When Bruce McArthur was charged with five counts of murder for allegedly killing several gay men and burying their remains in potted plants around Toronto, many in the city’s LGBTQ community were in shock.
Members of the community recognized him. Paul Ciantar, 54, said he has seen McArthur around the Gay Village at coffee shops or at bars. He did not personally know McArthur, but he knew people who did.
“They all said that they never would have suspected him,” Ciantar told CNN. “He looks like Santa Claus. He looks harmless. That probably really helped him.”
So far, all of the victims are male, and McArthur had relationships with each of them, some of which were sexual, Toronto Police Service spokeswoman Meaghan Gray said. Police said that two of the victims, Selim Esen and Andrew Kinsman, were active on dating apps.
“He was in the community. To what extent, I don’t know,” said Constable Danielle Bottineau, Toronto Police Service and LGBTQ liaison officer. “But members definitely knew the accused as well as the victims.”
McArthur is due to make a court appearance on Wednesday. His attorney, Edward Royale, told CNN on Monday he would not be commenting on the case.
The grisly killings have rattled the LGBTQ community, as well as the immigrant communities that some of the victims belonged to.
“The accused in this matter preyed on quite a few members of the racialized community, probably knowing full well they weren’t out with their culture, weren’t out to their family and friends,” Bottineau said.
An inconspicuous suspect
McArthur presented himself as a friendly face – even working as a mall Santa, the definition of jolly. He worked at a mall in Scarborough, Ontario, over the past few Christmas seasons, according to the Agincourt Mall.
“He was hired through an event management company who provides various forms of entertainers including Santa to many events throughout the (Greater Toronto Area),” the Agincourt Mall said in a statement. “There were no reported incidents by customers or by store and mall employees during his time at the mall.”
Nothing about McArthur particularly stood out, at least not to those who knew him from afar.
He worked as a landscaper in and around Toronto, and Toronto police said investigators have identified 30 properties that belong to clients of his.
Connie Uetrecht never thought much of McArthur, who often worked on a lawn down the street from her Toronto home.
“I knew that (my neighbor) had somebody to do some of the yard work, but that’s all,” Uetrecht said Tuesday. “I’ve seen him a few times, but really I never noticed anything unusual.”
Robert MacEachern, who grew up with McArthur outside of Woodville, Ontario, said he couldn’t recall anything strange about McArthur.
“He wasn’t a child with any issues,” MacEachern said. “He was just one of the kids at the schoolhouse.”
Aside from a few parties in Woodville over the past 48 years, where he may have seen McArthur three or four times, MacEachern hasn’t really known the suspect since 1970, he said.
“I was shocked to hear the news,” MacEachern said.
“It’s very tragic story, I feel for everybody involved. Just awful,” he added.
What’s next in the case
McArthur was first arrested January 18 and charged with the murders of Kinsman, 49, and Esen, 44, who both went missing last year. Two weeks later, he was charged with three more counts of murder for the killings of Majeed Kayhan, 58, Dean Lisowick, 47, and Soroush Mahmudi, 50.
Investigators have discovered six sets of human remains buried in planters on different properties connected to McArthur; one set of remains has been identified as Kinsman’s. The other remains have yet to be identified, but police said they have sufficient evidence to connect McArthur to the murders of Esen, Kayhan, Lisowick and Mahmudi.
Authorities said they expect they may discover more remains on some of 30 properties connected to him.
The excavation of a property in Toronto’s Mallory Crescent neighborhood, down the street from Connie Uetrecht, was completed late Monday evening, according to Gray, the Toronto Police Services spokeswoman. There is still at least one other property in Toronto that investigators are looking to excavate, she said. No time frame was given on when the thawing out process will begin on that site, Gray said.
“We’re just very methodically working our way through these properties,” Gray said late last week.
There are still a number of planters that are still being investigated by the Toronto Police Department, Gray said. Toronto Police have at least 15 planters that have been obtained in their investigation from various properties in Toronto and surrounding towns. Gray says they still have many of those 15 planters that need to be processed by investigators.