When Skanda, Basir, and Hamid disappeared, they truly vanished. Joel Walker, Skanda’s friend, likened Skanda’s disappearance to an alien abduction. One second these men were sitting at the bar at Zipperz, the next they were gone.
Police did the requisite checks: their debt and credit cards hadn’t been accessed, their cellphones hadn’t pinged a cell tower, and their emails hadn’t been opened. It felt like there was not so much as an indent in the grass where they had been standing.
The only piece of evidence that appeared in the weeks that followed their disappearances came in Basir’s case. He disappeared on December 29, 2010. In the first few days of 2011, someone called the city to report a decade-old Nissan that had been parked on their street since before the new year had rolled over. It’s the kind of neighbourhood where someone would notice a car out of place. A necklace of bright-yellow parking tickets was strung across its windshield. A tow truck was dispatched, and police ran the plates: the car was registered to Abdulbasir Faizi, 44 years old, of Brampton.
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Of all the places within Toronto city limits for his car to be, Moore Avenue was one of the least likely. It was a 10-minute drive northeast of the Village and the opposite direction from his home. On that stretch of the street, there were only single-family homes and a small park – you wouldn’t end up there unless there was something specific you were looking for. When I did that drive for the first time, it was not an intuitive route. From a home in the west end or from downtown, you’d need to drive east to Jarvis Street, head north, take the Mount Pleasant exit, and then drive along the winding street, passing dozens of residential streets, before finally taking a sharp right onto Moore Avenue.
It was an inflection point on the mystery. Why would Basir stop there?
There would be ample speculation in the months and years to follow. A local newspaper opined that Moore Avenue, flanked by Mount Pleasant Cemetery on one side and a park on the other, was an opportune spot to dump a car. That would compel internet sleuths, who may have read one too many Agatha Christie mysteries, to suggest Basir had been buried in the cemetery. When they found the car in early 2011, however, a search turned up no evidence of foul play. They guessed Basir had simply taken off and left his car somewhere it wouldn’t be immediately found — his family tended to agree. Police even have a phrase for those sorts of cases; the missing person simply vacated their life. Just the same, police knocked on some doors in the neighbourhood. Nobody knew anything.
At the time, nothing quite fit. If Basir had been robbed, a criminal would likely know better than to dump a car on a well-lit residential street. Toronto is not lacking for deserted areas to hide an automobile. If Basir had wanted to run away, it would make more sense to ditch his car within walking distance of a train station or the airport — though, to do that, Basir would have needed to bring cash or his passport, and he had neither. And, despite some active imaginations, hiding a body in a locked-up cemetery in a residential neighbourhood isn’t as easy as it seems.
Of the three disappearances, it was the most glaring piece of evidence to suggest something was desperately wrong.
There is another red flag, though. As a journalist, when I first began working on this story, it’s what struck me most. It’s that Skanda, Basir and Hamid looked so similar. Here were three men who disappeared from the Village over just two years. If you walked into a room and saw the three sitting side by side, you could reasonably infer you had walked into a casting call. Middle Eastern or South Asian male. Forties or fifties. Beard.
Each family, each set of friends, toiled over these disappearances in their own way. Skanda’s friends put up posters, searched ravines and parks. Basir’s family took it upon themselves to search his email and computer for clues about his disappearance. Hamid’s friends and family worked with police to try to find him.
I have lots of theories as to why, after three men of colour disappeared in fairly quick succession, nobody in the broader city seemed to notice or care. Why this had not set off some kind of tripwire. When I began working on this story, I would argue at length about those theories. Sometimes I’ve even argued with myself. Sometimes, I think, maybe their cases had too many differences to reveal their similarities. Skanda, openly queer. Basir, in the closet. Hamid, somewhere in between. It seemed that, despite drinking at the same watering holes, they didn’t even know each other.
But that is a poor explanation. I get angry about it. If three white women had vanished from the wealthy neighbourhood of Rosedale, just adjacent to the Village, their disappearances would have been national news. If three bankers had disappeared from the financial district, alarms would be going off immediately.
Why not these three?
Excerpted from Missing from the Village: The Story of Serial Killer Bruce McArthur, the Search for Justice, and the System That Failed Toronto’s Queer Community by Justin Ling. Copyright © 2020 Justin Ling. Published by McClelland & Stewart, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.