Thomas Donald Bruce McArthur was born on October 8, 1951, in Lindsay, Ontario, and was raised on a farm in Argyle, near Woodville in the Kawartha Lakes region, about 60 kilometres (37 mi) north of Oshawa. In addition to raising McArthur and his sister, his parents fostered troubled children from Toronto, often with six to ten in their care at any given time, and had a good reputation in the area according to a family friend.
A young McArthur attended a one-room schoolhouse outside Woodville. A classmate recalled him trying to be the teacher's pet and informing on mischief by on the other boys, with whom he did not fit in. He was also known for winning singing contests. His mother was Irish Catholic and his father a Scottish Presbyterian; both were devout, causing arguments in which McArthur supported his mother. This led to derision from his strict father, who McArthur later felt may have sensed his lack of masculinity or his homosexuality. McArthur had trouble accepting his sexual orientation which would have been seen as abnormal in rural Ontario at that time.
McArthur was bused to nearby Fenelon Falls Secondary School for his secondary education, where he met and began dating Janice Campbell, both graduating in 1970. McArthur later graduated from a program in general business and married Campbell when he was 23.
McArthur began working for Eaton's department stores around 1973, as a buyer's assistant in a downtown Toronto building later demolished for construction of the Eaton Centre. A few blocks north of where McArthur was working, a gay village was forming on Yonge Street between College and Wellesley streets, same-sex adult sexual behaviour having been decriminalized in 1969.
In the mid-1970s, McArthur's father was diagnosed with a brain tumour. He was sent to a nursing home and McArthur became disappointed when his mother took interest in another man. McArthur grew much closer to his father at this time. His mother died of cancer in 1978 and his father died in 1981.
In 1979, McArthur and his wife moved into a house on Ormond Drive in Oshawa; by 1981 they had a daughter, Melanie, and a son, Todd. In 1986, the McArthurs bought a home on Cartref Avenue in Oshawa. He became very active in his church, keeping himself busy to avoid examining his homosexual feelings.
McArthur left his job at Eaton's in 1978 and began working as a travelling salesman for McGregor Socks. He worked by himself, travelling from town to town, soliciting department stores to carry his merchandise. He worked territories including Northern Ontario and the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), and as he gained more territories he employed "counters" to stock, prepare, and reorder merchandise. McArthur later worked as a merchandising representative for Stanfield's, a garment company, servicing GTA retailers like Hudson's Bay Company and Sears.
McArthur began having sexual affairs with men in the early 1990s. More than a year later he came out of the closet to his wife, but they continued living together. Sometime after 1993, McArthur's employment in the clothing trade came to an end and the couple faced financial difficulty, in part due to legal issues connected to their then-teenaged son, Todd, who was obsessively making obscene phone calls to women he did not know. The couple mortgaged their home in 1997 and declared bankruptcy in 1999.
McArthur separated from his wife in 1997 and moved to Toronto, as there was no gay community in Oshawa at that time. He frequented the bars of Church and Wellesley, Toronto's gay village, and moved into an apartment on Don Mills Road while pursuing a four-year relationship with another man. When they broke up and his divorce was being finalized, McArthur saw a psychiatrist and was prescribed Prozac for several months. At about this time he was attempting to gain work as a landscaper.
McArthur had met a male sex worker on a chat line and later had sex with him. Just after noon on October 31, 2001, a few weeks after his 50th birthday, McArthur was invited into the man's apartment to see his Halloween costume. McArthur struck the man several times from behind with an iron pipe that he often carried. The victim lost consciousness, then called 9-1-1 when he awoke and was taken to St. Michael's Hospital. He had suffered injuries to his head and body and needed several stitches on the back of his head and his fingers as well as six weeks of physiotherapy.
McArthur, who turned himself in after the attack, said he did not remember the incident or why he might have done it. He pleaded guilty to charges of assault with a weapon and assault causing bodily harm, and on April 11, 2003, received a conditional sentence of 729 days (two years less a day). A further charge of carrying a concealed weapon was withdrawn at the time. The Crown prosecutor had earlier believed jail time was warranted but agreed to a conditional sentence after psychiatric and presentencing reports suggested McArthur was a low risk to reoffend. The victim, said by the Crown to have been traumatized by the incident, did not provide a victim-impact statement for the sentencing, and there were concerns that McArthur's unexplained behaviour may have been due to the combination of McArthur's anti-seizure medication with amyl nitrite[a], or "poppers", a muscle relaxant which is sometimes taken recreationally before sex.
McArthur avoided prison, spending the first year of his sentence under house arrest, followed by a six-month curfew and three years of probation. During the sentence, he was barred from Church and Wellesley except for work and medical appointments, had to stay at least 10 metres (33 ft) from the victim's home or workplace, and could not spend time with "male prostitutes". He was forbidden to possess firearms for ten years. He was not to purchase, possess or consume drugs without a medical prescription, and specifically not to possess poppers. McArthur had to submit his DNA to a database and was compelled to undertake psychological and psychiatric counselling including anger management.
A criminal defence lawyer found the list of conditions uncommon and suggested that the judge was concerned that McArthur was a danger to all male prostitutes. A retired homicide detective noted that parole conditions were unenforceable, were not published or made public knowledge and that parole violators were caught only if they come to the attention of police.
In 2014, McArthur was granted a record suspension on the conviction, which was subequently expunged from his record, and would not have appeared in criminal background checks during subsequent investigations. Most records and exhibits were destroyed in 2010, in compliance with Toronto Police Service (TPS) retention policy. The only surviving documents were the transcripts of the guilty plea and sentencing hearing, the psychiatric report and pre-sentencing report ordered during the trial, and pictures of the victim's injuries and the weapon.
In 2002, while the assault case was still before the courts, McArthur registered with Recon, a gay fetish dating website for men into BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism), where his profile noted his interest in submissive men. He was active on numerous gay dating websites including Silverdaddies, Manjam, Grindr, Bear411, BearForest, Scruff, DaddyHunt, Squirt and Growlr. McArthur joined Facebook in 2011 and catalogued his nightlife with pictures of parties, vacations, birthday dinners and concerts. Younger men of South Asian or Middle Eastern descent were in several pictures. By this time McArthur had become a part of the gay village community and was a regular at its bars. Since 2007 or 2008, he was living in a 19th-floor apartment at Leaside Towers in Thorncliffe Park, a neighbourhood populated mainly by immigrants about 5 kilometres (3 mi) northeast of Church and Wellesley.
McArthur's 2003 banishment from Church and Wellesley remained well-known and he had developed a reputation for BDSM and rough sex. In 2011, McArthur told an acquaintance named Robert James about an incident in which he had been asked to leave a coffeehouse, which caused McArthur to knock all of the glasses off the counter in a rage. James decided to heed advice to stay away from McArthur, explaining that he had heard disturbing stories about him. According to James, McArthur turned red and screamed about "f---ing f---ots [sic] telling stories about me!" and "You're just like the rest of them, you think I'm crazy."
A. J. Khan, a Toronto restaurant owner, remembered McArthur as a friendly regular. Towards the end of 2013, Khan inquired when McArthur came in alone instead of with his usual companion. McArthur said his boyfriend was on vacation, and when Khan noted he had seen the man the previous day, McArthur angrily left and never returned.
McArthur had become a self-employed landscaper, operating under the name Artistic Designs. A colleague who installed water features on three of his projects in 2011 described McArthur as more of a gardener, operating out of a little van with old tools. He said that McArthur was always accompanied by an older white man, who appeared to be romantically involved with him, and a day labourer, usually of Southeast Asian or Middle Eastern descent. Most of McArthur's clients were wealthy elderly women who found him charming, and he had built a client base through personal recommendations. During the off-season, McArthur portrayed Santa Claus at Agincourt Mall and made floral gifts for charities.
McArthur's separation from his wife was initially heated, though they later reconciled. His son Todd was reported to have difficulty accepting his father as gay. In 2014, Todd was sentenced to fourteen months in jail for making multiple obscene phone calls. He was released on bail, ordered to stay with his father at his Toronto apartment and assist with McArthur's landscaping business. A former friend of Todd's visited one night and discovered the wall of McArthur's bathroom was decorated with photos of naked men with erections. He said that most of the men appeared to be "East Indian" and that Todd said that they were men whom his father knew. McArthur did not hide the fact, laughing over it at breakfast.