Introducing Uncover: The Village
For seven years men were vanishing from Toronto's gay village. The community always suspected a serial killer. And they were right in the new season of uncover the village host Justin Ling investigates to spates of brutal murders forty years apart. This is episode one. How can you not see this? You can hear the second half of the series right now at CBC dot CA slash uncover or wherever you're listening right now. Maybe you've seen the headlines in February two thousand nineteen Bruce MacArthur appeared in Toronto courtroom. He was sentenced to life in prison for killing eight men. Macarthur's conviction answered some questions painful questions ones that had hung over Toronto's queer community for years, but it also reopened old mysteries. Mysteries that go. Back decades to a time when being gay meant being a target to win the community had to defend itself because police wouldn't when the closet was for many just a safer choice than coming out to a time when queer people were winding up dead and their killers were getting away with it. Our story starts in two thousand eighteen. Green yard if flowerbeds. This is the section in the middle of it. They tore up last winter and Doug down a few feet took weeks. Of course, they don't call this powdery road area for nothing to ground is wrong. It's a sweltering day in August. I'm in the backyard of tucked away house on a quiet street in Toronto. Here was all green until they came two weeks ago. You can imagine the mess. That it made Karen Fraser lives here. She is an unlikely central figure in this whole story. She's showing me your garden, or at least what's left of it. England can side of this hill. I've known Karen for the better part of year. She's slight she has a head of swept back red hair big Brown eyes, and an oddly endearing sense of humor that is what kept her saying. I think throughout this whole horrifying ordeal. We have deer. Come now. Her secluded backyard slopes down to a pair of railroad tracks beyond that is a deep ravine. Eliminated. Yeah. It's a leafy hideaway in the city. It's also the perfect place to avoid being noticed. Compost pile in the corner for leaves in the fall. And apparently it had things. And then over around here, we'll have to the whole reduce data kits for the major. Just a month before investigators were here combing through her yard her garden and the wooded ravine below they sifted through the dirt and the soil one bucket at a time painstakingly looking for clues it would become the largest forensic investigation in Toronto police history. They scoured it basically scoured it all the way down, but they didn't find anything back here in the end. The dead. Basically all over the ARD cheese. We had a lot of lilies until reply Phillies. Karen is trying to help me picture her yard as it used to be. There were flowerbeds and big colorful stone planters. To daffodils along near lots of Perry. Wing coke. I like it because it starts very early in the spring. You get something all of this was designed and maintained by her faithful gardener, Bruce, and he took good care of it. It was quite lush should Bruce. How does run of Karen's backyard conscientious? Very professional very talented, very kind. Their families had known each other for years. We got a call from Bruce sister saying that her brother had just purchased a gardening business. And she said, I understand you have a double garage, and you're not using it. So simple arrangement. Sure he could store his things in our garage. If he would cut our lawn when we went away on the weekends in the summer and over the years he expanded. He decorated all pots on the property gave us things at Christmas. Yo- it just it grew. Was never social. It was just a nice working relationship. Simple. Not complicated. But it wasn't a one man job. What do you remember about the people who went the hand when he was landscaping your place? Many of them were. Obviously newcomers some were quite shy. Most we saw once sometimes just head of hair going by the window holding up to hanging baskets. We didn't actually meet him at all. I think of all the men who met the horrible fate. I know I met one I think I met a second, man. One time very shy stared at the ground, and Bruce, and I were bantering back and forth. And I could see that demand. He had with him was staring at the ground and laughing because he found it funny to second man, I really felt sorry for him. He was off to the side. And Bruce was annoyed with him said. He's just not going to work out. Since all of them appeared to be amateurs or or very new. I didn't know what this poor man had done. His clothing was not as nice as many of the other men, and I felt bad because he seemed to be really trying had no idea what he was doing and about a month later. I sent Bruce in Email and said, so how did your new man work out? He didn't respond, and it was never mentioned again. Memories of these men stick with Karen. She tells me she had forgotten their names and their faces for years. But now she can't stop thinking about them. All because of what happened on a cold day in January two thousand eighteen about ten thirty in the morning. There is a severe pounding on the door. So I came down expecting a delivery and look to the street, and I turned and two men in navy blue and one of them said, are you Karen Fraser, are you? Karen Fraser, you've got five minutes to get out. There's been a serious crime. Bruce MacArthur has been arrested. My name is Justin linked. This is uncovered the village. I'm an investigative journalist, and I've always been on the lookout for stories that have been passed over or forgotten and four years ago. I started working on a story that was both look good people. Just don't disappear cars located, but he was nowhere to be found. It's it's kind of like, I feel terrorized a string of queer men of color had gone missing from Toronto's gay village between twenty ten and twenty twelve for a time fears of a serial killer stopped the village, but the fear faded away the police closed their investigation the media moved on. Still those disappearances nagged at me. This was personal. This was my community. It started to become clear that their sexuality and their skin colour made them easier to forget easier to write off. But I never imagined where the investigation would go just how awful it would get. This is a story about missing men. Yes. But it's about so much more than that. It's a story about homophobia and violence against marginalized people. It's about a community that demanded answers and didn't get them until it was too late. Right. Toronto's gay village is only about three city blocks. The main focal point is the intersection of church street and Wellesley street. It's not hard to notice that you're in the heart of gay Toronto. There are pride flags hanging from shop windows and telephone poles. And as you walk up church street, there's a bronze statue of Dafur man with a flowing coat and a walking cane. And then there are the twenty foot tall poles. They're decked out with giant rainbow spirals and on the top is a shimmering disco ball. They're supposed to welcome everyone to the church and Wellesley village, they are incredibly Godley. The gay village has been around in one way or the other since the nineteen sixties early on. There was just a few discrete bars. And then there was the gay friendly travel agency, and then the clothing stores queer as folk a TV show that ran in the early two thousands was set in Pittsburgh, but filmed almost entirely in the church and Wellesley village. For lots of people the villages, a sort of refuge. There's plenty of village residents who were born outside of Canada. But who've adopted it as their second home, others are pats from small town candidate like me, and like, Joel. I started seeing him around the local pubs are unsure street. He kind allowed character. And so am I guess that's Joe Walker came here in two thousand eight from Anna toba, he's very vibrant person. He was constantly laughing. He's talking about his friend scanned arosh. Never everything was hilarious in life. I loved it. And for it. If I was in a bad mood. He would draw out to me and the IB fine to his friend. He was just skin to he had come to Toronto from three Lanka or he had fled a decades long civil war. He lived just outside the village and had a wide circle of friends. It is the same man. Karen Fraser, remember standing in her garden years ago? Like, so many people in the village, Joel and scandal were transplants. We started playing pool either the together or something we did it as a hobby. And I was I wish he was here to hear this giving him lessons because he sucked up first. And I'm HIV he came over very long way, very fast. I need is. Then he started being me. And it was it was like the teacher are getting beat by the student is a really good feeling. And and so like, we bonded the majorly over the games trying to funny, but is it possible? He was a shark that he just you know, tricked you into thinking there's no say, so I wish you could say so I need to hear. But no, he was not that good. And I handed it to him every time. So where would you go to kind of the same couple of pubs? What what? Definitely was our mean spot zippers was a community institution some nights. It was a piano bar others. It was a dance club. But on Sunday it was retro night. Retro night was a sort of Sunday service. It was a mix of those who came of age in the seventies and eighties dancing alongside nineteen and twenty year olds who had just come out. If you didn't get there early you'd be stuck waiting in a line that would sometimes wrap around the block, but zippers was also a place to just shoot pool of friends. There's another pool hall rate on church street than a cat. I remember for life. It's called is it the one upstairs. Yes, pegasus. Thank you. Thank you. Yeah. Pegasus though is still open with four large pool tables in the back and cheap pitchers of beer every night. As they spent more time together, usually playing pool Jolan scandal became increasingly close, but they never dated they worked each other's type. Me and him kind of no interested in shelter. He was into something completely different than I was. And I was too. I mean, I sure I found him attractive, but I I loved him like a brother I never ever looked at a different way scandal was tall dark and lanky. You couldn't miss him. So it was pretty unique unique style. Absolutely like, he was very fashion forward. He had a lot of jewelry. He wore jewelry on every rings on every finger multiple rings like to choose three sometimes on each finger it normally sounds away over top Gardy. But for him it worked with his nationality. I didn't see anyone dressed like him. He dressed like a part of our culture, but the part of his closer with a part of his own mix. I love fashion a great deal. And so it inspired. It always inspired me to like wind up. But I didn't have enough figures or things to do. So. He was definitely into an older gentleman. Type he had a name for them is called silver Dadis. That was his thing. He is very intrigued and attracted to them and everyone in the my ever met was fine. Except for one person was very very jealous and very very obsessive and controlling and who was that boost McArthur. So how often did you see I McArthur around? He started coming around when scandal was out later at night. He was there every time, but he never went to the normal bars when he was Bruce he mostly stayed with him. I guess at the his home or at the eagle, which was our other bars very dark. It's going nice people in there and everything like that. But it is a very good place to hide and the autonomous. And then so what was scandal? Lakewood bushes around a he was constantly to he was constantly trying to console and reassure him that things we're finding that. He was not looking at someone else in that. He was just with him at first I didn't realize what they're arguing about. But after a while it was happening so often that I I could see his face. He was almost frantic to make sure that he was okay. And Bruce was always looking like he was ready to leave and always like in service scolding type of way talking down to him. He just he always wanted to make them. Chase them all the time. So. Was jealousy. I think he was his way of control. I kind of faded from him at that point for a little while of hanging them, we still play pool not every day to honestly it actually stopped being everyday for. Well, he was with predominantly. And then all of a sudden, I did see him. But he was talking about him at the time. Like, I was with Bruce. What do you see guys kind of like when he wasn't around? I try and give them the gears about him a little bit. And he always like, oh BRUCE'S this. And he's, but you know, he's got a good heart. And he always good people. Joel was nearing his wits end despite scandals insistence Joel nude that Bruce was bad news as the weeks went on that summer scandal was around less and less. He was with Bruce. Joe made another effort to see his friend, and he showed up for a game of pool, but it quickly had to leave. I think he's not called by Bruce, and he just left really fast. And I remember thinking like this is getting worse how he's just ninety giving your crop. I remember being a little upset with actually the week or two before because he was just collecting everything that you don't be does and thinking he could he could just come back to me. 'cause I'm sick of phony him China sets things up, but he's never showing. He's never. Doing what he said he's going to do it. Just changes t- complete changed overnight. Scandal didn't show up for work on Tuesday, his friends couldn't reach him. And when they checked his apartment they found. No sign of him. He he'd gone to poppy recently, the husky. And that thing would go everywhere with them. It was like alpha his best friend. It was a beautiful dog. And the next day when came about that he was where we supposed to be all over the place for the tire day. It was brought to our attention that his wallet ID dog. We're still sitting at the house. Skinned friends. Didn't know what happened? But they knew something was off. They covered the village missing persons posters. The even searched nearby refines conversations wet shove fluff too. So you heard he wants to go off like that. And started everyone would change. I came down to the play bar. It's it's like a big O dry. Creed bar had there's a cork board downstairs of listening people at concerts and events and everything like that on there. And I saw somebody ripping his pitcher down because they didn't know. And I took their papers rip them half all of them. Put his ripped page back up there. Really really loud. And I said this is on here. It was becoming an anchor of not knowing there was just nothing to go on. And it was just like he was just picked up off this planet and taking by something we can alien abduction or something like that. Because that's how just hop. It. Just the guy was in everybody's life. And he was a major part of the seed he came through different worlds all at once at he somehow fit into all of them and. Just. Watched closer. Skinned Araj never at was seen leaving zippers on Sunday night Labor Day weekend, two thousand and ten after one of those icon ick retro nights. I was told you Slough seated Bank actually under some Bank CARA taking money out with someone else. And they couldn't tell who it was. Yeah. That's what I thought. Joel says police found security footage of scandal withdrawing money a few blocks away shortly after he left the bar. That was the last time he was seen in public. Who told you that? I think it was just France like really really close friends is out for hearing exerts for what the police were telling them. So you're anything about what they would have said about the other guy that was on the security, but they couldn't see his face even like height build it had to been hand. I guessing I mean, there would be no reason for it to be someone else. If he went missing that day that was a day. He went missing for a reason Joel says that chrome of information is all shared when you're dealing with the gay community. There's some hard feelings from what's upon a time. Forget that. I remember thinking like you just don't care because his his sexuality and whatnot. But I really I know that they had nothing for the longest time. Joel didn't have any answer says to what had happened. So we had to come up with his own explanation. I had to come to some sort of was that he had to relocate. That's where I left to auto. Vicki that's that's why would stay with that. He just is there some days going to get messages on my Facebook. And it's going to say, hey, I'm okay. A forty year old man from three Lanka vanishes from Toronto's gay village. He leaves behind his wallet. And his newly adopted poppy is left without food. He was in a controlling relationship with an older, man. It was mysterious. But it was only one case. So child's property sits dirt road, the very end just on the water. It's pretty secluded. Pretty quiet. Little. Kyle Andrews was a transplant in Toronto's gay villages. Well, he's originally from a small town in Nova Scotia. And that's where I find him. Hundred meters you will arrive at your destination when he was in Toronto. He was an activist and a familiar face on church street. Now he's living a quieter life in rural Canada. Used to go to zippers on Sundays to dance in the back and sorta hang on the other side because I was nervous about dancing until you know, good east coast boy couple running cokes and few years or shots. Something coolers, probably then and just felt like when being gay wasn't cool. It was like a camaraderie. I'm here because I want to know about Maggi K on known to everyone as Hami. Cayo and honeyed we're close very close. And then at. Either the black equal or Timothy's because we've known each other so long and. He seemed to be alone and. I thought it was tracked and said hi and over maybe a year and a half we traded phone numbers starting to hang out and whenever we'd see each other at the bar by other drink him. And I had connected because we're both Ghana in the corner. Vire cells. Honeyed had come to Toronto from Afghanistan. And even though you think Afghantistan, you don't think there was a disco scene. But there was we would be listening to the radio like chum FM would have a lot of eighties hits. And it'd be like all I knew the song. And he know all the words, but he would know the artist, and he could sing he could belt out a song quite well. And. He would play for me. Some records said he would scrounge up through, you know, friends at the kebab house Hammeed fled Kebble amid war but found refuge in Canada. When it came to Toronto, he came with his wife and kids, but within a few years honeyed realize something about himself. He was gay. Well, he had said to me that when he first started to explore who we thought he was as a gay man, he would go to openly spa, and that was kind of a mishmash of different cultures in Ganz straight. Eventually Hamad left his family, home and moved into the village. He began living his life as a gay, man. But still honeyed struggled to find peace. He came all this way to be happy. And he still hasn't happy. He couldn't come up to his family. He couldn't really be himself to everybody that he cared about. And that defected him talk about his wife and kids I actually met his daughter wants and his son, and he was very proudly. And I think it was just hard for him because he knew quite possibly they wouldn't accept him back if he was true with them. You don't think he ever told them that? He was guy. I know that they had suspected because his daughter would ask questions, and he would ask me. Well, how would I respond, and I told them? Well, that's for you to decide if it was me, I'd say this. But I've been pound in my little gay drums since I was nineteen and you were forty some years old coming onto fifty and you're from a strict religious background. And I just know that that he would feel that was impossible. Hami to spend a lot of time at the black eagle. That's probably where he met Bruce McArthur. You see Bruce? And I mean together often a few times second last time. I saw humming. He'd was with Bruce MacArthur in his apartment. And e- kind of freaked me out because we were hanging out and. News and marijuana. And we're having a little bit of good time listening to the radio and being intimate and Bruce MacArthur comes to the door, and he'd had a couple of drinks Neum. So I think he didn't expect me to pop in and Bruce was supposed to meet him later. So Bruce came in and was all upset, and he left, and I would have been upset too you show up at a at a dates house. And there's another date there. What's going on at the time? The interaction didn't mean that much. Kyle just went back to Nova Scotia that summer as he often did. But when he tried to reach Hammeed, he couldn't, and then I left him a shitty voicemail shortly after that or in the middle of the summer about how I was pissed off that he wasn't calling me back. I was kind of where he got the drugs. Kyle kept trying when he came back to Toronto that fall. He kept calling. He'd never answered the calls. Went straight voicemail. So you've been trying to call him. You know, how it happens in gay community before Facebook. It used to be a friend would die. You'd never know until you run into friends at the baron the. Oh, yeah. So and so drown or the died. HIV your cancer, they moved away or whatever. Toronto's queer community has dealt with a lot of loss. LGBTQ people. See higher rates of murder and assault. The aids epidemic wiped out thousands from the community over decades. And sometimes people just pick up and leave Kyle has experienced all of those realities, but when he came back to Toronto a few months later, he was still looking for honeyed. And eventually he found him just not where he expected. I he's walking down street, and there's this pitcher on telephone. It was a Toronto police poster in the picture I made is wearing a crisp navy suit with maroon pocket square in a matching tie his smile's crooked and his left eyebrow cocked upwards his full beard is almost entirely gray. But it wasn't just Hammad's picture on the telephone pole. Next to him is another Afghan national emigrated to Canada Abdul Basser feisty. He was known to his friends as just bass here. He was also a regular in the church street bars, which was a shock to his wife and children. That's who reported him missing. He didn't come home from work one day. He went missing in December of two thousand ten just three months after scandal disappeared. In the picture Bassey wearing traditional Afghan dress, his salt-and-pepper goatee matches his black and white tunic. He has a big grin on his face. The third photo was scandal. Scandal is smirking from underneath a tightly trimmed goatee he has a gold earring in one ear and his shirt is open at the top button. The similarities aren't possible to ignore three middle aged men all with Brown skin. All with facial hair. Above each of their faces in red block letters is the word missing. I saw the poster in I called my good friend Christian Annely what the fuck man. Why wouldn't you tell me where it was all over TV in the news? And I was living in a tent in Nova Scotia when I was there. So psyche is in some other guys, and I go serial killer. He probably. Please from fifty one division. Where can missing today hoping these posters will jog someone's memory in a strange case of three missing men, whose only connection seems to be this neighbor. Did not know each other, but they have similar appearances. And they were not. News vans, lined church street and reporters set up on the sidewalks interviewing anyone who walked by about the disappearances. It's hard to think that they're not connected somehow by something. Plenty of people saw the connection. Mita hands is one of them. She's a longtime activist and is well connected in the queer community. Mita invited me to her home. Just south of the village. She's got a wide smile, and she's impossibly friendly. Are you? We're on meet is back patio. It is so hot. I have to keep wiping sweat from my forehead. Sure. Thank you. Indian drink it cools you down like nothing else in summertime. Mita has this wonderful habit. She'll go out of her way to introduce herself to other queer people of color. She sees on the street. That's how she Mets Gandak. A friend of mine was also, oh, we were outside exchanging dog stories shopping at the market and scan the happen to be by. And when you see another Brown queer person as Brown queer person, you get really excited. My god. Look, there's one more 'cause we all know each other and recognize each other and watch out for each other. That that level of connection that's instantaneous of knowing each other's struggles. And he was luckily really like dogs. And then we started talking I had a German shepherd at the time and she really liked him. He was very good with her. He had connections to the community. He had roots here. But that's not somebody would leave. He had given up a lot to become a part of this community. Number red flag when we didn't show up. Red flags everywhere. You know, I know people I was checking in on when the third person the second person had gone missing going. This is similarity and you kind of look like that you're Brown person with the goatee and be careful be careful. And people don't just they don't get up in their apartment. They don't get up and leave their their friends. They don't get up and leave their community that they worked so hard and lost so much to form that when people go into the village it's to seek out something that is not available to them anywhere else. People don't get up in and leave all of that. Without saying goodbye is Mita. Mita Kyle so many others. They all came around to the same conclusion that something was very wrong here. Everybody who saw the posters brought up specifically the word serial killer. I remember hearing it poster serial killer poster serial killer that this is not chance. This is not a lover's quarrel gonna ride this is a pattern. This is a definitive pattern. But as the community came around to the idea that someone was targeting Brown, gay men police were still reticent initially. I think the tones were very civil asking for help asking for knowledge -ment asking for spotlight to Sean on this. Because obviously there's something going on. And when that didn't happen. I think the tone became more urgent and more animated and finally the tone became very angry of wire you not listening. If we see this is happening if everybody we know sees that this is happening. How can you not see this? Why are you not seeing this? How can you not see? This is exactly how most of the community felt it's exactly how I felt. But the police weren't seeing it or if they were they weren't saying so publicly this is officer Tony Vela speaking to queer newspaper extra in two thousand thirteen those are just the similarities between all three men. This mean, anything it's still unclear at this point. It could mean something, but at this point is still unclear the theory that's to be driving the police investigation. And the media coverage is that these men just took off maybe how meat and Basser went back to Afghanistan, even without their passports, maybe scandal skip town. Maybe nothing bad happened at all what we're looking at right now as a missing person investigation. That's what we have is foul play suspect. It's still unclear so right now a task force of officers have been assigned to the investigation the following on all different leads trying to turn exactly what's happened to the three men, and they don't even know each other. There's no evidence. This is just a even knew. So that's what's concerning here. But the key thing is urging anyone that we know who three men are if you haven't contacts police police give us a call, regardless of if you think formations relevant or not call us. Kyle did call he sat down with police to try to help solve his friend's disappearance. The first investigators did an amazing job like they didn't make me feel intimidated like I talked about sex and marijuana and booze in gay village. And they didn't bad ni- or anything you want a coffee, you they were very professional about it. And so, you know, how do you know, how well did, you know? I mean, do you know in of his family you wear you seem last what was he wearing? What did he do for work? Where do you come from? Where do you go? Where did you mean where did you spend time like a lot of questions? It was about four and a half five hours spent with them. Did you mention versus neighbor? Did you say, you know, I said that the Lhasa my talking, and then I gave a physical description I tried to look them up on the internet. And that his name was Bruce, and I didn't know. Oh, surname. I gave them not really enough details to track them down. But they had said that they had other people mention, and they even tried to leave me on like, do, you know, kind of work. Do you do like side with flowers or lawns was Arborist? So they somebody else had talked about, Bruce, but they didn't have enough juice to go. So what are the first interviews? You did they had said, oh, we know that this person's another friend of one of the other guys had mentioned, Bruce. And they didn't give me enough details. I mean, one of the other men had dated Bruce the last time I saw that's what happened with BRUCE'S there. Kyle sat in that interrogation room and gave police the name, Bruce that piece of information that name was a huge tip. Bruce, the landscaper who had dated scandal the one who had been seen with Hammeed before his disappearance that could have been the tip the cracked the case. But it didn't. the police task force set up to investigate the three men had a name project Houston as in Houston. We have a problem. A year and a half after it was started just months after Kyle sat and then tear Gatien room project. Houston was shut down. And in the village men would continue to go missing. Coming up on the village. Oh, yes. So why don't we just dive right in during the investigation. It was discovered that through was two more missing gay men that had the same church heuristic and scandal. So they had MacArthur on all trio. The village is written and produced by me, Justin linked Jennifer Fowler. And Aaron burns Cecil for nana's is our audio producer Sarah Clayton is our digital producer additional production on the sewed by David McDougal. Tanya Springer is the senior producer of CBC podcasts, and our executive producer is our if neurotic. To read more about the series or see photos of people in this episode. Check out our website at CBC dot CA slash uncover. Or join our Facebook group uncovered to be part of the conversation.