Before the sentencing hearing for serial killer Bruce McArthur got under way in a Toronto court on Monday, Crown attorney Michael Cantlon stood to make what he called a highly unusual statement. You are about to hear terrible things, he told those gathered in the public gallery – so terrible that your health and well-being might suffer. “Please think carefully about whether or not you wish to expose yourself to the nature of the information that will be presented to the court.” But by the time he finished relating the killer’s crimes, it was Mr. Cantlon who was choking up, his voice thickening and faltering as he approached the end of his two-hour recitation.
The country has known for more than a year that the McArthur case was going to be an exceptionally grisly one: eight men murdered, dismembered and buried. It got a closer look when Mr. McArthur pleaded guilty last week and prosecutors released a brief summary of the crimes, with references to what he had done with the men after killing them and what tools he used in the murders.
Monday’s agreed statement of facts laid out the crimes in all their awful detail. For years, Mr. McArthur stalked victims in Toronto’s Gay Village – deliberately, carefully, picking them off one by one. He chose mostly men of Middle Eastern or South Asian backgrounds. Many were in the closet or living on the margins. The killer preyed on the most vulnerable. “For years, members of the LGBTQ community in Toronto believed they were being targeted by a killer," Mr. Cantlon said. “They were right.”
Only when Mr. McArthur murdered a man with more robust connections, Andrew Kinsman, did police home in on the killer, watching his apartment, examining security video and tracking down a vehicle with crucial DNA evidence inside. They finally pounced after Mr. McArthur brought another man home. The man, “John,” whom authorities have not identified, was naked and handcuffed to Mr. McArthur’s bed when police finally came to the door to make an arrest. They had seen Mr. McArthur take the man into his apartment, and they moved in. Mr. McArthur had created a digital folder for each of his eight victims, with pictures inside. “John” was the ninth.
Mr. McArthur sat immobile in the prisoner’s dock through all of this, his back to the public gallery. When he came in and out of the courtroom, he walked with a bowed, shuffling gait. The officer’s keys made a jangling sound as he unlocked the killer’s handcuffs so he could take his seat. He sat equally still as family and friends of the victims took the stand to deliver their victim-impact statements.
While the statement of facts recorded the enormity of Mr. McArthur’s crimes, these emotional, often tearful, almost lyrical testimonies recorded the individuality and humanity of his victims. Skandaraj (Skanda) Navaratnam was all-but unbeatable at Scrabble. He liked gardening and tropical fish. Selim Esen liked textile design, growing trees and running a café. He was so generous he would borrow money to give to friends. Andrew Kinsman had a grumpy outlook, but was always helping people. Meaghan Marian, who lived in the apartment next door, said he would take care of her pet birds when she was away and even talk to them – although he said he was not quite sure what they liked talking about.
She said the McArthur killings sowed fear and distrust in the community. By his crimes, he “made real every bogeyman.” Others said they could not trust anyone any more, or even accept a friendly touch. Their wariness is multiplied by the fact that the killer was well-known around the Gay Village, even a friend to some of the men he killed.
Rev. Deana Dudley of the Metropolitan Community Church said many people are still scared to death. They think: It could have been me, it could have been any of us. Some do a double take whenever they see a big man with a white beard or catch sight of a van similar to the killer’s.
They are angry, too. And they should be, she said – their community “became a hunting ground.” All they can do now is pray the anger does not eat them alive, remember they come from a strong, resilient community and have faith that “we too will survive.”