In his book MISSING FROM THE VILLAGE, author Justin Ling explores the deaths in Toronto’s queer community of eight men by the hands of convicted serial killer Bruce McArthur. Ling had spent years researching several unexplained disappearances in the Village believing there to be a serial killer on the loose. Over time, he would occasionally butt heads with authorities as they would refuse (publicly) to acknowledge the theory of a mass-murderer.
And that’s the heart of the story, really. The murders and the actions of McArthur are horrific in and of themselves but it’s the apathy on the part of those sworn to protect the community that make this story truly tragic. It’s the long and painful relationship between both the police and those in the LGBTQ community that had allowed McArthur to operate freely within the Village for years. Ling explains the disconnect in spotlighting the raids, beatings and arrests throughout history that had left a neighborhood with a seemingly overwhelming level of distrust of the law.
How the failings of the Toronto Police Department to catch and convict McArthur sooner did not lead to some sort of system overhaul, I’ll never know. In fact, how Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders did not immediately resign following his statement in which he more or less blamed the LGBTQ community for the delay in catching McArthur (“We knew that people were missing and we knew we didn’t have the right answers. But nobody was coming to us with anything.”) is maddening. However, I only read about this – I cannot imagine how it felt for those who lived through the fear of a madman lurking in the shadows.
However, what this book should be championed for is the work that went into highlighting the lives of those who were brutally murdered by McArthur, rather than spending the entire book exploring the life and character of the killer. It’s easy to look at the tally and reduce each victim to just a number – but they were men who were sons, brothers, partners and people who left behind loved ones. There is a particularly moving moment late in the book where Ling transcribes a victim impact statement on the loss of Andrew Kinsman – a beacon of kindness and love within the community.
If Andrew were alive today, he would have baked 340 loaves of bread, perhaps 30 birthday cakes, 450 healthy dinners, and 30 or so contributions to potlucks for friends. He would have done 110 shifts as a volunteer at the food bank, and contributed to perhaps 500 hours of organizing skill to public health events. He would have exchanged 80,000 pithy, hilarious texts with friends.”
This is someone who had been ripped from a community that both needed and cared for him.
MISSING FROM THE VILLAGE was an excellent read that both educated me on the terrible events of the past and angered me beyond words at the failings of the present. I hope that something can be taken from these events so that something like this does not happen again. We can only hope.