A new look inside the Bruce McArthur investigation
It likely won't shock you when I tell you the police don't like to talk about their investigations. In fact, you can ask any reporter and I used to be one for the phrase, they hear most from the cops and the answer will always be. We can't comment on an ongoing investigation, but investigations and, and trials happen and verdict surrendered, and then documents are made public lots of documents. And so if you have the right documents and you ask the right questions of the right cops, you can get inside the most complicated of cases like the task force that caught Bruce MacArthur, who pleaded guilty in February two, killing eight men, over seven years. One of Canada's most horrific cases of serial murder Toronto police faced a lot of criticism over how they handled that case, both for how long it took them to investigate the men going missing and the gay village and for famously insisting just a month before MacArthur was caught that the fact that there is a serial killer that was out there. The evidence does not point to that the evidence does not suggest that. You can judge for yourself, whether the cops were doing their best on a complicated case or gas lighting a community that had little reason to trust them our job, here is not to prove or deny that criticism, but to give you an inside look at what police new and when and how those critical pieces were put together. I'm Jordan eighth Rawlings. And this is the big story, Wendy Gillis is the crime reporter at the Toronto Star. She got those documents and asked those coughs the right questions and put together a comprehensive look at what went on while police were chasing a serial killer. Can you start by explaining what we're learning now about MacArthur investigation that we kind of didn't know when we covered the crimes, or when we covered the guilty plea? Absolutely. What we're learning through some of these documents that came out a couple of weeks ago, are some of the finer, details of this investigation for me the story all started, obviously with MacArthur's arrest, but the sort of an endeavor to try and get some of the details of investigation started with an application that myself. And my colleague Kenyan Wallace put in, in March of twenty eighteen a couple of months after MacArthur's arrest to try and get court documents that would show us some of the steps that police took along the way to arrest MacArthur, but also years earlier, what they'd done to investigate the disappearances of missing men from Toronto ski village. Those documents are called IT Ohs. Okay. It's towns, four information to obtain, essentially, it's the case that they put to the court for why they should be allowed to. Do certain kind of invasive investigative steps such as such as tracking someone. So putting a tracker on their vehicle to get live updates on, on where they're going getting access to their cell phone that could be data could be sort of trying to understand who they're communicating with and one of the most invasive ones that they did end up doing in this case was to get permission to go covertly, search Bruce MacArthur's apartment, and that was obtained through a general warrant. We've talked about MacArthur a couple of times on this podcast, and it's always in the context of rightly, so the, the victims and the community or how long it took to get to his arrest, and that's been a sticking point with a lot of people who have covered this case or even just watched it unfold. Yeah. And, and seeing the work that was done is really instructive to that end. We got upwards of I think it was three dozen IT ITO's from project Houston, which as you know, was the investigation. Into the first three missing men from Toronto's. Gay village scandal, never at them. I'm still buys your Z and Machida K Hon and they went missing in between two thousand ten and two thousand twelve and there was a roughly an eighteen months task force that was formed to investigate their disappearance. And I think one of the most interesting aspects of the most recent release of these documents from the courts was getting a detailed view of what they did during that investigation. We knew that they had identified someone who they thought might be responsible for the death of Scandinavia Ratnam. And that was a, a man out in Peterborough who police believed was involved in cannibalism ring, and it's, it's really interesting to see the resources that went into investigating that individual and not, you know, that does show that these disappearances were taken seriously at the time and they were investigated. Unfortunately, they identified the wrong person. What I think is very important to note from some of the project Houston were is that an and to be fair. Police have also been pretty up front about this as well. Is that the identification of three Brown middle aged men, having gone missing from the village that that wasn't something that was generated by Toronto police itself that came out of a tip that, that came from across the world, a man who thought that he had identified accountable in Toronto, and that was how they began to stop and say, oh, I guess, we have a few men who volunteer this category of Brown men from the village have gone missing. And I think that, that is a really important issue. And hopefully it's actually already been solved because in the last year Toronto police have have created a special missing persons unit that would hopefully now be able to identify the kinds of patterns that come up when you have the same sorts of people going going missing. So you looked at a ton of court. Dr. Kamenz and ITO's and interviewed some of the detectives who worked on the case as you kind of sat down to put all that together and find out how to craft a narrative. What are the first things that stood out in your mind? I, I have to say, I'm really lucky that I was given the time in the space to do that kind of reporting and writing, and I'm really thankful for that. And it was not a solo effort had help from my colleague, and I had incredible editing. From my editor at top, what stood out for me always sort of? And what's interesting is that we got a look at these documents way back in the fall. But because there was an ongoing trial MacArthur had not yet pled guilty. There are his fair trial rights, so all of these documents are sort of redacted, and then after he pled guilty. We got one IT, oh, that was sort of Representative that was far less redacted. So we got more information there. So I guess my point is it was sort of a gradual release of information and through at that process. It always was astonishing to me, the ways in which this investigation could have gone off the rails. Like there were all kinds of times when. There was excellent police work, or there were major hurdles that came up and everything could have gone wrong. So a couple of examples is Bruce MacArthur's van went missing and it was missing for about two weeks. And that was because MacArthur, had purchased a new van, and he had driven it out to a relative's home and police had had followed it there, and they knew that it was potentially very crucial to the investigation. And in fact, it was incredibly important to their investigation. What ended up happening was they saw parked up the relatives home than stopped being there. They would go back and check on it, and it was gone, and that's a scary thing, and it was gone for about two weeks. And finally, they decided okay, we have to go find this thing, and they started checking sort of auto wreckers, and he, he just happened to, to drop it off at a place where they salvage parts. And so the van was pretty much intact, they would end up finding evidence in that van that was absolutely critical. Thaad investigation and that was. Was a very small blood splatter from Andrew kinsman. And what that did was enable the investigators to take Bruce, MacArthur from a person of interest in Andrew kinsman Steph to a suspect in his murder will. Let's tell the, the story of that investigation then from the point of view of the investigators maybe start with when Bruce MacArthur became a person of interest when I show up on their radar and what happened internally. And what's interesting too, is that Bruce MacArthur was investigated during project Houston as well. Right. So that's that's important to know. And I think we've kind of people know that because again, that was one of the things that always comes up as a failing of the police work because that is what it looks like you know, they had him, he was right there and nothing happened until he resurfaced as part of project prison. How did that come about? So project. Prism was formed in August of twenty seventeen and it came about after Andrew kinsman 's disappear. Durance in June of two thousand seventeen that disappearance came only a few months after a man named Salim 'Send went missing. He was also a well known person within the village. So there was a lot of public outcry and concern expressed and Toronto police truck a task force because I think it's important understand that when someone goes missing it is investigated, but I, I mean, I'm not a police officer, but my understanding is that it can be difficult to focus on a single case. When you're at the detachment, they're really, really busy, especially fifty-one division, where this was happening. And so they struck a task force that would clear up several officers give them just sort of one thing to do. And that was investigate Andrew kinsman disappearance and essence disappearance at that time, they had no evidence, as far as I know that they were connected at all. But it made sense for this team to tackle it together a few days into project p project. Prism investigators were reviewing some of the surveillance footage that had been captured soon after Andrew kinsman Steph. And they were able to determine around the time that Andrew had gone missing. I know that they have been talking to neighbors and trying to figure out who had the last contact and as I understand it, they, they knew that he had gone missing sometime in the afternoon. The were reviewing the footage and realize that sort of in the top top right corner. I mean, I don't know which one they looked at first. But ultimately, they were able to determine that there was a red van that came to a stop near under Commons apartment, sort of very close across the street. And there was a figure who appeared to be under Ken's men, who got into that van. And they did not know what that van was they could not see the face of the individual who's driving, and they could not see the license plate. And so to me, that's what is really quite impressive. Is that they were able to take that red van. And determined that it was a dodge. They took it to dodge dealership. And I, I spoke to Mario Wong who was the salesman who spoke the police he was. So he was just very forthright with me. He was like, yeah. Of course, I told them I was I he felt it was really important to do. His part to help this investigation, even though the officers who came to speak to him didn't tell them, what they were doing, but he knew he knew based on some of the sort of the appearance package. They call it that this was a two thousand four twentieth anniversary dodge caravan, what the investigators do is they request all of the ownership information for for those fans for that make of making model. So they, they get the spreadsheet and detective David Dickinson, who was the sort of primary investigator on project presume, he told me that he was at his home. He opened up the spreadsheet at, like, ten pm at his dining room table and search for Bruce. Because Bruce had been written on Andrew kinsman calendar on June twenty six which was the day that he went missing and they had no idea what the importance of Bruce was. But they were able to determine it to be something that they had to sort of test or discount. And that's how an investigation like this has been explained to me is that they sort of test everything until it is proven to be irrelevant. And so he searches Bruce in that spreadsheet and five owners have that name only one of them owned that specific make of the van and also only one of them had any recent contact with police. And so that was Bruce MacArthur, and that recent contact was in two thousand sixteen when a man alleged that MacArthur had a strangled him inside MacArthur's own van, and that he'd gotten away. I mean you can imagine that, that discovery this is a man who is likely gay, who has been accused of salting someone. In his van. And that's the same van that scene, picking up. Anderson's men at the same time that he appears to, to disappear. So I know that that was that was quite a important moment in that investigation. And, and it really just builds from there. What does that put in motion from the perspective of the investigators when they have that, that puts in motion, someone who is a person of interest, he was made a person of interest within a few days of that investigation? It's really remarkable to see how quickly things progressed from there. I mean the day after that discovery is made from the spreadsheet. There's an investigator who's at, at the thorn cliff park apartment where MacArthur lived so they're, they're, and they're learning everything they can about where he's coming and going, there's like a key fob. So that can kind of record your comings and goings. And also it recorded when it was being used to open the park aide. Right. So because they could tell when he was driving. They do get ultimately gets. Permission from the courts to put a tracker on his vehicles. So they've discovered that he's since purchase a new van, and that he has taken his old van to his relatives. And, and that's how it's discover that the man is missing in bats when he goes when they find the van, and they find blood in it, then he becomes suspect. Yeah, yeah. So that, that happens fairly quickly, that's over the course of a couple of months, the discovery of Anderton's blood came in early November. And what's interesting to think about is that, you know, a natural question might be. We'll why didn't they just arrest Bruce MacArthur? Then when when the us by next question, so I guess the amount that, that they found in the van wasn't a lot. I think the the largest was about the size of a penny. And so it's not enough to have a really strong case against Bruce MacArthur. So what they did was they really amped up the surveillance of him not. Only to try to understand his patterns and find out where he's going. That's what the initial surveillance had been about. But now, they're really concerned about pub public safety. So they're, they're trying to mitigate risk that is posed by someone who could very well be a murderer. So all the surveillance is currently on MacArthur. And now that he's a suspect police have additional powers. When does that turn into the holy shit? We got him moment. So they've got they went into his apartment. And as I was talking about, they did a covert certain early December twenty seventeen November as I understand it was really, really warm. And so that would have skewed some of his landscaping patterns because he, he, you know, they'd been watching him kind of moving going from house to house and job to job. And, and in early December all of a sudden, it got cold and that completely changed his patterns, and so that's exactly when they get permission to go into his apartment. And so they go in and they're in the process of, of. Searching inside his apartment, also downloading some of his digital sort of files like his, his computer than they realize that he's actually on his way back and normally he'll be out of the house for a while. But his patterns have shifted, and he's on his way back. They have to leave the apartment earlier than they thought so they'd only downloaded about forty five percent of his, I believe it was his external hard drive, and his computer. There were a few sort of digital things that they downloaded. And so they were only working with less than half of what they might have, if MacArthur hadn't been coming back to his apartment, and that started a more than month-long process of sifting through all of that. Now, I don't know exactly what that entails, there's all kinds of software. And, and that's police are pretty secretive about that for obvious reasons. But they're looking at, you know, whether he's pulled up maps, you know, the content of, of his searches like that kind of thing, they've also done. It's quite an extensive image. Search to but on on January seventeenth hit was one of the project prism team members. His name is Joel manhertz who had thirty minutes to spare before he had to go testify in court. And that was really interesting to me. He just used a little bit of extra time he had and in that time found absolutely crucial evidence. So he, he searched he used sort of photo specific software to run a search. And what came up was what, what we now know our post mortem images of, of men. I can't imagine what it'd be like to find those, but from an investigative standpoint it's, it's really important. So you don't want to say that this was a good thing. This is obviously an awful thing, but it was critical evidence that they needed, and as that day went on. More more images arose, and this is not just evidence that first MacArthur has killed one person. This is evidence that, you know, very strong evidence that he has killed multiple people as we now know there were men who weren't even on police radar at that point. They didn't know that they'd been missing so that those two days, you know, when they found they found those pictures, they decide that they're going to arrest Bruce MacArthur. They know at that point that they would charge him in the deaths of Andrew kinsman and Salim Essen, and this is all coming a week or two after there was that infamous press conference where they said, we have about a month after this evidence that there's a serial killer operating. Yes, yes. And before we get to the conclusion of this, and I'm not gonna ask you to weigh in one way or another. But explain from the investigators point of view how they make a statement like that at a press conference because it did come back to bite them. Right from chief. Mark Saunders is point of view, what he said was accurate and how I understand the investigation. It was accurate. They had Andrew kinsman and Bruce MacArthur linked roost, MacArthur was a suspect in one person's homicide. The criticism has centered on the had identified Bruce MacArthur, as someone who might be involved in some way in the deaths of the other men, and we know that because there was conjecture that was contained in some of those warrants, those ITO's that are filed. So when they're when the police are going to the courts to ask for these powers, they're saying, you know, we think that Bruce, MacArthur might be involved in Andrew kinsman disappearance. That's how it was initially. And then he becomes a suspect in the murder, and also there are these men who disappeared from the village and their disappearances have never been solved. In this causes us. Concern. So it's being the c conduct strongly. They're being put together. Right. I think what has upset many people in the community from what I'm hearing from my sources, is that there was some kind of element of gas lighting that was going on, because there had been you know, this year's long concern that men had been going missing and people were saying the word serial killer that to have the chief of police say that there wasn't there wasn't the evidence to back that up and then only a few weeks later. Sure enough. That's what they had on their hands. That has been destabilizing I think to, to too many people, you can see though. How how quickly it evolved from having Bruce, MacArthur be a suspect in intricate. Kinsman skilling to suddenly being a serial killer. We know that, that actually happened in the course of a day. Tell me about the rest of that day. Then once they find the photos. What happens? So the decision is made to arrest MacArthur, but to preserve the integrity of a major case like this, they have to do everything possible to make sure that Abbott's is not lost. It's important to remember that at this time they didn't know if Bruce MacArthur was acting alone. So there were people that they thought might be helping him. They had no evidence I should stress it no evidence of that. But they, they didn't have evidence to the contrary, either. So they had to make sure that police were in place, and that, that warrants were in the in the process, you know before the courts to be able to search certain addresses that included the Mallory crescent address where we know sadly know that Bruce, had had kept some of his victim's bodies, all of us victim's bodies. So they knew that they needed some time to get that in place, two or three days. So that. Vision is made we're going to arrest him. I believe it was on a Saturday. And I think it was a Wednesday and, you know, give or take a few days in there, and so they decided we're going to watch him, you know, round the clock and get everything in place. But there's a caveat and caveat is from the images, they've found they know that, that it's very likely that Bruce, MacArthur killed one person or more in his bedroom or in his apartment and prior to that the theory had been that Andrew kinsman had been killed in his van. And so police have ways to intervene and, and have far more control when the scene of a crime per se is of the Ecole they don't have that control when it's an apartment when someone's own residence. So the rule the caveat was under no circumstances can Bruce MacArthur, be alone in his home with another man. And sure enough. What does he do lesson? Twenty four hours later. He takes a man back to his apartment alone. And then what happens well, everything the way that I understand. It was it was sort of controlled chaos. The decision is made to arrest. Macarthur immediately. There are already some officers at MacArthur apartment building. Dave Dickenson the primary investigator goes to the scene very quickly and they go up his apartment, and they arrest him and what's really quite tragic, and remarkable is that the individual who he had in his apartment. The core core documents had identified him by a student, John and John had been handcuffed and was naked and black bay had been put over his head. And that's when police went into the apartment they found him handcuffed and Justice McMahon, who was the judge on this case said in, in basically no uncertain terms that he was sure that John was going to be the next victim. So. So it was it was really good that they intervened. What did some of the police officers that you talked to in the course of this investigation? Tell you it was like to work on something like that. That was stale for so long. And then finished so quickly and furiously what I know is that they are really pleased at that they could bring some finality to the families who had been wondering for so long, you know, in that point can't be overstated. These people didn't know what happened to their loved ones. That's different from having your relative be the victim of violent crime. And so to have number one, the uncertainty of what happened. And then, number two finally finding out what happened in having it be so horrific. Those are two different kinds of grief as I understand it. And so, at least to bring an end to the suffering of not knowing I think that has been really big for, for the police that I have heard from. I think it's important to know that there is an ongoing review right now done by former Ontario court of appeal Justice Gloria up Stein. How do the police feel about that? They talk to you about that at all. This was this was officially endorsed by the Toronto. Police chief Saunders has supported this and it's trying to police services board who unanimously passed, basically the for this altogether to be perfectly honest with you. I think that they actually support it because it's going to come out with some recommendations about how did you things better? And everyone can can get behind that. I think. Thanks, wendy. Wendy Gillis is crime reporter at the Toronto Star. And that was the big story, you know where we are by now? It's the big story podcast dot CA, or at the big story. F P N on Twitter or at frequency pods on Twitter on Facebook on Instagram and frequency podcast network dot com is your place for all our shows. We'd love to hear what you think got a rating get a review or just have you. Subscribe, we're on every podcast platform. You can imagine from apple to Google to Stitcher to Spotify to eye-catcher. I don't know if they made that upon on purpose or not. But it's a good one Clare bizarre does the lead, producer of the big story Ryan Clark, and Stephanie Phillips, our, our associate producers and a Lisa. Nielsen is our digital editor Lucas Ianna is our research, assistant and I'm Jordan heath Rollins. Thanks for listening. Enjoy the long weekend. We'll talk Tuesday.