It's like watching murder through your fingers at the theatre
Like finding out Klaus Barbie was your neighbour, only weirder
--The Lowest of the Low, "So Long, Bernie"
In university, he acquired the nickname drill sergeant because he insisted his roommates keep their place in order, and he got his way. He had formidable energy and athletic prowess. He once played a daylong tennis tournament on a record hot day, kept winning, played until it was over and then collapsed.
He turned down the RCMP because he wanted to fly planes for the Canadian military. He rose quickly, and at times piloted the Queen and the Canadian Prime Minister. In 2005 and 2006, he served as commander of Camp Mirage, a Canadian Forces facility near Dubai. Eventually, Colonel Russell took command of 8 Wing/CFB Trenton, the busiest and most important air base in the country.
He's behind bars now, and will likely only leave prison in a box.1 They shredded his medals, destroyed his vehicle and, in a move without precedent, incinerated his dress uniform. Dr. Jekyll has nothing on Russell Williams; he had much to hide, and no potion to blame.
Friends recall that he could be distant, quiet, his manner artificial and forced, but nothing that suggested criminal leanings. His wife insisted she knew nothing of his now-notorious activities. Military colleagues expressed shock and disbelief. Criminologists consider him an anomaly among serial killers and sex offenders.
According to evidence and his own admission, he did not begin his crimes until he was middle-aged. In September 2007, he committed his first break-in. He was well-acquainted with the family, and knew they would not be in residence. The decorated Colonel sat in the bedroom of their twelve-year-old daughter, stripped, wore her underwear, masturbated, and photographed himself. He left with trophies, and returned on at least two more occasions. The family wouldn't suspect his actions for years.
Over the next three years he would commit at least 82 similar break-ins, generally when homeowners were absent. Many of these took place within walking distance of his home2 in Ottawa, and his cottage on Cosy Cove Lane in the nearby village of Tweed on Stoco Lake. Few of these would be reported. If women noticed the missing undergarments, they found other explanations. We know from the timestamped photographs, often showing the hairy-chested officer in stolen lingerie, that they occurred. He also kept copious notes on his computer, a detailed chronicle of his criminal behavior. All the while, he continued to perform his professional duties admirably. He also pursued his other hobbies: golf, fishing, and photography.
His crimes began to escalate.
On September 16, 2009, ski cap as disguise, he broke into a home occupied by a young woman and her sleeping infant. Initially, he tried to knock her unconscious. When he failed, he subdued her, blindfolded her and tied her up. He told her he wouldn't rape her; he only wanted pictures. These he took, cutting and removing clothing, and roughly fondling her body. He left with underwear and several items he had touched. He disposed of the latter in a public dump; he kept the underwear.
Throughout, he spoke in a manner she could not reconcile with the assault. His tone was polite, almost conciliatory. One day later, he returned to her empty house, stole more items, and took additional photographs of the crime scene. He would break in a third time. He often revisited the scenes of his crimes.
Weeks later, he committed a similar home invasion and attack. He took more photographs and trophies, and he spoke with the same pleasant tone. At one point, he brought the woman aspirin for a headache she developed in response to the attack. The next day, he participated in a charity event on behalf of the military.
Then in November, he stalked, raped, and murdered Corporal Marie-France Comeau, a soldier under his command.
He began with his usual break-in and theft. On his way home from Comeau's residence, he accessed another house, where he stole lingerie and sex toys. The woman returned home soon afterwards and noticed the thefts. She called a friend and neighbour whom she thought may have taken the items as a joke. The friend pled innocence and they debated calling the police. After checking the house for signs of a break-in, they left for a party, where they spent the night. Only the next day did she see the message on her computer:
GO AHEAD. CALL THE POLICE. I WANT TO SHOW THE JUDGE YOU'RE [sic] REALLY BIG DILDOS
Her lingerie drawer had been ransacked at some point after she left.3
A week later, he returned to the home of Corporal Comeau. She found him in her basement where she sought one of her cats. They struggled; he bludgeoned her with a flashlight and bound her with duct tape. This time, he photographed and videotaped the crime, which included multiple rapes and Comeau's eventual murder. He also left behind bloody footprints and DNA evidence.
The next day he took part in a United Way fundraiser. He and other local people of note were locked up in a mock jail, and "bailed" with donations. He appears to have curtailed his actual criminal activity during this time. He would not find his next victim until early in 2010.
On January 29, 2010, he broke into the Belleville, Ontario home of a woman named Jessica Lloyd. He followed much the same procedure he had with Comeau, photographing and videotaping his crimes. Then he bound her and took her to his cottage on Cosy Cove Lane, where he renewed the assaults. Eventually, he strangled her and dumped the body. The next day, he piloted troops to California.
Jessica Lloyd's friends and family, meanwhile, became concerned when she did not turn up at work. She was missing, but her personal effects-- wallet, purse, ID, glasses, keys, glasses-- remained. Police wondered whether this case connected to the recent sexual assaults in Tweed, or the assault and murder of Corporal Comeau.
Police also found a useful clue: tire tracks left on her property that night matched a limited range of SUV models, and they contained distinctive markings. The OPP began to check nearby owners of those vehicle types. Williams' tires matched.
The Colonel came under police surveillance. In a few days, investigators had acquired enough evidence for a warrant to search his properties. They brought him in for an interview; he soon confessed. Police also gathered damning evidence. Colonel Williams, with the meticulousness of a military commander, had detailed his crimes in report-like notes and kept hundred of photographs (most of hitherto unsuspected, unreported crimes), and video of his most atrocious acts. He also had in his possession hundreds of stolen items, mostly the undergarments of women and young girls. His computer also contained copious amounts of child pornography, downloaded from online sources.
He agreed to plead guilty, though by then he could not have escaped conviction, and he must have known this. In return, he demanded no mention be made in the official court documents of the child pornography found on his computer. We can only speculate why a man admitting to rape, murder, and sundry other vile crimes should insist on such a condition.
But then, William Russell defies understanding. He came from a relatively affluent background, and led an enviable life. True, his parents divorced when he was young, but this hardly represents an unusual or insurmountable difficulty. In contrast to other sexual offenders, he appears to have committed no offenses prior to his mid-forties. Other sex offenders of this magnitude usually begin in their twenties, or earlier. Usually, there are warning signs. An extensive investigation into Williams' history and past associations reveals nothing suspicious,4 and no notes exist chronicling any illegal exploits before September of 2007. After confessing, he expressed what some therapists consider genuine regret for his crimes, and he nearly succeeded in killing himself while in custody. He remains an anomaly, a dangerous, creeping killer who either suppressed his tendencies for four decades, or only developed them that late in his life.
That life has effectively ended. The court ordered two life sentences, four ten-year sentences, and 82 one-year sentences. These he will spend segregated from other inmates, locked alone in his cell twenty-three hours a day. Civil lawsuits remain pending, but complainants can take their time. Williams has been grounded.
He won't be going anywhere soon.
Well now I know well now I know
I look at strangers different than I did a year ago
And you know, Bernie, it's my closest friends I'd better get to know...
--The Lowest of the Low, "So Long, Bernie."
1. In theory, he could be paroled as early as 2035. Under the terms of his sentencing, however, this is highly improbable.
2. He and his wife lived in two different homes over the course of the attacks. They originally owned one in Orleans, a suburb of Ottawa, but sold it and moved to another in Westboro, closer to the city proper, some months before his arrest.
3. The misuse of "you're" for "your" is almost certainly deliberate. Earlier, he had written a letter to one of his victims, which he did not send. In contrast to the Colonel's usual style, it contained many errors and other planted indications that the perpetrator was a younger man.
4. His time at the Scarborough campus of the University of Toronto overlaps with that of notorious serial killer Paul Bernardo. Some people in the media have tried to make something of the fact, but all evidence suggests they never met.
"Above Suspicion: The Shocking Case of Colonel Russell Williams." The Fifth Estate. CBC. Friday September 24, 2010. Television.
Timothy Appleby. A New Kind of Monster: The Secret Life and Chilling Crimes of Colonel Russell Williams. Toronto: Random House, 2011.
Kristal Hawkins. "David Russell Williams: The Kinky Killer Colonel." Crime Library. Web 11 2 2013. http://www.trutv.com/library/crime/serial_killers/predators/david-russell-williams/obsession.html.
Aulakh, Raveenah, David Bruser and Katie Daubs. "Life and Times of Col. Russell Williams." Toronto Star, February 13, 2010.