MONTREAL - Police were hot on Luka Rocco Magnotta's trail just weeks before he allegedly killed and dismembered university student Jun Lin, according to a former landlord.
Canadian law enforcement had tracked the 29-year-old porn actor and stripper to a Montreal apartment building as recently as March, says Magnotta's former landlord.
He said a police detective phoned asking about Magnotta. But the query came too late — Magnotta had moved out about two weeks earlier.
While they never explained why they were calling, Toronto police have stated that they had already been investigating Magnotta on allegations of animal cruelty for more than a year.
According to the landlord, they nearly found him.
"I think they were on to this guy," said the superintendent, as he stood in front of the apartment building in the city's blue-collar Point St. Charles district. He spoke on condition of anonymity.
"To myself, I said, 'I'm glad he's out because the cops are looking for him now.' "
The police phone call came roughly two months before Lin's death in late May. Magnotta has been charged with first-degree murder in the grisly crime, which has shocked people around the world, and to which he has pleaded not guilty.
His former landlord said he gave up his furnished, second-floor bachelor apartment at the end of February, about two months after moving in. It was an abrupt departure — he only advised the superintendent about a week before he packed up.
Magnotta indicated that he was moving back to Toronto. In fact his next known address, the alleged scene of the killing, was only a few kilometres away in west-end Montreal.
"The police called and I told them he left for Toronto," said the landlord, who added that the call came from an Ontario police force — he just couldn't recall which one.
"They just asked where he was."
The Toronto police force has confirmed that it began investigating Magnotta in Feb. 2011 for animal-abuse allegations.
A spokeswoman for the service said it received a complaint about an online video from the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
But Const. Wendy Drummond declined to say how close they got to Magnotta, or even whether investigators were looking to question him.
"To be honest, I can't get into that because it is an ongoing case," Drummond said. "An officer... had been actively pursuing the investigation, but no charges had ever been laid."
The Ontario SPCA says it filed a complaint with Toronto police in early 2011 after an online video showing a man killing kittens was brought to their attention by animal-welfare groups and members of the public from around the globe.
Magnotta has publicly denied being the man who appeared, in videos posted online, to kill kittens either by suffocation with a plastic bag or by feeding one to a hungry snake.
Organization spokesman Brad Dewar said the Ontario SPCA has been working alongside Toronto police and the RCMP in an effort to locate the "person of interest" in the videos.
"Obviously, there were concerns for the cruelty and eventual death of the animals in that video," said Dewar, adding that three other videos surfaced on the Internet over the following year.
He declined to identify Magnotta as the suspect, citing privacy laws.
He did say, however, that the suspect was thought to have travelled between several locations in Engand, the United States and Canada, including Montreal.
This prompted the Ontario SPCA to also reach out to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Montreal police. The Ontario SPCA has not been able to make contact with the suspect.
Dewar said he couldn't comment on whether police had called a Montreal landlord looking for the suspect; but he believes it's likely investigators would have been trying to locate the person.
"Absolutely," he said.
"Information led us to believe that the person of interest had located themselves in Montreal and it's quite likely that the continued investigation moved forward from that point."
Though Magnotta told his landlord that he was moving to Toronto, he apparently never left Montreal. Instead, he rented another furnished bachelor apartment in the city's Cote-des-Neiges area — the unit where police believe Lin was killed and dismembered.
A janitor discovered Lin's torso in a suitcase outside the building.
Over in Point St. Charles, the building that Magnotta called home for two months last winter is less than a kilometre from the convenience store where Lin worked as a part-time cashier.
Police have said that Magnotta and Lin knew each other, but it is unclear whether they met in the neighbourhood.
Magnotta's former Point St. Charles landlord doesn't remember seeing Lin around.
He describes Magnotta as just an "ordinary Joe Blow" who rented a unit for $550 per month, Internet and utilities included.
"He wasn't shabby because I had some cases where I brought in people and they trashed the place, so I was kind of cautious," the man said, adding that Magnotta was a quiet tenant who spoke with what sounded like an eastern European accent.
"He was eloquent. He spoke properly."
The building manager said he even told Magnotta, a physically small man, that he was impressed by his deep voice and joked that he should look into a broadcasting career.
"He was a little guy, a little skinny guy, and with a voice like that," said the landlord.
He said Magnotta laughed off the suggestion.
The landlord said he feels terrible for what happened to Lin and plans to donate money to a charity created in the university student's name.
"I want to give something because I feel it, I feel it for the kid. This is so painful," he said of Lin, who was a 33-year-old Chinese national studying computer science.
"It's haunting me."