TORONTO, Canada -- A former landscaper accused of sexually assaulting, killing and dismembering men he met in Toronto's Gay Village district over seven years pleaded guilty on Tuesday to eight counts of first-degree murder.
Bruce McArthur, wearing a black sweater, stood up and said "guilty" as each charge was read. Sentencing and victim impact statements are to start Feb. 4.
Police last year found the remains of seven of the men in large planters at a property where McArthur had worked and used as storage. The remains of the eighth victim were found in a ravine behind the same property in midtown Toronto.
The prosecutor, Michael Cantlon, said the cases ranging from 2010 to 2017 involved sexual assault or forcible confinement and said the bodies were hidden and dismembered. Several of the victims were apparently strangled.
McArthur, now 67, moved to the Toronto area around 2000 and previously lived in a suburb where he was married, raised two children and worked as a traveling salesman of underwear and socks.
His landscaping business was small, but he periodically hired workers, including a 40-year-old man who disappeared in 2010.
Police set up two special task forces to look into the disappearances of men in the Gay Village area of Toronto after some went missing.
The alleged victims fit a pattern: Most were of Middle Eastern or South Asian descent and lived on the margins of Canadian society, their disappearances attracting little attention.
One victim hid the fact that he was gay from his Muslim family. Another was a recent immigrant with a drug problem. Another alleged victim was homeless, smoked crack cocaine and worked as a prostitute.
But then Andrew Kinsman vanished. The 49-year-old LGBQT activist and former bartender in Toronto had many friends. When he suddenly went missing the day after Toronto's gay pride parade, his friends noticed quickly, and so did the police.
Police set up second special task force to look into the disappearances of men in the Gay Village shortly after Kinsman went missing.
He was last seen on a surveillance video getting into McArthur's van on June 26, 2017, and his DNA was later found inside, as was the ligature with which he was apparently strangled.
Members of the LGBTQ community long voiced concerns about a potential serial killer and pushing for answers in light of the disappearances. An initial police task force in 2012 didn't lead to an arrest.
Karen Fraser, who lives at the home where McArthur stored the body parts, said he was evil, but hadn't known that version of him.
McArthur worked at the home for 10 or 12 years for Fraser and her husband. He used the home as storage for his landscaping business and would often visit the garage several times a day.
"Terrible things were done," she said. "This is just a shuffling, broken man. As he should be."
Fraser, who said she had met two of the victims, said she didn't see any remorse in McArthur in court, only a blank face.
"We call it Bruce A and Bruce B," she said. "Bruce A was a man who seemed to have made decisions about his life and was very happy with it. He enjoyed his job, his clients and never got bored with the plants. He was very talented at it. He was very fond of his children and was a great grandfather."
She called him the best friend, neighbor and relative that anyone could want.
"That was Bruce A. Bruce B? Who was that? I don't know," she said. "I never saw a temper. Just a happy guy. You would never ever think. I believe all his other clients said the same."
Toronto police Det. David Dickinson called the guilty pleas the best possible outcome.
Asked if there should be a public inquiry, Dickinson said if police made mistakes in the investigations, they should learn from them.
Haran Vijayanathan, a community activist and the executive director of the Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention in Toronto, said there is a sense of relief among the families.
"But there is also confusion and questions as to why," he said.
Man pleads guilty to 8 murders, hiding bodies in planters