The Disturbing Crimes Of Bruce McArthur, The ‘Santa Claus Killer’ Who Terrorized Toronto’s Gay Community

Published January 31, 2024
Updated February 22, 2024

Bruce McArthur brutally murdered eight gay men between 2010 and 2017 — then hid their remains in potted plants.

Bruce Mcarthur

FacebookBruce McArthur pleaded guilty to killing eight men, whose bodies he hid in potted plants.

Between 2010 and 2017, eight men disappeared from Toronto’s bustling LGBTQ+ village, Church and Wellesley.

By 2013, Toronto police knew they likely had a serial killer on their hands. The victims all disappeared from the same neighborhood. All were gay men. And most of them were immigrants of South Asian descent.

But because the victims used dating apps and frequently met up with people they had never met in person, police struggled to identify a suspect or find any evidence connecting the cases.

“It’s a serial killer — alleged serial killer,” homicide detective Sgt. Hank Idsinga said to CNN. “The city of Toronto has never seen anything like this. The resources that are being thrown at it, everything that we have. I’d call it an unprecedented type of investigation.”

What became the largest criminal investigation ever conducted by the Toronto Police Service would soon lead to an unlikely suspect: a middle-aged gardener and part-time mall Santa named Bruce McArthur.

The Makings Of A Serial Killer

Mcarthur

FacebookDespite knowing he was gay from a young age, Bruce McArthur didn’t come out until he was in his 40s.

Thomas Donald Bruce McArthur, who went by Bruce, was born in 1951 in Lindsay, Ontario. He was raised by well-respected parents on a farm, along with an endless string of foster children his parents took in from Toronto — sometimes as many as ten at a time.

McArthur’s classmates remember him as a teacher’s pet and a tattletale who never fit in with the other boys at the one-room schoolhouse he attended in rural Ontario.

And maybe part of the reason he didn’t fit in was that he was gay.

McArthur knew he was gay from a young age, but hid it out of fear of retaliation and derision from his father, a strict Presbyterian, and from the community at large. After all, this was rural Canada in the 1950s.

So he repressed his sexuality, marrying a woman named Janice Campbell at the age of 23, with whom he had two children. They lived in Oshawa, where they became very active in the church community.

But McArthur’s homosexuality could only go repressed for so long. In the 1990s, he began having sexual relationships with other men. He eventually came out to his wife, but they continued to live together to raise their children.

They finally separated in 1997, and McArthur moved to Toronto.

‘Like A Wild Man’

Bruce McArthur became very active in the gay community in Toronto, frequenting bars in Church and Wellesley and having many relationships with different men. Described by friends as an affable and gentle “regular guy,” according to the Toronto Star, McArthur also worked as a part-time mall Santa in Toronto.

Toronto Killer

FacebookBruce McArthur’s outwardly cuddly persona concealed a dark reality.

But on Oct. 31, 2001, something changed.

That day, McArthur bumped into his acquaintance Mark Henderson, an actor, model, and nursing student, outside of Henderson’s home. He followed Henderson into his apartment.

Then, without warning, McArthur attacked Henderson and began brutally clubbing him with an iron pipe.

“I turned, and he was there like a wild man,” Henderson told the Daily Mail. “I can’t emphasize enough how horrified I was. And then I realized, he’s trying to kill me.”

Henderson fought back and managed to call the police. When they arrived, Henderson later reported, the police made light of the crime, making jokes at the scene and neglecting to take a witness statement.

McArthur claimed he had blacked out and couldn’t remember anything about the attack. In court, he pleaded guilty to assault and received a fairly light conditional sentence — a year of house arrest followed by three years of probation.

This decision was largely based on psychiatric reports that suggested McArthur was unlikely to commit another crime. The defense claimed his suddenly aggressive behavior could be due to the combined effects of anti-seizure medication he sometimes needed to take and “poppers,” a muscle relaxant used recreationally before sex.

However, the conditions were strict — and a little unusual. There was a laundry list of rules to which McArthur had to adhere, including being barred from the Church and Wellesley neighborhood except for work and medical appointments. He also wasn’t allowed to purchase, possess, or consume any drugs without a prescription, couldn’t carry a firearm for 10 years, and had to submit his DNA to a criminal database.

But none of that stopped Bruce McArthur from brutally attacking more men in Toronto’s gay community.

A Serial Killer Is Born

Bruce McArthur Selfie

FacebookBruce McArthur was a well-known figure in Toronto’s gay village.

Bruce McArthur’s banishment from Church and Wellesley was well-known within the gay community of Toronto. He had also garnered a reputation for being into BDSM, rough sex, and fetish play.

But despite his criminal record, reputation, and history of violence, he managed to kill eight people in eight years and avoid detection.

In 2013, he was questioned about the disappearances of three men, all middle-aged gay South Asian immigrants who disappeared from Church and Wellesley. He even admitted to knowing two of the men, but the police moved on.

It wasn’t until 2017 that Bruce McArthur came back on their radar.

On June 26, a 49-year-old man named Andrew Kinsman went missing just one day after attending Toronto Pride. Fortunately, his disappearance was reported within 72 hours, which helped police hone in on key evidence from around the time he vanished.

Police found an appointment on Kinsman’s calendar from the day he went missing labeled “Bruce.” They searched vehicle records for a car that was seen outside Kinsman’s apartment around that time.

Only one vehicle of the correct make and model was registered to someone named Bruce. And now, police had Toronto’s most prolific serial killer in their crosshairs.

Bruce McArthur Is Arrested

Mcarthurs Room

Ontario’s Superior Court of JusticeWhen the police went to arrest Bruce McArthur, they found another would-be victim tied to McArthur’s bed.

Police raced to Bruce McArthur’s home to arrest him. There, they found another would-be victim inside, tied to McArthur’s bed and miraculously still alive.

McArthur was finally arrested on Jan. 18, 2018, and initially charged with five murders.

Police searched his apartment, going through all of his computer records. There, they uncovered a trove of disturbing photograph evidence: After killing his victims, McArthur had posed their naked corpses for photos, sometimes dressing them in fur coats and hats and placing cigars in their mouths.

In some of the images, the victims had rope tied around their necks. It soon became clear that this was the murder weapon. McArthur had used a metal bar with rope attached to strangle his victims, twisting the bar to tighten the knots.

After McArthur’s arrest, police searched more than 30 different properties that McArthur had worked on as a landscaper — and soon uncovered human remains at one of them.

McArthur had been storing landscaping equipment on a property in the Leaside neighborhood of Toronto in exchange for mowing the owners’ lawn. There, cadaver dogs led investigators to large planter boxes. Inside, police found several sets of human remains.

Officers spent weeks at the Leaside property, which they referred to as “Ground Zero” due to the amount of evidence found there. In the end, seven sets of dismembered remains were found in the planters, and an eighth set was found in a ravine near the property.

The Crimes Of Bruce McArthur, The Santa Claus Killer

Victims

Toronto Police ServiceAlmost all of the victims were immigrants of South Asian or Middle Eastern descent.

Authorities have attributed eight murder victims to Bruce McArthur: Abdulbasir “Basir” Faizi, Majeed “Hamid” Kayhan, Skandaraj “Skanda” Navaratnam, Soroush Mahmudi, Andrew Kinsman, Selim Esen, Dean Lisowick, and Kirushna Kumar Kanagaratnam.

Initially, police believed the number could be much higher. Serial killers rarely begin killing later in life, and most of them carry out their first violent offenses in their 20s.

In conjunction with McArthur’s case, police re-examined hundreds of missing person cases from the area. But by July 2018, they stated that they believed they had identified all of McArthur’s victims.

In January 2019, Bruce McArthur pleaded guilty to all eight counts of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to life in prison, though he would be eligible for parole after 25 years.

Some were outraged by the judge’s sentence, saying it was too light. But the judge stated that it was “highly unlikely” McArthur would even be granted parole. McArthur, who has diabetes, will be 91 by the time he is eligible.


After reading about serial killer Bruce McArthur, take a look at these quotes from serial killers that will chill you to the bone. Then, discover the grisly story of Robert Pickton, the serial killer who fed his victims’ corpses to pigs.

author
Katie Serena
author
A former staff writer at All That's Interesting, Katie Serena has also published work in Salon.
editor
Maggie Donahue
editor
Maggie Donahue is an assistant editor at All That's Interesting. She has a Master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and a Bachelor's degree in creative writing and film studies from Johns Hopkins University. Before landing at ATI, she covered arts and culture at The A.V. Club and Colorado Public Radio and also wrote for Longreads. She is interested in stories about scientific discoveries, pop culture, the weird corners of history, unexplained phenomena, nature, and the outdoors.
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Serena, Katie. "The Disturbing Crimes Of Bruce McArthur, The ‘Santa Claus Killer’ Who Terrorized Toronto’s Gay Community." AllThatsInteresting.com, January 31, 2024, https://allthatsinteresting.com/bruce-mcarthur. Accessed June 14, 2024.