News / Toronto

'Trust me, I’m scared right now': Restaurateur says Bruce McArthur was 'a regular' and sold him planters

While a Church St. restaurateur worries, tips flood in from around the world about the landscaper who Toronto police allege is a serial killer.

Church Bistro has a large planter just inside the door that they say was given to them by Bruce Mcarthur.

Torstar News Service

Church Bistro has a large planter just inside the door that they say was given to them by Bruce Mcarthur.

A.J. Kahn was terrified as he placed call after call to police about the foliage at his restaurant in Toronto’s gay village. His planters came from Bruce McArthur, the landscaper who police believe killed at least five people and hid dismembered human remains in planters.

But Kahn’s calls were going to voicemail.

“Trust me, I’m scared right now,” Kahn said Wednesday, sitting in the restaurant where McArthur was once a regular. “God knows what’s inside.”

Meanwhile, phones were ringing off the hook and emails were piling up for Det.-Sgt. Hank Idsinga and his team of investigators. “I’ve got a log like you wouldn’t believe,” he said.

Idsinga said he could “almost guarantee” police had received Kahn’s tip – but they’ve been swamped with leads to chase.

“Everything is getting categorized and everything is getting followed up. Sometimes we’re actually calling people and saying, ‘We’re not calling you to follow up, but we’re calling you to let you know we got your message and we will be calling you back to follow up’,” Idsinga said.

“It’s just going to take some time.”

Church Bistro has a large planter just inside the door that they say was given to them by Bruce Mcarthur.

Torstar News Service

Church Bistro has a large planter just inside the door that they say was given to them by Bruce Mcarthur.

The planters Kahn bought from McArthur – in cash, by Kahn’s recollection – at Church Bistro 555 may be lower on police’s priority list due to their size and location, Idsinga told the Star.

“Highly unlikely that [the killer] is going to put remains in a planter like that, because they really would stink if they’re indoors,” he said. “I have no idea how far behind we are on checking addresses, but I’ll take a look at it and see where it’s at.

“I’ve got guys out there right now.”

Kahn is still in shock that the man he once knew as a friendly regular has been charged with murder. “He was sitting right there, in the corner table,” Kahn recalled. McArthur and another man would be there numerous times a week.

The booth is tucked into a space where white-tiled wall meets sunny yellow, with patterned pillows and the green leaves of another planter hanging down from a ledge above. There, McArthur used to order a “Big Bear” breakfast, or a tandoori chicken omelette – with extra spice.

But then, sometime towards the end of 2013, Kahn says, something changed. “One day he came by himself,” Kahn said. The restaurant owner asked what was going on, to which McArthur replied that his boyfriend was on vacation. “But I asked him, I said, ‘I saw him yesterday!’” Kahn recalled.

He said McArthur seemed “very angry,” and that he never saw him again.

“Bruce, honestly speaking, is a very nice, cool gentleman. He gave hugs to my children,” Kahn said, noting he would never have suspected McArthur would be capable of the things he is accused of.

Church Bistro has a large planter just inside the door that they say was given to them by Bruce Mcarthur.

Torstar News Service

Church Bistro has a large planter just inside the door that they say was given to them by Bruce Mcarthur.

Police said Wednesday that they’re expanding their search across the GTA. A source told the Star that searches extend to Peel and Durham regions, as well as the area around Yonge and St. Clair.

The search has also moved into the basement of a Leaside home, where human remains were confirmed to have been found outside in planters. A tent remains in the home’s backyard, where heaters are being used to thaw the ground. To dig into the earth, a forensic anthropologist will work essentially by hand, so as not to disturb the evidence.

Speaking at the home Wednesday, Idsinga said he still expects more charges to be laid, and that tips have come in from “around the world.”

Investigators are also still working their way through McArthur’s rented apartment in Thorncliffe Park, and expect to be there for some time.

Star columnist Ellie Tesher, who lives in the Yonge and St. Clair neighbourhood, said she hired McArthur to work on her property at the recommendation of a neighbour.

“The whole street feels sick about it,” Tesher said. Police scoured her yard with dogs on Sunday, and concluded it was clear, a fact she called a “relief.”

The extended search may be connected to the most recently announced victims. Both of the first men McArthur was charged with killing disappeared from the village. But new charges, announced Monday, cast a wider net. Those include the murder of Soroush Mahmudi – a manufacturing plant worker who once lived in Barrie with his wife, but had moved to Scarborough.

Police believe McArthur killed Mahmudi “on or about” Aug. 15, 2015, according to court documents — the last day the 50-year-old was seen alive by his home near Markham Rd. and Blakemanor Blvd.

Barrie neighbour Patsy Thorne remembered Mahmudi as kind and thoughtful. Their two units had decks side-by-side, and she recalled Mahmudi checking with her before installing a satellite dish, to make sure that it didn’t block her view.

Once, when a police car was outside their unit, Mahmudi inquired to make sure Thorne was okay.

“I guess he hadn’t seen me for a day or two, and he came knocking on my door,” she told the Star. The couple moved out suddenly, Thorne added, and she believes they moved to Toronto to be closer to family.

More than a dozen planters have been seized after police dogs detected “signs of decomposition,” Idsinga said. Investigators have not named the victims whose remains have already been recovered.

“As I said on Monday, if you haven’t heard from a loved one or a family member or a friend you think may be missing, please contact your local detachment and file that report,” he said.

“If we know where they are, we’ll let you know that. But if they’re not to be found, it’s obviously something this project team will look at.”

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