Two years ago, at an entrepreneurial course at Tyark College in downtown Montreal, the teacher asked students to share their goals in life with the class. Nearly all said they wanted to launch their own business. Except for Lin Jun, a native of China who spoke little French or English. His goal, Mr. Lin said, was to find love.
Some time this spring, Mr. Lin, a romantic and a Francophile cat lover, crossed paths with Luka Rocco Magnotta, a self-proclaimed porn actor and white supremacist with a reputation for torturing kittens.
Investigators are now certain Mr. Lin is the unfortunate man who a week ago was videotaped as he was blindfolded, stabbed with an ice pick and had some of his body parts eaten – before a foot and a hand were mailed to political parties in Ottawa.
Mr. Magnotta flew out of Montreal to Europe the day after the killing, and remains a fugitive, the target of an international police hunt.
Lurid details about the suspect's life, from his self-aggrandizing online persona to allegations of past animal cruelty, stand in contrast to his victim.
Mr. Lin was a 33-year-old computer science undergraduate student at Concordia University. The last entry on his Facebook page was dated May 11, a photo of a park on which he wrote: "It's too, too, too, beautiful."
"That is what I remember about him. He was in computers, and he was looking for love," said Alexandra Afanase, a fellow student at the Tyark business class.
If police are correct, what he found instead was Mr. Magnotta.
Acquaintances describe the 29-year-old Toronto native as by turns manipulative, needy and volatile, prone to outbursts of anger. One former lover recalled that he joked about killing people and animals. He had a child, harboured a seething anger towards his parents and hinted at a traumatic childhood.
But it is difficult to discern how much of it was true and how much was part of the elaborate mythology he created for himself. In online postings, he was alternately portrayed as a Russian national and a white supremacist forced to flee Canada because of his racist beliefs.
There were rumours he dated serial killer Karla Homolka and roomed in Los Angeles with Timothy Boham, a porn star later convicted of murder. But there is not one shred of evidence either allegation is true, leading many to speculate the young man started both rumours himself in a bid for publicity.
Born Eric Clinton Newman, he spent at least part of his childhood in suburban Scarborough. By the time he was 18, he was working as an escort and stripping at Remington's, a downtown Toronto gay bar, recalled former lover Nina Arsenault.
Ms. Arsenault remembered him as a manipulator who liked to surround himself with older people and feign a childish innocence. He bounced around between his clients' homes and a girlfriend with whom he had a child, she said. He was going by the name "Angel" and had already begun obfuscating his background.
"He'd tell you conflicting stories about his past, and you'd catch him in a lie...you never quite knew what was up with him," she said. "He said that there was some [messed]up stuff that happened to him when he was a kid."
He was a drama queen, constantly extinguishing fires in his life, and also made some dark jokes.
"[He]joked about drowning puppies and kittens. Joked about killing his family. Joked about wanting to kill this guy," Ms. Arsenault said. "Right after he'd say it, he'd be like 'Oh, I'm just joking.' Then he'd bring it up again. I didn't take it seriously, I thought it was some...kid trying to act tough."
Ms. Arsenault said she ended the relationship after less than a month but ran into him later. When she saw him in 2007, she said, she barely recognized him because he'd had plastic surgery on his cheeks.
In 2005, he faced numerous charges for fraud and one for sexual assault. The alleged sex assault victim's father threatened retribution, recalled Mr. Magnotta's lawyer.
"There was some animosity from the father of the alleged victim, such that I became concerned for the safety of Eric," said Peter Scully, who sent a letter to the Toronto police and the Crown, and remembers his client as a soft-spoken and respectful man.
The sex assault charge was eventually dropped and Mr. Magnotta pleaded guilty to four counts of fraud, 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.
He appears to have travelled extensively. Photographs posted on his website show him posing at landmarks in Moscow, Paris, New York and on a tropical beach. Ms. Arsenault said he moved to Los Angeles for a time, hoping to make adult films, but she believes he only succeeded in getting work doing live sex shows on web cameras.
Nicholas Monaco, a photographer Mr. Magnotta hired to photograph him in New York four years ago, remembers the young man showing up for the shoot in lip stick, mascara and high heels.
"He told me that he was a model. Everyone kind of thinks that they're someone," he said, recalling the Mr. Magnotta spoke in a soft, raspy voice. "He definitely struck me as different."
Mr. Magnotta's quest for status also took him to the tabloid press. In the fall of 2007, he gave a videoed interview to the Toronto Sun denying the Homolka allegations. In December of last year, he turned up at the offices of the Sun in London to deny he was the person behind an online video in which a kitten was fed to a large snake. Two days later, the paper received an e-mail it believes was penned by Mr. Magnotta.
"Once you kill and taste blood, it's impossible to stop," it read in part, adding that "in the near future you will be hearing from me again. This time, however, the victims won't be small animals. I will however, send you a copy of the new video I'm going to be making."
At the time, the paper said he was living in the London neighbourhood of Wembley but was evicted from his apartment. Shortly after, he turned up in Montreal.
That city was the destination of choice for Mr. Lin. Born in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province, he was determined to move to French Canada.
In an online forum, a Beijing resident who claimed to have studied French with Mr. Lin at the Alliance Française wrote Mr. Lin was "the only one in class who was older and was learning French in order to immigrate to Quebec."
In one Internet posting from 2006, someone using his e-mail address wrote that he was looking to get married in Canada.
Mr. Lin moved to Montreal in July, enrolling in classes at Concordia and renting an apartment near the school. Photos of his flat feature cheap furniture, the only fancy touches being a mountain bike and a combo playground-scratching post for a tabby cat.
While in Montreal, he used either of two Western given names, Patrick or Justin, and registered for an Internet domain that suggested he was gay.
He worked at a convenience store, where he was described as a polite, responsible employee who never missed a shift – until his sudden disappearance last week. Kankan Huang said that's why he knew something was amiss when the part-time clerk – his only employee – didn't show up for work last Friday.
But while Montreal police are certain Mr. Lin met his fate at the hands of Mr. Magnotta, it is still an open question on how suspect and victim, two seemingly very different men, came together.
"Have they been dating? Are they friends?" asked Commander Ian Lafrenière rhetorically. "We aren't sure."
With reports from Ingrid Peritz and Les Perreaux in Montreal, Renata D'Aliesio and Oliver Moore in Toronto, Mark MacKinnon in Beijing and The Canadian Press.