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For years, there were rumors in the gay community in Toronto (Canada) about a serial killer who was stalking the community.
Now that one of its members has pleaded guilty to murdering eight men, there are those who wonder why the police did not act before.
In February 2018, about 200 people gathered in a small park in the heart of Toronto’s gay neighborhood (known as Village) to mourn the victims of a suspected serial killer.
Many wore bracelets painted with the words “love”, “heal”, “get up”, “remember”. The slogans were used in an emotional exchange between the organizers and the crowd.
“Today we remember,” they said, and the words echoed through the crowd.
“Today we resist, today we heal, today we get up, today, especially today, we love.”
A year later the names of the victims and the identity of the murderer are known, as Bruce McArthur, a 67-year-old gardener and landscape gardener, pleaded guilty Tuesday to eight counts of first-degree murder.
The hearing will begin on February 4 to issue a sentence, a process in which friends and relatives of the victims will give testimony of how the murders affected their lives.
McArthur grew up in rural Ontario, in central-eastern Canada, and married a woman in the 1980s.
From an early age he knew that he was homosexual, but he tried to ignore it.
Grandfather and father of two children, McArthur came out of the closet with just over 40 years old, left his family in the town of Oshawa and moved to Toronto.
There he became a regular visitor to the Village, as the gay neighborhood of the city is known.
In Zipperz, one of the bars frequented by many of his presumed victims, he could often be found sitting at the bar, having a drink or chatting with a man.
“I used to refer to him as ‘Santa,'” Zipperz owner Harry Singh tells the BBC. McArthur worked as an impersonator of Santa Claus in a shopping center during a Christmas.
But few people knew their dark side.
In 2003, he received a two-year suspended sentence for assaulting a prostitute with a metal tube.
As part of his sentence, he was required to stay away from male prostitutes , to stop frequenting Toronto’s gay neighborhood and to refrain from using the narcotic amyl nitrite, also known as poppers .
Human remains in pots
The Canadian maintained a close relationship with some of the clients who hired him to design and care for his garden.
One of them, Karen Fraser, even allowed her to store tools in the shed of her house.
The police would later discover the remains of several bodies hidden in pots on the property, as well as in a nearby gully.
Fraser comments that McArthur never gave any clue as to what kind of man he really was. He was energetic and cheerful, loved plants and was obsessed with his grandchildren.
“As I see it, the man I met did not exist,” he says.
The impact of discovering that her precious home had become the cemetery of a serial killer has devastated her.
Now, while the man prepares to be sentenced, Fraser confesses that he has nothing to say to him.
“I do not like forgiveness very much, I do not like closing very much, they did terrible things,” he says naturally.
McArthur’s arrest in January 2018 confirmed the worst fears of many in Toronto’s gay neighborhood, who for years suspected that a serial killer was attacking his community.
“Too many people have been lost for too long in our community,” said Troy Jackson, one of the organizers of the vigil.
Located at the intersection of Church Street and Wellesley Street, Village has been the city’s enclave for the LGBT community (lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual) since the 1960s.
But it has been more than a neighborhood: it also became a home for many people who felt marginalized because of their sexual inclination.
Many of McArthur’s victims were immigrants from South Asia or the Middle East who had no family in Canada.
For them, the gay neighborhood was their safe place. Instead, it became a hunting ground.
According to his guilty plea, McArthur killed:
- Skandaraj Navaratnam, 40 years old. (2010)
- Abdulbasir Faizi, 42 years old. (2010)
- Majeed Kayhan, 58 years old. (2012)
- Soroush Mahmudi, 50 years old. (2015)
- Kirushna Kumar Kanagaratnam, 37 years old. (2016)
- Dean Lisowick, 47 years old. (2016)
- Selim Esen, 44 years old. (2017)
- Andrew Kinsman, 49 years old. (2017)
Questions without answer
Police have not revealed how Bruce McArthur became a suspect in the murders.
It was known that he had had sex with one of the victims, Andrew Kinsman, and came to light images of a surveillance camera showing Kinsman getting into his car the day he disappeared.
Rumors that someone was attacking the community began when Skandaraj Navaratnam disappeared from Zipperz, Labor Day weekend, in 2010.
Known as Skanda by his friends, the 40-year-old man had moved to Canada from Sri Lanka in the 1990s and quickly adapted to life in the Village, where he soon made friends.
“His laugh was just ridiculous,” he told the Canadian newspaper Toronto Star Jodi Becker, a Zipperz waitress and close friend of Navaratnam.
“If Skanda laughed, everyone started to laugh, even if it was not funny.”
Then the number of missing persons shot up and in 2012 the police deployed a working group to investigate. The investigations ended 18 months later.
In June of 2017, Kinsman’s disappearance triggered a community-wide search and rekindled the rumors of a serial killer in the neighborhood.
Soon after, the police assigned a second task force to investigate the disappearances of Kinsman and Esen.
Until December of that year, however, the Toronto authorities publicly said that “there was no evidence” of a serial killer.
This denial ended up damaging an already fragile relationship between the LGBT community in the city and the police.
Unanswered questions still haunt Haran Vijayanathan, executive director of the AIDS Prevention Alliance in South Asia, who has spoken on behalf of many of the victims.
Vijayanathan successfully requested an independent investigation (still ongoing) on how m the authorities attached n the investigations of missing persons.
If the police had paid more attention, Vijayanathan told the BBC last February, “we can not help but wonder if the lives of the other men who died or are missing could have been saved.”
“Those are the ‘maybe’ and the ‘and if’ we have to deal with.”