Excavation could start by midweek at property where Bruce McArthur allegedly hid human remains

Police say that the excavation of the yard of a Leaside home as part of their investigation into alleged serial killer Bruce McArthur could start by Wednesday.

Skeletal remains discovered in planters at Leaside property where McArthur worked

A blue tent at Mallory Crescent covers the area where police have been using heaters to thaw the frozen ground. They could begin excavation on Tuesday or Wednesday of this week. (CBC)

The excavation of a Leaside property that has become the focal point of the investigation into alleged serial killer Bruce McArthur could start by midweek, Toronto police say.

Officers have been using heaters to thaw the frozen ground behind a home on Mallory Crescent where McArthur worked and stored tools, and where the dismembered skeletal remains of at least three people were discovered hidden in planters.

The 66-year-old landscaper is currently charged with the first-degree murder of five men, and police have said they expect more charges to be laid.

Det-Sgt. Hank Idsinga told CBC Toronto in an email that "optimistically," digging should start on Tuesday or Wednesday of this week, targeting areas that ground penetrating radar borrowed from the Ontario Provincial Police has identified as having been disturbed.

Det-Sgt. Hank Idsinga says excavation at the Mallory Crescent home where skeletal remains were found in planters could begin on Tuesday or Wednesday. (CBC)

"There's a tent out back. It's a very large tent. We have some heaters there and we are thawing the ground there," said Idsinga last week.

Slow and delicate work

Once the ground is sufficiently thawed, the hard part begins, said Scott Fairgrieve, a Laurentian University professor in the department of forensic science.

He told CBC News last week that removing evidence from the earth without damaging it is a delicate, time-consuming job.

"So you have to do it in a systematic fashion," he said.  "It's going to be a lot of hand work."

That means using trowels to dig and collect remains.

Forensic identity officers from the Toronto police along with forensic anthropologists are searching properties across the Greater Toronto Area, looking for evidence that could include body parts, decomposed remains, DNA, bloodstains and fingerprints. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

If they find bones, they will likely shift to wooden instruments such as tongue depressors to avoid scratching them, said Fairgrieve.

While bones can determine the age and sex of the victim, they are little help in establishing a cause of death, said Myriam Nafte, a forensic anthropologist who consults on criminal cases in the U.S. and Canada but is not involved in this case.

A victim can die with very little trauma evident on their bones, or can sustain a lot of damage and injury to their bones but not die from that, Nafte said. 

Months before remains identified

If remains are found, it could be months before they are identified as belonging to a specific person, with Idsinga confirming last week it could take that long to successfully determine who the skeletal remains found so far in the planters belong to.

He said the forensic pathologist's office already has its hands full going through the more than a dozen planters police have gathered from properties across the city where McArthur worked. 

Police have spent days searching the yard, garage and basement of a home on Mallory Crescent in Leaside where McArthur worked and stored tools. (CBC)

In the meantime, the owners of the home on Mallory Crescent, Karen Fraser and Ron Smith, remain out of their house, looking on as police search their garage, basement, and yard.

Last week, in a conversation on CBC Radio's As It Happens, Fraser, who said she has no plans to sell the house, expressed hope that remains would be found only in the planters.

"I'm just hoping that the horrifying things they're finding are all in those horrible planters and they take them away," she said.  

Police, who have established a command post at the Mallory property, have said the investigation at the site will continue at least until the end of the week.