First Survivor of Toronto Serial Killer Speaks Out

Bruce McArthur was a familiar face in the gay Toronto enclave, always waved or nodded to Mark Henderson who, although wary, did the same back. 

But on October 31, 2001, Halloween, McArthur jogged to catch up with Henderson as he unlocked the building’s security door and before he knew it he felt a whack on the back of his head.

Confused, Henderson turned. His assailant’s face was a mask of fury. He was holding a metal bar above his head, ready to bring it down once more.

Mark Henderson knew that he was looking into the eyes of a killer.

Now, in an exclusive interview he has shared the details of his attack and the years of pain that followed as he – like many of McArthur’s later victims – was mischaracterized, marginalized and dismissed by Toronto Police Service (TPS) with devastating consequences.

‘I turned, and he was there like a wild man, Hendereson recalled. ‘I can’t emphasize enough how horrified I was. And then I realized, he’s trying to kill me.’

Henderson is alive today because he fought and because, he says, of a ‘sliver of luck.’ Many others were not so lucky.

McArthur’s reign of terror lasted between 2010 and 2017 when he slaughtered eight men, all of whom disappeared from the Canadian city’s so-called ‘gay village.’

The dismembered remains of several of his victims were found buried in planters at a suburban property at which he worked as a landscaper.

He was arrested in January 2018. On January 29, 2019, he pleaded guilty to eight counts of first-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison with no eligibility for parole for 25 years.

Now, his crimes and the investigation that led to his arrest are the focus of two episodes in the latest season of Netflix’s hit show, ‘Catching Killers.’

But Henderson’s story is not featured. Instead, he says, he has been conveniently carved out of the official narrative which starts with McArthur’s first known killing in 2010.

Because, the truth is, Toronto’s cops had a chance to catch their killer much sooner.

But, as Henderson puts it, ‘they blew it’ after his attack in 2001 and when men started disappearing from the gay village nine years later, they blew it all over again.

He said, ‘I would defend the police if they did it right, but they just keep doing everything wrong…and the fact that they’re even ignoring me now drives me up the wall.’

Henderson isn’t alone in this opinion. Retired Ontario Court of Appeal Justice Gloria Epstein presided over an independent review into TPS handling of the McArthur and missing persons cases.

Her report, published in April 2021, was blunt. ‘The police could have done better.’

She made 151 recommendations of how and cited the mishandling of Henderson’s case both at the time of his attack and after, when it ‘played no part,’ in later investigations as, ‘particularly troubling.’

Today Henderson, 56, presents an extravagantly stylized face to the world. But his Neptune-like beard, designer clothes and penchant for costumes belie a darker truth.

Because nothing has ever been the same for Henderson since the day of his attack.

Back then he was studying to become a registered nurse as well as acting and modeling in the bars and clubs of the gay village.

He was known in the close LGBTQ community in which he lives as the guy who would take to the stage without a second thought, dance, do some comedy then end by pulling down his pants and showing the crowd his thong.

These days, he says, he is afraid of the dark, does his laundry at 4am to avoid other people and has more in common with Howard Hughes than the man he used to be.

He said, ‘If you asked me when was the last time I personally saw the killer, I would tell you it was one year ago in March.

‘He was standing on Yonge Street and I had a complete panic attack and came home.

‘You and I know he could not possibly have been standing on Yonge Street a year ago but that’s a snapshot of the pain that’s left over.’

The balcony of the apartment in which Henderson lives today overlooks the back of the building in which he was attacked. He can still map it out, step by step.

He was locking up his bicycle when he saw McArthur paying for street parking.

McArthur was a familiar face from around the area. He always waved or nodded to Henderson who did the same back but felt an uncomfortable urge to cross the street whenever he did so.

On that day McArthur jogged to catch up with him as he unlocked the building’s security door and Henderson held it open, unwittingly letting in his attacker.

He said, ‘It was Halloween – I founded the Halloween party on Church Street which is the largest party in North America so Halloween is a busy day for me and I had my costume inside.’

Henderson vaguely recalls McArthur asking him what he was doing for Halloween and answering him as he unlocked his front door. He lived on the ground floor just 15 feet from the security door and along from the building’s office where Henderson assumed McArthur was going.

He said, ‘I was unlocking the door when I felt a whack. It happened so fast. I kind of fell in and I thought maybe part of the ceiling had fallen. I turned and I remember he was like this wild man.

‘I can’t emphasize how horrified I was. I felt betrayal. I realized he’s trying to kill me.’

The sequence of events is blurred by shock and time, but Henderson remembers shielding his head as the bar came down again breaking two of his fingers.

He was on the floor now and pushed McArthur away with both feet with all his might buying himself some time to scrabble further into his apartment.

He said, ‘He sort of flew back. The phone was there, and I had two tall candlesticks made of silver. I picked up one of those. He stood up and I couldn’t hear anything. I could hardly see anything, there was blood and cerebral fluid coming down. So, I picked up the candle stick and I looked at him and he looked at me and I made a decision.

‘I thought I cannot hit him. I can’t do it. If I’m going to die that’s not going to be the last thing I do. I’ll go for the phone instead. I had 911 in before I could even imagine it.

‘As I was calling 911, he came right up to me and said, ”Please don’t tell them this happened. Please don’t tell them it was me.” And he started pulling on the chord and looking for the end of it but…it was like 30 or 40ft long so I could be on the phone talking all night going round my apartment.

‘He couldn’t find the end of it and then the 911 operator said, ‘Can you describe what he’s wearing’ and I was just reading his outfit from him being there.’

The whole thing took less than 5 minutes – McArthur’s parking ticket was timestamped at 12.34pm. Henderson dialed 911 at 12.39pm.

Henderson remembers feeling the compression in his skull and worrying that it was only a matter of time before he lost consciousness.

The next thing he remembers is a police officer looking round the door and asking if his attacker was still there, before he was strapped to a stretcher and into a waiting ambulance.

He remembers the EMT ‘cracking jokes’ over him as he lay there. Later, in the hospital he remembers a police officer asking him repeatedly, ‘Were you having sex with him [McArthur]?’ And him answering, ‘No.’

It would be a few days before Henderson learned that McArthur had immediately handed himself in – a move that Epstein’s review described as ‘strategic.’

Henderson said, ‘I realized that the whole sex thing had to have been part of his narrative. He was way ahead of this, but that’s one of his moves as we see later.’

The police didn’t even take a victim statement.

In 2003 McArthur was sentenced to one year house arrest and banned from the gay village for two years – a ban that was unenforceable.

Henderson recalls being branded a ‘hooker.’ In news reports he was described as a ‘hustler.’

In truth, Henderson, now 31 years sober, was a trainee nurse who championed a safe sex message in the community and had his contribution towards establishing Casey House – Canada’s first hospital specializing in the treatment of HIV – recognized by Princess Diana.

But, he said, ‘I was immediately sexualized [by McArthur] and discredited [by the police] and once he pleads guilty, we don’t need Mark Henderson and his fractured skull or broken fingers and arm. They charge him and it’s over.’

For Henderson and for members of the LGBTQ community it was only just beginning.

Years later, in her report into TPS’s handling of the McArthur case, Epstein professed her dismay at the offhanded manner with which Henderson’s case was handled.

She wrote, ‘McArthur was obviously very persuasive. He…disarmed others as to his true evil.’

By pleading guilty to possession of a deadly weapon, assault with a weapon and assault causing bodily harm, McArthur ensured that the trace he left in the system was faint.

Had he faced a more appropriate charge of aggravated assault then major case management would have been mandatory and the details of his crime would have been entered in a police-wide data base.

When it came to Henderson’s case Epstein found that police prejudice played a part, as it would with the disappearances of McArthur’s later victims who she said, ‘were given less attention or priority then the cases deserved.’

That failure had real world consequences both for Henderson and others.

He explained, ‘I remember for a long time after, I’d be on the subway and my fists and my teeth would be clenched, and I was just ready to fight. I was angry at everything.

‘I had some huge personality and psychological changes…many were almost animal at the beginning.’

He returned to the police many times over, ‘I wanted to tell somebody what had happened, but they had absolutely no interest. My father said, ‘Let it go,’ and I was furious. I regret that.’

Frustrated by his ‘rough treatment,’ Henderson made a surprising decision. He was, ‘terrified of the police.’ And so, he decided to join them in a bid to institute change from within.

It gave him focus at a time in his life when he needed it more than ever.

Henderson graduated valedictorian from police college in 2007 and endeavored to build bridges between the force and the LGBTQ community through a host of outreach programs.

As much as anything he was trying, he admitted, to ‘feel safe’ and he was trying to tell his story.

He explained, ‘I was trying to tell people [in the force] that no-one knew my story.

‘Because the fact is the man that attacked me didn’t know how to kill somebody. By the time he gets to the other victims he’s grown. He had to rethink as a killer, ‘How am I going to get my prey?’

But Henderson’s fears that McArthur was ‘out there,’ honing his skills fell on deaf ears.

He said, ‘I was running from him constantly. I was afraid of what was lurking in the darkness.

‘In my imagination he was behind every tree and in every bush.’

Henderson stint as an officer was short-lived. He left the police in 2009 and returned to his former careers of modeling and acting.

He tried to leave his memories of McArthur behind. But then men started going missing and he felt heart sick.

He said, ‘I knew he was out there.’

Technology brought new opportunities for McArthur to stalk and reel in his prey. He trolled dating and hook up apps and sites such as SilverDaddies where his username was SilverFoxx51.

In 2012 TPS launched Project Houston to investigate the 2010 disappearance of Skandaraj ‘Skanda’ Navaratnam. That investigation would lead them to identify two other missing men: Abdulbasir ‘Basir’ Faizi and Majeed ‘Hamid’ Kayhan.

All three had disappeared from the same small area of Toronto. In 2013 police receive an anonymous tip linking McArthur to Navaratnam and Kayhan.

He was brought in for questioning. Had police dealt with Henderson’s case differently a check in the system would have raised a red flag.

But Henderson’s case had been all but dismissed and, in the intervening years, McArthur had successfully secured a pardon.

He told police he knew both men but that the relationships were consensual and over. They let him go.

In 2016 Project Houston was wound down. It concluded there was no explanation for these men’s disappearance and no link.

Then, in June 2017, one day after Pride, Andrew Kinsman was reported missing. Friends had checked on his apartment to find nothing disturbed but his cat left unfed.

Henderson said, ‘We’re a community. We know when people come and go. When we find an apartment that’s empty and a cat that hasn’t been fed…gay guys don’t do that.’

He continued, ‘I get so upset because I know I sound crazy…but I knew what the killer was, and I couldn’t get anybody to hear it and [I knew] what his victims faced. I knew it when Andrew Kinsman went missing.’

Henderson spoke with Kinsman at the Pride parade the last day he was seen alive. Kinsman admired his costume and they posed for a picture together.

When officers were dispatched to Kinsman’s apartment, they found one word written in his calendar on the day of his disappearance, ‘Bruce.’

In the days after they reported him missing Kinsman’s friends galvanized. They formed Facebook groups and pushed his name and his face into the public eye.

Henderson said, ‘We had learned lessons as a community, and they were not going to stop.’

With the groundswell of public attention TPS launch Project Prism. The speed with which Kinsman’s disappearance was reported meant that officers could cull surveillance footage from outside his apartment.

They saw him walk towards a vehicle identified as a 2004 Dodge Caravan. There were 6000 similar vehicles in Toronto but only 5 were registered to a Bruce and only one was a 2004 model.

For McArthur it was the beginning of the end. The killer had disposed of the van, but police recovered it and found DNA evidence of Kinsman and a second missing man Selim Essen.

A covert mission saw police clone the contents of McArthur’s computer and discover a trove of images and video including post-mortem pictures of Kinsman and others.

Some had a ligature around their neck, others were placed in suggestive poses with props such as fur coats and hats.

There were files devoted to multiple men. Some were saved under names, others just numbers.

McArthur was placed under 24-hour surveillance and arrested on January 18 when officers saw a young man enter his apartment and considered his life in danger.

They found him handcuffed to the bed with a bag over his face. He had not consented to being handcuffed.

One day later cadaver dogs alerted at one of the large planters on the grounds of a suburban home at which McArthur was a landscaper.

Police found the remains of at least three men in two of the 12 planters they removed from the scene.

Police charged McArthur with the first-degree murders of Andrew Kinsman, Selim Essen, Majeed Kajhan, Sorowsh Mahmudi and Dean Lisowick, a homeless man who was never reported missing.

The following month, in February, the search of planters revealed the dismembered remains of three more people: Skandaraj Navaratnam, Abdulbasir Faizi and Kirushna Kumar Kangaratnam.

It is still profoundly painful for Henderson to speak of these men, men to whom he is forever linked.

He explained, ‘Look around. Just take in this space, think about what sort of man I am, what things I might value, how vast my imagination might be.

‘And then realize there are eight other people like me and it’s just empty apartments. Had he killed me 21 years ago this would be an empty apartment.

‘You can get a sense of that loss, where the pain is. I don’t speak for the dead and I don’t speak for the grieving families and friends that are out there worldwide, but I sit here, and I get to speak with those people in my heart.’

He said, ‘We’re all connected now. It isn’t about sex. It’s about power. They weren’t sex murders they were murder murders.

‘These people weren’t killed because they did anything wrong. They were killed because he was a good killer.

‘I knew he was a killer. He was going to kill me. At this point I am a footnote in his story but I’m making it my mission in life that by the time I die he’s a footnote in mine.’

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