Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Recovering the Victims of the Toronto Serial Killer

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Recovering the Victims of the Toronto Serial Killer

Article excerpt

Recovering the victims of the Toronto serial killer


This article was originally published on The Conversation, an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts. Disclosure information is available on the original site.


Author: Scott I. Fairgrieve, Professor of Forensic Anthropology, Laurentian University

Toronto police say they've recovered the remains of at least six people in the midst of their investigation into alleged serial killer Bruce McArthur.

They have been searching at least 30 properties that McArthur accessed in the course of his work as a landscaper.

If you're thinking this is huge task to undertake, you're right.

As a forensic anthropologist in northeastern Ontario -- and a consultant to the Office of the Chief Coroner and the Ontario Forensic Pathology Service -- I have had to deal with homicide cases where the recovery of human remains at a crime scene is made more challenging by the frigid temperatures that a Canadian winter so often brings.

Given the blanket media attention on the Toronto case, it's important for the public to understand the procedures in such investigations.

All death investigations in the province of Ontario fall under the Coroner's Act of Ontario. That act provides the coroner exceptional powers to seize evidence and enter properties for the purposes of a death investigation.

Coroners don't perform autopsies

The coroner also has the power to enlist various services to assist with the investigation.

In practical terms, this means local or provincial police services. This assistance continues through to the post-mortem examinations of human remains by a forensic pathologist.

It's important to clear up a misconception most people have about death investigations --namely, that coroners do autopsies. Although in Ontario coroners must be medical doctors, they do not perform autopsies; pathologists do.

In the case of criminal death investigations, specially trained and certified forensic pathologists perform the autopsies. Sometimes, when the remains lack soft tissue, a forensic anthropologist is brought in to analyze the bones' characteristics to assist in their identification.

The search for human remains in any case is done in a systematic fashion.

A process is followed to determine if a scene is relevant to the investigation, and where on that scene is the most likely place to find human remains.

Police investigators will have a reason to suspect evidence may be at a particular location. In this case, police will examine records specifying where the suspect worked.

This is then refined by police interviewing people acquainted with the suspected killer. In the McArthur investigation, for example, his onetime clients could be pointing investigators to the locations of his landscaping projects. …

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