Local serial killings both typical and unique in Canadian history

Experts weigh in on what could turn out to be longest string of murders

Yves (Apache) Trudeau, Robert Pickton, Paul Bernardo and Clifford Olson.

Canada’s most notorious serial killers may soon welcome another name to their gallery of infamy — the name of an alleged killer who has been accused of having plied his trade in Toronto neighbourhoods over several years.

Toronto police have toiled to uncover the work of what they have said since Jan. 29 is a local serial killer.

That admission came 11 days after police charged Thorncliffe Park-based landscaper Bruce McArthur, 66, with two counts of first-degree murder — and the day they announced discovery of three sets of human remains from planters at 53 Mallory Cres. in Leaside. Additional charges were laid in the following weeks and McArthur now faces six first-degree murder charges, mainly for the deaths of men who were reported missing from the Church and Wellesley gay village area.

Police have so far recovered seven sets of human remains from planters on Mallory Crescent.

More charges may be coming, police say. They continue to search for bodies on Mallory Crescent and at other addresses across Ontario. They have also said they are investigating the cases of missing men going back decades.

If all the allegations are proven and attributed to one perpetrator, that person would become known as the most prolific serial killer in Toronto’s history, surpassing child murderer David Kreuger and serial rapist Paul Bernardo.

In fact, it would rank the murderer as among Canada’s top 10 worst serial killers.

Michael Arntfield, a former London, Ont. police officer turned criminologist and serial killer expert, says the allegations involve the dismemberment, transportation and concealment of victims.

These components coupled with other statements by police in this case could reveal something uniquely sinister about the alleged killer, Arntfield says: “He will likely be the longest operating [serial killer], whether that’s continuous or intermittently, in Canadian history.”

Arntfield notes every previous serial killer who has moved and hidden his victims has been between 24 to 43 years old. An older serial killer in his 60s either started late or, in a more likely scenario, went undetected for decades.

“With older offenders, you usually see [victims] lured to a site and then kept and disposed there,” he said.” You don’t often see them go out again with a body because that involves such an elevated degree of risk…. In many cases, they lack the virility or brazenness to do that.”

Arntfield says although landscaping specifically isn’t a common trade among serial killers, general labour is the most common unskilled job among them.

Before being a landscaper, McArthur was a travelling salesman.

“Not only do we have the weird age and daily organized behaviour [as a landscaper], his earlier job is more compelling to me as serial killer occupations,” Arntfield said.

Compared to Olson, Pickton

Though this investigation is atypical in many ways, Arntfield says it does bear some resemblance to the case of Clifford Olson, the Canadian psychopath who murdered 11 people.

Serial killers compared

Among the worst?

If upheld, the six murder charges laid against Bruce McArthur so far would make him Toronto’s worst serial killer in history.

His alleged kill total surpasses that of Mark Garfield Moore who was convicted of shooting four men to death in 2010.

Even the infamous “Scarborough rapist” Paul Bernardo was tried and convicted for only two murders in 1995, although he has been suspected of having been involved in two other deaths.

Pushing McArthur’s total of alleged victims up to seven — to account for all the human remains found to date — would place him among the 10 worst accused serial killers in Canada.

Leading the pack of killers and alleged killers is Yves (Apache) Trudeau, a motorcycle gang member based in Laval, Quebec, who killed 43.

Clifford Olson confessed to murdering 11 children and young adults in British Columbia in the early 1980s.
B.C. pig farmer Robert Pickton was convicted of killing six women, though he was charged with another 20 deaths and is said to have confessed to 49.

Several others have been convicted of six to eight murders, although some of them were suspected of having killed more

With seven charges, McArthur would place ninth on this national list.

This is still far behind the numbers wracked up by the worst serial killers around the world, responsible for scores of victims — even surpassing 100 deaths in three cases. The highest totals in the United States are 35 and 33, attributed to, respectively, Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy.

But with police continuing to investigate Toronto properties where McArthur has worked and studying missing persons cases going back decades, no one is quite sure yet how high on the list of infamy his name may eventually rank.

— Jay Garak

Olson displayed sexual polymorphism, a trait in highly sadistic killers who crave extreme violence and suffering, targeting people of any age or gender.

“He began by attacking females, went to prison for it,” Arntfield says. “He comes out and he realizes, given his age, it was easier for him to pick up male hitchhikers in their late teens and early twenties … so he didn’t necessarily ‘turn gay.'”

Since convenience seems to have been a factor in the deaths in the current Toronto investigation, Arntfield’s message to investigators is clear: going back decades, they cannot rule out that victims may have been females.

“Police can’t just get tunnel vision and just focus on missing gay men,” he says. “Preferred victims change over the lifespan of a criminal’s career.”

Another case with similarities to the current investigation is that of Robert Pickton, a serial killer who severed and fed between seven and 80 victims to pigs.

He is one of only four per cent of killers who have dismembered their victims, according to Arntfield.

Jooyoung Lee, an associate sociology professor at the University of Toronto and serial homicide expert, says dismemberment helps keeps murderers undetected — and entertained.

“A lot of people think [a serial killer] is collecting trophies and enjoys dismembering bodies,” he says. “They experience a rush and a thrill…. They don’t want to get caught.”

But, unlike in the Pickton case, police allege the Toronto serial killer targeted people connected to one area, Church and Wellesley.

Lee says a serial killer in a city like Toronto is “profound.”

“We don’t see a lot of serial killers in cities — it’s harder,” Lee says. “The best way to reduce crime in cities is to create neighbourhoods with residential and commercial use and lots of green space, so there’s always someone watching. Toronto has been very well designed in that respect.”

Little training in catching serial killers

Police only labelled the crimes and missing men as the victims of a serial killer in 2018, eight years after the first victim went missing.

Now they are trying to connect crimes in the 1970s to the accused due to his age, jobs and other factors, but experts say police face a barrier: each other.

Lee says local police have a dismal system for storing information and little-to-no training in regard to serial killers.

Arntfield adds police are proud and territorial, leading to lack of information sharing and a denial of any problem at all.

These problems, alongside the cunning of a killer, make these cases hard to solve, especially when the research has a blind spot:  almost all studies and theories only account for serial killers who have been caught, otherwise known as “failed serial killers,” Lee says.

“Sometimes it takes years, sometimes it takes months and sometimes [police] don’t catch them,” Lee says. “Serial killers wear a mask of normalcy. They don’t stand out.”

But there is one thing police can do to speed up the process.

“Around that magic number, three or four [victims], mistakes are made [by the killer] and there’s enough victims now … that police will admit they have a serial killer,” Arntfield says. “As soon as they are able and willing to recognize that and admit that, the scope of the investigation progresses much more quickly.”

Not doing so until late in the game is the mistake Toronto police made, he says.

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Posted: Mar 27 2018 4:39 pm