On the 6th of September 2010, 40 year old Skanda Navaratnam left a bar called “Zippers” in Church-Wellesley Village, Toronto, Canada, in the company of an unknown man. He was never seen again and the unidentified male never came forward.
Zippers was a piano lounge come dance bar frequented by the gay community in downtown Toronto. It was a traditional style set up consisting of bar in the front, which was split off with a heavy, red velvet curtain that led to a more lively area at the back. They hosted cabaret shows and had regular drag acts that attracted a generally older crowd, but the bar welcomed everyone and had its own group of regulars until it was forced to shut down and was sold off to condominium developers.
Navaratnam was a free spirit, but according to friends, he was also reliable, and would never leave behind his beloved newly adopted puppy or his job caring for an elderly man.
Around three months later, on the 29th of December that same year, a 44 year old man named Abdulbasir Faizi vanished into thin air. Faizi had driven 23 miles from his workplace in Mississauga to Leaside, where he parked his Nissan Sentra on Moore Ave. He was a regular at Zippers and frequented the village often; those in the area knew his face and exchanged pleasantries with him if they saw him around. He was a familiar face, but not particularly close to any of the other patrons.
So why was Faizi in the area that night? He told his wife that he was going out with a few work colleagues, but in reality he had made plans to go to “Steamworks” on church street- a large cruise bathhouse. Faizi was living a double life and when he was not at home with his wife and kids, he’d be enjoying what Church and Wellesley had to offer. He was reported missing when he did not return home and his vehicle was found a couple of weeks later. Sadly the car offered no clues as to his whereabouts. This Vice news article points out that the location Faizi parked his car was an area well known for casual encounters. It’s possible that the missing man was looking for an anonymous hookup, and failing to do so, headed over to Steamworks. Perhaps it even happened the opposite way around? Having no luck at Steamworks he parked on Moore Ave as a last ditch attempt before driving home?
When 59 year old Majeed Kayhan went missing from the same area on the 14th of October 2012, local police set up “project Houston” in an attempt to investigate and solve the mystery of the three missing men. Although the project ran for a year and a half, it was eventually closed down due to lack of evidence of an actual crime being committed. The search ended after investigators expended all avenues and came up with nothing.
Kayhan lived in the village. He, like Faizi, had a family, but openly talked about his sexual orientation to customers of Zipper and the other gay venues in the community. Kayhan was described as being quite forward, often drunk and not exactly a pro when it came to socializing.
Police found no paper trails or electronic evidence when searching for the missing men. They most likely paid for services and drinks by cash as most bars and steam houses were upfront in telling patrons that the name of the establishment would show up on bank statements if customers paid by card. No large sums of cash had been withdrawn from any of the men’s bank accounts, which would be a key piece of evidence if the men were thought to have just walked away from their lives voluntarily.
As time passed, even more men went missing.
49 year old Soroush Mahmudi went missing on the 15th of August, 2015. He disappeared from Markham Road, Blakemanor Boulevard, Ontario- 15 miles from where the previous three men went missing along Church Street.
44 year old Selim Esen lived in the village, near Bloor Street East at Jarvis Street, when he went missing in April 2017. He had moved to Canada from his home country of Turkey in 2014 where he lived with an abusive partner and had been battling drug addiction. Around the time he went missing, he had been doing significantly better; he had separated from his boyfriend and had gotten clean. Esen disappeared before he got a chance to enjoy his safety and sobriety and has not been seen since.
It was clear that the missing men had things in common; their age, ethnicity, sexual orientation and the area they frequented, but if someone was responsible for their disappearances, who was it and what was their motive?
On the 26th of June, 2017, 49 year old Andrew Kinsman vanished. Unlike the previous string of victims, Kinsman was born in Canada, openly gay, an activist and white. He volunteered at “People With AIDS Foundation Essentials Market/Food Bank” and went missing a 5 minute drive from Church Street.
Project Prism was born from the ashes of project Houston as police began a new investigation into the disappearances.
Another victim that did not fit the pattern was a 44 year old homeless man named Dean Lisowick. He often stayed at the “Scott Mission” shelter and was last seen there on the 21st of April 2016. Records show that the shelter had been his on and off home for over 13 years. This article states that he often tried to find work as a cleaner, and would also work on gardens. Due to his status he was not reported missing and police estimated that he could have went missing any time between the summer of 2016 and the summer of 2017.
Kinsman was active on various social media and dating apps. He was neither living a secret life, nor was he a transient, making him the most hopeful link to solving the case and putting what police believed to be an active serial killer behind bars.
On the 19th of January, 2018, the BBC released a report stating that a man had been charged in the deaths of Selim Esen and Andrew Kinsman. The man was identified as a 66 year old landscaper named Bruce McArthur. Although limited information was released, the article hinted that the alleged serial killer and his victims may have used the same dating app. Police confirmed that Kinsman and McArthur were sexual partners. It turned out that McArthur knew Skanda Navaratnam personally, and the two were Facebook friends.
Bruce McArthur has been charged with first degree murder in the deaths of Andrew Kinsman, Selim Esen, Majeed Kayhan, Soroush Marmudi and Dean Lisowick.
Police believe that the scale of his killings expands far beyond the gay village and Church Street. They are expending their search across the entire city in search of evidence as they believe there are many more victims.
A criminal record reveals that 20 years ago Bruce McArthur was actually banned from the village where he stalked and murdered his victims. He was arrested back in 2001 and 2003 for assault. In 2001 he beat a man severely with a metal pipe. This daily mail article states that he was on probation for a total of 3 years, banned from the area and made to attend a mandatory anger management course as part of counseling sessions. These prior convictions had locals scratching their heads as to why the police had not considered him a suspect earlier in the case.
It turned out that McArthur had been under investigation since the previous year. His well-travelled van, which he sold for an underwhelming $125 to a scrap yard, had been tracked down and forensically analyzed, turning up some disturbing evidence; blood was found in the trunk of the vehicle.
When investigators searched the properties of McArthur’s clients they made a horrific discovery; the remains of six bodies were found in plant pots at 53 Mallory Crescent in Leaside, nearby the location that Abdulbasir Faizi’s vehicle was found abandoned. The remains of Kinsman were confirmed.
Police cannot even begin to estimate just how many victims may have died at the hands of Bruce McArthur. They believe that he may have been killing for decades and some reports state that he was once a travelling salesman, meaning the search may even extend nationwide. He had accounts on numerous apps and websites, including a fetish website where he stated he was seeking submissive men between the ages of 25-45. Tips have even been called in from outside of Canada, leading police to believe that McArthur may have been targeting tourists too. It’s possible he may have attempted to cover his tracks by picking out victims that he believed would not be missed (for example the homeless, travelers, those living off the grid) and victims that would be difficult to investigate (those who were not publically “out”, men from other countries with no immediate family nearby etc.)
McArthur has been described as a “Jekyll and Hyde” in the media on account of the two very different personalities he projected. Some described him as a teddy bear, others, a monster. He once worked as a mall Santa and has a son who also had previous convictions for harassing women and making harassing phone calls.
The investigation is ongoing.