Alleged serial killer Bruce McArthur was under surveillance almost every day for more than two months before his arrest as Toronto police secretly searched his home several times. On at least two occasions, the officers had to make a quick exit when someone was returning to his high-rise apartment.
The details of the extensive police operation can be gleaned from newly released documents that outline how detectives tracked Mr. McArthur’s van with a GPS device and installed a secret camera aimed at a garage where he was suspected of hiding the bodies of victims.
The documents are part of thousands of pages of heavily redacted affidavits made public on Wednesday after a court order sought by several media outlets, including The Globe and Mail.
Mr. McArthur has been charged with eight counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of eight men with ties to Toronto’s Gay Village.
Court documents show that he became a person of interest by late August, 2017, after the June disappearance of an acquaintance, Andrew Kinsman. That fall, the court documents indicate, police found Mr. Kinsman’s blood on a van that Mr. McArthur had sold to a scrapyard.
On Dec. 5, 2017, police obtained a general warrant authorizing officers to enter Mr. McArthur’s apartment on up to five occasions to search for evidence.
Later that day, Detective Constable Joel Manherz and other officers headed to the flat, on the 19th floor of one of the Leaside Towers, on Thorncliffe Park Drive.
Typically in such operations, another team would follow the suspects to make sure they would be away from the residence.
Just as they gained entry to the apartment, the officers were contacted by the primary investigator, Detective Dave Dickinson.
He alerted them that a GPS tracker placed on a car and officers conducting surveillance thought that someone – likely Mr. McArthur or his son, Todd – was heading toward the apartment.
The covert team had to leave.
They returned two days later. While some officers started making copies of the content of electronic devices, Det. Constable Manherz searched Mr. McArthur’s room.
“Investigators were in the apartment for slightly more than an hour before physical surveillance and the trackers indicated that McArthur might be on his way home,” an affidavit said.
It said Detective Constable John Angus of the Technological Crimes section managed to copy one memory key and one external hard drive. He had downloaded 45 per cent of the content of a desktop computer when they aborted the mission.
After Mr. McArthur’s Jan. 18 arrest, items seized in his apartment included six computers, five smartphones and 10 memory sticks.
While Toronto police have not revealed what they found in the devices, sources have told The Globe and other media outlets that investigators found photos of several of the slain men.
The affidavits say that officers also made covert entries at Mr. McArthur’s flat on Dec. 6 and also at other locations.
The documents were filed to obtain warrants and production orders during Project Prism, a task force set up in August, 2017, after two gay men, Selim Esen and Mr. Kinsman, vanished.
The two men’s disappearance renewed fears that someone was targeting the LGBTQ community.
An earlier police task force, Project Houston, was set up in 2012 to investigate three other missing gay men, Skandaraj Navaratnam, Abdulbasir Faizi and Majeed Kayhan, but eventually disbanded without finding a suspect.
It was Mr. Kinsman’s case that eventually led investigators to a person of interest. Mr. McArthur had a sexual relationship with Mr. Kinsman for some time, police have previously said.
As part of the probe that led them to Mr. McArthur, detectives interviewed acquaintances, reviewed Mr. Kinsman’s phone records and looked at surveillance camera footage collected near his home the day he vanished.
In October, after Mr. McArthur became a person of interest, police sought his driver’s licence photo to use in a photo lineup. “There is already one such witness … who happened upon Kinsman and a male,” an affidavit said, with the other man’s name blacked out.
Police also tried to look at several online-dating platforms, including Squirt, a website visited by Mr. McArthur, Mr. Navaratnam, Mr. Esen and Mr. Kinsman.
As investigators applied for one tracking warrant after another, one affidavit noted that "the investigation into Kinsman's murder is taking time and patience.”
It noted that tracking Mr. McArthur and his cellphone activities enabled police to document “his normal behaviour patterns and any variation thereof,” to find out who he was meeting, and even that he moonlighted as a mall Santa Claus.
Physical surveillance of Mr. McArthur and his son, Todd, who was often in his company, began on Sept. 5.
By November, Mr. McArthur became a suspect. He was now under surveillance “on an almost daily basis” and investigators considered inviting him to a police station for an interview, hoping that his actions afterward would help police clinch the case.
The unredacted portions of the documents give no hint whether police followed up on that plan.
Mr. McArthur had actually been interviewed by police twice before, in 2013 during Project Houston, and in 2016 after a sex partner said he tried to choke him. He was not suspected then on either occasions.
Also during November, detectives focused on Karen Fraser and Ron Smith, a couple living on Mallory Crescent, in the Leaside neighbourhood, who let Mr. McArthur store his landscaping tools in their garage.
A hidden camera was installed to record who entered the garage.
Investigators also sought the cellphone records of the couple to see if they were out of town during the weekends when Mr. Esen and Mr. Kinsman went missing.
Toronto police eventually would find the remains of seven men in planters at the Mallory Crescent house, while the remains of an eighth man was found in a ravine nearby.