Murder charges laid in cases of two missing Toronto men
Just weeks after seeking to quell fears of a serial killer in city's LGBTQ community, police say they believe 66-year-old man killed two victims and likely others
By MOLLY HAYES, TU THANH HA, PATRICK WHITE
Friday, January 19, 2018 Print Edition, Page A1
TORONTO -- Just weeks after attempting to quell fears of a serial killer in Toronto's LGBTQ community, police have arrested a man they say is responsible for the murder of two missing men - and they believe there are more victims.
Bruce McArthur, a 66-year-old freelance landscaper from Toronto who was well known in the city's Gay Village, was arrested on Thursday and charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of 49-year-old Andrew Kinsman and 44-year-old Selim Esen.
"We believe he is responsible for the deaths of Mr. Kinsman and Mr. Esen," Detective Sergeant Hank Idsinga of the homicide squad told reporters.
"And we believe he is responsible for the deaths of other men who have yet to be identified. In other words, we believe there are other victims."
He was reluctant to label the suspect a serial killer. "He's killed at least two people that we know of, and we believe there are more victims. Whether you want to attach that label or not is up to you."
Mr. McArthur's apartment in the Leaside Towers building in the city's Thorncliffe Park area was one of four Toronto properties police scoured on Thursday as part of their investigation, as well as another in Madoc, Ont., north of Belleville. Mr. McArthur is scheduled to appear at the College Park courthouse on Friday morning.
A portrait began to emerge on Thursday of Mr. McArthur, whose social-media profile includes photos from past travels, social gatherings and what appears to have been a stint as a mall Santa.
According to his profile on Silver Daddies, an online dating site for older gay men, Mr. McArthur was looking to chat with some "nice looking" guys and maybe make some new friends. In that profile, Mr. McArthur says that he can be "a bit shy until I get to know you, but [I] am a romantic at heart" and describes himself as a self-employed landscaper who loves to cook. Police said he works for a landscaping firm called Artistic Design.
A neighbour who lives two doors down from Mr. McArthur's two-bedroom unit in the high-rise building described him as amiable and said he has lived in the building for about a decade. His door always had a wreath at Christmas and a bunny at Easter, she said. She did not want to be identified because she feared for her safety.
Mr. McArthur lived in apartment #1915, with a partner whom the neighbour said she has not seen for at least a month and a half. She described them as kind guys. She said she often spoke to Mr. McArthur in the pool and last saw him there two and a half weeks ago.
Police have not found Mr. Kinsman or Mr. Esen's bodies, but said they are executing the search warrants in an effort to locate them. They believe they have evidence of the cause of their deaths, as well as those of other victims.
"I am well aware of the difficulties in prosecuting people without recovering a body, but, in this case, we believe we have strong enough evidence that we can do exactly that," Det. Sgt. Idsinga said.
Mr. McArthur had a sexual relationship with Mr. Kinsman for some time, he said, and had come to the attention of investigators several months ago - but it was only on Wednesday that police found grounds to arrest him.
"We haven't been able to make that definitive link until yesterday," Det. Sgt. Idsinga said.
Mr. McArthur and the victims used dating apps. "We're still digging through that as well," the detective said.
Mr. Kinsman, who was active in the LGBTQ community, was known to be using the dating phone app Scruff.
The arrest brought some solace to his relatives, who had spent months searching Toronto's ravines, hoping to find clues about his disappearance.
"I'm relieved finally. I'm so relieved," one of Mr. Kinsman's sisters, Karen Cole, said in an interview shortly after police told her of the arrest.
"Andrew's dead. He's gone. But they have a person [in custody]."
Less is known about Mr. Esen, whom police had previously described as transient. A friend of his, Richard Harrop, spoke at a community meeting last summer about Mr. Esen, recalling that he was proud of a certificate he had recently earned after a week-long peer counselling course at St. Stephen's Community House.
Mr. Harrop said Mr. Esen arrived from Turkey about three years ago and had struggled with substance issues, but had been getting on track before his disappearance.
On Facebook on Thursday, a man who identified himself as an employee from St. Stephen's posted that Mr. McArthur had also been a client there. However, the centre said it cannot by law confirm whether either man had been a client.
The arrest comes after the several missing-person cases raised fears in the community. The disappearances of Mr. Esen and Mr. Kinsman - in April and June, respectively - led to a police task force called Project Prism.
An earlier task force, Project Houston, had looked, unsuccessfully, into the disappearances of three Village regulars, Abdulbasir Faizi, Skandaraj Navaratnam and Majeed Kayhan, between 2010-12.
Mr. Navaratnam appears to be listed as a friend of Mr. McArthur on Facebook, although police have not confirmed any connection between the cases.
On Thursday, Det. Sgt. Idsinga said police are aware of other missing men from the Village, and noted police "are trying to identify whether they may have become victims of Mr. McArthur as well." He said identifying the other victims is a priority.
Toronto police were criticized in the fall for their handling of the disappearances of Tess Richey, whose body was found in the Church and Wellesley area by her mother just doors away from where she had last been seen, and Alloura Wells, a transgender woman whose body was found in August, but was not identified until November. In a news conference in December, Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders announced an internal review into the way his service handles missingperson reports, acknowledging his officers could have responded better to disappearances and deaths linked to the Village.
At that news conference, Chief Saunders said there was no evidence a serial killer was at work in the area.
"In policing, what we do is we follow the evidence," he said on Thursday. "And what I said was accurate at that time."
He said investigators are still looking for evidence. "The investigation has not stopped. In fact, it has just begun."
Late on Thursday night, police were still at a property on Cooper Road, about 20 kilometres outside of Madoc. The property includes a two-story house similar to other farmhouses along the road, with a number of outbuildings.
Ivan and Phyllis Vallieres, who live just up the road from the property, said they met Mr. McArthur only once, when he was mowing the lawn shortly after he moved in this past summer. Mr. Vallieres describes him as a nice man, who often travelled back and forth from Toronto delivering flowers, and to do other landscaping work in the city.
McArthur is also said to be a lover of rare birds. "He told me he had 150 exotic birds in his garage that needed to be fed every couple of days," said Mr. Vallieres.
Mr. Vallieres said there are multiple buildings on the property including four trailers and the large garage, which Mrs, Vallieres estimated to be the size of five regular garages. "We knew something was going on when we saw the police cars," Mrs. Vallieres said. "We were going to go and try to help, to see what all the trouble was, but they have the place all gated off."
Elliott Leyton, a Canadian expert on mass killers and the author of Hunting Humans: The Rise of the Modern Multiple Murderer, said the early allegations in this case point to a sadly common pattern, although he said he was immediately struck by the accused's age, 66.
"That's pushing it for someone that age to be involved in that activity," he said, adding that it is particularly odd given the accused is alleged to have been "quite active."
"It's unusual for it to be that late that it would suddenly pop out of nowhere," he said. "But, there's a very long nurturing period. People don't just get up one morning and think, 'I'll go murder the category which I'm sexually attracted to.' They nurture it first as a thought, and then as a fantasy, then as something that is becoming developed and refined, then finally a decision is made to go ahead. ... It doesn't begin or end there."
Dr. Leyton said he understands police hesitancy to call the accused a potential serial killer - even though he is suspected of multiple murders - given that it is such a loaded and sensational term. Dr. Leyton notes it also carries a certain mystique that can be misleading.
"There's been a tremendous amount of glorification of so-called serial or mass killers in the last 20 years, and people have come to think of them as incredibly strong and smart and that they can outwit the police," said Dr. Leyton, a professor emeritus of forensic anthropology at Memorial University of Newfoundland. "But it's only because the nature of the crime, the murder of strangers, is very difficult for police to solve."
For now, Dr. Leyton says he expects a "wall of silence" from police, as investigators try to determine the full scope of the situation and establish how many victims there might be. "It's a developing case, and we don't know where it's going to go," he says.
With reports from Jana G. Pruden and Jesse Winter
Police have not found the bodies of Selim Esen, left, and Andrew Kinsman, but said they are executing search warrants in an effort to locate them.
An OPP cruiser sits outside the Madoc, Ont., property connected to Bruce McArthur on Thursday.
LARS HAGBERG/THE CANADIAN PRESS