murders, looking for any connection to McArthur, who grew up on a farm in small-town Ontario and, in the late 1970s, worked alone as a travelling salesman. But no links have been announced by police.
McArthur was 58 years old at the time of his first alleged murder in 2010 — an anomaly in serial killers, who are typically much younger men.
McArthur married his high school girlfriend, then is believed to have come out as gay in the 1990s, moving to Toronto from his family home in Oshawa. He frequented the city’s Gay Village and was registered on male dating sites, posting on one that he enjoyed finding a guy’s “buttons and then pushing them to your limits.”
At the outset of the police investigation into McArthur, scores of officers were brought in from police services across Ontario to search properties across the Greater Toronto Area, many owned by clients of Artistic Design, McArthur’s landscaping company.
Police would quickly narrow in on just one property, a picturesque Leaside residence at 53 Mallory Cres. where they discovered dismembered, skeletal human remains buried inside large planters on the property. The remains were forensically tested and linked, through fingerprint, dental or DNA records, to seven of McArthur’s alleged victims.
Months later, after warming weather thawed the grounds around the home, police launched a nine-day excavation of the steep, forested ravine immediately behind the Leaside home, where police say McArthur had been keeping a large compost pile. During that search, they located the remains of Kayhan, the sole victim who had not yet been located.
Karen Fraser, who lives in the Mallory Cres. home where McArthur hid body parts in planters, told reporters after Tuesday’s court appearance that she met two of the men who McArthur killed. They were brought to her home as friends of McArthur’s.
“I just saw a blank face,” she said, when asked if she saw any remorse from McArthur at the court hearing.
McArthur’s case has prompted criticism of Toronto police handling of missing persons cases, including questions about why the alleged killer wasn’t caught earlier. Many within the LGBTQ community and beyond have raised concerns that the succession of missing people from the Gay Village was not sufficiently investigated.
After the disappearances of McArthur’s first three alleged victims — Navartnam, Faizi, and Kayhan — Toronto police launched a probe called Project Houston in 2012. McArthur was questioned by police around the time of this probe, police sources told the Star, but the initiative ended in 2014, with no arrests. Documents unsealed by the courts late last year showed investigators zeroed in on the wrong man during the Project Houston probe.
McArthur came into contact with Toronto police again two years later, when a man reported to police that McArthur had tried to strangle him during an otherwise consensual sexual encounter. The man escaped McArthur’s grasp and immediately reported the assault, but McArthur was let go, according to two sources with knowledge of the 2016 incident.
McArthur did have a prior conviction: in 2001, he attacked a male sex worker midday inside the victim’s Gay Village apartment, striking him with a metal pipe. McArthur turned himself in and pleaded guilty to assault with a weapon and assault causing bodily harm. As part of his sentence, he was barred from the Gay Village. He later obtained a pardon for the conviction.
Mounting questions about police handling of the case led to calls for a public inquiry, prompting the Toronto police board to bring on former Ontario Court of Appeal Justice Gloria Epstein to lead an independent review examining Toronto police handling of missing person’s cases, including whether some probes may have been “tainted by systemic bias or discrimination,” Epstein said.
Toronto police, meanwhile, conducted its own internal review of missing persons cases, and this summer created a dedicated missing persons unit.
With files from Alyshah Hasham, May Warren, Jason Miller and Jacques Gallant
Wendy Gillis is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and policing. Reach her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter: @wendygillis