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Minutes after Bruce McArthur pleaded guilty to murdering eight men with ties to Toronto’s Gay Village, Karen Fraser stepped out of the downtown courthouse to answer questions from reporters. It was at her house in the quiet neighbourhood of Leaside that the friendly landscaper buried the remains of his victims, concealing body parts in planters on the property. A reporter asked her if his formal acknowledgment of responsibility brought some kind of closure. She said she didn’t really believe in closure in a case such as this. Some kind of “easing” was all we should expect.

That put it well. Despite Tuesday’s guilty plea, these murders will haunt everyone for a long time: the gay community, the community at large, the police investigators and of course the families and friends of the victims. A year after police revealed that a serial killer had been abroad among us, the city is still struggling to absorb what happened.

The guilty plea provides a measure of relief, yes. It means the families will avoid the ordeal of a prolonged public trial. It means the justice system will be spared the burden and expense of testing the case in court.

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Sketch by a courtroom artist of Tuesday's hearing.STRINGER/Reuters

It means justice has been delivered more swiftly than it would have been. Mr. McArthur’s trial was not scheduled to go ahead until next January, and even then, it was expected to take three or four months.

The Crown did not have to drop or reduce any charges to secure his guilty plea, as sometimes happens in the courts. The killer pleaded guilty to all eight counts of first-degree murder. He is likely to spend the rest of his life behind bars.

But questions still loom over this case. The first is why it took police so long to identify Mr. McArthur as the killer – or even to acknowledge that a serial killer was at large. After a string of unexplained disappearances associated with the Gay Village, many community members suspected that someone was hunting people down.

Police conducted two special investigations. They interviewed Mr. McArthur twice, in 2013 and again in 2016 after a sex partner said Mr. McArthur attempted to choke him. Mr. McArthur also had a conviction on his record for beating a male sex worker with a metal pipe.

But police didn’t close in on him until late 2017. At that time, the chief of police was still telling the community there was no evidence a serial killer was responsible for the disappearances.

Now that the case is wrapping up, the time has come to ask what went wrong. Did police miss clues or ignore crucial evidence? Did they fail to exchange telling information among themselves? Did they treat the disappearances less seriously than they might have because some of the victims lived on society’s fringes?

An independent review led by a former judge is examining these questions. Police say they are co-operating fully. “If there were mistakes made, we should learn from them,” Detective David Dickinson told reporters. Let’s hope they are sincere. Effective policing depends on a bond of trust with the community. To guard against something like this happening again, police need to open themselves up to full scrutiny and examine their practices with maximum rigour.

The second question the McArthur case leaves behind is probably unfathomable: Why? Mr. McArthur had family, friends and a busy landscaping business. What turned him into a killer?

As Ms. Fraser told reporters, there were two Bruce McArthurs: Bruce A and Bruce B. Bruce A, the one she knew, was to all appearances a good friend, neighbour and father, the kind of man who would splurge on an expensive cake for his granddaughter. Bruce B, well, “Who was that? I don’t know.” The disturbing evidence introduced in court Tuesday about what he did to his victims provides some idea. Ms. Fraser said she can’t stop thinking about the last moments of those eight men.

She was struck by how Mr. McArthur had changed during his year in jail. The guy she knew was energetic, enthusiastic, good at his job. The much thinner, much older-looking guy she saw in court was “a shuffling, broken man – as he should be, as he should be.”

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