The man accused of murdering two missing Toronto gay men has been on the police's radar since last fall.
Bruce McArthur, a 66-year-old self-employed landscaper, was charged on Thursday with two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Selim Esen and Andrew Kinsman, and police have warned that they believe there may be more victims. But investigators had been looking into Mr. McArthur as far back as three months ago, according to Dominic Vetere, owner of Dom's Auto Parts in Courtice, Ont., just east of Toronto.
He said police first came to his shop on Oct. 3 when they were canvassing auto-parts businesses to try to find Mr. McArthur's vehicle, a Dodge Caravan.
Mr. Vetere said two plainclothes officers asked him to run a vehicle identification number to track down the van, and they were "excited" when they found it intact. In the weeks after police took possession of the vehicle, Mr. Vetere said officers told him they found blood in the van.
"It was a trace amount of blood," said Mr. Vetere. "None of us even noticed it, even the dismantler didn't notice it."
Police released no new information about the case on Sunday and refused to comment on the timeline of their investigation. However, this past weekend, they continued to search multiple properties linked to Mr. McArthur, including four addresses in the city and another 200 kilometres away in Madoc, Ont.
One property being searched by police is the Toronto condo of Mr. McArthur's ex-partner, which is near Eglinton Avenue East and Don Mills Road.
Geoffrey Davis, a friend of the former partner, says he saw him after news of the arrest broke. He said he is staying with a friend while his apartment is searched. Police have also seized his phone. The Globe has chosen not to name the ex-partner.
"He was in shock and visibly upset," Mr. Davis said of his friend.
Meanwhile, in a driveway at the south end of Toronto's Leaside neighbourhood, investigators in white forensic suits and police dogs were led over piles of material – mismatched couch cushions, boxes, barrels of wooden logs, a leaf blower, an old fridge – that investigators had removed from the garage of a house on Sunday.
Neighbours said Mr. McArthur was often seen there, doing yard work for the owners and was allowed to store equipment in the garage.
Police tape also blocked off the backyard of the Mallory Crescent house, which backs onto a steep ravine that leads to the Don Valley. Neighbours also said on Sunday that police had already been at the address for several days.
One neighbour, who did not want to be identified, said he regularly saw Mr. McArthur working on the property with another man.
Neighbour Sheila Lemire, 65, walking her dog past the scene on Sunday, said she also regularly saw Mr. McArthur at the address. She said Mr. McArthur often parked his van in front of the garage, blocking the sidewalk.
"I actually thought he was the owner because I have never seen the owners in the years I have been here," Ms. Lemire said. "… The last time I saw him was in the fall."
Police have also been searching Mr. McArthur's Thorncliffe Park apartment and a house in Scarborough.
There was also a major police presence at the rural Madoc property linked to the case on the weekend, including Ontario Provincial Police, Toronto Police Service investigators and forensic identification services.
Police could be seen searching the back of the property on Saturday afternoon, which includes several trailers and a garage. A neighbour said a police dog had been at the property earlier in the day.
In December, Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders said there was no evidence a serial killer was at work in the area. But Mr. Kinsman's and Mr. Esen's disappearances, and a list of others, had sparked fears in the LGBTQ community that a predator was targeting gay men.
Responding to criticisms of the police handling of the case from some in the LGBTQ community, Mayor John Tory said Sunday he also wanted the questions around the case answered, but not in a way that hinders the police investigation or the court process.
"Look, there are questions. But we may not be able to have the answers maybe until the court case is completed, because there will be things the police can't tell us until the court case is over," Mr. Tory said.
Mr. McArthur's next court appearance is set for February.
With a report from The Canadian Press. Jesse Winter is a freelance writer.