Luka Rocco Magnotta appeared confident as he stood shirtless and in his underwear before a trio of reality television show judges inside Toronto's swanky Gladstone Hotel five summers ago.
"A lotta people tell me I'm really devastatingly good looking," the slender, boyish 20-something-year-old said with a grin, his hair cropped short and dyed blond.
The judges, casting for the third season of Cover Guy, a short-lived Canadian competition for male underwear models, weren't convinced. After his nearly five-minute audition, Mr. Magnotta was rejected and told to try again the following year.
"He was a bit lean and the judges didn't feel he was appropriate for an underwear model," said Larry Peloso, who created Cover Guy at Toronto-based Giant Productions. "He seemed like a nice guy, but, you know, appearances can also be very deceiving."
Today, Mr. Magnotta is the subject of global manhunt, accused of a heinous killing that police believe was recorded and posted on the Internet. It's believed Mr. Magnotta, 29, travelled to France over the weekend after a man was killed and dismembered in Montreal, with pieces of the victim mailed to political parties in Ottawa.
Mr. Magnotta's family members in Ontario have repeatedly declined to comment on the allegations against him. On Wednesday, an aunt only said, "I'm ashamed that he's related," before hanging up the phone.
Although his online footprints are extensive, including claims that Mr. Magnotta is a famous model, bisexual adult-film actor and world traveller, his real day-to-day life isn't easily traceable. Little is known of his whereabouts over the past few years, except for the fact he moved to Montreal recently and that he became the prime suspect in a social media campaign to identify a killer of kittens who began posting videos on YouTube in December, 2010.
Evidence gathered in that campaign has been sent to the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Ontario SPCA spokesman Brad Dewar confirmed an investigation was launched in February, 2011, but he wouldn't reveal whether Mr. Magnotta is a suspect.
He said the ongoing probe has not found sufficient evidence to suggest the person in the videos was in the province when the footage was recorded. The Ontario SPCA has reached out to law-enforcement and animal-cruelty agencies around the world for help, Mr. Dewar added. The list includes municipal police services in Toronto and Montreal, the RCMP and FBI and an animal-welfare organization in the United Kingdom.
Mr. Magnotta never turned up a year later at the 2008 Cover Guy reality show auditions, which were held in Montreal. He had assured the judges he could bulk up, but he also noted Europeans liked his lean look.
In the 2007 audition, Mr. Magnotta looked a bit like Hollywood actor Ryan Phillippe, Mr. Peloso said. Around then, he was featured as pin-up model in fab, a Toronto gay-lifestyle magazine. It was his second shoot for the publication.
By the fall, however, he didn't appear well. He had agreed to an interview with the Toronto Sun because he said he wanted to shoot down rumours that he'd dated Karla Homolka, who, along with Paul Bernardo, had killed three Ontario schoolgirls.
Mr. Magnotta looked groggy and shaky, the reporter noted.
"My life feels like it is spinning out of control," Mr. Magnotta said, his lips quivering.
He had been in trouble with the law a few years earlier, convicted in a Toronto courtroom in 2005 on four fraud charges, three for defrauding retail stores and one for impersonating someone in a bid to obtain an American Express credit card. He received a nine-month conditional sentence and 12 months of probation. His mother, Anna Yourkin, was listed as a surety on his bail form. She lives in Peterborough, Ont.
He was a licensed "burlesque entertainer" in Toronto around that time, from August, 2004, to August, 2005, city records confirm. But he wasn't Luka Rocco Magnotta then. He was still Eric Clinton Kirk Newman, the name he was born with and used until he legally changed his identity on Aug. 12, 2006.
Whatever strange twists his life took, his childhood – or part of it, at least – unfolded in ordinary enough surroundings: in a modest detached bungalow on a leafy residential street on the eastern edge of Scarborough.
On Thursday afternoon, one elderly man remembered him as a child playing ball hockey on the street with other kids. Others said his childhood house had passed through at least two different owners since the Newman family moved out. It appears his parents separated.
The bungalow's current residents, who have only lived there a couple of years, have never met Mr. Magnotta.
About seven years ago, court records indicate Mr. Magnotta lived in a high-rise tenement just off Lawrence Avenue East near Midland Avenue.
In contrast to the middle-class milieu of his family's home, the building sits in a bustling working-class area. He occupied a suite on the 10th floor, off a carpeted hallway with drab, cream-coloured walls. It seems he moved out some time ago. None of his neighbours, most of whom have lived there about two years or so, could remember him.
The slender, boyish model certainly would have stood out.
With reports from Carys Mills and Caroline Alphonso