Investigators slid a black bag into a coroner’s van Wednesday, brought up from the ravine behind a Leaside home where police previously found the remains of seven men − each allegedly killed by 66-year-old landscaper Bruce McArthur.
The grim scene came just hours after Toronto police started excavating the property, where − in January − they seized multiple planters, cracked them open and found the remains of Andrew Kinsman, Soroush Mahmudi, Skandaraj Navaratnam, Selim Esen, Dean Lisowick, Abdulbasir Faizi and Kirushna Kumar Kanagaratnam. Mr. McArthur has been charged with murdering all of them, as well as Majeed Kayhan, a 58-year-old who fled from war in Afghanistan to the safety of Canada, only to disappear in 2012.
Mr. Kayhan’s body has yet to be found.
Police wanted to search the ground at the Leaside house immediately after finding remains in the planters. But the earth in January proved to be cold, hard terrain. Investigators tried to warm it, but ultimately resolved to return when the seasons shifted.
In May, trained cadaver dogs indicated the possible presence of human remains in multiple locations across one larger piece of the property. After a month of co-ordination, including scheduling with the Centre for Forensic Sciences and communication with the homeowners, the excavation began on Wednesday morning.
“We found items of interest and they have been sent to the office of the coroner for testing,” police spokeswoman Meaghan Gray said. “Until those tests have been complete, we can’t say for sure what was found.”
The Leaside house, tucked neatly into a corner of a sleepy, curling row of homes on Mallory Crescent, is the only property out of approximately 100 that police dogs signalled might be of interest during their search. Mr. McArthur had worked there as a landscaper for years. As of Wednesday morning, the excavation was slated to take several weeks, depending on what – if anything – was found.
A tent was set up above the ravine, at the side of the property, partially blocked by a fleet of cars that included a command vehicle, a Durham forensic-investigation services van and a van from Toronto’s forensic-identification services. In a dark car at the side of the scene, Detective David Dickinson − lead investigator Hank Idsinga’s right-hand man − sat, quietly at work.
Det. Dickinson is one of more than a dozen officers currently working the McArthur case, and has been tapped to eventually testify during Mr. McArthur’s trial − so his availability to discuss the investigation is different than Det. Idsinga’s. His goal, he said, is just to give answers to the communities involved. He believes that even when the trial is over, there are families of missing folks who will wonder whether Mr. McArthur was involved.
“Part of this is humanitarian,” he said. He tapped the black-leather folder on the passenger seat, which he kept close at hand as he ventured up and down the ravine throughout the afternoon, saying he’d keep updating his notes until they had explanations.
The locations identified by the cadaver dogs were hot spots within one larger area, Det. Dickinson explained − a leafy area between the house and the railway tracks that run along behind it. A police service dog named Major was on-scene throughout the day on Wednesday. At one point, he was taken down into the ravine by his handler, Sergeant Derrick Gaudet, and returned with a reward between his teeth: a blue bone.
Around 4 p.m., a hurried group of officers and officials emerged from the trees, a team of them carrying a black bag. A black van, identified by an officer on-scene as the coroner’s van, had its back doors open and waiting. Then, they snapped shut and the van drove away.