News / Toronto

‘He would not kill anybody,’ says sister of man charged in Gay Village slayings

McArthur’s arrest comes as a shock to those who know him best. His sister, Sandra Burton, said she is “not doing good.” “He’s a wonderful brother and father and grandfather and friend. And it’s not in his nature to do anything like this.”

Bruce McArthur, a 66-year-old self-employed landscaper, has been charged in the murder of two men, both of whom disappeared last year. Police allege he could also be responsible for the deaths of other men who have yet to be identified.

THE CANADIAN PRESS

Bruce McArthur, a 66-year-old self-employed landscaper, has been charged in the murder of two men, both of whom disappeared last year. Police allege he could also be responsible for the deaths of other men who have yet to be identified.

Sitting in a police interview room, Karen Fraser tried to make sense of why detectives were asking so many questions about the affable man who mowed her lawn and filled her backyard with flowers.

Thursday morning, police arrived at the Leaside home Fraser shares with her partner, Ron Smith. They knocked on the door, produced a search warrant, and told them they had 20 minutes to get out.

Now, the detectives were showing her pictures of different men, many of whom appeared Middle Eastern.

“They didn’t tell me what was going on. I was thinking all kinds of wild things,” Fraser said.

“At the very end, I asked permission to know what was happening and they told me. It was devastating.”

The officers broke the news that the rest of the city now knows and has rattled the gay community: that Bruce McArthur, a 66-year-old self-employed landscaper, has been charged in the murder of two men, both of whom disappeared last year.

Selim Esen, 44, and Andrew Kinsman, 49, both frequented the Gay Village and were last seen in April and June 2017. They were just the latest men to go missing from the area, where there has been growing concern over a number of disappearances dating to 2010.

In December, Toronto police held a press conference at which they dispelled rumours of a serial killer. But when they announced McArthur’s arrest on Thursday, they alleged he could also be responsible for the deaths of other men who have yet to be identified.

McArthur’s arrest comes as a shock to those who know him best. His sister, Sandra Burton, said she is “not doing good” and has yet to speak with her brother or the police.

“He’s a wonderful brother and father and grandfather and friend. And it’s not in his nature to do anything like this,” said an emotional Burton, who said she had been advised by a lawyer not to talk.

“He would do anything for anyone. He’s that kind of a person. He would not kill anybody.”

McArthur’s arrest has also upturned the lives of Fraser and Smith, who said they were stunned by the allegations. They’ve been barred from their property, which is being scoured by forensics officers, and forced to watch mistruths play out in the media about their home and relationship with McArthur.

Smith and Fraser say they are worried about the “kind” and “always pleasant” man they have known for more than a decade, but they also want to assist the police in any way they can and help bring closure to the families and friends of the missing men.

“We cannot reconcile this with the man we know,” Fraser said. “But on the other hand, someone is killing people. And anything we can do to get that someone caught . . .

“If (McArthur) is not the person, we’re trying to help them get the person.”

Smith, 68, and Fraser, 72, are entrepreneurs who have spearheaded several charity organizations, including one that collected sleeping bags and blankets for Toronto’s homeless.

They were introduced to McArthur through his sister, Sandra, who lives near their cottage up north.

Fraser said McArthur needed a place in the city to store some equipment for his landscaping company and they quickly struck a deal: McArthur would use the garage of their home if he agreed to mow their lawn when they were away.

“Over the years, he took this simple arrangement and did more and more and more for us,” Fraser said. “All of our pots around the house were suddenly filled with beautiful flowers.”

On a summer day, it wouldn’t be unusual for McArthur to arrive at their house before daybreak with newly purchased flowers, which he temporarily stored on their property while he shepherded them to different clients’ homes. Fraser would wake up to see her backyard covered with blooms; by noon, they would all be gone.

In the winter, McArthur fashioned decorative arrangements out of greenery. This past Christmas, McArthur made a wreath that Smith and Fraser donated to a downtown church that was serving food to the homeless.

“This whole thing is really not the guy we knew,” Smith said.

Smith said McArthur mainly accessed his garage and lawn, but police are now combing through the entire house. Over the weekend, investigators scoured the property, where a forensics tent had also been set up.

Since Thursday morning, when the couple was forced to leave their home with little more than some clothes and toiletries, they have been relying on the kindness of friends. Smith and Fraser have shuttled between homes, with one couple feeding them while another provides a place to sleep.

Smith said the search has been “aggressive” but that police have been thorough, professional and kind. But both he and Fraser say it has been bizarre to watch drone-shot footage of their house flashing on the television and printed in newspapers.

They are also “appalled” by some of the inaccurate information reported in the media, including the assertion that McArthur lived at their home.

“I’ve seen people claiming to be my neighbours. I don’t know them. They all have comments about (Smith) and I, the house,” Fraser said. “You’re being talked about on TV, and you’re watching it. It’s strange.”

Smith said his heart goes out to the victims and the “poor people who are suffering through all of this.” He feels that out of fairness to everyone — McArthur, the missing men, and everyone else affected — it is important to wait until the facts become clearer before speculating.

“In something like this you learn some interesting lessons, one of them being don’t jump to any conclusions,” he said. “Let it play out, let the truth find its way out and then live with it.”

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