An independent review launched in the wake of the arrest of serial killer Bruce McArthur has identified “serious flaws” in how missing person cases have been handled by Toronto police.
The disappearance of McArthur’s murder victims “were often given less attention or priority than the cases deserved,” and some officers had “misconceptions or stereotypical ideas” about the LGBTQ communities — “at times, their perceptions impeded the work.”
The report, released Tuesday and prepared by retired Ontario Court of Appeal judge Gloria Epstein, uncovered serious investigative, communication and data management problems with the Toronto police investigation into McArthur’s victims, including Project Houston, a probe into the three men now known to be McArthur’s first victims.
McArthur was brought in for questioning as part of that investigation — an interview Epstein called “deeply flawed, inadequately prepared for and poorly conducted.”
“I cannot say that McArthur would necessarily have been apprehended earlier if the investigative steps outlined in this report had been taken. He was a true psychopath. He disarmed others, including his interviewer, with his calm and ostensibly helpful approach to the interview,” she noted.
“But the Toronto police did lose important opportunities to identify him as the killer.”
Epstein noted that the friends and loved ones, of McArthur’s last victim, Andrew Kinsman, “mobilized in a highly public way” to ensure police gave his sudden disappearance attention.
“Proper missing person investigations, however, should not depend on whose voices are the loudest in sounding the alarm. This observation represents yet another systemic issue identified in this report,” Epstein wrote.
The review provides the most detailed accounting of police actions during McArthur’s seven year killing spree. Epstein notes that, in some instances, this means exposing “serious investigative flaws or a lack of attention that made these cases more difficult to solve. In other instances, an accurate account corrects a narrative that is unfair to investigators.”
“The public is entitled to know the truth; indeed, it must know the truth. So are the loved ones and friends of those who went missing,” Epstein wrote in the report.
The report makes a series of recommendations on how to improve missing persons investigations, noting “we are past the time for conversation only.”
“The public is entitled to insist on transformative change with measurable, sustainable outcomes, timelines for completion, and accountability.”
More to come.
McArthur, 69, was convicted of eight counts of first-degree murder in 2019, after pleading guilty to killing eight men between 2010 and 2017. He was sentenced to life in prison by Ontario Superior Court Justice John McMahon, who called McArthur a sexual predator whose crimes were “pure evil.”
McArthur admitted to killing Andrew Kinsman, 49; Selim Esen, 44; Majeed Kayhan, 58; Soroush Mahmudi, 50; Dean Lisowick, 47; Skandaraj (Skanda) Navaratnam, 40, Abdulbasir Faizi, 42, and Kirushnakumar Kanagaratnam, 37.
Most of McArthur’s victims were of Middle Eastern or South Asian descent, and some were homeless, had a precarious immigration status in Canada or struggled with substance abuse.
McArthur’s arrest — and the revelation the killer had twice before been interviewed by police — prompted anger and distrust of police, and concerns their investigations had been tainted by systemic bias or discrimination.
McArthur, a once-married man who came out as gay later in life, was 58 when he began his killing spree in 2010, an anomaly among serial killers, who are usually much younger. A landscaper, he stored his equipment at a Leaside home where police later located the dismembered bodies of McArthur’s victims, some buried within large planters on the property.
The report is the product of more than two years of work, which included access to internal Toronto police documents, interviews with dozens of police officers and broad community consultation.
McArthur was arrested after “Project Prism,” an exhaustive Toronto police probe into the 2017 disappearances of Esen and Kinsman. Detectives ultimately charged McArthur in eight deaths, including of two men who had never been reported missing.
But during the years men were going missing from the Village, McArthur had twice come onto their radar.
McArthur was first questioned during “Project Houston,” a special 2012-2014 probe into the disappearances of Navaratnam, Faizi and Kayhan, three men now known to be McArthur’s first victims. McArthur was brought in for a voluntary videotaped interview on Nov. 11, 2013, where McArthur offered up information that ultimately linked him to all three missing men.
It’s not clear what further investigation was done after the interview. Project Houston ended up homing in for months on the wrong man, Peterborough’s James Alex Brunton, after police recieved a tip that potentially linked him to Navaratnam.
After his 2013 interview and the closure of Project Houston, McArthur went on to kill five more men.
McArthur was also interviewed in 2016, after a man accused him of strangling him during a sexual encounter in the killer’s van. After the man says he escaped and dialed 911, McArthur turned himself in, where he told police he thought the man wanted it rough.
Police ruled there were no grounds to lay charges against McArthur and he was released unconditionally. Sgt. Paul Gauthier, the officer who conducted the investigation, faces professional misconduct charges in connection to the incident. McArthur went on to kill two more men, Kinsman and Esen.
Epstein’s review is also examining other cases of missing persons connected to the Gay Village, including the death of Alloura Wells, a 27-year-old transgender woman, and the murder of Tess Richey, 22.
Richey was reported missing in November 2017 and her body was later found in a Toronto stairwell by her mother, Christine Hermeston, who has sued Toronto police for their handling of her daughter’s disappearance. Kalen Schlatter was found guilty of first-degree murder by a jury last year for strangling and sexually assaulting Richey in a Church Street alley in 2017.
#Officers #stereotypical #ideas #gay #victims #clouded #Toronto #police #investigation #Bruce #McArthur #serial #killings #landmark #report