One day after Det. David Dickinson found Bruce McArthur’s name on an Excel spreadsheet, a Project Prism investigator was at a towering brutalist apartment complex overlooking the Don Valley. A property manager at 95 Thorncliffe Park Dr. soon confirmed McArthur was still leasing a 19th-floor unit, with a roommate.
It was the first day of September 2017, now more than two months since Andrew Kinsman, a well-liked fixture in Toronto’s Gay Village, was last seen. A Toronto police task force probing his disappearance and that of Selim Esen, another Village regular who vanished in April, had a promising lead: using surveillance video and vehicle registration records, they believed they had identified McArthur as the man who picked Kinsman up at the exact time he disappeared.
At 95 Thorncliffe — police had gotten McArthur’s address from the registration records — investigators learned access to the building and its parking garage was controlled by electronic key fobs. That meant they could determine when McArthur came and went, based on records for his unique fob. There were also surveillance cameras in the underground parking area, although the footage from June, which might have given a clue to Kinsman’s whereabouts, had already been erased.
But the recent video still proved useful: at times that corresponded with McArthur’s fob, it showed a red 2004 Dodge Caravan exactly like the one seen outside Kinsman’s home. It featured the same roof racks, chrome accents on the doors and black rain deflectors. Then, in mid-August, the footage showed McArthur driving an upgraded van; vehicle registration records confirmed he’d just bought a 2017 Dodge Caravan from a dealership in Windsor.
An officer called the dealership and took a statement. McArthur had bought the van over the phone. He wanted the cheapest model, didn’t care what colour and said it was for his father-in-law. When he came to pick it up, he spent just 10 minutes at the dealership and paid by certified cheque.
Meantime, Prism investigators brought in Toronto police’s mobile support services, a little-known branch of the intelligence section. The unit supports criminal probes with surveillance, anything from surreptitiously shooting pictures of suspects to tailing them through the city. The Prism officers needed to know McArthur’s routines, his habits and schedule.
The investigators built out a profile of the man. He was white, five-foot-nine and 205 pounds, with grey receding hair and brown eyes. They scraped his Facebook page, noting how many friends he had and their family connections. He was once married. He had a son, and was friends with a younger woman investigators deduced was his daughter. Around 2000, McArthur came out as gay and separated from his wife before moving to Toronto from Oshawa. He’d since started his own landscaping company, Artistic Design, and worked all over the GTA.
The investigators did background checks on McArthur’s family. His son, they found, had more than 30 criminal convictions for harrassment-type offences and was living with his father at 95 Thorncliffe as a bail condition on a new charge.
McArthur also had a criminal record — he violently assaulted a man in 2001, on Halloween. The victim told police that both men had been on Alexander St. in the Village when McArthur trotted after him into a nearby building and asked about his plans for the night. As the victim moved to unlock a security door, McArthur suddenly hit him in the skull and ribs with a metal pipe. When the victim called 911, McArthur attempted to rip the cord out of the wall. Soon after, he turned himself in to police.
McArthur was convicted of assault causing bodily harm and assault with a weapon. He was given a conditional sentence of two years less a day, ordered to seek counselling for anger management and barred from an area of the city that includes the Village, where the Crown worried he might come into contact with male sex workers.
McArthur later obtained a record suspension from the Parole Board of Canada; his conditions had long-since expired.
That same week that Dickinson found McArthur’s name in the vehicle database, he told fellow Prism investigator Det.-Const. Josh McKenzie he had identified the landscaper as a person of interest in Kinsman’s disappearance. When McKenzie heard McArthur’s name, he immediately recognized it.
McKenzie, who had 15 years on the force, had been a member of Project Houston, the special task force into the disappearances of Skandaraj Navaratnam, Abdulbasir Faizi and Majeed (Hamid) Kayhan, three brown-skinned men who vanished from the Village between 2010 and 2012.
McKenzie realized why he knew McArthur’s name: he’d interviewed him during Houston.
“Get me the interview,” Dickinson said.
What follows is the most-complete account yet of the Toronto police investigation and community efforts that caught serial killer Bruce McArthur. It is based on more than two dozen interviews with investigators, including Det. David Dickinson and Insp. Hank Idsinga, witnesses and community members, victim impact statements, and thousands of pages of court filings. The majority of the documents are police affidavits filed to obtain warrants, which outline evidence they’ve collected, witness interviews they’ve conducted and investigators’ theories.
In part two: As the Kinsman case closes in on McArthur, police realize he’d been on their radar before.
The revelation that McArthur was interviewed during Project Houston was officially made public this year. It has only strengthened a belief held by some in the LGBTQ community and beyond that Toronto police failed to act on earlier opportunities to solve the Village disappearances — and save lives.
After all, how could police have called McArthur into an interview room so early in the case, only to let him go?
McKenzie first noticed McArthur in September 2013, after he found a common link between Navaratnam and Faizi, the first two men to go missing: the email address firstname.lastname@example.org. McKenzie found it searching through Navaratnam’s deleted contacts, alongside a cellphone number, according to court affidavits. He also found “Silverfoxx51” written in a notepad belonging to Faizi.
When police searched their databases for the cell number, they found a December 2005 entry for McArthur, then 61 — he had been pulled over and didn’t have valid insurance. They also searched for “silverfoxx51” on the gay dating site silverdaddies.com and found a profile for a “Bruce,” 61, from Toronto. And Navaratnam was Facebook friends with a Bruce McArthur who appeared to match the silverdaddies account.
It’s not clear if investigators placed any importance on McArthur’s 2003 conviction. The conviction is not mentioned in a Project Houston court application outlining why McArthur was called in for an interview.
McArthur agreed to voluntarily answer questions about the missing-person cases in the Village. In a videotaped interview on Nov. 11, 2013, McArthur confirmed he knew Navaratnam through a friend. He told McKenzie and the other officer they’d socialized together as part of a large group that met on Sundays at the Black Eagle, at the time a hangout for middle-aged gay men into leather. He denied he ever had a sexual relationship with Navaratnam — a lie — and claimed he’d found out about his disappearance through the missing-person posters put up all over the Village.
According to court documents detailing the interview, McArthur did not admit to knowing Faizi — he said he didn’t recognize him from a photograph. But McArthur confirmed the silverfoxx51 account was his, as it was written in Faizi’s notebook.
McArthur also offered up a surprise. He told the officers he knew Kayhan, the third missing man. They had met 10 years earlier at Trax on Yonge St., one of the city’s oldest gay bars, now-shuttered. They’d had a relationship but McArthur said he’d broken it off. He told police Kayhan would repeatedly ask McArthur to buy him things. He also said he gave Kayhan a job landscaping, but said he’d refused to do any work.
Watching the video of the interview nearly five years later, Dickinson recalled that McArthur seemed “believable.”
“He comes across as calm, just like any other witness interview that wants to help out,” said in an interview.
The interview had connected McArthur to all three missing men, but the Houston investigators did not make him a person of interest or a suspect.
Five months after McArthur’s interview, Project Houston closed.
Toronto police Insp. Hank Idsinga said in an interview that at the time of McArthur’s 2013 interview, all police knew was that the three men were missing. A lead investigator on both the Houston and Prism probes, Idsinga said officers had no evidence the men were murdered, or kidnapped or had died from a drug overdose or suicide, or anything else that might explain their disappearance. In this scenario, McArthur could not be a suspect or person of interest, he said.
“Until you establish that a crime has been committed, people are just witnesses,” he said.
Houston investigators also found connections between witnesses and the missing within the tight-knit Village community, Idsinga said. Judicial authorizations police filed during Project Houston reveal police interviewed other witnesses who knew at least two of the men. Investigators had also found another email address linking Navaratnam and Faizi.
Project Houston interviewed McArthur because he knew some of the men, he said — “but other than that, we’ve got nothing.”
That doesn’t sit well with Haran Vijayanathan, the executive director of the Alliance for South Asian Aids Prevention, an LGBTQ organization that has been vocal throughout the McArthur case. He said he can’t understand why McArthur wasn’t more closely scrutinized by police — as a brown man, he believes he would have been, were he linked to the three cases in the same way.
“They would have been at my doorstep asking questions — and it seems that that’s what they did, but then they let him go.”
By early September 2017, the Project Prism team was learning McArthur’s schedule through close monitoring by the surveillance team. He was out the door by 9 a.m., travelling across the GTA gardening and maintaining yards for clients in Mississauga, Bowmanville and Toronto. He was usually home by 9 p.m.
His most frequent stop was to 53 Mallory Cres., a stately two-storey home on a quiet Leaside cul-de-sac. A few minutes’ drive from McArthur’s apartment, on the edge of the Lower Don Valley, the home was frequently his first or last stop. Surveillance officers watched him doing yard work and accessing the garage, and later installed a camera on public property aimed at the garage door.
The surveillance team was also on the lookout for an opportunity to get a sample of McArthur’s DNA — samples can often be obtained through discarded items, such as a coffee cup or cigarette butt. Just a few days into their surveillance, investigators spotted McArthur going into a Church St. Second Cup. They grabbed his plate and a fork after he left, then sent them to Ontario’s Centre for Forensic Science.
In mid-September, police got the court’s permission for an intrusive move: they would place a tracking device on both of McArthur’s vans — the 2004 Dodge Caravan they believed he used to pick up Kinsman and the new 2017 model he bought in August.
To get the court’s permission for such an invasive move, police have to convince a judge there’s sufficient reason to believe the person committed a crime.
Det.-Const. Joel Manherz, who joined Prism from the sex crimes unit, prepared the application for a warrant. His job in the task force was as the affiant, the officer who writes documents that lay out the evidence for the judge who rules on the warrant. His affidavits — dozens of which were released largely unredacted on Monday— expose investigators’ early suspicions that McArthur may have been responsible for not only the death of Kinsman, but also the disappearances of Esen, Navaratnam, Faizi and Kayhan. Though there was no concrete evidence linking the men, Manherz noted their similarities: all were middle-aged and bearded; they all frequented the Black Eagle; they were all self-identified “bears,” a persona of gay men he defined as “a larger, hairier man who projects an image of rugged masculinity.”
“Adding to the concern of police and the community, is the fact that four other self-identified ‘bears’ from the gay community have gone missing from the Village … since 2010 — all under mysterious circumstances,” he wrote in a Sept. 14, 2017, affidavit.
Manherz stated that in order for police to start treating McArthur as a suspect, not just a person of interest, the Prism officers needed to know exactly where he went and who he interacted with. A tracker could lead them to key evidence, he argued.
“If we are to assume that McArthur was responsible for Kinsman’s death in some way and possibly the deaths of the other four males, the tracking devices could reasonably lead us to where he may have discarded the body or bodies,” Manherz wrote.
Within days, they had the warrant and covertly placed a tracker on McArthur’s new van. Police started receiving real-time GPS information about McArthur’s whereabouts immediately.
But there was a major problem. The old van, the one seen picking Kinsman up — it was gone.
McArthur had taken the van to the Bowmanville address of one of his relatives after he bought his new van. Officers checked on it four times in early September. Each time, they saw it parked in the driveway.
But when they returned later in the month, it had vanished. It could be in the garage, they rationalized, so an officer returned the next day. It was still missing; a few days after that, nowhere to be found.
By early October, the van had been missing for about two weeks, and the team was getting frustrated. They knew the vehicle potentially contained evidence about Kinsman’s disappearance.
“OK, let’s go find this thing,” Dickinson told the group at one of their roundtable meetings. “We need to find this van.”
Prism investigators McKenzie and Det.-Const. Patrick Platte, checked auto yards near Bowmanville. They went to three with no luck before pulling up to Dom’s Auto Parts in nearby Courtice. Manager Dominic Vetere checked his records and confirmed: they had a van with that vehicle information number. His documents confirmed McArthur was the previous owner.
“They didn’t tell me what case it was,” Vetere recalled. “They just said it was an important case to them.”
They got lucky. Because the yard salvages parts instead of quickly destroying vehicles for scrap in a mechanical press, the van was mostly intact; just its tires, rims and the speedometer instrument panel were gone. Platte and McKenzie stayed with the van as new tires were installed, then they sealed it to preserve evidence. They called a tow truck and followed behind down the highway back to Toronto.
Meanwhile, the tracking device on McArthur’s new van provided a detailed window into his daily movements — and they were entirely benign. Police watched as he worked a mostly predictable Monday to Friday landscaping schedule. They tracked him as he dined on sushi with friends, went to Costco and home improvement stores, ran errands, stopped at Tim Horton’s, visited the Bowmanville homes of his daughter and his ex-wife.
As time went on, Dickinson felt a creeping doubt.
“I’m thinking, all this guy is doing is landscaping all day long,” Dickinson said. “Is this the right guy?”
In the Prism round tables, the team would discuss other potential leads. Officers checked back in with witnesses, including two Australian adult film stars who may have spent time with Kinsman during Pride weekend, right before he went missing. One told police he’d been at a “leather love” party Friday night and at a superhero party Saturday. Kinsman might have been at one them, he said, but he wasn’t sure. It was just one lead the team pursued, then determined was irrelevant and closed off.
“What hadn’t been closed off was Bruce McArthur,” Dickinson said.
During the quiet of his commutes along the QEW to his home outside Toronto, Dickinson would go over the information that pointed to the landscaper. The “Bruce” on Kinsman’s calendar. The older Dodge Caravan. The strong likelihood that the person driving that van was responsible for Kinsman’s disappearance.
“I’d be driving and going, OK, well, there’s nothing else, this all leads to him. So let’s keep doing this.”
Investigators had poured months of resources into the wrong suspect before. It happened during Project Houston.
In fact, it’s what launched Project Houston.
In November 2012, Toronto police received an unlikely call from the Interpol office in Bern, Switzerland. An official had a tip: someone described as a “high-level, reliable” Swiss police informant had information a cannibal might be active in Toronto.
The informant was part of a small, members-only online cannibalism fantasy website known as Zambian Meat, which is no longer active. He had been corresponding with a user named “Chefmate50” who said he lived on a farm north of Toronto and admitted, in encrypted Skype messages, to consuming human flesh.
“I am for several months in contact with a suspicious person who claims to have eaten a human being,” reads the transcript of the informant’s report. Cheftmate50 appeared to have a “strong interest” in sexual cannibalism and a preference for men, he said.
The informant had previously helped police identify a real killer in Slovakia, who was also a member of the cannibalism group. The suspect, Matej Curko, was shot dead by an undercover police officer during a sting operation. He has since been linked to at least two homicides. When the informant claimed he’d identified another potential killer, police listened; a Toronto investigator travelled to Switzerland in April 2013 to interview him.
Based on his conversations with Chefmate50, the informant believed he knew the cannibal’s type. The victim, he theorized, would be lean, between 18 to 35 years old, and would have hung out in Toronto’s “gay scene,” especially parks and saunas. He believed the killing would have happened between 2009 to 2011.
“If the statements of (Chefmate50 are) correct, there must be a corresponding missing person case,” the informant said.
He had, in fact, done his own research. He identified the still-unsolved case of Navaratnam, the outgoing Sri Lankan who’d disappeared in 2010. He might be the victim.
When a team of Toronto police officers began investigating, they realized Navaratnam wasn’t the only potential victim. There was a trio of men who disappeared from the Village in a cluster between 2010 and 2012.
“As we’re investigating it was, hold on a second,” Idsinga said. “We also have Basir Faizi …. Maybe it’s him he’s talking about. Hold on a second, Majeed Kayhan … maybe it’s him he’s talking about.”
Within weeks of the Swiss informant’s tip, Toronto police formed Project Houston to look into the disappearances of Navaratnam, Faizi and Kayhan. Investigators cast a wide net to determine who the men communicated with and what they were doing prior to their disappearances. And they seriously considered whether one of the disappearances was connected to a cannibalism ring.
Houston investigators filed a court application for information about email@example.com, and soon learned the user’s real identity through his IP address. James Alex Brunton, then 63, was a portly 220-pound white man who lived in Peterborough with his wife. He worked and volunteered with minor hockey leagues, including as the secretary of the Peterborough Minor Petes. He had no criminal history or prior contact with Toronto police.
Police obtained warrants to further the investigation, including one requiring Yahoo to hand over Brunton’s chefmate50 emails. The content was unsettling. Among the most disturbing correspondence was arrangements Brunton was making with a 15-year-old boy from Colorado. The boy had already sent Brunton naked pictures of himself and signed a contract agreeing that, when he turned 18, he would be enslaved then eaten by Brunton, his “master.”
“Master can have my body to butcher and eat as desired,” the contract read.
Police obtained warrants to probe deeper, including entering Brunton’s Peterborough home, tracking his vehicle, and surveilling him for days on end, according to court affidavits. On his computer, they discovered he had been covertly videotaping the boys and young men of a Peterborough hockey club while they were naked in the change room and showers.
Police eventually ran a sting operation in which an undercover police officer made an arrangement for Brunton to pick the officer up at the airport, then eat him, according to the affidavits. But the plan fell through when Brunton failed to show, the documents state.
They never found evidence linking Brunton to any of the three missing men. During questioning by police, Brunton said he didn’t recognize photos of Kayhan or Faizi but recalled seeing Navaratnam at Remington’s, a male strip club on Yonge St.
Police later pursued possible links between Brunton, the missing men and Canadian killer Luka Magnotta — who was convicted of first-degree murder in the 2012 killing and dismemberment of Chinese exchange student Jun Lin. In a September 2013 affidavit seeking access to Magnotta’s computers from the Montreal police, Toronto investigators prepared a two-page list of circumstantial links between Brunton and Magnotta, including their mutual interest in cannibalism and the possibility that they’d met while Magnotta worked as a dancer at Remington’s. The document also noted that Magnotta, using aliases, posted on several gay websites in 2010 that he was “looking for Middle Eastern men,” a potential connection to the Houston disappearances. This lead also went nowhere.
Brunton was eventually arrested and convicted over his contact with the 15-year-old boy, including two counts each of making, possessing and importing child pornography. Court heard Brunton paid the Colorado teen $3,500 between 2009 and 2012 to send 80 naked photos and three videos. The judge called the cannibalism group “profoundly bizarre and depraved,” and described teen’s contract with Brunton as a “ghastly” fantasy. He was sentenced to 15 months in jail.
Brunton claimed that’s all it ever was. According to court affidavits, Brunton told police in a post-arrest interview that his preoccupation with eating other humans was “‘100 per cent fantasy.’”
After his conviction, his lawyer said Brunton “was troubled, depressed and feeling inadequate and, unfortunately started searching online that led to various things that aren’t illegal.”
Lost, then found, McArthur’s old 2004 Caravan was towed from the Courtice scrap yard to the Toronto police Forensic Identification Services for testing. The van had a lot to say.
Forensic scientists found blood in 17 places, including on the steering wheel, the inside of the driver’s-door window, the back of the driver’s seat and four areas in the trunk. They also detected semen and acid phosphatase, a constituent of semen.
Police already had Kinsman’s DNA profile from a toothbrush taken from his apartment. That sample could now be compared to the blood detected in the van. It offered the first chance for the team to definitively link McArthur to the missing man.
Forensic scientist Nicole Vachon’s report came back with a strong match, linking Kinsman’s DNA to blood found in the van.
On Nov. 8, 2017, Toronto police upgraded Bruce McArthur from a person of interest to a suspect in the murder of Andrew Kinsman. But although it was a major development, they decided the blood wasn’t enough for an arrest — it was in minuscule amounts, the largest drop about the size of a penny; and could likely be explained away by a defence lawyer, who could explain another way Kinsman’s blood was in the van, like an accidental cut. The team would continue surveilling McArthur, through physical surveillance and the van tracker — not just to solve the crime, but also to mitigate the risk the suspected murderer posed to the public.
But it wasn’t just Kinsman’s blood in the van. The forensic tests showed the presence of two different male profiles and officers started on a mission to identify the others. Police checked for matches with Navaratnam, Faizi and Kayhan — they had DNA samples from all three Project Houston cases — but none were found. That wasn’t a surprise, however, McArthur had purchased the van after they went missing.
The obvious next step was to test if either sample could be Esen’s. But first, they needed to obtain his DNA. A Turkish-speaking Toronto officer was recruited to contact Esen’s brother Oguz in Turkey to see if he had Esen’s toothbrush or hairbrush, but he didn’t. The officer then requested Interpol’s assistance to obtain a DNA sample from Oguz, which would provide familial DNA. But crossed-wires with Turkish authorities caused delays and the expense of sending a package by courier was too much. Ultimately, Dickinson sent a mouth swab in the mail, along with enough Turkish lira to cover return postage.
One of the two unidentified DNA profiles carried a different mystery. It came from blood found only at front of the van, including from an opening where the speedometer panel had been removed. Police theorized that whoever had removed the panel had cut themselves sometime after the van was junked at the scrapyard. They went back to Dom’s Auto Parts, pulled receipts of speedometer purchases and contacted the buyers, but no one had purchased a speedometer from McArthur’s van. Vetere, the owner, then arranged for an employee who worked on the van to give his DNA, but the results came back negative.
Police never did find a match.
The surveillance team had, meanwhile, begun tracking McArthur’s friends and associates, including his roommate and an on-again-off-again younger boyfriend. In late November, they got the court’s permission to monitor McArthur through his cellphone data. The authorization allowed police know the people he was talking to.
By Dec. 5, police had built a strong enough case against McArthur to ask for the investigative power that comes with a “general warrant.” When granted, it gives police the right to use a broad suite of investigative techniques or procedures, including searching and seizing property. In a detailed affidavit, Manherz alleged McArthur, alone or with an unknown person, murdered Kinsman. He also stressed the potential link to Esen and the Project Houston cases.
“Investigators are continuing to seek out evidence of the crime and … evidence relating to the disappearance of the other four men from The Village,” Manherz wrote.
McArthur’s apartment, he said, was among “the best places to search for the existence of that evidence, in a covert manner.”
Edited by Ed Tubb, with files from Kenyon Wallace and the Star archive
Wendy Gillis is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and policing. Reach her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter: @wendygillis