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Toronto Bruce McArthur pleads guilty to murder of eight men linked to Toronto’s Gay Village

Bruce McArthur's victims are shown in these Toronto Police Service handout photos. Top row (left to right) are Selim Esen, Soroush Mahmudi, Dean Lisowick and Abdulbasir Faizi. Bottom row (left to right) are Skandaraj Navaratnam, Andrew Kinsman, Kirushna Kanagaratnam and Majeed Kayhan. McArthur pleaded guilty to eight counts of first-degree murder in a Toronto courtroom on Tuesday.

The Canadian Press

Bruce McArthur has admitted he is the serial killer who targeted Toronto’s Gay Village for nearly a decade, murdering eight men and keeping mementos stolen from his victims even as police searched in vain for the culprit.

A year after his arrest, the landscaper pleaded guilty Tuesday to all eight counts of first-degree murder, a series of killings that began in 2010 and culminated in the slaying of an acquaintance, whose calendar on the day of his disappearance just said “Bruce.”

That clue helped lead investigators to Mr. McArthur and a trove of evidence. In his van, they discovered the DNA of four missing men. In his apartment, they found a bracelet, jewellery and a journal belonging to men he killed.

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The guilty pleas close a chapter in one of the largest investigations in the history of Toronto’s police. But with most of the victims being newcomers or homeless, there are renewed calls for an inquiry into why it took police so long to catch him.

Outside court, Haran Vijayanathan, executive of the Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention, said he believed the homicide detectives did an “amazing” job, but added: “Why did it take 10 years?”

Family and friends of the victims cried and hugged as details of the killings became public. They will have the opportunity to address Mr. McArthur when they read victim impact statements at his sentencing next week. Over his three-day sentencing hearing, prosecutors will disclose more details of his crimes.

Bruce McArthur attends Superior court in a sketch made by a courtroom artist in Toronto, on Jan. 29, 2019.

STRINGER/Reuters

“I have said our city deserves two things: justice and answers,” Mayor John Tory said in a statement. The mayor added that it is likely “additional, broader examinations of these terrible events will be required.”

Detective David Dickinson, one of the lead investigators, said “if there were mistakes made, then we should learn from them and see what those mistakes were.”

The final call on a public inquiry falls to Ontario Attorney-General Caroline Mulroney and the Doug Ford government. Ms. Mulroney’s office did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

All but one of Mr. McArthur’s victims were refugees, newcomers or homeless. Many of the men were reported missing, but their bodies were not found until his arrest.

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The 67-year-old was charged with the first-degree murders between 2010 and 2017 of Skandaraj Navaratnam, Abdulbasir Faizi, Majeed Kayhan, Soroush Mahmudi, Kirushna Kumar Kanagaratnam, Dean Lisowick, Selim Esen and Andrew Kinsman.

Over the seven years that men went missing from the Gay Village, and before he was treated as a suspect, police interviewed Mr. McArthur twice.

He was first tied to the case in 2013, under Project Houston, an unsuccessful attempt to solve the first three disappearances. Friends of the missing men told police that Mr. McArthur had a romantic relationship with Mr. Navaratnam, the first man to go missing; and had visited Mr. Kayhan, his third victim, before his disappearance.

Three years later, Mr. McArthur was interviewed after a man alleged that the landscaper had choked him during sex. No charges were laid. An internal review into the incident was later ordered.

Last year, the Toronto Police Services Board also approved an external review into how police handle missing-persons cases. The review is continuing, but it will not include any details of the investigation into Mr. McArthur himself.

Despite the guilty pleas, the agreed facts that Crown attorney Michael Cantlon read Tuesday showed no sign that Mr. McArthur volunteered any information investigators didn’t already discover.

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Officers conducted a four-month search of his flat, on the 19th floor of an apartment tower.

Inside, they found a bracelet worn by Mr. Navaratnam, Mr. Lisowick’s jewellery and a notebook belonging to Mr. Esen. Richard Harrop, a friend of Mr. Esen, remembers hearing him read from the notebook, which served as a personal journal.

Police also found a duffel bag in Mr. McArthur’s bedroom, containing duct tape, a surgical glove, zip ties, a black bungee cord and syringes, Mr. Cantlon said.

The prosecutor described what appeared to be an escalation in Mr. McArthur’s crimes. Starting with the third victim, Mr. Kayhan in 2012, the killings were “sexual in nature,” with the bodies of the victims being staged afterward, Mr. Cantlon said.

There was a pause in the killings after the 2013 police interview. Then in 2015, Mr. McArthur used ligatures in the murder of Mr. Mahmudi, the prosecutor said.

Ligatures were also used in the subsequent murders, he said. There is evidence that in the last two murders, the victims were also tied with ropes, Mr. Cantlon said.

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He said Mr. McArthur’s van had DNA from Mr. Mahmudi, Mr. Navaratnam, Mr. Esen and Mr. Kinsman, and a murder weapon, but didn’t elaborate on the weapon.

The last victim was Mr. Kinsman. Court heard that police found in his calendar an entry simply reading “Bruce” for June 26, 2017 – the day he disappeared. Surveillance footage recorded him getting inside Mr. McArthur’s van.

The minimal sentence for one count of first-degree murder is a life term, with no chance for parole before 25 years, so even if Mr. McArthur receives concurrent sentences, he would be in his 90s before he can apply for a conditional release.

It was only recently that the victims' families were able to bury these men. Even after Mr. McArthur is sentenced, the investigation will continue. Police continue to probe other missing-persons files, in addition to 25 cold-case homicides, searching for “any other possible connections,” Det. Dickinson said.

“I’m not sure if there is a day that goes by that I won’t make a note in my book.”

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