8th murder charge in serial killer case that rattled Toronto gay community

The suspect, Bruce McArthur, was charged with first-degree murder of Mr Kirushna Kumar Kanagaratnam. McArthur had previously been charged with six counts of first-degree murder for the deaths of six men. PHOTO: REUTERS

TORONTO (NYTIMES) - For more than a month, the police in Toronto have been trying to solve a mystery.

They had a photograph of an unidentified dead man, and they had discovered human remains in planters where a man suspected of multiple killings had worked as a landscaper.

On Monday (April 16), the police announced that they had put the pieces together, charging the suspect, Bruce McArthur, with first-degree murder in the death of an eighth alleged victim - Mr Kirushna Kumar Kanagaratnam, the man in the photograph.

The development was weeks in the making.

Investigators released Mr Kanagaratnam's photograph to the public on March 5, declining to say where it had come from and appealing for help identifying him.

They enlisted the assistance of an officer who spoke Tamil, and coordinated with Mr Kanagaratnam's family, who were still in Sri Lanka.

"The stress and anxiety over dealing with hundreds of tips, hundreds of missing-persons occurrences and dozens of potential identifications for the eighth victim has been enormous," Sgt Hank Idsinga said at a news conference.

He said Mr Kanagaratnam had arrived in Canada from Sri Lanka in 2010, and lived in Toronto.

He was believed to have been murdered between Sept 3 and Dec 14, 2015, at age 37, but his name was not on file with the department as a missing person.

Sgt Idsinga also said the department had no evidence that would link Mr Kanagaratnam to the city's Gay Village, a predominantly gay neighbourhood.

Most of the other victims had known ties to that community or were McArthur's sexual partners.

The case has unsettled Toronto and exposed a rift that has lingered for decades between gay residents and law enforcement officials there.

Men had been vanishing from the village, where clusters of streets have traditionally served as a meeting place for gay, lesbian and transgender people, for decades.

Anger among gay activists has grown over accusations that the authorities were neglectful in missing-person cases involving gay men for years, as The Times reported in February.

"It has shaken the LGBTQ community to the core," Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, whose ward includes the downtown neighbourhood featuring the Gay Village, said.

"People have responded with a mix of emotions from absolute horror to anger. There is a level of frustration that I think is quite palpable, especially as it relates to wanting more answers and not getting them in a timely fashion."

In December 2017, Toronto police chief Mark Saunders said there was no evidence of a serial killer, prompting outrage when McArthur, a 66-year-old landscaper, was arrested weeks later, on Jan 18.

This month, he was charged with the murder of Mr Abdulbasir Faizi, who disappeared in December 2010.

McArthur had previously been charged with six counts of first-degree murder for the deaths of six men: Mr Selim Esen, Mr Andrew Kinsman, Mr Soroush Mahmudi, Mr Dean Lisowick, Mr Majeed Kayhan and Mr Skanda Navaratnam.

Remains of all the men, except for Mr Kayhan, were recovered from planters on a property where McArthur worked.

Mr Kanagaratnam "doesn't quite fit the profile that we have seen before", Sgt Idsinga said, referring to the lack of evidence of ties between Mr Kanagaratnam and the Gay Village.

Sgt Idsinga said that the department was working through its list of outstanding missing-person cases and that it was looking at cold cases.

"This does create basically a wide open net," he said. "And we've had lots of calls, international calls, since our pleas began, from people who just haven't seen family members in years."

Mr Kanagaratnam's family had written on Facebook over the years about their efforts to locate him, as The Globe and Mail reported.

They said they lost contact with him during a period when he tried unsuccessfully to get permanent asylum in Canada.

McArthur will return to court later this month on all eight charges.

The police have not said whether there will be further charges or identification of additional remains.

Immigrants account for about half the population of Toronto.

Ms Wong-Tam said that Mr Kanagaratnam had reached Canada's shores after months on a boat in his quest for asylum.

"He risked his life to try to flee a politically unstable country in a region where he was facing violence," she said. "For him to face his imminent death in Toronto in such a way is heartbreaking."

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