BRUTAL LANDSCAPES For years, men had been disappearing without a trace from Torontoâ€™s Gay Village. By the time authorities arrested a 66-year-old landscaper for the murders, the truest horror might have been how easily he had operated among them By ZANDER SHERMAN
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Homicide is so rare in Canada that Kathy Gruspier, a 56-year-old single mom, is the country's only full-time forensic anthropologist.
n January, more than a dozen fiberglass garden planters arrived at the Ontario Forensics Pathology Service, a glassy, 660,000-square-foot facility in North Toronto. It was a cold winter, even by Canadian standards, and the 400-pound faux-rock containers—destined for installation in the city that spring—were frozen solid. After letting them thaw for a few days, Dr. Kathy Gruspier began conducting X-rays. When she saw that one of them contained a foreign object, she called Detective-Sergeant Hank Idsinga, a hulking homicide cop with the Toronto Police Service. Idsinga’s team had helped locate the planters at a private residence on a quiet suburban drive in Leaside and shipped them to Gruspier. “I think there’s going to be something in these planters,” Idsinga remembers Gruspier saying. “But it could just be a chunk of ice, I don’t know.” He and his team drove to the lab. By then, the containers had been there for 10 days and were starting to emit a foul odor. In the forensicexamination bay, the police watched Gruspier saw the planter she had X-rayed in half. She peeled away the sides to reveal a human head, torsos, and limbs. Through dental and fingerprint analyses, Gruspier’s team eventually separated seven sets of remains. It is hard to overstate how shocking the discovery and its coverage in the press have been in a country where homicide is infrequent and serial killers are almost unheard of. In order of quantity, criminal charges in Canada predominantly relate to theft and other behavior that falls under the legal heading of “mischief”—destruction of property, for example, or preventing a fellow Canadian from enjoying his or her property. In 2016, there were 611 homicide victims in the entire country. (The state of Ohio
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had 627 that year.) The most recent serialmurder case involved a 51-year-old nurse who lethally injected several elderly patients with insulin between 2007 and 2016. Homicide is so rare that Gruspier, a 56-year-old single mom, is the country’s only full-time forensic anthropologist. But suddenly, newspapers from the New York Post to the Daily Mail were reporting on a series of murders worthy of a Stephen King novel in which immigrants’ entry into Toronto’s gay subculture proved their undoing. The frothiest tabloid coverage surrounding the case played up its tenuous connection to the horror author’s 1975 short story, “The Lawnmower Man.”
s the winter gave way to spring, investigators continued to sort through their grisly yield. By early June their case had grown to include eight victims. Six of them—Skandaraj Navaratnam, Majeed Kayhan, Abdulbasir Faizi, Soroush Mahmudi, Selim Esen, and Kirushna Kumar Kanagaratnam—were of Middle Eastern or South Asian descent. Navaratnam was a 40-year-old Sri Lankan Tamil refugee; Kayhan was a 58-year-old Afghani man, who was married and had a son; Faizi, 42, had been born in Afghanistan but emigrated from Iran, and was married and had a family; Mahmudi, 50, was from Iran and lived with his Sri Lankan wife and stepson; and Esen, 44, was a Turkish citizen. More than half of Toronto’s 2.7 million residents identify as a visible minority: around 15 percent are South Asian, and 1 percent come from the Middle East. The city is known for its inclusiveness, but it can still be a challenging place for new Canadian citizens. Nearly all of the men— as well as two other victims, Dean Lisowick, 47, and Andrew Kinsman, 49—had
disappeared from the Church and Wellesley neighborhood, also known as Toronto’s Gay Village, between 2010 and 2017. Though the area’s history as an L.G.B.T.Q.friendly enclave dates back years, of late, gentrification in the Village has driven up the cost of rent, and the area mainly functions now as a meeting place for people who connect online and come into town for drinks. Several of the victims’ families have said they didn’t know of their loved ones’ visits to the Village at all, that the men were leading double lives. In November 2012, a month after Kayhan’s disappearance, the Toronto Police Service convened a task force to find out what had happened. Within a few months, they had uncovered clues to suggest Navaratnam had met with foul play. The leads, which initially pointed to an online cannibalism ring, were dismissed as fantastical AU G U ST
Around 1998, when he was and eventually ruled out, but As Toronto police continued to deny in his late 40s, McArthur came they brought Idsinga, a 30-year what was obvious to out and moved to the Village. police veteran, onto the case. many in the Gay At five feet ten and 221 pounds, Investigators began by interVillage, Hank Idsinga and a small “Santa” was unassuming in both viewing Navaratnam’s friends. group of detectives appearance and demeanor—the According to multiple reports, quietly launched this included a then 60-year-old type who baked muffins, sipped a new investigation landscape designer, Bruce Mcwine, and lavished friends with called Project Prism. Arthur. (Toronto police refuse roses on their birthdays. “The to confirm whether they spoke with Mc- kindest person I’ve ever known” is how one Arthur at that time.) Known as “Santa” for of McArthur’s many friends described him, his seasonal employment at a shopping according to police records. The owner and mall, McArthur was a twinkle-eyed grand- sole proprietor of Artistic Design, a man-infather who liked tropical birds and hated a-van landscaping business, he was popular Donald Trump. Born in rural Ontario in with clients—many of them older, wealthy 1951, he graduated from Fenelon Falls Sec- Torontonians—who appreciated McArthur’s ondary School, married his high-school love of succulents, especially exotic varieties sweetheart, and became a salesman, first at with thick, fleshy leaves. Stanfield’s and then at McGregor Socks, Police learned McArthur had employed both Canadian garment manufacturers. The Navaratnam as a landscaper. The two had couple had a son and a daughter, now grown. also dated, on and off, for years. McArthur AU G U ST
was interviewed, then let go. And having failed to find any criminal evidence, Project Houston, as the task force was named in 2013, closed down. Mahmudi, Lisowick, Esen, Kinsman, and Kanagaratnam all vanished over the next four years.
y summer 2017, pretty much everyone in the Village knew there was a serial killer in their midst. All of these men had gone missing, each with a connection to the neighborhood, most from social groups that were marginalized in one way or another. Even civilians with a glancing knowledge of the typical serial-killer profile by now know that many seek out those on the edge of society, people whose disappearances take longer to be noticed, if at all. Sasha Reid, a 29-year-old University of Toronto psychology researcher and Ph.D. candidate who studies the inner www.vanityfair.com
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worlds of serial killers, told me that margin- pothetical killer. Going on instinct as much alized people are easier to dehumanize, less as experience, she guessed the killer would likely to be reported missing, and often live be male (because almost all are), have a in proximity to their predators. In the 1980s blue-collar job (because almost all do), and and 1990s, Jeffrey Dahmer infamously oper- be sexually motivated (because the missing ated within the gay community in Milwau- men appeared to be of a “type,” suggesting kee by using his familiarity with its members a preference or erotic fixation). She phoned and their social landscape to find targets, Toronto police, relaying her profile to an ofwhile also benefiting from the fact that ficer, who stayed on the line for about half many of his victims had fewer-than-average an hour. He revealed that police had reconnections to society at large. More re- ceived numerous calls about a potential secently, the suspected serial killer responsible rial killer. Yet as late as December 2017—six for the deaths of up to 16 female sex workers months after Kinsman’s disappearance—Toon New York’s Long Island used the rela- ronto police chief Mark Saunders insisted tive anonymity of Craigslist to solicit some there was “no evidence of a serial killer.” As the police continued to deny what of his victims. While the Toronto of 2017 was an undeniably more progressive place seemed obvious to many in the commuthan the Reagan-era Rust Belt, it still had nity, Idsinga and a small group of detectives its share of the kinds of collective isolation quietly launched a new investigation, called that such killers could take advantage of. Project Prism. By the summer of 2017, they In July, Reid was surfing Ontario’s Miss- had begun to look more closely at Mcing Adult Registry and came across three Arthur, and they didn’t have to dig too deep for signs that suggested a hisnames—Navaratnam, Kayhan, and Faizi—that linked to photory of violence. On October Going on instinct as tos of brown, bearded men. 31, 2001, police arrived at the much as experience, Sasha Reid theorized apartment of a male escort “Studying serial homicide, you the killer would learn to pick up on patterns,” who called 911 after awakening be male, have a Reid told me. That night, Reid from a blackout. The victim blue-collar job, and be put together a profile of a hyhad invited McArthur into his sexually motivated.
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apartment around noon that day and was considering showing McArthur his Halloween costume when McArthur, unprovoked, hit him in the head with a metal pipe that he had brought with him. “I don’t know why I did it,” McArthur reportedly said after turning himself in to police. In January 2003, McArthur pleaded guilty to assault causing bodily harm. He received a conditional sentence barring him from the Village and further contact with escorts. In 2016, McArthur was investigated for a potential sexual assault, though police set him free, without charging him. Idsinga’s team learned that McArthur was once a regular of the Black Eagle, the bar where Andrew Kinsman had worked. McArthur had both dated Kinsman and employed him at Artistic Design, as he had with Navaratnam. He was also active on gay apps and Web sites, including Grindr, Scruff, Manjam, and SilverDaddies. He was meeting guys, hooking up with them, employing them, and then, it seemed to cops, disappearing them. In September 2017, a month into Project Prism, McArthur dumped his work vehicle— a maroon Dodge Caravan—at a scrapyard, taking a cash offer of $150. In October, police recovered the van and found traces of
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By summer 2017, pretty much everyone in the Gay Village knew there was a serial killer in their midst. blood in the trunk and on the backseat, according to the scrapyard’s owner, Dominic Vetere. (The results of the DNA test have not been released to the public, but Vetere’s employees were cleared.) Newly unsealed records suggest investigators began to remotely track McArthur’s movements and monitor his calls, starting in November. Then, in December, police obtained warrants to secretly enter McArthur’s apartment and clone his computer’s hard drive. On January 17, police reportedly found another link—possibly DNA—that potentially connected him to two of the missing men. He was put under 24hour surveillance while police prepared warrants for his arrest. At 10:30 on the morning of January 18, they observed a young man, later identified as a male escort, entering McArthur’s apartment building, in Thorncliffe Park, in central-east Toronto. Police, who were still awaiting judicial authorization on all of their warrants, moved in. According to the Toronto Star, they found a young man “bound, restrained to a bed, but unharmed.” The man was freed, and McArthur was charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the cases of Esen and Kinsman, taken into custody, and driven to the Toronto Police Service’s 51 Division building for processing. Using McArthur’s client list as a guide, the Toronto Police Service began searching properties across the city—initially 30, and then 100. At a small and neatly landscaped home on Mallory Crescent, where McArthur did work in exchange for storing gardening tools, police found the planters. In the following months, six additional charges were filed, for the murders of Navaratnam, Kayhan, Faizi, Mahmudi, Lisowick, and Kanagaratnam.
hough no causes of death have been announced, men who went on dates with McArthur and survived describe submissive role play that became violent. Using online pseudonyms, he told prospective hookups he was looking to “see how much you can take” and wanted to “push till you cant AU G U ST
take anymore.” In 2017, a man named Peter Sgromo told CBC News that McArthur had grabbed his head and twisted it without warning. Another man, Sean Cribbin, told Global News that he had agreed to take drugs at McArthur’s apartment, then felt himself lose consciousness. He claims to have awoken to find McArthur “raping my throat” and using his body weight to pin him to the bed. When police interviewed Cribbin after McArthur’s arrest, he discovered that McArthur had apparently taken photos of him, too. According to Cribbin, they showed him bound and in what he describes as a “kill position.” It has since emerged that photos of the victims taken after their deaths were found on McArthur’s computer. Authorities have thus far collected 1,800 exhibits and 18,000 photos from McArthur’s apartment. Idsinga and city police have been under fire from multiple fronts. What took them so long to acknowledge the murders? Why wasn’t McArthur arrested sooner? How could police let him slip through their fingers after first interviewing him in 2013? When I put some of these questions to Idsinga, he defended the team that worked Project Houston, saying they were out of leads and people to interview. “They’d gone through all the tips,” he said. “There was nothing left.” Still, in March, Idsinga sent a report to the Toronto Police Service’s professionalstandards unit, in regard to McArthur’s alleged sexual assault in 2016. The officers in that case, who were not part of Project Prism and were working in a separate jurisdiction, apparently failed to notify the task force about the supposed attack, meaning that at the time of the murder investigation Idsinga didn’t know potentially gamechanging information. “I didn’t feel our procedures had been followed correctly,” Idsinga told me. “I wanted an investigation to be undertaken.” Following Idsinga’s report, Toronto mayor John Tory called for an independent external review. The proposed inquiry will look at missing-persons cases, but not the
McArthur investigation. Tory told me this was “the responsible thing to do,” since a broader inquiry could prejudice McArthur’s right to a fair and impartial trial. Others have expressed disappointment, calling the review a publicity campaign designed to shield the city from any meaningful criticism. In February, Chief of Police Saunders was lambasted for appearing to deflect responsibility for the missing men onto the Gay Village community, saying “nobody was coming to us [with information].” Saunders told me his comments had been misrepresented. “We had received information from the community. Some of that information wasn’t shared with us.” The comments nevertheless led to accusations of victim blaming and calls for his resignation. (Saunders is still serving.)
ince McArthur’s arrest, in January, the Village community as a whole has been outraged, grief-stricken, and exhausted. A candlelight vigil was held in February. This June, the normally ebullient Pride parade was expected to be noticeably more somber, as participants prepared to wear black to honor the victims. With resentment lingering in the gay community, Toronto police withdrew their application to march. Even as the prosecution moves forward, police are still gathering potential evidence against McArthur. In May, they concluded a five-month inventory of his apartment and wrapped up searching nearly 100 properties across the city that he had landscaped, including the one where the planters were found. Additionally, they are going back through a catalogue of cold cases. Idsinga has said he “wouldn’t be surprised” if McArthur was charged with other murders, though no direct links have been made, and the number may change, according to the evidence. When I asked Idsinga how he was refining the search, considering some inconsistencies in McArthur’s alleged victims, he said, “Our filters have essentially been blown out of the water.” Two were white, and one went missing east of Toronto. What unites the men is their social isolation—or the parts of their lives that they isolated from loved ones. Lisowick was homeless. Kanagaratnam and Navaratnam were refugees. Esen struggled with addiction. Friends told me that Andrew Kinsman—a Village community fixture—had demons. Haran Vijayanathan is the executive director of Toronto’s Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention C O N T I N U E D O N P A G E 1 0 0 www.vanityfair.com
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and was grand marshal of Pride 2018. He said that, from the beginning, police treated the disappearance of Kinsman differently from the disappearance of the seven others. “It was like, ‘You guys took this seriously when it happened to be a white person who went missing. But when the other guys went missing no one really paid attention.’ ” Saunders told me this was “unequivocally inaccurate.” A spokesperson for the Toronto Police Service said that officers spent 18 months on their search C ON T I N U E D F ROM PAGE 87
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for Navaratnam, Faizi, and Kayhan, and that their investigation “included thousands of hours interviewing dozens of witnesses, multiple judicial authorizations, community canvasses, and online searches.” A relatively privileged group of friends and co-workers advocated for Kinsman, postering the neighborhood and creating a Web site, but “when a homeless person goes in to report something, are they going to be taken seriously?” Vijayanathan asked me. “If it’s someone who’s new to the country and can’t speak English well, are they going to be treated with respect or are they going to be yelled at and treated like they’re dumb?” In response to the McArthur case, Vijayanathan’s group has set up a safety program; the disappearance of vulnerable people is reported to police within 48 hours.
ne day this spring, I drove to Woodville, a farming community 85 miles north of Toronto. Like other Canadians, I’d spent the winter wondering how something like this
could have happened here, and whether more horrors lay beneath the still-frozen ground. I found McArthur’s old house, a bungalow that sits off a main road, on a slight hill. It was just like thousands of other rural homes scattered throughout Southern Ontario. The question was what had made McArthur so different. How had he gone from the clean-cut country boy depicted in his yearbook photos to an accused serial killer? The only person who can really answer that question is McArthur, if he knows himself. He is reportedly in segregation and on suicide watch at Toronto South Detention Centre, a maximum-security facility west of Toronto, and has yet to enter a plea. The trial, if there is one, won’t start until next year. His lawyer declined to comment. In the same Fenelon Falls yearbook, McArthur had filled out the standard questionnaire. Favorite Pastime: “Debate.” Ambition in Life: “To be successful” (though he didn’t say how). Next to his Probable Future, he put, “Your guess is as good as mine.” $ AU G U ST
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Toronto Serial Killer
BRUTAL LANDSCAPES For years, men had been disappearing without a trace from Toronto’s Gay Village. By the time authorities arrested a 66-ye...
Published on Feb 22, 2019
BRUTAL LANDSCAPES For years, men had been disappearing without a trace from Toronto’s Gay Village. By the time authorities arrested a 66-ye...