TORONTO — Months after dismissing growing fears about a potential serial killer prowling Toronto's gay village, police said Thursday they have arrested a man they believe is responsible for the presumed deaths of at least two men who disappeared from the neighbourhood.
Bruce McArthur, a 66-year-old Toronto man, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder Thursday morning in the presumed deaths of Selim Esen and Andrew Kinsman, both reported missing from the Church and Wellesley streets area at separate times last year, police said.
"We believe he is responsible for the deaths of Mr. Esen and Mr. Kinsman, and we believe he is responsible for the deaths of other men who have yet to be identified," said Det. Sgt. Hank Idsinga.
"In other words, we believe there are other victims," he said. Idsinga would not say who the other victims may be, but said police are aware of other men reported missing from the area.
Members of the LGBTQ community were voicing concerns and pushing for answers last year in light of the disappearances, which were deemed suspicious at the time.
Investigators working on the cases issued public reassurances, saying they had no reason to believe the two men were dead, nor that their absence had anything to do with a serial killer or predators targeting men through a dating app.
In December, police warned people to be careful using dating apps.
Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders defended the force's approach when asked about the shift Thursday.
"In policing, what we do is we follow the evidence and what I said at the time that I said (it) was accurate at that time," he said. He thanked the Church and Wellesley community for its help, saying the ongoing communication had raised awareness and given the investigation more focus.
Helen Kennedy, executive director of the LGBTQ advocacy group Egale, said news of the arrest brought relief after months of fear and apprehension.
"The community, especially in the village, were very, very nervous, and rightly so. Two gay men went missing and the circumstances around their disappearances were very suspect and so people were speculating about what had happened to these two guys," she said.
"I think that we had every right to be afraid and nervous, but at the same time, the police need time to do their work," she said.
Officers had been investigating McArthur for months but could not make a "definitive link" to the disappearances until Wednesday, Idsinga said.
The men's bodies have not been found, but police said they were combing through five properties — four in Toronto, one in Madoc, Ont. — connected to McArthur, a self-employed landscaper.
Idsinga said police have a "pretty good idea" of how the men died but would not elaborate, citing the ongoing investigation.
McArthur had sexual relationships with both men and all three were on dating apps, he said.
"He did have a relationship with Mr. Kinsman for some time," Idsinga said.
"We don't know what his exact relationship with Mr. Esen was leading up to the (alleged) murder, whether he had just met him that day or whether he had known him for some time, we just don't know that yet."
A separate project is probing the disappearance of three men who went missing from the same area between 2010 and 2012.