Suspect in killings of gay men had history of violence
The Globe and Mail found links between Bruce McArthur and four of the five missing men
Nine days ago, just before 9 a.m., Bruce McArthur last logged onto his profile on Recon, a gay fetish dating app.
Under the pseudonym of Silverfox, Mr. McArthur had posted a picture of himself smiling and described himself as someone looking for "submissive men of all ages." He told potential sexual partners that he was looking to "see how much you can take" and "push till you cant take anymore."
An hour and a half later, Toronto police took Mr. McArthur into custody and charged him with first-degree murder in the deaths of Andrew Kinsman and Selim Esen, who both went missing last year. Police say they have evidence there are more victims. How many and who they are is not known, but an additional three missing-person cases, dating back more than five years, have loomed large over Mr. McArthur's arrest.
The Globe and Mail has established personal or professional connections between Mr. McArthur and four of the five missing men through numerous interviews with friends and family. Court documents, online records and interviews with people who knew Mr. McArthur reveal the 66-year-old landscaper had a history of combining sex and violence.
Peter Sgromo had known Mr. McArthur for more than a decade when Mr. McArthur reached out to him last spring on the Bear411 gay dating app, asking to get together. They agreed to meet at a bar in Toronto's Gay Village, he said. Afterward, they got into the back of Mr. McArthur's van, parked on Church Street.
"It was strange – it was empty. The seats were taken out," Mr. Sgromo recalled. At the very back was a single seat. "It was like this was a little travelling playroom."
He says Mr. McArthur took poppers, amyl nitrate, a drug that provides a temporary rush. The two began to have sex.
But Mr. Sgromo says the interaction turned rough – too rough for his liking. He alleges that Mr. McArthur suddenly grabbed his neck and twisted his head down to his crotch violently. "I wasn't weirded out enough at that point to suspect that I was in any danger," he recalled. "It certainly killed the mood for me. I was kind of surprised."
He did not report the interaction to police at the time. However, after he learned of Mr. McArthur's arrest, Mr. Sgromo reached out to Toronto police's 51 Division and was later questioned by an investigator, he said. Police would not comment on his allegations or confirm he was interviewed. The Globe was able to confirm Mr. Sgromo knew Mr. McArthur and spoke to the friend who was with them that night last spring.
In announcing the two murder charges against Mr. McArthur, police said they believe they will discover more victims. "The investigation continues and includes speaking with other police services, tracing McArthur's whereabouts and reviewing his online activity," police spokeswoman Meaghan Gray said.
Even before his arrest, police had been exploring possible links to three men who went missing between 2010 and 2012: Skandaraj Navaratnam, Abdulbasir Faizi and Majeed Kayhan.
Mr. McArthur had connections to Mr. Navaratnam, who disappeared in 2010, and Mr. Kayhan, who was last seen in 2012.
Mr. McArthur knew Mr. Navaratnam and Mr. Kayhan because they had pursued him, said a long-time friend, who asked to remain anonymous because he does not want his name connected to the case. Both had a type, the friend said: Older, white hair, bigger build, like Mr. McArthur.
He said Mr. Navaratnam worked at Mr. McArthur's landscaping business for a number of years. Mr. Kayhan, meanwhile, knew Mr. McArthur from the bars or coffee shops that line Church Street, specifically, the Black Eagle bar.
Cameron Rennie, a manager at the bar Woody's, said Mr. Kayhan, after the death of his partner, pursued Mr. McArthur. "He liked older men. He liked white-haired men," Mr. Rennie said of Mr. Kayhan, who commonly went by the name Hamid.
Mr. Kayhan's partner had lived at the City Park apartments. Mr. Rennie says he continued to see Mr. Kayhan coming and going from the apartment building after his partner's death.
Between the disappearances of Mr. Navaratnam and Mr. Kayhan, Mr. Faizi, a machine operator from Brampton, Ont., also went missing after a night out, which included a stop at the Eagle.
His Nissan Sentra was later found on Moore Avenue, steps away from the entrance to the Beltline Trail, a small ravine that is known to be a popular cruising spot for men who are looking for sex with other men. Mr. McArthur was also known to store tools and house sit at a property on Mallory Crescent, which connects to Moore Ave. It is one of only two properties connected to Mr. McArthur that police are continuing to search.
Mr. McArthur was also known to frequent Zipperz, a popular watering hole just off of the Village's main drag. The bar's owner, Harry Singh, would see Mr. McArthur at the bar from time to time and also recalls consistently seeing Mr. Navaratnam, Mr. Faizi and Mr. Kayhan. Mr. McArthur, who worked occasionally as a mall Santa, earned the nickname "Santa" from Mr. Singh.
Every friend or acquaintance of Mr. McArthur's who spoke to The Globe confirmed his taste for darker-skinned men.
Mr. Sgromo said, bluntly, "I'm that type … I'm Italian, but have a lot of Middle Eastern looks."
Police have not disclosed how Mr. McArthur became a focus of their probe but, on Oct. 3, 2017, officers showed up at a wreck yard, Dom's Auto Parts in Courtice, a 15-minute drive east of Oshawa, to take possession of a Dodge Caravan that Mr. McArthur had just sold.
The man at the centre of the investigation was born in 1951 and attended high school in the Kawartha Lakes area, 60 kilometres northeast of Toronto.
Mr. McArthur and his wife, Janice, were married with two children and had a house in Oshawa when his life started to change in his 40s.
He gradually came out of the closet in the mid-1990s, according to two relatives. Almost two years after he declared bankruptcy, he and Janice sold their Oshawa house, but still described themselves as "spouses of one another."
While friends and relatives of Mr. McArthur said the separation was initially contentious, the two later reconciled. Everyone who spoke to The Globe who knew Mr. McArthur described him as a funny, charming, albeit unassuming, individual and a loving father who was proud of his two kids.
But his criminal record suggests a darker side. A few months after his split, once Mr. McArthur was living in Toronto, came a documented incident involving sex and violence.
In the fall of 2001, a few weeks after his 50 th birthday, Mr. McArthur assaulted a man in Toronto, wounding him with an iron pipe. As a result, on April 11, 2003, he was convicted of assault causing bodily harm and assault with a weapon.
He received a two-year conditional sentence, with several conditions requiring him to stay away from a downtown area that included the Village, and specifically from the City Park Co-op apartments on Church Street, the same building that Mr. Kayhan was known to be living in, across the street from where Mr. McArthur was known to park his van.
He was also under order not to be in the company of male prostitutes and had to abstain from using amyl nitrate, the same drug he allegedly used during the encounter with Mr. Sgromo.
While his assault case was still before the courts, on Dec. 15, 2002, he registered with Recon, an online dating app that bills itself as a place for "gay men into leather, rubber, BDSM and kink."
Recon is just one of a litany of online dating services Mr. McArthur used, going as far back as 2002. Several of those profiles were active right up until his arrest.
While he may have been prolific on those sites and applications, there is no suggestion that he actually met any of the missing men through the internet. Police, however, have urged the community to use caution when using apps or dating websites.
For the relatives of the first trio of men who vanished, there is now fatalism.
"I have heard the news of the arrest of [Bruce McArthur] and it's devastating to our family," Mr. Navaratnam's brother, Navaseelan, said in a Facebook message to The Globe.
A relative of Mr. Faizi told Global News that investigators contacted her recently to gain access to his computer. She, after years of holding on to it, had since thrown it away.
While Toronto police had launched a task force in 2013 to investigate their disappearances, Project Houston, it was eventually spun down, concluding that "there is still no concrete evidence to explain what happened to these missing men, or where they may be located today," according to a 2016 case summary.
Four years after Mr. Kayhan's disappearance, men began vanishing again in April of 2017, when Mr. Esen was reported missing. He had last been seen near the corner of Yonge Street and Bloor Street, in a downtown area just west of the Village.
Police initially described him as a man with no fixed address, who shuttled between residences with his wheeled suitcase. Police continued to underline that fact, right up to December, 2017.
A friend, retired school teacher Richard Harrop, disputed the characterization to The Globe.
"Selim wasn't a transient," he said. Mr. Harrop added that Mr. Esen had previously been in an "unhealthy relationship" and would stay over, at times.
He said Mr. Esen, who was born in Turkey, was a smart man who worked hard to get a grip on his drug addiction, and that he appeared to be succeeding.
That spring, Mr. Harrop said his friend proudly informed him that he had just completed a week-long course on peer counselling at St. Stephen's community house. Mr. Esen said he wanted to visit Mr. Harrop, who was recovering from ankle surgery, but he suddenly stopped sending messages.
It would only emerge in January, after police made their arrest, that Mr. McArthur was also a client of St. Stephen's. "He was a client of ours and a much trusted person … this has taken a huge toll on our other clients and staff. … I find myself now consoling a large group in the drop in," according to a Facebook post from a staffer of the community support organization.
Mr. Esen wasn't the only one to go missing that year. The day after last summer's Pride Parade, Mr. Kinsman was reported missing from the area of Parliament Street and Winchester Street, just east of the Village. The 49-year-old was an unlikely missing person, his sister Karen Coles told The Globe.
He was known as a stable, responsible man, a superintendent in a Cabbagetown building, a community volunteer. Ms. Coles said it also would have been hard to believe that her brother abandoned his beloved cat. Friends and neighbours described him as a darkly funny individual who would never have simply picked up and left of his own accord.
Mr. McArthur and Mr. Kinsman's connection is well established, with friends confirming that the two have known each other for at least a decade, dating back to Mr. Kinsman's time as a bartender at the Black Eagle, where Mr. McArthur was a regular. Police confirmed in January that the two had a sexual relationship "for some time."
A month after Mr. Kinsman's disappearance, Toronto police set up Project Prism, a dedicated team that would look into what happened to Mr. Kinsman and Mr. Esen.
In the following months, investigators interviewed 52 witnesses and sought 26 judicial authorizations, such as search warrants or production orders, related to Mr. Kinsman, according to Toronto police.
Some of the authorizations in the Kinsman investigation were mutual legal-assistance requests, meaning investigators sought information in foreign jurisdictions; for example, to get social-media or phone-app data stored in servers outside Canada.
Mr. Kinsman's family, meanwhile, spent the fall conducting search parties in the city's ravines, trying in vain to find a clue about his whereabouts.
In the Village, where posters with pictures of Mr. Kinsman blanketed storefronts and bus shelters, emotions ran high again because of two other tragic, unresolved deaths. Tess Richey, a young woman who went to a bar in the Village, was found in an alley strangled to death in November. The next day, police confirmed that a body found in a ravine in August had been identified as that of Alloura Wells, a missing transgender woman.
To address the uproar, the Toronto police organized at their headquarters an unprecedented media update with detectives involved in the three separate investigations into the death of Ms. Richey, the death of Ms. Wells and Project Prism.
It was while answering media questions that Chief Mark Saunders stated there was no indication at the time that there was a serial killer targeting the LGBTQ community. Ms. Gray, the police spokeswoman, said on Friday that the chief's remarks were based on the evidence available at the time.
When asked why they didn't reveal the possibility of a serial killer even as they were already scrutinizing Mr. McArthur, Ms. Gray said: "Generally speaking, in order to protect the integrity of any investigation, we must carefully decide what information we release."
The next morning after Chief Saunders spoke to the media, before police confirmed they were already after Mr. McArthur, Mr. Kinsman's sisters and a handful of friends went back to the Don River Valley for a final search before the winter snow.
They found nothing except for a coat and gloves they did not recognize, but police told them there was no blood on those garments.
Justin Ling is a freelance writer