This story has been updated with new information about alleged killer Bruce McArthur.
Toronto police have finally confirmed the gay community’s worst fears: two men who disappeared from the Church and Wellesley village were murdered, and police are investigating whether there are more victims.
The announcement appears to confirm what many in the neighbourhood have long suspected, that a serial killer was targeting gay men.
On Thursday, police charged 66-year-old Bruce McArthur with first-degree murder in connection with the deaths of Selim Esen and Andrew Kinsman, who have been missing since last summer.
While police have not yet released a photo of McArthur, a Facebook page belonging to someone of that name contains photos of a man who looks to be in his 60s and is self-employed. The same man appears on gay dating website silverdaddies.com; his profile is consistent with details released by police, including his age and occupation as a self-employed landscaper.
“I can be a bit shy until i get to know you, but am a romantic at heart. I love to cook and enjoy most types of food,” the dating profile says. “Just here to see whats out there and maybe make a few new friends.”
Facebook photos indicate he had also been a mall Santa Claus. One of them, taken at Toronto Pride, is captioned “Happy Pride.” Other media outlets have published photos of the same man.
A Toronto resident who spoke to VICE recognized the photo of McArthur from that Facebook page and identified him as a former neighbour in their Thorncliffe Park apartment building.
VICE sent the man’s photos to police but they refused to confirm whether or not he is the alleged murderer.
"In order to protect the integrity of any witness statements or other information that may come forward, we are not releasing his photo at this time, nor will we confirm his identity,” police said.
Esen and Kinsman are not the first to disappear from the village and for years the LGBTQ community has been asking why police haven’t taken missing persons cases from that area more seriously.
From 2010 to 2012, three men—Abdulbasir Faizi, Skandaraj Navaratnam, and Majeed Kayhan—vanished. All three were village regulars, all three were brown-skinned, and all three were of similar age. Police failed to find any leads that explained their disappearances or pointed towards a suspect.
The Facebook profile connected to McArthur appears to be friends with Navaratnam.
“We are trying to identify whether they may have become victim to Mr. McArthur as well,” homicide detective Hank Idsinga said.
But police, repeatedly and consistently, played down connections between the five men. In December, Police Chief Mark Saunders told the public that “the evidence today tells us that there is not a serial killer.”
Toronto’s gay village saw things differently. Facebook groups were set up to share information about the missing men and to keep tabs on future disappearances. A town hall was organized in the village itself to share stories and to try and illicit information from the public and to put pressure on the cops to take the cases more seriously.
The media, too, has long raised the possibility of a serial killer. Xtra!, which covered the first three disappearances at the time, repeatedly asked Toronto police about the possibility, as did VICE News. Last summer, I published a lengthy investigation into the three men, finding that police simply did not conduct extensive searches for at least one of the missing men.
Over the last five years, police have fallen back on the idea that these men simply took off or ran away, given their sexual orientation and their ethnicity. But friends of the missing men, Kinsman and Navaratnam in particular, never accepted that theory.
Even at the end of 2017—even, as cops say, they were looking at McArthur as a suspect—police suggested that Esen’s disappearance was not the result of foul play, highlighting parts of his past to suggest that there was no pattern or connection linking him to the other disappearances.
With Esen and Kinsman’s cases now linked, the next steps for police will be to find out if McArthur is connected to the first three missing men.
“We believe he is responsible for the deaths of other men who have yet to be identified,” added Idsinga. “In other words: We believe there are other victims.”
Many have been quick to draw the parallels to Robert Pickton, the infamous serial killer who targeted sex workers on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. An inquiry would later find huge deficiencies in how police handled those missing persons cases.
While no bodies have yet been recovered, and police have remained tight-lipped about exactly what evidence they’ve unearthed, Idsinga told reporters simply that they found “some evidence” that “pushed us over the edge” to obtain a warrant for the arrest of McArthur. He had been a subject of the investigation for “months,” the detective added.
Idsinga said Kinsman and McArthur had been in a sexual relationship for some time leading up to his death, but couldn’t say how the accused killer might have known Esen.
Police reported that McArthur’s business was in the Thorncliffe Park area of Toronto—just a 10 minute drive from where Faizi’s car was discovered, abandoned, and from an oft-trodden cruising path where I believe he was last seen alive.
McArthur is set to appear in court on Friday morning.
—with files from Manisha Krishnan, Rachel Browne, Mack Lamoureux
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