The Bruce McArthur investigation enters its next phase this week as the weather warms, with the use of cadaver dogs to identify properties linked to the alleged serial killer that may need to be excavated.
Though the property searches have already begun, cadaver dog teams will be in full swing by the middle of the week, said homicide Det.-Sgt. Hank Idsigna.
“We’re going through the properties that we have with the dogs to see if there’s any indication of humans remains or decomposition,” he said.
Investigators have not yet identified properties to excavate.
Police will look at 75 public and private properties — up from the 30 locations announced earlier in their investigation — based on McArthur’s client list as a landscaper, and tips from the public.
Peter Vronsky, a Ryerson University professor who has studied the history of Toronto police, said it’s probably the biggest homicide investigation in the city.
“We’ve never really had a serial killing case of this scale . . . Sadly, a historic case for Toronto,” said Vronsky, also an expert on serial killers.
Major, a 5-year-old German shepherd and Belgian malinois mix, is part of two Toronto police cadaver specialty teams that will be involved.
“It’s not typical for me to go look at 70 properties,” said his partner Sgt. Derrick Gaudet, adding that the warmer weather means Major will heat up more quickly and need frequent breaks.
“I know it’s going to be a long tedious haul for the cadaver dogs.”
Major was bred in a police facility in the Netherlands and spent the last three years working as a cadaver dog in addition to his general purpose work.
He is 75 pounds of lean muscle, earning the nickname “Crazy Eyes” for his laser sharp focus and energy.
About 400 scents emanate from human corpses, Gaudet said, and dogs are trained to smell a fraction of them. But it’s enough to be of indispensable help to investigators.
Major proved this by immediately zeroing in on the spot where Gaudet hid a cadaver training sample during a demonstration for the Star. He sat, barked and wagged his tail in excitement for the pending reward: a rubber toy.
The dogs are trained not to dig, lick, or otherwise contaminate evidence, said Gaudet, an officer for more than 28 years. He’s very proud of his partner’s track record.
“No matter what we were training to do, or what I’m doing now on the road with him, he puts everything into it, and I think that’s vitally important for people to know,” he said. “He gives 100 per cent.”
Should human remains be identified at any sites in the weeks ahead, a forensic anthropologist would step in to lead the excavation and cadaver recovery, said Wade Knaap, a police officer with more than 35 years’ experience and an expert in forensic identification.
Police forensic identification officers would then document the scene through photos, video and plan drawings. They also have 3D laser scanning and animation in their tool kit to assist with evidence collection.
“Oftentimes, the forensic identification officer is the first witness to give testimony because they are the storytellers or the narrators right there to explain the scene,” said Knaap, who teaches at the University of Toronto’s Mississauga campus.
Any human remains recovered would be sent to Ontario Forensic Pathology Services. Other evidence would go to the Centre of Forensic Sciences, where biologists and toxicologists can do an analysis and generate DNA profiles.
With the exception of fluids like blood, shining an alternate light source on a scene would expose traces of biological fluids like semen, bones, and decomposition fluids. Contrary to crime show depictions, blood doesn’t show up under the blue light source, Knaap said.
The method works better in lower light conditions, which could mean that forensics teams may investigate after dusk should they find any traces of human remains, he said.
“It’s meticulous work, but there are continuing advances in forensic sciences,” Knaap said.
McArthur’s next court date is May 23. He faces eight counts of first-degree murder. Remains of one of his alleged victims have yet to be identified.