Police looking into past 'sudden deaths' in Bruce McArthur investigation

Toronto police detectives confirm that, aside from investigating hundreds of missing persons cases, they are also looking into any outstanding murders and "sudden death" occurrences that could be linked to Bruce McArthur over the years.

Investigation could take several years, looking back to 1990s or '80s

A court sketch of Bruce McArthur during his first court appearance over two first-degree murder charges. McArthur now faces six such charges. (Pam Davies/CBC)

Toronto police detectives have confirmed that, aside from investigating hundreds of missing persons cases, they are also looking into any outstanding murders and "sudden death" occurrences that could be linked to Bruce McArthur over the years.

The 66-year-old landscaper faces first-degree murder charges in the cases of six men: Andrew Kinsman, 49, Selim Esen, 44, Majeed Kayhan, 58, Soroush Mahmudi, 50, Dean Lisowick, 47 and Skandaraj Navaratnam, 40.

Police revealed at a Friday news conference that the remains of Navaratnam and Mahmudi were found in planters seized from the Mallory Crescent property linked to McArthur. The remains of Kinsman had also been discovered earlier.

Over the past couple of months, the number of McArthur's alleged victims has grown from two to six; the number of potential crime scenes has multiplied and expanded across the city and into other parts of the province, and the number of missing persons cases that police are looking into has risen into the hundreds.

Now, police say they're looking beyond unresolved missing persons cases.

"There [are] hundreds of outstanding missing persons occurrences that we're looking at," said lead investigator Det-Sgt. Hank Idsinga on Friday. "We're looking at sudden death cases. I wouldn't say they're being considered murders yet."

Det.-Sgt. Hank Idsinga of the Toronto police updated reporters on the investigation at a news conference on Friday. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

According to criminologist and Western University professor Michael Arntfield, these "sudden death occurrences" could mean a range of things, including linking McArthur to any open or unsolved murder anywhere in rural Ontario that corresponds with his movements there years ago.

"Cases that are open, unsolved homicides, undetermined deaths would qualify as 'sudden deaths' that police are referring to," said Arntfield. "So [that would include] deaths with no known cause whether it be accidental, suicide, homicide, any suspicious disappearances or unidentified remains that may indirectly coincide with his movements over that 30- or 40-year period."​

Key moments in the Bruce McArthur investigation:

  • November 2012: Project Houston is created by police to probe the disappearances of Skandaraj Navaratnam, Abdulbasir Faizi and Majeed Kayhan.
  • April 2014: Police conclude Project Houston after 18 months because they are unable to find any criminal evidence.
  • July 28, 2017: Project Prism is launched to investigate the disappearances of Selim Esen and Andrew Kinsman using information collected throughout Project Houston. 
  • September 2017: Bruce McArthur gets on police radar after evidence was discovered linking him to Kinsman's disappearance.
  • Dec. 8, 2017: Police give update on Project Prism saying there's no evidence foul play was involved in the disappearances of the two men.
  • Jan. 17, 2018: Police uncover two pieces of crucial evidence linking McArthur to Esen and Kinsman's disappearances. 
  • Jan. 18, 2018: McArthur is arrested and charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the cases of Esen and Kinsman.
  • Jan. 29, 2018: McArthur is charged with three additional counts of first-degree murder in the cases of Kayhan, Soroush Mahmudi and Dean Lisowick.

Police say this investigation could take years to complete.

"We are tracing [McArthur's] whereabouts as far back as we can go, basically," said Idsinga.

In opening up their investigation to include so many more cases, many potentially dating back decades, Arntfield said investigators will encounter significant obstacles.

"Police need to cast a very wide net and go back many years. I'm going to suggest as much as 40 years [worth] of records may exist… particularly given what we know about his activities and occupation and mobility through the '80s and '90s as a travelling salesman."

Part of the challenge will include tracking down police data from smaller police forces in northern Ontario from as far back as the 1980s or 1990s, Arntfield said, when officers kept paper records of investigations and weren't necessarily known as "notorious record-keepers."

"His [alleged] victims may go well beyond the current characteristics of his known victims," said Arntfield. "Earlier in his criminal career — if these charges turn out to be substantiated — he may have targeted different people."

This array of photos shows five of six men McArthur is accused of killing, from left to right; Selim Essen, 44, Sorush Mahmudi, 50, Dean Lisowick, Andrew Kinsman, 49, and Majeed Kayhan, 58. Another victim, Skandaraj Navaratnam, 40, was identified by police on Friday. (Toronto Police Service/AP)

'High level of sophistication'

Arntfield said the high level of sophistication of McArthur's alleged crimes suggest he is quite adept at covering his tracks and evading capture, all of which makes this already-complicated investigation even more difficult.

"You're talking about someone who is quite frankly very organized and is to be candid: a sophisticated offender,"" he said. "He was [allegedly] making his customers unknowing custodians of these remains."

Arntfield said those crimes do not reflect a person who is "starting out" as a serial killer.

"We're [potentially] looking at someone who knows how to defeat conventional investigative methodologies and has likely done so for decades."

McArthur, 66, was arrested on Jan. 18, some four months after he came to the attention of investigators. (Bruce McArthur/Facebook)