Col. Russell Williams—the senior Canadian air force officer who led a twisted double life as a serial predator—will almost certainly spend the rest of his life behind bars after agreeing this morning to plead guilty to a long list of heinous crimes that rocked the military and shocked the public.
Appearing in open court for the first time since his arrest eight months ago, the former commander of CFB Trenton sat quietly in a bulletproof prisoners’ box as his lawyer, Michael Edelson, told a Belleville, Ont., judge that his client admits to every charge he faces: two first-degree murders, two home invasion sexual assaults, and dozens of bizarre break-and-enters that targeted women’s lingerie. The 47-year-old will formally enter his guilty plea at a sentencing hearing Oct. 18, Edelson said.
Dressed in a dark suit, a white shirt and brown shoes, the disgraced colonel did not utter a single word during his brief appearance. As his lawyer spoke, he remained hunched over with his eyes focused on the floor, not once turning to look at the packed courtroom behind him—which included some of his victims’ grieving relatives. When the proceedings finished, Williams was handcuffed and whisked away by heavily armed police officers.
The colonel’s confirmed guilty plea marks the end of a stunning case that, even now, seems unbelievable.
A gifted pilot and respected leader, Williams was a rising star in the Canadian air force, a man who ferried prime ministers and the Queen and was later appointed the top man at Trenton, the country’s largest and most strategically vital airbase. But in between the grueling demands of his high-profile job, the soft-spoken officer was busy feeding a perverted obsession that would eventually lead to the murders of two innocent women: Cpl. Marie-France Comeau, a 38-year-old corporal stationed at his base, and Jessica Lloyd, a 27-year-old Belleville woman.
Lloyd’s mother, Roxanne, was among those in the gallery Thursday morning, clutching a photo of her dead daughter. Jessica’s brother, Andy, said although it was difficult to finally lay eyes on the man who killed his sister, he and his mom are pleased with the guilty plea. “It is a definitely a good thing,” he told reporters. “Anything that is going to wrap it up quickly for us is a good thing.”
“Obviously, everybody would like to hear him explain what happened,” he continued. “I’m not looking for an apology; it’s not going to hold its weight in anything. But we would like to hear the truth about what happened…Why? Why her?”
It is a question that continues to baffle everyone who crossed paths with Col. Williams, both in and out of uniform. By all accounts, he was the model military man: intelligent, observant, ultra-organized, and always quick to compliment his subordinates. He was an avid golfer, loved to fish, and appeared to be happily married to an equally successful woman: Mary-Elizabeth Harriman, the associate executive director of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. On the surface, at least, his seemed like a perfect life.
But three years ago, in the fall of 2007, something snapped. Williams began breaking into homes within walking distance of his house in the Ottawa suburb of Orléans and his lakefront cottage in Tweed, Ont., stealing what would soon become a massive collection of women’s bras, underwear, bathing suits and dresses. He broke into one particular house nine times.
In the early morning hours of Sept. 17, 2009, the break-ins took a suddenly violent turn. A 21-year-old woman, whose name is protected by a publication ban, awoke to find a man—now identified as Williams—inside her home. As her eight-week-old baby slept in a nearby room, the woman was blindfolded, tied up, stripped naked, photographed and sexually assaulted. In the days after the attack, Williams snuck back into her house two more times.
He struck again on Sept. 30, this time breaking into a house just three doors down from his cottage. Laurie Massicotte, who was home alone at the time, was also blindfolded and stripped naked with a knife. In a recent interview with Maclean’s—her first since the assault—Massicotte said she was ordered to pose for dozens of unthinkable photographs, and when she tried to refuse, Williams’ threat was always the same: “Don’t make me make you.”
The next morning, the colonel was back on duty, presenting a service medal to a fellow airman and meeting with subordinates about ongoing construction at the base.
Williams continued burglarizing homes in October and November, but for reasons that remain unexplained, his crime spree would soon turn deadly.
Cpl. Comeau was killed in late November, asphyxiated in her home in Brighton, Ont. Days later, when an underling emailed Williams to say that Comeau’s military funeral was conducted “with the utmost professionalism,” he wrote back: “I’m pleased to hear that the service went as well as could be expected, given the very sad circumstances.” At the time, no one had any reason to suspect that the base commander was responsible.
Jessica Lloyd was next. She was last heard from on the evening of Jan. 28, after sending a late-night text message to a friend. The following morning, Williams called in sick—but it would be a few more days before police discovered the real reason he skipped work. On Feb. 4, during a roadside check of every vehicle driving along the rural highway that connects Tweed with the airbase, an officer noticed that Williams’ tires matched a unique set of treads found near Lloyd’s home on the night she vanished.
Three days later, during a lengthy interrogation, Williams confessed to everything. He led detectives to Lloyd’s body, and a further search of his homes uncovered the stash of stolen lingerie, neatly catalogued by date and location.
“It just goes to show you, you never know where that carton’s gonna come from with the bad eggs,” Andy Lloyd said. “It could be police or firefighter or military or anybody who is supposed to be there to protect people—and they are doing the very opposite.”
Williams’ sentencing hearing is expected to last a few days and will include numerous victim impact statements. He faces an automatic punishment of life behind bars with no chance of parole for 25 years.
- Col. Russell Williams to plead guilty—Accused killer and former base commander will plead guilty to all counts, says lawyer (October 7, 2010)
- Colonel Williams’ wife, under attack—An accused killer’s spouse struggles to rebuild her shattered life (July 27, 2010)
- Col. Russell Williams, accused sex killer, makes brief court appearance—Murder victim’s brother among those in attendance (July 22, 2010)
- Williams faces additional charges—Former CFB Trenton commander linked to 82 more crimes around Ottawa, Belleville and Tweed (April 29, 2010)
- Colonel accused of double murder tries to kill himself—Russell Williams used mustard to write his suicide note (April 5, 2010)
- I feel pity for Colonel Williams if he’s guilty—Barbara Amiel on the blessing and the curse of human sexuality (February 23, 2010)
- Col. Russell Williams, a timeline (PHOTOS)—The busy schedule of an accused killer (February 18, 2010)
- The secret life of Colonel Russell Williams—If police are correct, he was a cold-blooded planner who in hours could transform from commander to monster (February 16, 2010)
- The two faces of Col. Russell Williams (VIDEO)—Portrait of an accused predator (February 10, 2010)
- Round up: Investigating Col. Russ Williams—Tire tracks led police to Williams; investigators look into unsolved crimes (February 9, 2010)
- Col. Russell Williams’ double life?—Top officer facing murder charges commanded Canada’s largest air base, flew top diplomats (February 8, 2010)