Toronto police didn’t check Bruce McArthur’s criminal record in 2013 before or after interviewing him — despite possessing evidence connecting the now-convicted serial killer to three missing men whose disappearances officers were then investigating.
That’s just one of many serious investigative flaws former judge Gloria Epstein identifies in her independent review of Toronto police’s handling of missing-persons cases — including the victims of McArthur — released Tuesday.
Epstein argues proper preparation for the McArthur interview, an understanding of his 2003 assault conviction, and his connection to the three missing men should have resulted in greater police scrutiny of his conduct as early as November 2013. He was eventually arrested and charged with murder in January 2018.
“Someone with a connection with all three missing persons who had attacked another member of the LGBTQ2S+ communities and been banned from the Village for a period should have undoubtedly have qualified as a person of interest,” Epstein wrote, referring to the gay community’s downtown neighbourhood.
The 1,100-page report marks the first time some of these details — of what police did and knew when — have come to light. The service has previously refused to “dissect the investigation” despite questions about how police handled the investigations into missing men who turned out to be McArthur’s victims.
“I cannot say that McArthur would necessarily have been apprehended earlier if these investigative steps had been taken,” Epstein wrote. “But the Toronto police did lose important opportunities to identify him as the killer.”
McArthur went on to kill five more men after police first interviewed him as part of Project Houston.
In a news conference, acting Toronto police chief James Ramer told reporters Tuesday “the shortcomings [Esptein] identified are inexcusable” and that the service is going to implement her recommendations “as quickly as possible.”
The 16-minute interview
The Project Houston task force was launched in November 2012 to probe the disappearances of Skandaraj Navaratnam, Abdulbasir Faizi and Majeed Kayhan — all of whom were connected to Toronto’s Gay Village.
Almost a year into that investigation, police discovered McArthur was connected to Navaratnam and Faizi through his online username “silverfoxx51.” A detective on the project scheduled an interview in November 2013.
But Det.-Const. Joshua McKenzie did not prepare questions, look into McArthur’s background or do a Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) database search on him before the interview, according to Epstein’s report.
If he had, McKenzie would have found McArthur’s 2003 assault conviction, which Epstein argues could have then been used to obtain the synopsis of the serial killer’s unprovoked pipe attack on a gay man in the Village in 2001.
Instead, the interview with McArthur lasted only 16 minutes and McKenzie didn’t ask McArthur about his known connection to Faizi after McArthur denied knowing the missing man. McArthur also admitted to having had a sexual relationship with Kayhan — who police had yet to connect to McArthur — but McKenzie didn’t ask follow-up questions about the relationship.
‘Important fact went unnoticed’
After the interview, police had a connection between McArthur and all three missing men.
“However, this important fact went unnoticed,” wrote Epstein. “McKenzie’s summary of the interview failed to include it.”
In the report, Epstein references and agrees with a summary of the implication of those connections from an unnamed police investigator provided to the review.
“[McArthur] would have been the one and only person who was linked to all three disappearances at that point from all the information we had,” the investigator said.
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“He would be on the top of the list of finding out what more is he capable of and what he does. The prime suspect, if you will.”
Instead, it looks like no supervisor reviewed McKenzie’s interview or instructed any follow-up action because of it, according to the report. Epstein said McKenzie was a relatively junior officer at the time and told the review that he did what he was told.
Neither the video of the McArthur interview nor the summary McKenzie wrote were added to Toronto police’s records system, Versadex, or the major case management system, PowerCase.
In her report, Epstein outlines how those omissions had ramifications on how police investigated McArthur when he was arrested, but not charged, for an assault in June 2016.
CBC News has previously reported on the attempted choking of a man, in the back of McArthur’s van, who was able to escape and called 911.
Afterward, McArthur went to the police and said the incident was consensual. He was let go, as police believed his story was credible.
The investigator, Sgt. Paul Gauthier, is facing police disciplinary charges in connection with the case. He told the independent review that had he known McArthur had been identified as someone in contact with three missing persons in Project Houston, Gauthier would have contacted officers from the task force before making his decision not to charge McArthur.
“[Gauthier] saw this situation as a counterproductive siloing of relevant information. I agree with him,” Epstein wrote.
However, the report also notes that Gauthier’s 2016 investigation failed to turn up McArthur’s 2003 assault conviction.
By that time, McArthur had received a record suspension from the Parole Board of Canada in connection with that conviction, but that didn’t mean police couldn’t find a record of the assault.
“We do know this information, which turned out to be relevant, was easily discoverable during Project Prism,” Epstein wrote in relation to the task force that looked into the disappearances of Andrew Kinsman and Selim Esen and eventually led to the arrest of McArthur.
Without the information on McArthur’s pipe assault, Epstein said that investigators in Project Houston and the 2016 choking investigation saw McArthur “as a 64-year-old man with no prior violent history.”
“What became obvious to me during this Review is that officers have varying (and sometimes inaccurate) understandings of what is available to them on their own databases.”
McArthur murdered five men — Soroush Mahmudi, Kirushna Kumar Kanagaratnam, Dean Lisowick, Esen and Kinsman — after he was interviewed as part of Project Houston in 2013.
Esen and Kinsman were killed after the 2016 attempted choking investigation.
McArthur is currently serving a life sentence for the first-degree murder of all eight men. He will be 91 by the time he can apply for parole.