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Social Science General

Missing from the Village

The Story of Serial Killer Bruce McArthur, the Search for Justice, and the System That Failed Toronto's Queer Community

by (author) Justin Ling

Publisher
McClelland & Stewart
Initial publish date
May 2022
Category
General, Serial Killers, Social Policy
  • Hardback

    ISBN
    9780771048647
    Publish Date
    Sep 2020
    List Price
    $32.95
  • Paperback / softback

    ISBN
    9780771048661
    Publish Date
    May 2022
    List Price
    $19.95

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Description

A Globe and Mail Top 100 Book
Shortlisted for the 2021 Toronto Book Awards
An Indigo Best Book of 2020
Winner of the Brass Knuckles Award for Best Nonfiction Crime Book (Crime Writers of Canada Awards of Excellence)

 
The tragic and resonant story of the disappearance of eight men--the victims of serial killer Bruce McArthur--from Toronto's queer community.

In 2013, the Toronto Police Service announced that the disappearances of three men--Skandaraj Navaratnam, Abdulbasir Faizi, and Majeed Kayhan--from Toronto's gay village were, perhaps, linked. When the leads ran dry, the search was shut down, on paper classified as "open but suspended." By 2015, investigative journalist Justin Ling had begun to retrace investigators' steps, convinced there was evidence of a serial killer. Meanwhile, more men would go missing, and police would continue to deny that there was a threat to the community. In early 2019, landscaper Bruce McArthur was sentenced to life in prison for the murders of eight men. There is so much more to the story than that.
 
    Based on more than five years of in-depth reporting, Missing from the Village recounts how a serial killer was allowed to stalk the city, how the community responded, and offers a window into the lives of these eight men and the friends and family left behind. Telling a story that goes well beyond Toronto, and back decades, Justin Ling draws on extensive interviews with those who experienced the investigation first-hand, including the detectives who eventually caught McArthur, and reveals how systemic racism, homophobia, transphobia, and the structures of policing fail queer communities.

About the author

Awards

  • Short-listed, Kobo Emerging Writer Prize

Contributor Notes

JUSTIN LING is an investigative journalist whose reporting has focused on stories and issues undercovered and misunderstood. His writing has appeared in the Globe and Mail, the National Post, the Guardian, Foreign Policy, and elsewhere. In 2019 he hosted "The Village," the award-winning third season of the CBC podcast Uncover, which examined cold cases from the 1970s that were reopened as a result of the McArthur investigation.

Excerpt: Missing from the Village: The Story of Serial Killer Bruce McArthur, the Search for Justice, and the System That Failed Toronto's Queer Community (by (author) Justin Ling)

 
Ottawa is quiet in the summer. Though it is normally a vibrat­ing hive of journalists, politicians, and staffers, the city settles in the doldrums of summer. Legislators empty the nation’s capital around June, migrating back to their home ridings, to see and be seen with constituents at barbecues and block parties. Staffers take long-awaited vacations or hole up in air-conditioned offices to prepare war plans. Reporters, who usually scramble about to chase down government ministers through the ornate stone hall­ways of Parliament, relish the tranquillity and spend the summer trying to catch up on forgotten work and passion projects.

But this year—2015—there’s an election underway, which many expect would set Ottawa alight. Not so. Unlike American races, Canadian elections don’t generally last for more than a month and a half. Election day, now, is still five months away, meaning the pacing is absolutely glacial. There’s also some conventional wisdom: the best place in the country to be if you want to avoid poli­tics during an election is Ottawa. My title says I’m Parliamentary Reporter for VICE News, but there’s not much politics to be reporting on.

So on a languid, humid Thursday in July, I swivel in my chair. I stare out at the grey cubicles that line my office space, on the third floor of the capital’s Parliament buildings. My desk is the one closest to the window, on the aisle second from the left. The sur­rounding desks look more or less as mine does—piled high with papers, books, newspapers. The room is tucked off a long marble hallway. A few doors down, to the left, is the well-adorned Senate chamber. To the right, farther down the hall, is the House of Commons. The well-placed office space is set aside for reporters in the Parliamentary Press Gallery. It’s commonly referred to as the Hot Room, a name inherited from a time when the building was so replete with journalists that you’d have to loosen your tie and dab the sweat off your brow. It was so packed that tables had to be set up in the hallway to accommodate the reporters.

On this summer day, it is anything but packed. Hot, though, it is. I’m practically hugging the air conditioner next to my desk. I zone out, my gaze focusing somewhere beyond the yellowing framed photos of political journalists who worked here decades before, out through the tall windows, overlooking the waterfall that feeds into the Ottawa River.

With the political world hibernating, I’m racking my brain for a new project.

And then, a thought jumps into my head. It’s a sudden shock, like being jolted awake at night with the sudden realization you’ve left the oven on. I can picture the headline, one I saw years prior. A story about men who had been disappeared from the Gay Village in Toronto.

On this quiet afternoon, I grope around in the dark, trying to recall details. All three were brown-skinned, right? They were in the closet—or, maybe not all of them. Were they last seen at the Black Eagle?

I can see the outlines of three portraits of the men. Brown-skinned. Bearded. Middle-aged. But the portraits are a little too far away, and it’s a little too dark, to really make out their faces. But I can tell just how similar all three looked. I remember a gut feeling, from when I read that story: serial killer.

I snap back to reality and open up the best memory aid for our collective psyche: Google. I try some vague search terms—missing men Toronto. Too broad. Missing gay men. Still too broad. Missing men Toronto Gay Village.

The second hit is the story I’m thinking of. “Piecing together the story of three missing men from Toronto’s gay village,” the head­line reads. June 8, 2013. It’s on Xtra, Canada’s main gay news outlet. Underneath the main photo is the smiling face of Andrea Houston. Her bright pink hair matches the brilliant rose hue of the website’s banner. I wrote for Xtra for years and got to know Andrea very well.

More details are emerging about three missing men who vanished from the Church-Wellesley Village.

Toronto Police Service investigators say the three missing-persons cases are connected through “similar ethnicities.” Detective Deb Harris, who is leading the investigation, says the three men were not all openly gay. “They frequented the Church and Wellesley area and lived similar lifestyles.”

That word, lifestyle, always makes me cringe when it’s applied to queer folk. As though it were describing a love for crochet or Caribbean cruises. It strikes me that collapsing such a core part of some­one’s identity into a signifier as fleeting as a lifestyle also robs police and the public of a vital piece of the picture. A detail that could help tie cases together and expose trends.

But here were the personal details of all three men. Skandaraj “Skanda” Navaratnam: Last seen, September 6, 2010. Abdulbasir  “Basir” Faizi: Last seen, December 29, 2010. Majeed “Hamid” Kayhan: Last seen, October 14, 2012.

Skanda “left a new puppy,” a police spokesperson said. Basir had called his wife to say “I’m coming home late tonight,” his sister reported. Hamid “just disappeared off the face of the Earth,” recalled a drinking buddy.

I hit Back and scroll through the search results again, reading through a dozen other news stories.

Navaratnam was last seen leaving a bar on Church Street. . . .

Faizi’s car was found in the Leaside neighbourhood. . . .

Kayhan was last seen at a family wedding. . . .

Those stories are all from 2013.

I start poring over the stories: had police made an arrest?

In the two years since, there has been almost nothing. No tri­umphant police press conference, announcing they had caught a serial killer. Alternatively, no quiet announcement that any of the three men had been found.

A local newspaper in Mississauga, near where Basir lived, fol­lowed up on his story in 2015 reiterating his family’s plea to see Basir come home. The South Bayview Bulldog, a community paper serving the Leaside neighbourhood, published a story some months later, wondering why Basir’s car had wound up where it did. No other media—not one of Canada’s major newspapers or television stations—had revisited the incredibly troubling story of the missing men. Nor would they, until years later.

Editorial Reviews

Named a Top 100 Best Book by The Globe and Mail
Winner of the Brass Knuckles Award for Best Nonfiction Crime Book (Crime Writers of Canada Awards of Excellence)

Missing from the Village bears respectful witness to this terrible story, from the sights and sounds of the night the first man disappeared to the plaintive and heart-wrenching victim-impact statements following McArthur’s guilty plea in court. Ling provides a worthy record of an unfathomable tragedy.” —Quill & Quire, starred review

“Part detective story, part journalist’s notebook, Missing from the Village is a wildly engaging read, taking us through agonizing missteps and heart-wrenching losses.” —Mathew Hays, Cult MTL
“Justin Ling’s Missing from the Village is a careful, infuriating book documenting the murder of eight men in Toronto and the police inaction that failed to protect the community.” —Xtra
“Based on more than five years of in-depth reporting, this is also a story of police failure, of how the queer community responded, and the story of the eight men who went missing and the lives they left behind. In telling that story, Ling uncovers the latent homophobia and racism that kept these cases unsolved and unseen. This gripping book . . . also reveals how police agencies across the country fail to treat missing person cases seriously, and how policies and laws, written at every level of government, pushed McArthur's victims out of the light and into the shadows.” – Ruth Sutherland, The Daily Mail