Bruce McArthur

Holiday-themed horror movies commonly come out around Christmastime. But a few years back, Toronto, Canada’s gay village was gripped by a real-life horror story involving a serial murdering Santa Claus. The story will soon be retold in a BBC true crime docuseries.

From 2010 to 2017, at least eight men went missing from Toronto’s Gay Village — many of them Middle Eastern immigrants in their mid-30s to mid-50s.

Members of the local LGBTQ+ community accused the Toronto Police Department of not taking the men’s disappearances seriously. Little did they know, the killer had aroused police suspicion before, yet he remained active in local life.

At the time of their disappearances, Bruce McArthur worked as a local landscaper in his 60s. Once married to a woman he had two kids with, he became known as a friendly fellow who worked as a seasonal Santa at the Agincourt Mall in Toronto’s diverse Scarborough neighborhood.

But McArthur had a shadowy past. In 2003, a court convicted him of beating a male sex worker with a metal pipe. Because McArthur seemed remorseful, a judge gave him a two-year conditional sentence, telling him to stay out of the Gay Village and away from sex workers. He was eventually granted a pardon for the crime, leaving the assault off of his criminal record.

In 2016, a man told police that McArthur had attacked him, but McArthur convinced them it had all been a misunderstanding, so the police let him go.

McArthur also had a reputation for having a terrible temper and for liking rough BDSM chemsex while using drugs like GHB. GHB is an odorless liquid that can be used to spike drinks, creating feelings of euphoria and, at high amounts, unconsciousness.

When a man named Skandaraj Navaratnam went missing from the Gay Village, McArthur expressed concern because the man had been one of his former employees in his landscaping business. He helped the man’s friends hand out missing person flyers.

Little did they realize that McArthur had killed Navaratnam and at least seven other men, including Selim Esen, Andrew Kinsman, Majeed Kayhan, Dean Lisowick, Kirushna Kumar Kanagaratnam, Abdulbasir Faizi, and Soroush Mahmudi.

Many of these men weren’t out to their families, according to BBC reporter Mobbed Azhar. Some of their relatives refused to believe they were gay. Others hesitated to report them missing over fears that police would deport them if they were found.

It wasn’t until January 2018 that police forcibly entered McArthur’s apartment to arrest him. There, they found a man bound in restraints and believed him to be in imminent danger. Police later found that McArthur had taken photos of his victims after they died and kept “trophies” of them, like their jewelry. He disposed of their bodies in his clients’ yards.

On January 29, 2019, McArthur pleaded guilty to eight separate counts of first-degree murder. The judge called his crimes “pure evil” and sentenced him to 25 years in prison, leaving him eligible for parole at the age of 91. McArthur reportedly “stood impassively” when the judge handed down his sentence.

His crimes will soon be covered in a BBC Three true crime docuseries entitled Santa Claus: The Serial Killer. But Azhar says the documentary will spend more time honoring McArthur’s victims and contextualizing the intersecting circumstances that left them vulnerable to his cruelty.

“The series is about the much-loved men we lost,” Azhar told Attitude. “It’s also about police conduct, vulnerability and how our communities can better take care of each other. I want the series to inspire conversations about compassion.”

Watch a segment from the documentary below…

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