Couple in shock as planters with human remains found at their home
Police say they have found the remains of at least three different people at the bottom of large planters at their home in Leaside.
|Report an Error|
Share via Email
As Ron Smith watched the detective announce on live TV that investigators had found human bones buried in his backyard flower planters, he clutched his partner Karen Fraser’s hand.
“This is what we were afraid of,” Smith said.
For years, Bruce McArthur mowed their lawn and tended to their gardens, filling enormous planters with begonias and flowering vines. Now, McArthur is an accused serial killer and Fraser and Smith’s Leaside home has become a crime scene.
Police say they have found the remains of at least three different people at the bottom of large planters at their Mallory Cres. home. The police search is expanding to 30 properties McArthur had access to, and investigators anticipate they will uncover more remains.
McArthur has now been charged with the murders of five men.
Investigators said they have seized more than 12 planters from properties where McArthur did landscaping and that they plan to excavate two areas, but did not say where.
Smith and Fraser were first introduced to McArthur, a landscaper, by his sister. He needed a space to store some equipment and they made an arrangement: he could use their garage if he’d mow their lawn when they were away. Over the years he did much more than cut the grass.
“He took this simple arrangement and did more and more and more for us,” Fraser told the Star earlier this month. “All of our pots around the house were suddenly filled with beautiful flowers.”
McArthur had brought three or four enormous planters, roughly a metre high and as wide as the inside of tractor tire, to the house two or three years ago, Fraser said.
“We just hope the remains are just in the planters so they go away and not in the ground,” Fraser said.
“If they find something buried in the backyard, that’s a different feeling.”
How quickly a body will decompose depends on a number of factors, according to Melissa Connor, a forensic anthropologist and the director the Forensic Investigation Research Station at Colorado Mesa University.
“Every situation is going to be different but the major factors are going to be time, temperature, and access of the remains to insects,” she said, adding that decomposition will happen more quickly in warmer weather.
How often the soil is watered and whether it’s basic or acidic will also make a difference, she said.
In this case, there may be a question of whether the remains were already skeletal when they were put into the planters, she said. To determine that, police may bring in an expert to examine the discolouration on the skeleton and whether it matches the soil in the pot.
On Monday police tape stretched across the Mallory Cres. property. Officers carried plastic containers to the backyard where police have set up a large tent.
Investigators are heating the ground in the backyard, leading Fraser and Smith to believe police will be excavating to see if they find anything else. Smith said he never saw McArthur digging while doing lawn work, adding that the house sits on hard clay soil.
“We don’t think (anything was buried) simply because the ground is so damn hard even normally, forget about frozen, that digging a hole in that is almost impossible,” Smith said.
After Monday’s police press conference, Smith noted McArthur often used their home as a prep site from which he would shepherd pots of flowers and decorations to his customers around Toronto.
“Heaven help us, those planters may have been on their way to someone else next year if he hadn’t been caught,” Smith said.
Police said they have searched most of the 30 properties they’ve linked to McArthur, but they believe there are more remains and are continuing to search for them.
One of those homes belongs to one of Fraser and Smith’s friends. This past fall, Fraser recommended McArthur to a friend who had been in an accident and needed someone to rake leaves.
“They took the cadaver dogs and searched their backyard,” Fraser said. “We had nothing to do with it but we can’t believe we were trying to help them out and we pulled them into this terrible situation.”
She said someone has already asked if they plan to sell their house after the grisly discovery. But Fraser and Smith are adamant that they don’t plan to leave.
“He’s not going to destroy a life we enjoy thoroughly,” Fraser said. “We don’t back down. The house didn’t do it. We didn’t do it.”
Parker Liddle lives nearby and said he saw McArthur around “frequently,” over the years.
“He was a regular during the growing season,” Liddle said. “He cut the grass and blew the leaves off the property.”
Liddle said he would look out his front window and see McArthur “frequently bringing plants, trays of plants, pots of plants, out of the back of his minivan, carrying them into the back of the house, and bring pots and trays of plants from the back of the house out and into the minivan.
Liddle said he never spoke to McArthur. When McArthur was at the property, Liddle said, he was “active, he was engaged in what he was doing.
“He came, he got down to business, he moved quickly.”
Police have been at the property for days, and Liddle said it’s been impressive to watch them work.
“I must say, it’s the perfect location. It’s remote, it’s got the valley below. So I suppose, in sober second thought, in some ways it’s not surprising, if in fact he was up to this sort of activity then that’s a great location for him to dispose of what he was doing.”
Serial killers do not want to be caught and will try very hard to avoid it, said Jooyoung Lee, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Toronto.
Lee said he could not comment specifically on the McArthur case and has no involvement in it, but explained that burying bodies and hiding them in heavily wooded areas are “classic techniques” serial killers use.
“They use the built natural environment as a cover, as a way to hide evidence that could implicate them and link them to multiple disappearances,” he said Monday.
A landscaper could very easily “get away” with anything they want because a client is typically not home during the time the landscaper works, said Justin Comarin, a manager at Toemar Garden Supplies.
“A lot of times the customer is kept out of the loop because of the technicality of it,” he said.
“They work during working hours and the customer isn’t going to physically look at you for ten hours in a day.”