Their lives were uprooted, suddenly and with little explanation.
It was 10:30 a.m. on January 18, 2018 when Karen Fraser heard a knock on the door of her Leaside home on Mallory Cres. She was greeted by two men, who were not, in Fraser’s opinion in proper “police uniforms.”
“I said it’s cold come in. They said you have to leave your house now. There’s been a serious crime, Bruce McArthur’s been arrested get out,” she says
McArthur, a gardener, had used the couples garage for 10 years to store his equipment. In return he would maintain their lawn and garden, even adding multiple flower arrangements in their backyard.
Karen recalls that the officers didn’t have a search warrant, nor did they initially show her any ID. Her mind was “reeling.”
Karen’s partner, Ron Smith was hearing bits and pieces of the conversation from upstairs and came down to see who these two men were.
“We didn’t know what this was all about, we were just being told to leave and there was no timeline attached to it,” he says.
The couple stalled just long enough to stuff some clothing into a couple garbage bags and then they were shown the door and ordered to go to Toronto Police 51 Division. They say they were given the wrong address by the two officers at their home, but eventually found their way, where they sat for hours before being separated and questioned extensively about their whereabouts on multiple dates.
It never occurred to them that they could be suspects, Ron notes.
“It never occurred to me because we just don’t think that way,” he says.
Karen says after answering a barrage of questions, she was finally allowed to ask “what’s going on?” It was at that moment and in the days to follow, they’d realize the magnitude of the investigation that would leave them displaced for 22 days.
Ironically, the couple who have organized and run a charity for years that helps collect and distribute sleeping bags and other essentials to those on Toronto’s streets found themselves out in the cold. Victims services reached out and only offered them one night in a shelter.
That’s when the couple called Ron’s long time squash buddy Norman Leach and his partner Mary Heron.
“They show up at the door with a couple garbage bags which shocked us,” says Norman.
He jokes that they were with them for about two weeks, but it felt like much longer. Laughter would be a key coping method for all involved and it became essential in the days that followed, as they all learned the gravity of the situation.
Mary says she was “absolutely horrified.”
“I can’t imagine how I’d be feeling if I knew this person had been in my house, in my backyard, (allegedly) doing what he was doing. I’d be going off the ropes just a little bit to say the least,” she says.
Both Norman and Mary say they never stopped and thought to themselves “could our friends be somehow involved in these murders.” For two weeks they shared many coffees, meals and conversations about what was unfolding before them.
“It’s interesting who you hear from in these situations, it’s even more interesting who you don’t hear from,” says Ron.
That’s what makes the second family who took in Ron and Karen so remarkable.
The pair out of house and home were essentially strangers to Hilke and David Shaban. The couples lived a few blocks apart and had shared passing waves and participated in some small talk about their cat, but that was it.
The Shabans are self-professed “cat people” and a mutual friend had reached out to them to see if they would be able to house Ron and Karen’s cats that had been left behind at the home on Mallory Crescent which was now a full blown forensics investigation.
A neighbor called David to inquire about the cats and his reply was “who’s Ron and Karen?”
The Shaban’s invited Ron and Karen down to see if the home was suitable for their feline companions and it didn’t take long for them to open their doors to more than just the cats.
The hospitality and friendship that was forged kept Ron and Karen mentally afloat as more and more tragic details emerged from Toronto police homicide detectives.
Karen believes what the Shaban’s did was “extraordinary,” showing them friendship and kindness in the face of darkness and upheaval.
“It was like we’d known them for years and of course food was the common denominator,” she says.
On one occasion, David received a phone call from his sister in Ohio, who asked “how do you know they’re not involved in this?” He replied “I don’t.”
In a large city, that at times can lack compassion and humanity, the resounding message from these four new friends is “be open to people.”
Smith is adamant in his belief that it’s “never been more important to have good relationships with people and to build strong bonds and to find that others are willing to go out of their way to help you. Make yourself available for people who need your help.”