Who is the Toronto Serial Killer? How many victims is he suspected of killing, and why is the police investigation so controversial?
A suspected murderer dubbed the “Toronto Serial Killer” has become a notorious figure in the Canadian city.
He is accused of committing a series of homicides targeting men in the town’s LGBT community, potentially spanning four decades.
As well more recent crimes dating back to the 2000s, Bruce McArthur – a landscape gardener – has also been potentially linked to killings in the 1970s, when there was a similar spate of disappearances that also went unsolved.
Between 1975 and 1978 there was a total of 14 murders of gay men in the city, many of whom were murdered in violent attacks similar to McArthur’s alleged victims.
He is accused of killing victims and disposing of their bodies in the gardens of wealthy clients.
Toronto’s Police Department has come under fire from local LGBT+ activists who believe authorities have failed in their quest to identity McArthur quickly, leading the force to cancel its application to march at the city’s Pride parade.
LGBT+ activists have been harshly critical of the police’s actions, alleging that authorities did not take warnings from the community about the suspected murders seriously enough and calling for an urgent inquiry into the failings.
Despite the criticism of the police, McArthur has officially been charged with the murder of seven victims, but was only arrested after years of bungled investigations into mysterious disappearances within the city’s gay community.
The 66-year-old is said to have met the men on gay dating apps under the screen names ‘silverfoxx51’ and ‘Bear411’ while driving around Toronto in his white van.
For years, he was registered on Recon, a dating site for “gay men into leather, rubber, BDSM and kink”.
McArthur was also on multiple gay dating websites, like BearForest and DaddyHunt. “Romantic at heart but don’t let that scare you off,” is a line he used on at least two websites, accompanied by several photos of himself smiling at different angles.
On the dating app Scruff, he advertised looking for men “that have a kinky side.”
“Enjoy finding a guys (sic) buttons and then pushing them to your limits,” his profile specified.
McArthur was able to hide in plain sight, reported to be a “portly, cheerful” looking man by local newspaper the Toronto Star, even serving as Santa Claus at a local mall during the festive season.
He was described as “the kindest person” around, according to one friend, a long-time friend of McArthur’s who was stunned when he first heard the news.
“I thought, ‘Oh my God! How’s Bruce going to react to that? They’ve arrested somebody with the same name,” he told the Toronto Star.
“It wasn’t until I started reading about it that I thought, ‘Holy crap, this is Bruce.’ It was an absolute shock. If the concept is hiding in plain sight, he did it.”
This is not McArthur’s first run-in with the law for crimes related to Toronto’s LGBT+ community.
In 2001, he pled guilty to brutally attacking a male sex worker with a metal pipe and the courts temporarily barred him from the Gay Village.
In 2016, a man reported to police that McArthur tried to strangle him during a consensual sexual encounter. According to the Toronto Star, McArthur went to police himself and was questioned, but then let go.
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Officers believed the man to be in imminent danger, and subsequently arrested McArthur.
They found dismembered remains of bodies in planters at wealthy properties linked to the landscape gardener, igniting a search for more remains at dozens of other houses where he had been employed.
McArthur faces murder charges over the deaths of Selim Esen, Andrew Kinsman, Majeed Kayhan, Soroush Mahmudi and Dean Lisowick, Skandaraj Navaratnam, and Abdulbasir Faizi who all disappeared from Toronto between 2010 and 2017.
Police have interviewed some of McArthur’s past known associates, but have said that evidence unearthed so far indicates he acted alone.