After fleeing for nine days from Montreal to Paris and then across Europe, dismemberment-murder suspect Luka Rocco Magnotta now sits in a Berlin jail cell awaiting a deportation hearing after a string of small errors and seemingly reckless miscalculations led him to be identified and arrested in a Berlin Internet café.
A week after body parts belonging to 33-year-old Concordia University student Lin Jun, a Chinese national, were found in packages mailed to the Ottawa offices of the Conservative and Liberal parties, Mr. Magnotta was caught spending hours looking at pornography and newspaper stories about his own alleged crimes. He was picked up by Berlin police with little resistance.
The man who once posted a blog entry entitled “How To Completely Disappear And Never Be Found” had apparently left breadcrumbs scattered across Paris, Berlin and the highways in between. His cellphone led him to be tracked by Interpol, but in the end it was not high-tech surveillance but simply sharp-eyed citizens who ended his flight – leading some to wonder whether he was hoping to be caught.
“He wasn’t trying to hide himself at all – in fact, he had pictures of himself on the screen in front of him, so I don’t know how he expected to get away from the law,” said Ulku Sungur, the owner of the Internet café where his freedom ended.
Canadian officials are planning to converge on Berlin to make the case for a quick extradition, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said.
“Obviously, if the extradition hearings are waived, that’s a much shorter period of time,” Mr. Toews told reporters Monday as he entered the House of Commons. “So we trust that all of the authorities are co-operating, working hard to make that happen. The requests will be made for the extradition.”
Mr. Magnotta did not appear to have companions or accomplices. His long week of flight was far from lonely, though: At every step, he was noticed, tracked or watched by someone.
Shortly before midnight on Saturday, May 26, two days after he had last shown up at work and shortly after Mr. Lin’s death, Mr. Magnotta appears to have boarded Air Transat flight 610 to Paris at Montreal’s Trudeau airport.
Another passenger, a 24-year-old Paris photographer named Étienne who requested that his surname be kept confidential, says he and his boyfriend Matthieu were seated in the same row as Mr. Magnotta.
“The last passenger gets on the plane, he’s wearing a Mickey Mouse T-Shirt, khaki pants,” Étienne recalled. “He’s tall, he looks like a teenager, an androgynous sort, hair long, clear eyes, I place him in the category of a gay alien.”
Although the suspect was seated in seat 33A, the window seat of their three-seat aisle, “he didn’t say much,” Étienne said in an interview with The Globe and Mail. “He slid right past us getting into his seat. And he really did stink… he smelled like sweat.”
After sleeping fitfully in his seat, Mr. Magnotta disappeared to an unoccupied row in the back of the plane, where flight attendants told Étienne that they had found him weeping.
“When you find out what he’s done, when you know you were right next to him, it really gives you chills,” Étienne said.
The flight landed at Charles de Gaulle airport on Sunday, and for the next week Mr. Magnotta stayed in a number of locations around Paris. At first he stayed at a cheap hotel near Place de la Bastille, then with a friend in Clichy-la-Garenne.
By Tuesday, the body parts had arrived in Ottawa and shocked political staffers, and Montreal police had discovered a rotting corpse stuffed into a suitcase near Mr. Magnotta’s low-rent apartment. It took less than 24 hours to identify him.
At that point, Mr. Magnotta moved into l'hôtel du 28 on the rough-and-tumble Rue des Batignolles in northeast Paris, a few streets away from the Eurolines coach station, which offers long-distance buses to cities across Europe.
Eurolines staff explained in interviews on Monday that they do not always request ID from passengers who pay cash and are travelling to anywhere in the European Union except Britain. Because France and Germany are both in the Schengen Zone, there are no border checks between the countries.
Staff said it appeared that Mr. Magnotta had boarded a bus at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, and arrived in Berlin at 9:30 a.m. Monday. He was noticed en route by a fellow passenger who alerted German police, but by then he was aboard a U-Bahn train, headed toward a grotty stretch of Karl-Marx-Strasse, near the former location of the Berlin Wall.
“This would be a good neighbourhood to hide, because it’s full of unusual-looking guys who are just hanging around and only here temporarily,” said Okan Bilge, a 38-year-old man who works at an eyeglasses shop nearby and said he watched the arrest. “There are a lot of Turkish immigrants and a lot of gay tourists here, so people feel anonymous – but they’re really being watched closely.”
Clean-shaven and wearing jeans, sunglasses and a black jacket with a hood, Mr. Magnotta walked into the Internet Spaetkauf Helin at around 11:45 a.m. Monday and asked to use a computer.
He looked familiar to café owner Mr. Sungur and worker Kader Anlayisli. The Canadian murder suspect’s pictures had been all over the German media and were appearing frequently on TV that morning.
Staff at the café noticed Mr. Magnotta was looking at porn. He also appeared to be checking out articles about himself and the international manhunt under way to find him. “We thought he looked familiar, but we couldn’t be sure,” Mr. Sungur said. “In person, he looked a little different.”
Mr. Sungur and his worker took to the Internet themselves to check. Once they were fairly certain of his identity, Mr. Anlayisli ran outside to flag down the police, who often patrol Neukoelln.
Around 1:30 p.m., with Mr. Magnotta still surfing online, seven police officers stormed into the café and quickly overpowered the slender Mr. Magnotta. He tried to give police a false name, but the officers weren’t buying it, Captain Guido Busch of the Berlin police said.
Mr. Magnotta then gave up the ruse. “You got me,” he said.
His arrest drew expressions of relief in Europe, China and especially in Canada. In Montreal, police Commander Ian Lafrenière said investigators “are extremely relieved and happy” about Mr. Magnotta’s arrest. He is expected to appear before a judge in Germany on Tuesday. It’s unclear how long extradition to Canada will take.
Mr. Magnotta is facing five charges in Montreal, including first-degree murder, causing an indignity to a body, corrupting morals, using the mail system to deliver “obscene, indecent, immoral or scurrilous” material, and harassing Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Mr. Harper commended police Monday for catching Mr. Magnotta. “Well, I’m obviously pleased that the suspect has been arrested, and I just want to congratulate the police forces on their good work,” the Prime Minister said in London, where he is attending the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee
Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae told reporters Monday that it is important to remember that Mr. Lin’s family and friends are mourning the death of a young man who was killed under the most terrible of circumstances, and that the exploits of the man suspected of killing him should not be given undue attention. “All of Canada should be in mourning,” Mr. Rae said. “We should be continuing to mourn the person who dies rather than in any way, shape or form celebrate the notoriety of Mr. Magnotta, which I think would be completely wrong for us to do.”
Mr. Lin, who was enrolled in computer science and worked part-time at a convenience store, had been in Canada for about a year. Police say his killing and dismemberment was filmed and posted on Internet gore sites one day before Mr. Magnotta boarded the flight to France. Web viewers mused for days about whether the film was real or not before Mr. Lin’s dismembered body was found and Montreal police began an investigation.
Raised in Toronto’s Scarborough section, Mr. Magnotta had a self-aggrandizing online persona – and an extensive one.
He claimed to be a bisexual porn star, a famous model and a world traveller who drove expensive cars. He was rumoured to have dated Ontario schoolgirl-killer Karla Homolka and to have had plastic surgery to look like 1950s American film icon James Dean.
In reality, it appears Mr. Magnotta worked mostly as an escort. He also appears to have travelled extensively. Photographs posted on his website show him posing at landmarks in Moscow, Paris, New York and on a tropical beach.
Acquaintances of the Toronto native describe him as manipulative, needy and volatile. He was prone to outbursts of anger. One former lover recalled that he joked about killing people and animals. He apparently had a child, harboured a seething anger towards his parents and hinted at a traumatic childhood.
Mr. Magnotta went by several aliases, including Vladimir Romanov and Mattia Del Santo. He was born Eric Clinton Kirk Newman, but legally changed his name on Aug. 12, 2006.
A Facebook group started in December, 2010 had been tracking Mr. Magnotta after videos of kittens being killed were posted on YouTube. The group sent its evidence to the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which began an investigation in February, 2011.
Ontario SPCA spokesman Brad Dewar wouldn’t reveal whether Mr. Magnotta is a suspect in the animal-cruelty case, but noted last week that the organization had reached out to law-enforcement agencies around the world for help, including municipal police services in Toronto and Montreal, the RCMP and FBI, and an animal-welfare organization in the United Kingdom.
“We spent 18 months warning the police … and what did they do?” Facebook group member Rob Lynn, who lives in England, wrote online hours after police revealed last Wednesday they were on the hunt for Mr. Magnotta in connection with the Montreal killing.
With reports from Kyle G. Brown in Paris, Ingrid Peritz in Montreal, Josie Le Blond in Berlin, Adrian Morrow and Tu Thanh Ha in Toronto
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