I was seconds from murder at hands of 'Santa Claus Killer' who stashed bodies in plant pots – crucial words saved me | The Sun

RESTRAINED and with a blindfold over his eyes, Josh Cleaver was moments away from becoming the third victim of an infamous serial killer.

Less than a metre away, monster Bruce McArthur stood with a “cold, dead look” in his eyes and a knife in his hand, deciding whether the terrified Canadian would live or die.

Josh was lucky to survive. McArthur, now 71, whose crimes were discovered five years later in 2017, had already suffocated eight victims in his 19th-floor Toronto apartment.

The murderer – who chillingly worked at Christmas as a shopping mall Santa Claus – predominantly targeted gay men, and his atrocities have been compared to those of serial killers Jeffrey Dahmer and Brit Dennis Nilsen.

To avoid detection during his seven-year killing spree, McArthur dismembered the bodies of his victims and buried them in his friend's garden where he worked as a landscaper. 

The victims were only identified due to “sick souvenirs” he kept on a USB stick – photos of the men before and after he killed them. 


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McArthur was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2018 and his vile vrimes are the focus of a new BBC Three documentary series, Santa Claus: The Serial Killer.

Reflecting on the 2012 terrifying ordeal, Josh believes he was spared because he had loved ones who knew his whereabouts.

He told The Sun: “He asked if anyone knew I was there. I told him my boyfriend and I kept track of where each other were all of the time and that’s when he had a flip out.

“Looking back, I definitely think it was because he didn’t want anyone to notice I’d gone missing. I actually think that might be a big reason why I’m still alive today.”

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'He stood there holding a knife'

Josh, who earned money as a sex worker, went to McArthur's flat in 2012 after the killer had responded to his Craigslist advert.

Struggling with drug addiction at the time, the survivor went to the flat, but didn't initially comprehend the extent of the danger he faced.

He was tied up and blindfolded, like McArthur’s other victims, as part of a sex game – but ensured he could pull the face covering off.

He recalled: “I got it down right as he came out from the kitchen, he was just standing there holding a knife.

“I remember thinking it was wierd but I still didn't really think I was in danger.”

The eight victims of the Santa Claus serial killer

MONSTER Bruce McArthur pleaded guilty murdering eight men between 2010 and 2017.

FIRST– Skandaraj 'Skanda' Navaratnam, 40, was a Sri Lankan refugee. He was last seen at Zipperz gay bar and reported missing in September 2010. He was employed by McArthur and had a sexual relationship with him.

SECOND – Abdulbasir Faizi, 44, was an Afghani immigrant and had a wife and kids. He secretly used gay dating apps. He was last seen in December 2010.

THIRD – Majeed Kayhan, 58, was an Afghani immigrant, who frequented gay bars. He was reported missing in October 2012. His body was discovered in a ravine behind Ron Smith and Karen Fraser's property – unlike the others, who were found inside planters.

FOURTH – Kirushna Kumar, 37, moved from Sri Lanka to Canada in 2010. He had no immediate family and was never reported missing. He was only identified after police shared a photo from the crime scene with the public.

FIFTH – Soroush Marmudi, 50, was an Iranian refugee. He was reported missing in August 2015.

SIXTH – Dean Lisowick, 43, was homeless and was not reported missing. Police believe he was murdered in April 2016.

SEVENTH – Selim Esen, 44, was a Turkish immigrant, He was last seen in April 2017.

EIGHTH – Andrew Kinsman, 49, was last seen in June 2017. He had a sexual relationship with McArthur.

Realising Josh had someone who knew where he was, McArthur appeared to change his mind about the attack and offered to take him for breakfast.

However, he believes it was part of a ploy to check whether he was aware of the fact that he could have been murdered.

“I noticed he had stopped talking and he was just looking at me with a very cold dead look in his eyes that I hadn't seen up until this point,” Josh recalled.

“The only other time I saw that look was when I got my suitcase from him days later – that look in his eyes probably scares me more than anything to this day and I will never forget it.

“I don't think I'll ever fully get over what happened.”

'Master manipulator'

While Josh got away, others were not so lucky.

His victims were: Andrew Kinsman, 49; Selim Esen, 44; Skandaraj Navaratnam, 40; Abdulbasir Faizi, 44; Kirushna Kumar Kanagaratnam, 37; Dean Lisowick, 47; Soroush Mahmudi, 50; and Majeed Kayhan, 58.

Documentarian Mobeen Azhar believes McArthur chose “vulnerable” people – including immigrants, drug users and those closeted due to their religion or family – to prolong his killing spree.

He told The Sun: "Bruce McArthur was an anomaly and a psychopath and if we're to learn anything it's that we need to safeguard individuals and reduce vulnerabilities.

"It will require difficult conversations about the police, gay culture, drugs and religious communities."

McArthur's reason for killing is unknown. Judge John McMahon believed it was "for his own warped and sick gratification" but some have claimed it was due to his past.

In the late Nineties, McArthur got divorced and moved out of the family home he shared with his children after allegedly being outed by a gay lover.

A former pal, who didn't want to be named, told the documentary: "It was probably quite traumatic… He enjoys [men] sexually but other than that I’m sure he blames them for the way his life turned out."

Mobeen described the killer as a “master manipulator” and recounted how he managed to avoid detection – even after nearly killing a man.

In 2001, Mark Henderson had to fight for his life after McArthur attacked him with a metal bar after accidentally letting him into his apartment block in Toronto.

He compared the attacker to "a reptile… full of rage" and suffered a fractured skull, broken fingers and a broken arm.

Mark said: “He was going to kill me. There was no doubt in my mind.”

Brought to trial over the incident in 2003, McArthur apologised and said "my life has been a mess". Meanwhile, his victim was called "foolish" for letting him in and was demonised for being a former sex worker.

The judge concluded the attacker was “a pretty good person” and someone who “made a mistake this particular day”.

McArthur received one year's house arrest, a two-year ban from the Gay Village and three years’ probation – and the conviction was wiped from his record. 

'Slipped through police's net'

Mobeen claims the killer “slipped through the net” multiple times – something police vehemently deny.

In 2016, McArthur tried to strangle a man to death in his van. When quizzed by police he insisted his lover "liked it rough" and was released without charge.

Three years earlier, he admitted to having known and had sex with two of his victims, but was treated as a witness rather than a suspect as no bodies had been found.

In 2011, local police officer Marie Catherine linked two of the missing men to SliverFoxx51, a man on the gay dating profile Scruff – later discovered to be McArthur.

She reported it to Toronto police, which they deny, and states the connection "absolutely" could have ended the massacre sooner.

'Close call capture'

In 2018, McArthur was finally apprehended shortly after the disappearance of his final victim, Andrew Kinsman.

Police found a post-it note on his calendar saying ‘Bruce’ and spotted a red van picking him up on CCTV that was traced back to the killer. 

They discovered that McArthur had sold his vehicle to a scrap yard for way under the asking price and after seizing it found a “small amount” of Andrew’s blood.

It made him a suspect in the presumed murder – because Andrew’s body had been discovered – but there was not enough evidence to arrest him.

McArthur was put under surveillance and police were granted permission to raid his apartment, where they copied “about half of his computer”. 

They soon found 18 photos of Andrew’s dead body in the killer’s van and other images showing victim Selim Essen lying dead in his bed. 

While police were working out when to arrest him, surveillance teams spotted McArthur taking a young man, known only as John, into his apartment block. 

Detective David Dickinson was among the arresting officers who barged their way into the flat in the nick of time.

He recalled: “We pushed our way in[to the apartment], the person he was with was in the bedroom in Bruce McArthur’s bed, he had a blindfold on his face and he was bound.”

Sick souvenirs

McArthur was arrested and on his computer cops found nine folders with his victims’ names and John – inside were photos from their social media profiles. 

Sickeningly, he took snaps of their genitals, and even arranged some corpses in a fur coat and with the rope and metal bar used to kill them.

McArthur kept other mementos, including one victim’s personalised bracelet and missing person posters for a man he had killed.

Filmmaker Mobeen explained: “It’s stranger than fiction, you couldn’t make this stuff up, it’s too grim and weird frankly. 

“It was stuff from a horror movie, he would save all of these pictures like sick souvenirs – to murder is one thing but to catalogue your crimes and save this stuff is another league.”

Grizzly discovery

Unknown to pals Ron Smith and Karen Fraser, McArthur hid all but one of his victims inside planters he had put in their garden. The last body was found in a ravine behind the property.

Investigators found he had rearranged body parts – including their limbs and heads – into different holders multiple times. 

Karen told The Sun that there was “not a hint, not a whisper, not even a tiny WTF moment in nearly 15 years” of friendship that gave any inkling of who he truly was.

She had known McArthur for more than a decade after he offered to take care of her yard in exchange for storing his equipment at their house.

When asked if she would consider moving, Karen told The Sun: “The killing did not happen in our home… The killing did not happen in the yard. 

“Am I comfortable that the body parts were there and that I often watered those planters? No, absolutely not.

“What haunts me are images in my mind of his victims' final moments… these images would be triggered wherever I moved to. 

“I have enjoyed this house for a long time. I cannot imagine letting Bruce McArthur take it from me.”

'Loved being Santa'

In 2019, McArthur pleaded guilty to all eight charges of first-degree murder, meaning the case never went to trial, and was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole for 25 years.

Many who knew him were shocked by his callous killings, explaining that he regularly helped out people in need and was a part-time Santa Claus in a local shopping mall.

Karen doubts he’s a sociopath but separates the two sides of her friend's personality into ‘Bruce A’ who was "caring and kind", and ‘Bruce B’ who “slaughtered eight men without remorse”.

She said: “I am still processing that the man I enjoyed did not exist. Listening to the interview I am still amazed at his flawless ability to present his creation ‘Bruce A’ to the world.”

While McArthur is behind bars and unlikely to be freed before his death – the crimes and handling of the investigation still haunt Toronto. 

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A 2021 independent review concluded that “the police could have done better” and listed 151 recommendations and mishandlings from the investigation.

Gloria Epstein, who presided over the review, described McArthur as “very persuasive” and most concerningly “disarmed others as to his true evil”.

The first installment of Santa Claus: The Serial Killer airs 9pm this Sunday on BBC Three and will be available to stream after on BBC iPlayer.

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