There’s something wrong in the village. Toronto’s Church-Wellesley Village, also lovingly called the Gay Village, was terrorized by a serial killer for eight years. But the police and media seemingly ignored this case, claiming no suspicions of foul play in the disappearances of eight men. But the Village was right, and the oversight of everyone around them resulted in more deaths.
Journalist Justin Ling had hopped on this news in 2014, as he is typically drawn to stories that have been overlooked. And his CBC podcast “The Village” is shedding light on the LGBTQ+ victims of this oversight and the system that failed so many of them. Ling starts his first episode with this: “This is a story about missing men, yes. But this is about so much more than that. It’s a story about homophobia and violence against marginalized people. It’s about a community that demanded answers, but didn’t get them until it was too late.”
Welcome to the Village
Ling introduces us to the Church-Wellesley Village, a small but bustling part of the larger Toronto metropolis. It’s main artery, Church Street, is home to famous gay bars that once served as a place of refuge to LGBTQ people in the 20th century. A place free of scrutiny from the outside world, where gay people could finally be themselves in a society that did not yet accept them. Today, it still remains a refuge, it’s population made up primarily of immigrants and ex-pats from other Canadian provinces.
So when a string of queer men of color went missing from the Village starting in 2010, fears of a serial killer engulfed the area. In “The Village,” Ling interviews friends of the men who went missing, bringing the attention back to the victims of a hate crime that police allowed to persist for decades.
Skanda and Hamid
Joel Walker was a close friend to Skandaraj “Skanda” Navaratnam, and tells Ling who he was before his death. He was a Sri Lankan Tamil refugee, having escaped the civil war ravaging the country. Before his disappearance, he had adopted a puppy that he adored. He had no family in Canada, but a thriving social life. He was also in a controlling relationship with an older man. So when this 40-year-old man from Sri Lanka vanished from Toronto’s Gay Village in September of 2010, police did nothing.
Kyle Andrews, a transplant from Nova Scotia was a friend to Majeed “Hamid” Kayhan, an Afghan immigrant who fled his country with his wife and kids. After moving to Canada, Hamid realized he was gay, and started to lead his new life, separating from his family but not telling his children why. In his interviews with police, Andrews recalled the older man that Hamid had been seeing just before his disappearance, giving them his first name and job: Bruce, the landscaper. The police, shockingly, told him that they had heard about Bruce McArthur before, from other friends of the now three missing men: Abdulbasir “Basir” Faizi had disappeared just after Skanda in 2010, and other interviewees had described Bruce to them.
The TPD launched a police task force, Project Houston, in November 2012 to investigate the disappearance of Skanda. They connected the disappearances of Hamid and Basir to Skanda’s as well. In November 2013, they even interviewed McArthur. Then, just a year and a half after Project Houston began, it was shut down, and police concluded that there was no evidence to link the disappearances, not that a crime had been committed or that they had any suspects. And, in the village, men continued to go missing.
It took until 2018 for the police to arrest Bruce McArthur. He was charged with the murder of eight men who disappeared between 2010 and 2018. After, the TPD opened up dozens of unsolved cases dating all the way back to 1975.
“The Village” is more than just a true crime podcast, it’s an analysis of societal failures that have led to the deadly persecution of queer people, and it’s a compassionate story of the people who suffered because of it. Between his investigational findings, Ling explains a history of LGBTQ+ Toronto. Toronto’s queer community, like many LGBTQ communities, has dealt with a great deal of loss. LGBTQ people see higher rates of murder and assaults, and the AIDS epidemic wiped out thousands in Toronto’s Gay Village. And sometimes, people just pack up and leave. All of which are common realities for those living there.
Listen first season of “The Village” for the stories of the men whose communities loved them, whose systems failed them, and whose police forces abandoned them. Also, the second season is out now with a similar story of the unsolved murders of Alloura Wells and Cassandra Do.