Investigators were treating Bruce McArthur as a suspect in the murder of Andrew Kinsman and a “person of interest in the disappearance of four other men” for weeks before a December news conference in which Police Chief Mark Saunders dismissed suggestions that a serial killer was operating in the city’s gay village, according to newly-unsealed court documents.

The heavily redacted documents, which relate to the police operation Project Prism, were unsealed by a judge on Wednesday morning, after a group of media organizations, including CTV News Toronto, petitioned for their release.

Project Prism was launched on August 14, 2017, to investigate the disappearances of two men missing from the city’s Gay Village, Andrew Kinsman and Selim Esen, while “keeping in mind” the disappearances of three men, investigated in a previous operation known as “Project Houston.”

In the court documents, McArthur’s name comes up in relation to police activity, the details of with have been redacted, on Aug. 31, 2017. It is not clear why police were interested in him at that point.

The court documents suggest that by Nov. 1, police believed the disappearances of Kinsman, Esen, Skandaraj Navaratnam, Abdulbasir Faizi and Majeed Kayhan “may all be related.”

The documents are part of a series of information to obtain (ITO) applications, which are filed by investigators seeking warrants.

In one of the ITOs dated Aug. 17, police said that “it is reasonable to believe the worst” with regards to the fate met by the five men.

A few weeks later, in an ITO dated Sept. 5, 2017, police investigators had enough information to describe McArthur as a person of interest in Kinsman’s death, and remarked at similarities between his disappearance and the other four men.

In those documents, Det. Const. Joel Manherz said that while police had not established a “concrete connection” between the men, they do share some similarities.

Manherz said that all of the men went missing over the holidays, spent a “good deal of time” at the Black Eagle bar on Church Street, had similar physical characteristics, were middle-aged and lived in or frequented the city’s gay village.

He doesn’t explicitly identify McArthur, 66, as a person of interest in that ITO, but by the time he filed another ITO on Nov. 27, he was using the language, identifying McArthur as a suspect in Kinsmen’s murder as of Nov. 8 and “a person of interest in the disappearances of the other four men.”

It is unclear why police had zeroed in on McArthur as a suspect at that point, but the Nov. 27 ITO indicates police had found Kinsman’s blood on an item connected to McArthur.

“After learning the Kinsman’s blood was found in McArthur’s [redacted], police once again began mobile surveillance on McArthur,” the document reads.

By that point, the documents stated that surveillance was being conducted on McArthur on “almost a daily basis.”

Eleven days later, on Dec. 8, Saunders held a news conference where he dismissed suggestions that a serial killer was preying on men in The Village, telling reporters that “we follow the evidence and the evidence is telling us that is not the case right now.”

During the same press conference, the officer leading Project Prism echoed the chief’s assessment, saying the missing persons cases were “parallel” investigations.

“There is no evidence at this point in time which in any way establishes that the disappearance of Essen and Kinsman are linked to the disappearances of the males from the Project Houston investigation,” Det. Stg Michael Richmond said.

“There is also no evidence to support that the disappearance of Salim Essen or Andrew Kinsman are linked,” he continued.

Iris Fischer, the lawyer representing media in the court battle to obtain the documents, said the files can be taken as “accurately reflecting” the views of the investigating officers at the time.

“We don’t know why police were saying what they said at press conferences,” she said.  “What we do know from these documents is that these were sworn documents under oath.”

In a written statement issued on Wednesday, Meaghan Gray, acting director of Corporate Communications for Toronto Police Services, said the force stands by the chief’s December remarks.

“The documents indicate the investigators’ theories but there was no evidence to support those theories,” the statement reads.

Police ‘covertly’ entered McArthur’s apartment

There had been fears in the LGBT community for years that gay men were being targeted.

McArthur was arrested on January 18 as part of Project Prism and charged initially with first-degree murder in the deaths of Kinsman and Esen. Since then, he has been charged in the deaths of six other men, including Navaratnam, Faizi and Kayhan, as well as Dean Lisowick, Kirushna Kumar Kanagaratnam and Soroush Mahmudi.

According to the documents, police have roughly pinpointed the dates of death for at least five of the men: Esen died on or around April 16, 2017, Kinsman died on or around June 26, 2017, Mahmudi died on or around August 15, 2015, Kayhan died on or around Oct. 18, 2012 and Dean Lisowick is said to have died between April 4, 2016 and March 15, 2017.

The dismembered remains of all eight men were located in either planters or a compost pile on a Leaside property where McArthur was known to store his landscaping tools. According to the ITOs, “body parts” were found in five planters at that property, located at 53 Mallory Cres.

Police executed a search warrant for the property one day after McArthur’s arrest, but the documents reveal the home had been part of the investigation for months. Cadaver dogs searched the area behind the home as early Nov. 17, but police found nothing.

The documents reveal that after McArthur’s arrest, many other people called police, claiming he had done landscaping work for them as well. All of the properties were searched.

Ultimately, the search for evidence stretched across some 100 properties in the GTA. Among them was McArthur’s apartment on Thorncliffe Park Drive.

According to one ITO, on Dec. 5, police submitted an application for judicial authorization to “covertly enter” McArthur’s Thorncliffe Park apartment, which then occurred on Dec. 6 and Dec. 7.

According to the documents, the authorization allowed investigators to enter the apartment for the purpose of “facilitating the covert copying of data from digital device(s)” and “to facilitate the covert searching, photographing, videotaping and/or marking, testing, seizure or returning of any documents, or physical objects or things (non-digital) relevant to the offence.”

During the covert entry on Dec. 7, the documents state investigators “copied the contents of a USB drive, the Western Digital external hard drive and the old desktop computer.”

Approximately 1,800 items were collected from the accused killer’s home by the time police released the property in May.

The lead investigator on the case, Insp. Hank Idsinga, has said there are no more charges pending in the case.

The charges McArthur is facing have not been tested in court.

McArthur is due to return to court in person on Oct. 5.