For years, men were going missing from Toronto's LGBTQ enclave. The culprit turned out to be a genial landscaper who would moonlight as a mall Santa.
Over a seven-year period in the aughts, the residents in The Village, an LGBTQ-friendly enclave of Toronto, suspected something was terribly wrong.
From 2010 to 2017, people were vanishing from the area. Whispers of a potential serial killer were spreading. Posters of the missing men papered the neighborhood. Meanwhile, Toronto police assured concerned residents there was no sign of a serial killer.
"We follow the evidence, and the evidence tells us that's not the case right now. The evidence today tells us there's not a serial killer,” Police Chief Mark Saunders said in December 2017, the Toronto Star reported at the time.
Weeks later, Bruce McArthur, a 60-something landscaper, was arrested and accused of murdering eight men; his eventual confession confirmed him as the most prolific serial killer in Canadian history.
The hunt for McArthur is documented in Oxygen's new special, "Catching A Serial Killer: Bruce McArthur," airing Sunday, April 11 at 7/6c as part of Oxygen's Serial Killer Week, a nine-night special event diving into the most fearsome and fascinating criminals of all time on Oxygen.
Here's what to know about McArthur:
In 2010, Skandaraj Navaratnam was last seen leaving a nightclub in The Village, the BBC reported in 2019. Navaratnam, who was a 40-year-old from Sri Lanka who moved to Canada in the 1990s as a refugee, was never seen again. Over the next eight years, seven more people — mostly gay or bisexual men of Southeast Asian or Middle Eastern descent — also disappeared.
Abdulbasir Faizi had a double life, with a wife and two daughters in a Toronto suburb and friends in The Village, according to "Catching A Serial Killer: Bruce McArthur." He was last seen at a bathhouse in the neighborhood in late 2010. Majeed Kayhan, too, lived a secret life in the Village, which was unknown to his wife; he was reported missing in 2012. Soroush Mahmudi, a 50-year-old refugee from Iran, was the next to disappear — in August 2015, the BBC reported. His wife said he went to bed and was gone in the morning.
Kirushna Kumar Kanagaratnam, a 37-year-old seeking asylum from Sri Lanka, mostly lived underground because he didn't have refugee status, according to "Catching A Serial Killer: Bruce McArthur." So, it wasn't immediately clear when he went missing — although police believe he was killed in early 2016. Dean Lisowick, a sex worker who had mental illness and addiction issues, was also not reported as missing, although they now believe he was killed in spring 2016.
Selim Esen, a 44-year-old immigrant from Turkey, was the next to vanish, in April 2017, CBC News reported in 2018. He was reported missing by a friend.
Then, in June 2017, Andrew Kinsman, a 49-year-old building superintendent, disappeared. Kinsman was well known throughout The Village and his absence was quickly noted by the community and police. The search for Kinsman sparked intense media coverage — as well as frustration and anger with police, as people believed they hadn't been taking the rash of disappearances seriously until then, the Toronto Star reported in 2018.
However, Toronto police had initially looked into the first three disappearances during an investigation that was nicknamed Project Houston.
Project Houston Begins
A tip from Interpol (the International Criminal Police Organization) in 2012 sparked the investigation. A source in Switzerland had a conversation with a person on a cannibal fantasy website called Zambian Meat, where users discussed eating people, CTV News reported in 2018. This user, in particular, claimed he had killed and eaten a man in Toronto.
Skandaraj Navaratnam seemed to fit the description of the victim — but authorities quickly realized they had two other missing men who matched the descriptor as well: Majeed Kayhan and Abdulbasir Faizi. They were able to trace the man behind the username "Chefmate50," according to CTV News. However, after months of surveillance, they were forced to conclude their suspect was only engaging in cannibalism fantasies, not the act. There was no connection between him and the three missing men.
During Project Houston, many associates of the three men were interviewed — including McArthur. He was brought in as a potential witness after a username and email address, "silverfoxx51,” was found in both Navaratnam and Faizi’s computer data. Silverfoxx51 was identified as McArthur, CBC News reported in 2019.
Project Houston was closed in 2014.
McArthur's Criminal Past
McArthur would land on the police's radar yet again — and for a much more serious reason. On June 20, 2016, a man called 911 and reported McArthur had attacked him and tried to strangle him while they were having a sexual encounter, The Toronto Star reported in 2019. McArthur, who had previously attacked a sex worker with a pipe in 2001 and was convicted of assault, went to the police station and voluntarily turned himself in. He claimed it was a misunderstanding.
The charges were dropped — and the police officer who let McArthur go would later be slapped with disciplinary charges of insubordination and neglect of duty in relation to his handling of the accusation, CTV News reported in 2019.
Project Prism Gathers Clues
After Essen and Kinsman went missing, a new task force was created in August 2017: Project Prism.
While searching Kinsman's home, a clue surfaced: The name "Bruce" was spotted on his calendar for the date June 26. And after looking at surveillance footage of Kinsman's building, they spotted a suspicious-looking van in the parking lot the day he went missing, CP24.com reported in 2018. They traced it to Bruce McArthur. When they seized the van, they discovered traces of Kinsman's blood inside, the Toronto Star reported.
McArthur was then placed under police surveillance — and when they saw him enter his building with a Middle Eastern man, they decided to rush in. It was the right choice: Inside, the man had been chained to a bed. They had saved a potential ninth victim.
A search of McArthur's apartment turned up even more disturbing evidence, as folders of photos of the eight missing men were found on his computer. McArthur posed his victims and dressed them up — one near his fur coat, another with a cigar in his mouth, and so on — and photographed them.
Taking these photos of his victims was all about his fantasy of control, sexual domination, and humiliation, experts told "Catching A Killer: Bruce McArthur."
McArthur's Shocking Arrest
McArthur had been raised in a highly religious family and married his high school sweetheart, according to "Catching a Killer: Bruce McArthur." They had two children, and had moved to the Toronto area around 2000. He occasionally dressed as Santa Claus at malls, and he owned a small landscaping business. Authorities told the special Bruce McArthur was gentle and soft-spoken — it was shocking to those around him that he was the one behind such evil.
His landscaping business would prove key to the investigation when the remains of seven of the victims were discovered in flower planters at a property where McArthur worked, that belonged to a woman named Karen Fraser. She had been neighbors with his sister when she took him on as a landscaper.
The remains of the other victim were found in a ravine behind that property.
In January 2019, McArthur confessed to killing and dismembering the eight men. He was handed eight life sentences the following month. He will not be eligible for parole until he is 91, the BBC reported at the time.
For more on the hunt for Bruce McArthur, watch Oxygen's new special, "Catching A Serial Killer: Bruce McArthur," airing Sunday, April 11 at 7/6c as part of Oxygen's Serial Killer Week, a nine-night special event diving into the most fearsome and fascinating criminals of all time on Oxygen.