Toronto Police have established a new task force to investigate a link into the cases. Meanwhile, a town hall meeting is planned for Tuesday at The 519 on Church Street.
You’ve probably seen it in your Facebook feed. A meme with the faces of missing local men, all presumed to be gay who went missing from the Church and Wellesley Village, leading people to believe they are all connected.
Now, the Toronto Police Criminal Investigations Bureau (CIB) of 51 Division, which covers the Village, has set up a special task force to look into the disappearances and determine whether or not they are indeed linked.
The most recent is the high-profile disappearance of Andrew Kinsman, well-known in the local LGBTQ community for his advocacy work, as a staff member of Toronto HIV/AIDS Network, and as a long-time volunteer at People With AIDS. Kinsman, 49, disappeared suddenly over a month ago, uncharacteristically leaving his cat unfed and with no word on his plans beyond that day to anyone. He was coming home from late Pride events in the Village to make dinner. A friend—who police believe to be the last one to have seen him—ran into him at Winchester and Parliament streets. He reported to police that Kinsman was “happy and upbeat”.
Police say the disappearance of this well-liked and well-known gay man is very suspicious.
The other recent disappearance being investigated by the new police task force is the April 15 disappearance of 43-year-old Selim Esen, last seen on Ted Rogers Way and Bloor Street East. Police say he was “known to frequent the Church and Wellesley Street area as well as Kensington Market.”
Detective Sergeant Michael Richmond says the main link between the cases is that both men were “very active on social media.” By that he means the men were all frequent users of gay cruising apps, such as Grindr, Scruff, and Hornet, or one of the many more niche online hookup or dating sites. Police also say both “are members of the Church Wellesley community,” which translates to both men are gay. Or, they are men who frequent gay bars in the Village, who may or may not be closeted.
The faces of missing local men have been posted around the Church and Wellesley Village for more than a month. Fear in the community has been fed by the widely circulated Facebook meme suggestively linking 11 Toronto disappearances. Some have even wondered if a serial killer may be targeting gay people in the Village.
(In fact, five of the men in the meme have been found alive and well, and another man was recently found dead, which police say was almost certainly a suicide.)
These three men are Abdulbasir “Basir” Faizi, 44, and Majeed Kayhan, both from Afghanistan, and Skandaraj “Skanda” Navaratnam, a 40-year-old Sri Lankan refugee who was last seen leaving Zippers with another man. The only other bar specifically mentioned in some of these cases as having being visited by the men is the Black Eagle on Church Street. All three are linked primarily by their dark skin tone, their immigrant status, and for being known to “frequent the gay Village.”
Police at 51 Division launched “Project Houston,” and for 18 months searched searched cell phone, bank, and social media records, canvassed the Village, and interviewed friends and family of the missing men—but they have turned up cold.
The suggestion of a serial killer has not been ruled out by police, however it remains extremely unlikely.
The last known serial killings in Toronto were in the 1990s. One was the work of Marcello Palma, a serial killer who stalked and killed three trans sex workers on the “stroll” on Homewood Avenue over Victoria Day weekend in 1996. Palma was eventually captured and convicted in 2001 of first degree murder of all three killings.
Prior to that, there was the 1993 murder of Norman Rasky (brother of TV documentary film director Harry Rasky). Rasky was a 62-year-old resident of Charles Street in the Village and used to hang around Cawthra Park. His killer turned out be Terry Fitzsimmons, who murdered three people in three different cities over six days that year, including Rasky in Toronto, his hustler boyfriend in Ottawa, and another gay man in Montreal. Fitzsimmons was eventually convicted, but died by suicide in prison in 1995.
Police say there is yet no evidence that any of the men missing were murdered or victims of a serial killer. And, significantly, Richmond says, that the homicide department is not yet part of the teams looking into these disappearances.
“There is a balancing act associated with this, because there is a great deal of information which cannot be released in relation to this investigation,” Richmond told media.
There will be a town hall meeting on the missing men on August 1 at The 519 community centre on Church Street from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. An investigating officer working on the cases will be on hand to answer questions.
James Dubro is a long-time Toronto crime journalist. He is the author of five nonfiction crime books and has covered major police and LGBT-connected crime stories for Xtra, Canada’s Gay and Lesbian News. He is a past president of the Crime Writers of Canada and has produced and written a number of crime documentaries for television.