TORONTO – The complex investigation into alleged serial killer Bruce McArthur took another twist on Monday as Toronto police laid an eighth murder charge related to the death of a man who bucked the primary trend in the case.
Unlike McArthur’s other seven alleged victims, Toronto police said 37-year-old Kirushna Kumar Kanagaratnam is not believed to have had ties to the city’s LGBTQ community or a downtown neighbourhood known as the gay village.
Like most of the other men the self-employed landscaper is believed to have slain, however, Kanagaratnam’s remains were recovered from planters at a central Toronto home where McArthur once worked.
Det. Sgt. Hank Idsinga said Kanagaratnam’s death has potential to expand the investigation, which he has previously described as “unprecedented” in size and scope.
“This does create basically a wide-open net,” Idsinga said at a news conference. “We’ve had lots of international calls since our pleas began from people who just haven’t seen family members in years.”
Idsinga revealed few other details about Kanagaratnam other than to say he arrived in Canada from Sri Lanka in 2010, lived in the east Toronto suburb of Scarborough, and was never formally reported missing in Canada despite having distant relatives in the Greater Toronto Area.
He said the man was identified through help from an unnamed international agency as well as an unusual photograph police released last month.
The heavily edited image showing a bearded man who appeared to be dead was shared with the public as a “last resort,” Idsinga said, adding it prompted hundreds of tips to pour in to police.
Police had been concentrating on 22 potential identifications last week, but Kanagaratnam was not on the list, Idsinga said. He declined to say how the international agency contributed to the investigation or how Toronto police came by the photo in the first place.
McArthur, 66, was arrested in January and charged with the murders of Andrew Kinsman and Selim Esen, who went missing from Toronto’s gay village in 2017.
Later that month, he was charged with the first-degree murder of Majeed Kayhan, Soroush Mahmudi, and Dean Lisowick. In February, he was also charged in the death of Skandaraj Navaratnam.
The remains of all but Kayhan were found in planters at the home of one of McArthur’s landscaping clients, Idsinga said, adding Kayhan’s remains have yet to be identified.
While he said police intend to comb at least 70 properties linked to McArthur in the coming months, Idsinga declined to say if investigators expect to unearth further alleged victims.
“I think we’ve all seen in the media so-called experts who tell us that serial killers don’t start in their late 50s and their 60s,” Idsinga said. “But then again if we listen to these experts, we’d be looking for a brown-skinned 35-year-old male and that simply isn’t the case, obviously.”
In addition to the new avenues opened up by the discovery of Kanagaratnam’s remains, police have also expanded the sprawling investigation decades into the past by examining some cold cases.
Idsinga has previously said that investigators are examining 15 unsolved homicides that took place between 1975 and 1997. He said the victims in those cases matched the general profile of the first seven men McArthur is accused of killing.
He emphasized, however, that police have not uncovered any evidence to suggest that McArthur’s alleged killing spree began before 2010 when Navaratnam is believed to have died.
Many of McArthur’s alleged victims were the subjects of two previous police probes into the disappearances of men from the city’s gay village.
The first probe — named Project Houston — was launched in 2012 to investigate the disappearances of Faizi, Kayhan and Navaratnam. It closed after 18 months as it did not establish the whereabouts of the missing men or resolve the circumstances of their disappearances, police said.
In August 2017, police launched Project Prism, which looked into the disappearances of Kinsman and Esen. McArthur came to the police’s attention in the fall of 2017 as part of that probe.
Toronto police have faced heavy criticism from the public and the LGBTQ community in particular for their handling of the missing persons cases. As recently as six weeks before McArthur’s arrest, the force, including Chief Mark Saunders, said there was no indication the disappearances were the work of a serial killer.
Saunders apologized in February after seeming to suggest in a published interview that police might have cracked the cases earlier if members of the public had been more forthcoming with investigators.
An external review to be launched later this month will look into the way in which Toronto police investigated the missing men reports.