For years, they were a ghostly presence in Toronto’s Gay Village, their photos looking out from missing-persons posters on utility poles and storefront windows.
Their disappearances were documented in the same flat tone by police. All were middle-aged men, bearded or goateed, with dark hair. Many were last seen in the area or had never returned home to a family in the suburbs. Each missing-persons report ended the same way: “Police are concerned for his safety.”
Eventually, the eight men would be linked together as alleged victims of Bruce McArthur. Their names have been repeated often in the past six months, but little remains known about them – what brought them to Toronto, to the Village and into the path of an accused serial killer.
The Globe and Mail has interviewed dozens of people, reviewed files at five courthouses, sifted through bankruptcy papers, death notices and other records to get a fuller picture of the men that Mr. McArthur is charged with murdering.
Though details often remain vague, portraits emerged of men with difficult, complex lives. They faced the hardship of starting over in a new country, language barriers and social isolation, struggles with sexual identity, financial and medical troubles, legal problems, drug and alcohol abuse.
They also shared a desire for connection. That need for acceptance and companionship brought each of them to the Village seeking a safe haven.
The Toronto Police Service is requesting the public’s assistance locating a missing man. Skanda Navaratnam, 40, was last seen on Sunday, September 5, 2010, at 12:30 a.m., in the Church Street/Carleton Street area. He is described as brown, 5′8″, thin build, black hair, brown eyes with a black goatee.
The first to vanish, Mr. Navaratnam once worked at the same property in the Leaside neighbourhood where his remains and those of six other victims would be found one day.
Mr. Navaratnam was one of the helpers, often newcomers to Canada, that Mr. McArthur occasionally brought with him to the house on Mallory Crescent. Mr. McArthur had an agreement with the homeowners that he could store his tools in their garage in return for cutting their grass.
One of the owners, Karen Fraser, remembered that Mr. Navaratnam was a quick-witted man who smiled at her sense of humour while the more stolid Mr. McArthur didn’t always grasp her jokes.
Mr. Navaratnam’s social skills were already in evidence in his native Sri Lanka, where he worked as a hotel animator, organizing entertainment for the guests.
The second of the four sons of a businessman, he came from the island’s upcountry, the central hills known for tea plantations.
Like many from the island’s Tamil minority, he fled to Canada as fighting intensified in the three-decades-long conflict. He later revealed to a brother that he was gay. But their mother still hasn’t been told that he went missing and is now dead.
In Canada, he had a wide social circle, working as a home nurse, and studying. He dated occasionally, and had a type: older men willing to take charge. That made him a perfect match for Mr. McArthur, with whom he once had a relationship.
“Around Bruce he was different,” Joel Walker, a friend of Mr. Navaratnam, remembers. “He was very much contained, as Bruce was very possessive with him.”
That didn’t stop Mr. McArthur from flirting with others, which led to arguments. Ultimately, they broke up. “Skanda said he was too controlling,” Mr. Walker recalled.
Mr. Navaratnam frequented several Church Street bars. Zipperz and its 1980s retro nights were a favourite. It was the theme the night he left Zipperz and vanished.
Sarrah Becker, who was close with Mr. Navaratnam, said police focused intensely on his past in Sri Lanka. “They thought he just went into hiding.”
In the fall of 2012, police launched a special probe, Project Houston, after they thought they had a suspect, but the tip turned out to be unfounded.
Mr. McArthur would continue visiting Zipperz after Mr. Navaratnam went missing. Mr. Walker remembers him expressing concerns about his friend.
On Wednesday, December 28, 2010, at approximately 7:00 p.m., Abdulbasir FAIZI was last seen leaving his place of employment, a business on Kitimat Road in Mississauga. FAIZI was driving his 2002 Nissan at the time. Faizi is described as Middle Eastern, 5-foot-9, weighing approximately 175 pounds at the time of his disappearance and had black hair with a black goatee. He was last seen wearing a brown winter jacket, a black T-shirt, blue jeans and white shoes.
Mr. Faizi’s wife, Kareema, used to think her husband had left her and their daughters because of his double life and was “living somewhere with someone else.”
Then last April, more than seven years after he went missing, Toronto police contacted her. His remains had been found at the Mallory Crescent property.
“Every day I’m crying when I am home,” she told The Globe.
Mr. Faizi was not out of the closet.
Born in Herat, in northwest Afghanistan, Mr. Faizi married his wife in 1999. Their first daughter came in the fall of 2000, and their second in in the spring of 2003.
He worked at a printing facility not far from the family’s home in suburban Brampton. He earned enough to go into business with a friend, buying two homes as investments. That investment turned sour, Ms. Faizi would later recall, after her husband was the victim of mortgage fraud.
Mr. Faizi regularly worked late, or went out with colleagues for beers after work. At least, that is what he told his wife. In fact, he would frequently sneak off to the Village.
When he didn’t come home days before New Year’s Eve, 2010, she reached out to all his known friends and his relatives overseas.
A police investigation of his disappearance revealed that he had visited a Church Street bathhouse and the Black Eagle bar. Ms. Faizi went to the Village several times and looked for him in vain.
Despite the fact that Mr. Navaratnam had vanished just four months prior from the same neighbourhood, investigators didn’t initially make a link; Mr. Faizi’s case was handled by Peel Regional Police rather than their Toronto counterparts.
Initially, Ms. Faizi told police her husband had no reason to flee. She said he had no enemies, wasn’t depressed. He had been looking forward to a coming vacation and had left his passport at home. He had no reason to be in the Leaside neighbourhood, where his car was later found.
However, after it was revealed he had a secret life, she did acknowledge to police that there were some tensions in their relationship.
Ms. Faizi eventually filed for divorce, saying in an affidavit that “investigators felt that he had abandoned his family and did not want to be found.”
The Toronto Police Service is requesting the public’s assistance locating a missing man. Majeed Kayhan, 58, was last seen on Thursday, October 18, 2012, at 10:30 a.m., in the Alexander Street/Yonge Street area. He is described as 5’7, 174 lbs., dark-brown hair with a moustache and beard.
Like Mr. Faizi, Mr. Kayhan came to Canada as a family man.
The son of a Muslim cleric, he and his bride wed in August, 1983, in Kabul, in the midst of the Soviet Afghan war. The next year, the couple welcomed a baby boy. Four years after that, they had a girl.
Before the decade was out, the Kayhans fled to Canada. The couple’s marriage fell apart in 2002, and they filed for divorce almost on the 19th anniversary of their marriage.
Mr. Kayhan settled in an apartment in downtown Toronto, living with an older man, just north of the Village.
That clean break appeared to let Mr. Kayhan embrace his sexuality more openly. Mr. Kayhan would even sport traditional Afghan clothing at Pride events.
At Zipperz, Mr. Kayhan would amuse the owner, Harry Singh, by performing Bollywood songs. Another friend recalled Mr. Kayhan singing in Dari while he chopped wood during camping weekends at Turkey Point Provincial Park, a gay-friendly campground.
But that belied some inner sadness. He was not out of the closet with his entire family, even as he remained a fixture of family functions, armed with pockets full of candy for his younger relatives. He still suffered with PTSD from the war.
Mr. Kayhan needed financial assistance from the Ontario Disability Support Program. He was a heavy drinker, struggling with loneliness. Over coffee, he expressed regret to one friend that they never dated. “In all the years I’ve known you, seen you around, this is the first time I’ve ever seen you sober,” the man replied, turning him down.
Cameron Rennie, a bartender at Woody’s, a Village watering hole, told the Globe that Mr. Kayhan was attracted to older, white-haired men like Mr. McArthur. A friend recalled seeing Mr. McArthur visiting Mr. Kayhan’s downtown apartment in the fall of 2012.
Since his divorce, Mr. Kayhan had not been as present at family functions. But that particular weekend, in October, he went to a wedding. It was the last time he was seen by his family. His son reported him missing two weeks later.
The Toronto Police Service is requesting the public’s assistance locating a missing man. Soroush Mahmudi, 49, was last seen on Saturday, August 15, 2015, at 12 p.m., in the Markham Road and Blakemanor Boulevard area. He is described as 5’4”, 165 lbs., brown eyes, short black hair and a goatee.
When Mr. Mahmudi disappeared, it had been just a year since police from 51 Division, near the Village, had disbanded Project Houston.
Officers in 43 Division, in Scarborough, had no real reason to believe Mr. Mahmudi might be connected. After all, he had been married to a woman for more than a decade and had no obvious ties to the Village.
They may have discovered valuable information, however, if they had called Mr. Mahmudi’s ex, a transgender woman named Sarah Cohen. Her birth name is listed on Mr. Mahmudi’s prior arrest report.
The two met not long after he arrived in Canada. One night, in 1997, Ms. Cohen was at Woody’s when she caught the eyes of Mr. Mahmudi.
It wasn’t long before they were living together in Barrie, north of Toronto. Her family helped Mr. Mahmudi find a job at the local car-parts factory. Ms. Cohen also wound up as Mr. Mahmudi’s driver after his licence was suspended for DUI in 2000.
Co-workers remembered him as a congenial man who liked camping and playing pool. At home, however, he had a temper. During an argument in 2001, he pushed Ms. Cohen into a table. Five days later, he came home to tell her he was leaving her. She told him to go. As she turned away, he struck her on the head with the glass jar from a blender and dragged her around “like a rag doll,” she recounted.
He was charged with two counts of assault, but struck a plea deal, serving no jail time, and paying a $1,000 fine.
Even today, Ms. Cohen feels pain from her head wound and has trouble finding work. “Even though he did some terrible things to me, he didn’t deserve to be murdered and dumped in a hole,” she said in an interview.
Two years after the assault, Mr. Mahmudi met and married a refugee claimant from Sri Lanka’s Muslim minority, Fareena Marzook. He was Shia; she was Sunni. But it didn’t matter.
Ms. Marzook had tried twice to get asylum in Canada, unsuccessfully. Through her marriage to Mr. Mahmudi, she was able to remain and sponsored her son to join her. Mr. Mahmudi took a buyout from the plant and all three moved to Scarborough.
Once there, however, he had trouble finding work. They both had to file for bankruptcy.
In his absence, money is even tighter. Sometimes Ms. Marzook is late paying the rent and whenever someone knocks, she is afraid to open her door.
She said he doted on her, paying the bills, cooking for her. “I pray for him in Jannah,” she said, using the Islamic term for paradise. “He never do bad for me.”
Kirushna Kumar Kanagaratnam
Kanagaratnam Kirushna Kumar is my brother living in Canada. He has not made any contacts with the family in the last year. I have put my request on Facebook as my efforts to search for him failed. If you know about this person, please let me know immediately.
– Tamil-language Facebook post, 9 December 2017
By the time 43 Division made a public appeal to find Mr. Mahmudi in 2015, another Toronto man had also vanished. He, too, was Asian, dark-skinned and bearded.
Mr. Kanagaratnam was a 37-year-old Tamil asylum seeker from Nainativu, a small island off the northern tip of Sri Lanka.
He had arrived in Canada in August, 2010, along with hundreds of other Tamils, aboard the MV Sun Sea, a rickety ship that took three months to sail from Thailand to British Columbia.
“He was in a very difficult situation in that time,” an uncle, Suthakaran Thanigasalam, told The Globe.
War had plagued their family. In 2007, one of Mr. Kanagaratnam’s brothers was killed in a gunfight. Many young Tamil men were expected to fight alongside the LTTE, the Tamil Tigers, and could face consequences for refusing. On the other side, the government of Sri Lanka was advancing north, and there could be penalties for anyone found to have cooperated with the LTTE. It’s the reason so many, including Mr. Kanagaratnam, fled.
On the MV Sun Sea, there were 492 asylum seekers. The Canadian government would ultimately reject 116 of those refugee claims.
“What is so distressing ... is how this group of men were completely, unfairly presented as representing some kind of risk to Canada,” said Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees. “And now, what we find out is that Canada was a risk to at least one individual – and that they had more to fear from us than we had to fear from them.”
Mr. Kanagaratnam’s family assumed that he went into hiding to avoid deportation after his claim had been denied.
They never reported him missing, although some made Facebook appeals to friends in Canada. By then, police believe, he was already dead.
In Jaffna’s palm tree-lined narrow streets, following Tamil tradition, the family set up a funeral banner bearing a picture of Mr. Kanagaratnam and praying for his soul to rest in peace.
Dean Lisowick was never reported as missing, but we believe that he was murdered between May of 2016 and July of 2017. … He was an occupant of the shelter system in Toronto.
– Detective-Sergeant Hank Idsinga speaking to reporters on January 29.
Mr. Lisowick came from a Winnipeg blue-collar family whose members moved to the Toronto area, seeking factory jobs.
By the time he was 8, young Dean was removed from his single father’s care and placed in a foster home.
It was a brief, bucolic interlude in his life, residing near a cornfield, in Udora, Ont., near Lake Simcoe. With his foster brothers, he explored the local creeks, looking for bullfrogs, crayfish and snapping turtles.
One of his foster brothers was Jeremiah Holmes, who was two years younger. “I was taken out of my home and I lost my brothers. I had this new kid I had to live with,” Mr. Holmes recalled. “You become brothers.”
Mr. Holmes said Mr. Lisowick would tease him, but at school he was his protector – “he wouldn’t let anyone hurt me.”
After three years, Mr. Holmes left foster care. He didn’t see Mr. Lisowick after that.
Around 1992, Mr. Holmes, now an adult, got a call. A police officer was investigating whether Mr. Lisowick had been sexually abused while he was in Udora.
Mr. Holmes tried without success to contact Mr. Lisowick. Then last January he saw news of the McArthur case. “After 33 years, to read this in the papers, it’s pretty gut-wrenching.”
Mr. Holmes had found it hard to overcome his past as a foster child and wondered about Mr. Lisowick’s own inner turmoil. “Maybe it had an effect on him … we’re somehow broken. We don’t know how to get ourselves fixed. We don’t have the tools.”
Mr. Lisowick had become addicted to crack cocaine and often lived in Toronto’s homeless shelters. Known by the street name Laser, he was a fixture of Boystown, a tiny block west of the Village known for its male sex workers.
“He always identified as bisexual,” remembered Monica Forrester, who ran with Mr. Lisowick in Boystown in those years.
He often worked out of Sneakers, a bar where young men could turn tricks. “When Sneakers closed down, a lot of hustlers ... were sort of lost,” Ms. Forrester said. Many had addictions and were feeling the squeeze as the city’s vice squad took aim at the sex trade, forcing them into precarious situations.
For a few years Mr. Lisowick lived with his great-aunt, Lena Todoruk, but in 2000 he pleaded guilty to assaulting her.
Afterward, he moved in with his father in Orillia, where Larry Lisowick worked at a fireplace factory. A relative said Larry tried to get Dean a job. However, one day Dean threatened his father with a knife.
Larry dropped off Dean in Barrie and they never saw each other again. After Larry died of cancer in 2007, some insurance money was earmarked for his son, but Dean never claimed it.
The Toronto Police Service is requesting assistance locating a missing man. Selim Esen, 43, was last seen on Monday, April 15, 2017, at approximately 6:30 p.m., in the Bloor Street East and Ted Rogers Way area. He is described as 5’10”, 165 lbs., with medium-length dark-brown hair, beard. He is known to frequent the areas of Church Street and Wellesley Street, and the Kensington Market.
When Mr. Esen disappeared, police believed he was transient, living out of a suitcase. In fact, he had recently started renting an apartment.
There’s no doubt that Mr. Esen moved around a fair bit – but he wasn’t homeless. After graduating from university in Ankara with a sociology degree, Mr. Esen worked as a barista in Australia before returning to Turkey.
In the summer of 2012, Mr. Esen lucked into a dream job. Australian friends of his had been checking out a new café in a touristy area of Istanbul, near the Blue Mosque. The owner, Earl Everett, had just opened with his partner, Ken.
“He was a natural at it,” Mr. Everett recalled. Mr. Esen knew which spices to pick up, made a good cup of coffee, and even put together a halloumi salad to add to the menu.
By the time Mr. Everett and his partner finished hiring, there was an obvious trend: Every employee, save one, was gay. The whole crew became close. Mr. Esen even moved in with another employee.
A gay-friendly establishment in Turkey was far from common. Mr. Esen, who was dating a Syrian named Sammy, was even more outside the norm. “You had to be very careful with all sorts of things,” Mr. Everett said. “You couldn’t be out. You couldn’t be out out.”
However, Mr. Esen developed a drug habit that he would carry with him when he moved to Toronto.
Mr. Esen and Sammy would marry in Canada, though their relationship was tumultuous. They split, for a time, and Mr. Esen came back to Istanbul. But Mr. Esen would come back to Toronto as they tried to patch things up, though they ultimately broke up for good.
Around 2016, Richard Harrop met Mr. Esen in Barbara Hall Park, the Village’s green space on Church Street, where Mr. Lisowick was also known to spend time.
Mr. Esen confided to Mr. Harrop about his relationship problems and drug issues, but mentioned a bright spot: He had just completed a peer-counselling course that would help him work with others fighting addiction.
Shortly before his disappearance, Mr. Esen was due to pick up Mr. Harrop from the hospital following a surgical procedure. When Mr. Esen didn’t show up, as promised, Mr. Harrop knew something was wrong.
Just weeks before arresting Mr. McArthur, police continued to portray Mr. Esen as a transient.
Mr. Harrop, however, disputes that. His friend, he said, had been living in an apartment and had been successful in managing his addiction. “He was really trying to get his life back together so he could face his family. He wanted to go back to Turkey.”
The Toronto Police Service requests assistance locating a missing man. Andrew Kinsman, 49, was last seen on Monday, June 26, 2017, in the Parliament Street and Winchester Street area. He is described as 6’4”, medium build, short brown hair, beard, glasses.
Mr. Kinsman’s disappearance is an outlier to the theory that a killer was preying on vulnerable, isolated people.
The youngest of six siblings, he grew up in Oshawa, earned a BA in humanities from McMaster University and lived in Hamilton before settling in Toronto.
He had a wide social circle from years of community activism. “Andrew was very much loved by a lot of people,” said Rui Pires, a former university friend.
Mr. Pires, who has worked helping homeless people, noted that after graduating Mr. Kinsman also dedicated much of his time to agencies that assisted marginalized people.
In recent years, Mr. Kinsman had been a staff member with the Toronto HIV/AIDS Network and both a contract employee and volunteer at the Toronto People With AIDS Foundation.
His life had not been free of adversity. He was a cancer survivor who later spoke of the determination he needed to fight the disease. Despite the side effects of chemotherapy, he insisted on cycling between his home in Cabbagetown and Sunnybrook hospital, 10 kilometres away.
But he didn’t have the same issues that afflicted the other men. He didn’t love bars, was a light drinker and had no addiction issues. He worked at the Black Eagle years ago, but was fired. A customer stiffed him on a tip, and Mr. Kinsman threw the change back.
His disappearance was unusual and noticed within days. Friends organized search parties and rallies, put up posters, talked to the media. At the end of July, police set up a special task force, Project Prism, to find out what happened to Mr. Kinsman and Mr. Esen.
Within weeks, Project Prism began to focus on Mr. McArthur, keeping him under scrutiny for four months until his arrest in January.
With additional reporting by Rick Cash and Stephanie Chambers in Toronto.