As good pilots always do, Russell Williams stuck to a strict plan that Sunday afternoon: smile, don’t ask for a lawyer, and answer every last question (honestly or not, depending on the tactical benefit). In his mind, twisted as it is, he truly believed he could talk his way out of that tiny interrogation room.
When Det.-Sgt. Jim Smyth explained exactly what police were investigating—two home-invasion sexual assaults, the slaying of Cpl. Marie-France Comeau, and the recent disappearance of Jessica Lloyd—Williams didn’t alter his strategy. He even agreed, without hesitation, to provide fingerprints, a DNA sample, and the brown leather boots on his feet. Anything to appear innocent.
Finally, after 2½ hours spent sitting across the same table, Smyth found the colonel’s weak spot: the gold wedding ring on his finger. “Another thing that can often happen in cases like this is that people become concerned about things like extramarital affairs,” he said. “Is there any contact you may have had with any of those four women that you may not want your wife to be aware of?”
For the first time, Williams looked insulted. He took a deep breath and shifted in his chair. “Absolutely not.”
He didn’t know it, but his wife of 18 years—Mary Elizabeth Harriman, a senior executive at the Heart & Stroke Foundation of Canada—was already staring at the truth: a team of officers inside her home, searching for signs of a serial predator. They arrived on Feb. 7, 2010 at 5:36 p.m., the exact moment Williams was scoffing at the notion he might be an unfaithful husband.
As the interview wore on, Williams would mention his wife again and again. When Smyth asked about the tires on his Nissan Pathfinder, he said “we” put them on because “our” dealership recommended them. When asked about his whereabouts on the night of Nov. 24, 2009 (Comeau was murdered early that morning), Williams recalled how he and Harriman dined at a restaurant in Ottawa’s Westboro district, where their new townhouse—the one now swarming with cops—was under construction. “I kissed my wife goodbye and headed back to Tweed,” he said.
The couple had been living a temporary commuter marriage, connecting mostly on weekends, since Williams took charge of CFB Trenton seven months earlier, in July 2009. He spent Monday to Friday at their Tweed, Ont., cottage, a 45-minute drive from the base, while she remained in Ottawa, 200 km away. Their cat, Rosebud, stayed with her.
As the clock approached 6 p.m., Smyth went for the jugular. He told his suspect the tires on his SUV matched a set of tracks left in the snow near Lloyd’s house. He then pulled out a sheet of paper depicting two footprints: one from Lloyd’s backyard, the other from the bottom of Williams’s boot. “These are identical,” Smyth said.
The commander of Canada’s largest and most important air force base stared at the paper, his brain spinning. When he finally did open his mouth—”Well, I don’t know what to say”—Smyth played the one card that would bring Williams to his knees. “Right now, there’s a search warrant being executed at your residence in Ottawa, okay. So your wife now knows what’s going on.”
The colonel would not confess for another 90 minutes, but sensing he was cornered, his primary concern was not himself or his victims or Lloyd’s distraught family. It was Mary-Liz. “I’m struggling with how upset my wife is right now,” he said, taking another deep breath. “I’m concerned that they’re tearing apart my wife’s brand new house.”
At 7:40 p.m., nearly five hours after it all began, Williams caved. “I want to, um, minimize the impact on my wife,” he said.
“So do I,” Smyth answered.
“So how do we do that?”
“Well, you start by telling the truth.”
Thirty seconds ticked by. “Okay.”
Using a map, Williams pointed to a rural road north of his cottage where, a few steps into the frigid woods, Lloyd’s lifeless body was lying in the snow. She had been there for five days and five nights.
“Russ, you’re doing the right thing here,” Smyth said, extending his right arm.
Reluctantly, Williams shook the detective’s hand. “Well, again,” he said. “My interest is in making my wife’s life a little easier.”
It was way too late, of course. His wife’s life was already shattered—solely because of him—and a belated burst of honesty wasn’t going to soften the shock. Her entire world was suddenly a lie. The man in her bed was someone else.
Later that night, the confessed killer wrote a note to his devastated spouse. “Dearest Mary Elizabeth,” it began. “I love you, Sweet [illegible]. I am so very sorry for having hurt you like this. I know you’ll take good care of sweet Rosie. I love you, Russ.”
Did he truly love her? Does he still? Can someone so absolutely evil—a man who sticks duct tape over a woman’s face, and films her last breath—be capable of love? A man who loves his wife doesn’t spend their wedding anniversary breaking into another woman’s house. A man who loves his wife doesn’t celebrate Valentine’s Day by trying to pry open a neighbour’s basement window.
And a man who loves his wife doesn’t sit at their home computer and watch video footage of Jessica Lloyd’s final few hours—knowing her heartbroken family is praying she walks through the door. “He would have absolutely no idea what the word love really means,” Debra Lloyd, Jessica’s aunt, said during Williams’s sentencing hearing last October. “He certainly couldn’t have loved any of his own family members, because now they have to live with his crimes and shame.”
No one more than Mary Elizabeth Harriman.
The man she knew, after all, was not a callous, calculating stalker who snuck into dozens of bedrooms and pilfered hundreds of panties, bras and bathing suits. In her eyes, he was the rookie pilot who spent weekends driving from Moose Jaw to Calgary to see her. He was the blond, handsome groom at the end of the aisle, waiting to take her hand. He was her golfing partner. Her friend. Her distinguished of?cer. When Williams hosted his first wing commander’s Christmas ball in November 2009—just four days after killing Cpl. Comeau—his wife was at his side, mingling with a smile and a glass of wine.
Did she notice anything strange? Was he depressed? Distant? Did he say or do anything that, in hindsight, may have offered a glimpse into his other world? Only Harriman knows for sure, and although she has never spoken publicly (and likely never will), she has no doubt spent the past 14 months trying to answer those very same questions.
But it’s the questions about her that will not go away. As desperate as Harriman is to salvage what’s left of her reputation and her future, her husband’s heinous double life—and her failure to spot it—continues to fascinate. A second U.S. network is about to air a prime-time special, and the first book has hit store shelves—claiming, among other revelations, that Williams “had not had sex with his wife for years.” Her divorce application is just the latest public spectacle, ballooning into a battle over the media’s right to see her private financial records, including the post-arrest “domestic contract” she signed with Williams that gave her full ownership of the $700,000 Westboro townhouse.
Harriman’s own behaviour—driven by an admitted concern for her “financial security”—has won her little public sympathy. She has visited her notorious husband in prison. She complained that detectives scratched her hardwood floors, leading the Ontario Provincial Police to cut her a cheque for $3,000. And she is being sued by Williams’s first sexual assault victim, who claims the “secret” townhouse transfer was “fraudulent.”
Regardless of the outcome (or whether her divorce proceeds in secret) one question will follow Harriman forever: how did you not know? Williams’s alter ego was so depraved, so all-encompassing, that it’s natural to wonder how she could have been so blind. In cyberspace, where Harriman’s character has been attacked in ways that could never be repeated in this magazine, the verdict is nearly unanimous: if he were my husband, I would have known.
But the truth, according to the mountain of evidence now on the public record, is that the ex-colonel’s wife was indeed another victim—fooled by a man whose greatest gift was his ability to lie. In fact, as consumed as Williams was with his vile fantasies, he was equally obsessed with shielding his dark secret from Mary-Liz. He stashed stolen lingerie in basement boxes and military duffel bags. He buried his crime scene photos, thousands of them, in a “deeply nested and complex series of subfolders” on their computer. And he told his wife that all those late-night walks helped stretch out his aching back.
If only she had peeked inside that pillowcase in her garage, the one stuffed with stolen underwear. If only she was more suspicious, especially after two sexual assaults just down the road from their cottage. If only she was more curious.
But Harriman’s only crime was that she trusted her husband, like so many wives do.
They met in the late 1980s, when Williams was still a young lieutenant learning his way around the cockpit. Though stationed at CFB Moose Jaw, he was actually introduced to his future bride during a visit to Calgary, where Harriman was living at the time. The spark was instant, and before long Williams was spending every spare moment behind the wheel of his red Honda Civic, driving eight hours to see her (and eight hours back).
“I remember him saying: ‘I think she could be the one,’ ” says Jeff Farquhar, a close friend from Williams’s university days. “They had a lot of things in common, and he could talk easily with her about any topic under the sun. He just felt completely at ease with her.”
There was an age gap (Harriman is five years older) but their personalities matched perfectly. Both were mature, extremely organized, and shared a passion for exercising and eating right. Williams and his washboard stomach jogged every day and never drank more than two beers at a time, while Harriman, an avid swimmer with a degree in nutrition, was at the start of a career dedicated to improving the health of all Canadians. (Even back in high school, she seemed destined for a job at the Heart & Stroke Foundation; in her graduating yearbook, she listed “fattening foods” as her pet peeve.)
What the couple didn’t share, though, was a similar upbringing.
Born in England in 1963, Williams spent his early childhood in Deep River, Ont., a small but smug town full of scientists and engineers conducting cutting-edge research at the nearby nuclear labs (his father, David, is a metallurgist). By his seventh birthday, however, Williams’s mom and dad were on the brink of a divorce that was anything but typical: his parents not only split up, but swapped partners with another husband and wife in the neighbourhood.
Williams and his younger brother, Harvey, stayed with their mother, Nonie, and their new stepfather, Jerry Sovka, an acclaimed nuclear engineer whose work took the family from Scarborough to South Korea. Williams moved so often as a teenager that he attended three different high schools, including Grades 12 and 13 in the dorms of the prestigious Upper Canada College. By the time he enrolled at the University of Toronto, he was well accustomed to fending for himself.
His wife-to-be was raised in Madsen, Ont., a mining town northwest of Thunder Bay. Her father, Frederick—a war hero whose regiment stormed Juno Beach on D-Day—was chief geologist at Madsen Red Lake Gold Mines Ltd., a respected position in a town that relied so heavily on one industry. Irene, his wife of 47 years, was the love of his life.
Their only daughter, pretty and smart, was a high school honours student with a close group of friends and no plans to stay in northern Ontario. After graduation, she enrolled at the University of Guelph, earning a degree in applied science with a specialty in human nutrition, and later an M.B.A. By all accounts, Fred and Irene were infinitely proud of her achievements—and welcomed Williams into the family with open arms. “Russ spoke very highly of Mary-Liz’s parents,” Farquhar recalls. “He was very fond of them.”
In 1990, when Williams was assigned an instructor’s post at the air force flying school at CFB Portage la Prairie, Harriman joined him in Manitoba. They shared a house close to the base, and a black and white kitten named Curio (short for Curiosity). The following year—June 1, 1991—the couple exchanged vows at an art gallery in Winnipeg. At their reception, the bride and groom would only kiss if a guest stepped up to the microphone and sang a love song.
Farquhar was the emcee that night, and when the dancing began he remembers asking his friend about being a daddy. “He said: ‘No, it’s not going to happen, Jeff.’ I looked at him and saw how serious he was.” (A fellow flight instructor, who also attended the wedding, asked Williams the same question. “He said he didn’t want to put a kid in the kind of world we were living in.”)
A year later, Williams was posted to CFB Shearwater in Nova Scotia, where he met Jeffrey Manney, a fellow captain who, two decades later, would be interviewed by police. “The four of us spent a lot of time together: me and my wife, and he and Mary-Liz,” Manney recalls. “Mary-Liz is a fantastic individual, incredibly smart, and very, very nice. And Russ really was the same.”
Like Harriman, Manney knew the other Russ: the gifted pilot. The doting husband. The obsessive-compulsive neat freak who laughed at his own hang-ups. The cat lover whose cat didn’t always deserve the affection. “Curio was a bit nasty,” Manney says. “I don’t think she ever bit Russ or Mary-Liz, but pretty much everyone else got attacked.”
By 1995, Williams, Harriman and Curio were on the move again, this time to Ottawa. Career-wise, it was the ideal spot for both. Williams landed a coveted posting with the 412 Squadron, the Challenger unit that ferries prime ministers and other VIPs across the country, while Harriman joined the Heart & Stroke’s national head office. They settled in the suburb of Orléans, building a two-storey home on a corner lot.
“They were wonderful neighbours,” says Theresa Gagné, who lived next door for 13 years. “Mary Elizabeth was very friendly with everyone. She was full of life, and loved to laugh.” George White, another neighbour, jokingly called them DINKs (double income, no kids). “Mary-Liz would say: ‘We’ve got our cat,’ ” he says. “That was their baby.”
Williams flew Challengers during the Chrétien era and, when he left the unit in 1999, the prime minister gave him an autographed portrait. (He signed it “Jean.”) Williams, who used one of the upstairs bedrooms as a home office, hung the photo on the wall, right next to the one of deputy PM Sheila Copps. In 2005, he would add the Queen to his wall of fame. “Russ was humble pie all the way,” says Farquhar. “He never bragged, and he was never in your face about what he achieved.”
Mary-Liz was no different. Like her husband, she was as modest as she was talented. While Williams was piloting senior politicians, Harriman was working behind the scenes to help launch “Health Check,” the red and white food label that tells Canadians whether their groceries meet nutritional standards. It was Harriman who helped convince dieticians to endorse the new initiative, now a staple on supermarket shelves across the country. “Maybe nobody in the media knew about her, but certainly a lot of us knew about her and very much appreciated her,” says William Tholl, the foundation’s former CEO.
As their professional lives flourished, though, Williams and Harriman endured some personal struggles. In September 2000, Mary-Liz’s mom died of Lou Gehrig’s disease. Shortly after, Williams’s mother and stepfather filed for divorce, three decades after their awkward beginnings in Deep River. The breakup infuriated Russ, triggering what Harvey Williams would later call “a deep rift between him and my mother and myself.” Russ would remain close with his father, but in the decade before his arrest he rarely spoke to his mom or brother.
Life moved on. Both were promoted (Williams to major; Harriman to Heart & Stroke’s associate executive director) and their careers kept them busy. Among many other things, Harriman co-authored a brie?ng for the Romanow commission on health care, helped launch the Canadian Stroke Strategy (a coalition that aims to build a nationwide approach to prevention, treatment and rehabilitation), and was praised in the House of Commons for her tireless advocacy work—twice.
The summer of 2004 was especially hectic—and emotional. Harriman’s father passed away at the age of 84, just as Williams was being promoted to lieutenant-colonel and reassigned to Canadian Forces Base Trenton, a three-hour drive from their Orléans home. On July 13, Fred was buried in the same cemetery plot as Irene; six days later, his son-in-law officially took command of the 437 Transport Squadron, the Airbus unit that ?ies troops, supplies and VIPs overseas.
For the first time since those long drives between Moose Jaw and Calgary, Williams and Harriman were living apart. They were anxious to buy a piece of property near CFB Trenton, something that could double as a temporary bunk for Williams and a long-term cottage for both. By summer’s end, they found the place: a $178,000 waterfront bungalow in the sleepy village of Tweed, Ont.
Over the next 16 months, Williams would spend most weeknights alone on Cosy Cove Lane. On weekends, either he drove back to Orléans or Mary-Liz visited the cottage. “They were like kids, the two of them—always walking hand in hand,” says Ron, who lives next door to the cottage with his wife, Monique. “If he was out doing the weeding, she was sitting in a chair reading a book, watching him. His first concern was always his wife.”
The new neighbours became quick friends. Williams ice-fished with Ron and his son (“You wouldn’t believe how good he was at filleting fish—like a doctor,” Ron says) and learned to play cribbage at their kitchen table. Ron’s daughter, still in elementary school at the time, was the teacher.
“Tell me what I did wrong,” Williams said during one of those early crib tutorials.
“Well, normally you wouldn’t start with a five,” the girl answered. It became their inside joke. Well, normally…
In December 2005, after flying Queen Elizabeth II on her Western Canadian tour, Williams deployed on a six-month tour to Camp Mirage, the military’s logistics base in Dubai. When he returned home, the air force transferred him to DND headquarters, bringing an end to his solo nights at the cottage.
It was during that stint back in Orléans, in 2007, when Williams and Harriman faced a heartbreaking decision: Curio, their beloved cat, had to be euthanized. Devastated, they paid a vet to come to the house so she wouldn’t have to die in a strange place.
“He had tears in his eyes telling us about that cat,” says Ron, the Tweed neighbour. He remembers it so well because his mother-in-law was gravely ill around the time Curio died, and shortly after that, in September 2007, the whole family drove to Sudbury to visit Monique’s mom one last time.
While they were away, Williams turned his fantasies into reality for the first time.
It’s impossible to know whether the loss of his cat helped trigger his depraved descent. At the time, Williams was also suffering from a sudden bout of chronic joint pain and popping a cocktail of prescription drugs. The backaches had become so fierce, friends say, that he had trouble sitting for 30 minutes at a time, and feared his career in the cockpit could be over. (Even during his videotaped confession, there were moments when he leaned against a wall.)
But Williams himself has never offered an explanation for his crimes. As he told Det-Sgt. Smyth: “I don’t know the answers and I’m pretty sure the answers don’t matter.” All that’s certain is what he did—and the lengths he went to keep his wife from finding out.
Williams walked through his neighbours’ open front door and headed for the bedroom of the same 12-year-old girl who taught him to play crib. He spent three hours inside, snapping pornographic self-portraits as he combed through her drawers and played with her underwear. When he left after midnight, he took six items with him.
Clearly, he chose a safe target for his first strike. He knew the family was gone, knew they didn’t lock the front door, and knew his way around the house. As noted in the agreed statement of facts read at his sentencing hearing, the neighbours “considered Mr. Williams and Ms. Harriman friends.”
What the statement doesn’t say, however, is whether Harriman was at the cottage that weekend. In fact, most of the counts laid out in the 96-page document make no mention of her at all. But based on Williams’s military postings, it is certain that over the next 2½ years, as he graduated from fetish burglar to serial killer, he was with his wife more than he wasn’t. So he concocted an alibi: he told her that his late-night strolls helped soothe his sore back before bed.
Did she ever wonder why he carried his digital camera on those walks? Did she even notice it?
Over the next two months, Williams would commit another four robberies in Tweed, stealing dozens more pieces of lingerie. Back in Ottawa—in the home office decorated with portraits of Chrétien and the Queen—he downloaded his self-portraits to his Mac desktop computer. The bedroom he shared with Mary-Liz was just steps away.
As the months wore on, the urges intensified. At one house in Tweed, he spent 30 minutes picking the lock. At another, he felt so comfortable rifling through the dressers that he would return eight more times. On June 1, 2008—his 17th wedding anniversary—he walked out of a neighbour’s house with yet another handful of lingerie.
By then, Williams was also targeting homes in Orléans, the obsessive-compulsive routine always the same: photos of the bedroom, photos of himself naked and masturbating, photos of the items methodically folded and displayed, like a store shelf. In October 2008, he snapped a shot of himself wearing a pair of pink panties underneath his air force blues. A few days later, he spent an entire Sunday morning inside his house, taking shots of the items he robbed the night before.
That New Year’s Eve, a few minutes after the ball dropped on Times Square, Williams slipped on his winter boots and went for another of his “back-stretching” walks, stopping at the house of a 15-year-old girl around the corner from his Orléans house. He stole 68 pieces of clothing—then returned the very next night. A month later, on Valentine’s Day, he tried to slink through another neighbour’s window, but fled when the alarm went off.
Where exactly was Mary-Liz when all this was happening? Was she naive? Disinterested? Was her marriage, as Timothy Appleby’s new book suggests, a sexless partnership “of convenience”? Close friends have told Maclean’s that after two decades together (and many nights apart) the couple was still very much in love. And it seems that as far as Harriman knew, Williams had a perfectly good excuse for roaming the streets after dark: his sore back. “He never gave Mary-Liz a reason not to trust him,” Farquhar says. “He was not the guy out there at the bar, being a jackass and being derogatory toward women.”
But in secret, he was something far, far worse. On June 20, 2009, he broke into another Orléans home, a property so close it can be seen from his backyard. He spent almost three hours in the bedroom of a 24-year-old woman, trying on her underwear and lying on her bed while clicking away at his camera. He took 186 pieces of clothing. The next day, Williams meticulously photographed and downloaded each of his trophies, cataloguing them in a series of computer subfolders (“Basement laundry,” “Bedroom,” “Spare room”) stored deep within his hard drive. As one prosecutor said during the sentencing hearing: “He kept everything hidden in file folders so that his wife would never discover the evidence of his criminal activities.”
As for the underwear, it all depended on the scene of the crime. In Orléans, he stuffed his souvenirs into computer boxes in the basement—boxes he knew Harriman would never look in. In Tweed, his hiding place was a green military duffel bag, the kind that soldiers and airmen keep packed in case of a short-notice assignment. Why would Harriman ever think to look inside?
In the summer of 2009, Williams was given even more freedom to feed his alter-ego: his promotion to Trenton wing commander meant he would once again be living alone at the cottage. At the time, he and his wife were also in the process of selling their place in Orléans and building, in Williams’s words, Harriman’s “dream” home. She was at the base for his swearing-in ceremony on July 15, sitting in the front row as the outgoing colonel handed her a bouquet of flowers. But in the months to come, Harriman would spend most nights at different friends’ houses in Ottawa, waiting out the construction. She only came to Tweed on weekends.
Williams told Det.-Sgt. Smyth that his behaviour began to “escalate” with Mary-Liz out of town. He “wanted to take more risks.” He ran naked into a woman’s house while she took a shower. He stalked a 14-year-old girl. And in the early morning hours of Thursday, Sept. 17, Williams worked up the nerve to commit his first sexual assault—blindfolding a terrified young mother and snapping photos while her baby slept in a nearby room.
That Saturday, Harriman was back at the cottage. So was Jeffrey Manney, Williams’s old friend from their CFB Shearwater days. The three attended a Belleville Bulls hockey game, where Williams dropped the ceremonial first puck, then drove back to the cottage for a late dinner. “It was just a nice, pleasant evening,” Manney recalls. “We had a lovely talk, the three of us. We just reminisced.”
Eventually, Williams started getting dressed for his nightly stroll. “Mary-Liz actually said he goes for these walks to get his back sorted out before he sleeps,” Manney says, repeating the same words he told police after the arrest. “I just kind of went ‘okay,’ and went to bed.”
His pal returned to the home of his assault victim. Her boyfriend was inside, so Williams kept walking. “I ask myself: ‘How did I befriend someone who could have done these things?’ ” Manney says now. “He loved his wife, he was always a nice guy, and I just don’t know how. I can’t put the two people together. I can’t.”
In public, Williams said all the right things. After his second sexual assault—on Laurie Massicotte, a Tweed neighbour just three doors down—he told numerous people that his wife was spooked by the recent attacks.
Less than two months later, on a Monday night in late November, Harriman was sleeping at yet another friend’s house for the week. Three hundred kilometres away, in the small town of Brighton, her husband was hiding in a basement, a balaclava covering his face.
What he did to Cpl. Marie-France Comeau over the next four hours was captured on a video recording that is now stored in a locked room at OPP headquarters. In it, Comeau fought like a soldier would, despite being tied up and horrifically beaten. In her final minutes of life, the 37-year-old begged for mercy. “I don’t deserve to die,” she told Williams. “Have a heart, please.” He stuck tape over her nostrils and watched her stop breathing.
Williams left the house before sunrise (with nine pieces of her lingerie) and drove straight to Ottawa for an 8:30 a.m. meeting. That night, Nov. 24, he met his wife for dinner. As they ate, Comeau’s body was still waiting to be discovered. Williams would tell police that they chose a restaurant in Westboro that “we would expect to be able to frequent once the house was finished.” Harriman was so excited that she had amassed a pile of home decor magazines, with Post-it notes pointing to the style ideas she wanted to try.
That Saturday, Harriman joined Williams at the Trenton officers’ mess for the Christmas ball. “Mary Elizabeth was a great lady to talk to, about as friendly as you could ever ask for,” says one person who attended. “He was working the room, and she was, too.”
Two days later, Nov. 30, Williams was back in front of the computer (now at the cottage during the construction), uploading his new video footage. He labeled the ?le “MFC.mov”—Marie-France Comeau.
The Westboro townhouse was finally finished in early December 2009, and whether it was the hours spent unpacking or the realization that he was now a killer, Williams the predator went dormant for two months, his longest break in nearly two years. When he did decide to strike again—on Jan. 28, 2010, at the rural Belleville home of Jessica Lloyd—his wife was once again a safe distance away.
He used the same Hi-8 videotapes to capture his attack on Lloyd, recording over the footage of Comeau. And again, he brought along his Sony digital camera, snapping an astounding 325 photos. His BlackBerry was never far away, either. After abducting Lloyd and driving her to his cottage, Williams emailed a subordinate, claiming he had the flu—and that no one should tell Mary-Liz if she phoned the office, which she often did.
Williams promised Lloyd she would survive as long she obeyed his orders, and she complied in every possible way. At one point, during an apparent seizure, the 27-year-old wept as the camera rolled. “I don’t want to die, please,” she said. “If I die will you make sure my mom knows that I love her.”
Williams—the same man who made sure his cat died in a peaceful setting—clubbed Lloyd with a flashlight and left her body in his garage. He then steered his Pathfinder back to the base for a few hours of sleep before an early Saturday morning flight. (He was scheduled to transport a unit of troops to California for a training exercise). When he landed back in Trenton later that night, he drove straight to Ottawa, where, in his words, he and Mary-Liz spent the weekend “putting together the new house.”
But he did find time to flip through separate Facebook pages set up to honour Comeau and search for Lloyd. He also uploaded his latest footage into two files: “JEL1of2.mov” and “JEL2of2.mov”—Jessica Elizabeth Lloyd. It wasn’t until late Tuesday night, four days after the murder, that Williams returned to Tweed and dumped her in the woods.
On the morning of Feb. 9, 2010, just 36 hours after Williams confessed, Lt.-Cmdr. Stephen Merriman steered his car into the parking lot of the Quinte West Detention Centre. As the senior chaplain at CFB Trenton, it was his duty to make sure the colonel—at the time, still a serving member—was offered pastoral care. They met in a small room, no Plexiglas, and Williams was dressed in his new uniform: an orange jumpsuit.
“There were certainly tears when his concern came up for Mary Elizabeth,” the padre recalls. “I never doubted the concern, the deep concern, that he had for his wife.” (Merriman only agreed to speak to Maclean’s because his visit is mentioned briefly in the agreed statement of facts).
Williams was so anxious to get the police out of his townhouse—and his wife back in—that he told the padre to point detectives to the piano in his cottage. Inside, he said, they would find two videotapes and a camera memory card, each one containing graphic proof of his guilt. “It was all about the care for his wife,” Merriman says. “He was very sincere, and wanted the best for her. I never doubted that.”
Williams’s attempt to speed up the search was futile; officers would spend the next nine days combing through his properties. In Tweed, when they unzipped the green duffel bag, 300 pieces of lingerie spilled out. In the basement of the new townhouse they found a blue and white Epson printer box, where Williams stored only bras and panties from the four women he attacked (Jane Doe, Massicotte, Comeau and Lloyd). Investigators also discovered a pillowcase in the corner of the garage. It contained five pairs of panties, one bra, two vibrators, two pajama bottoms, a slip, and two pairs of children’s underwear.
Williams told Smyth he was planning to dispose of his underwear stash the exact same day he was called to come to the Ottawa police station for questioning. But it’s not clear how long that pillowcase was actually sitting in the garage.
The motherlode—his two 500-gigabyte computer hard drives—were hidden in the basement ceiling. Stored inside, in neatly catalogued but thoroughly concealed folders, were thousands of crime-scene snapshots and both videos. One photo, taken just days before the confession, shows Williams’s computer screen with two open browsers. One is a news article discussing Lloyd’s disappearance; the other is a video clip of her assault.
Harriman will never understand the nightmare Jessica Lloyd endured inside her cottage. Or the raw desperation of Marie-France Comeau, pleading with Williams to “get out, get out.” And she is certainly not Roxanne Lloyd, forced to stare down her daughter’s killer—in a packed courtroom that did not include any trace of Mary Elizabeth Harriman. “I am tortured every time I think about the fear and horror that Jessica must have gone through the last hours of her life,” Roxane said that day on the stand. “If there was any way that I could have spared Jessica from what was done to her, I would have.”
Harriman is living a much different hell, but one no less real. A smart, successful woman who dedicated her career to prolonging the lives of others was married to a man who ended them—with unspeakable brutality. To say she has been utterly betrayed and humiliated does not begin to describe her anguish. No matter what she does, no matter how hard she tries to outrun the notoriety, she will always be his wife. Imagine the guilt. Imagine being told that after your husband videotaped his first homicide, he took you out for dinner.
Imagine realizing that his repulsive trophies were right under your nose the entire time, begging to be discovered.
Harriman is not the first woman to be told that her seemingly perfect husband was actually a two-faced predator. John Wayne Gacy (a.k.a. “The Killer Clown”) kept his murder spree hidden from his spouse. So did Gary Ridgway, the infamous “Green River Killer” who claimed at least four dozen victims. As his wife, Judith Mawson, said in a recent television interview, Ridgway made her “feel like a newlywed every day.”
The same could be said about Russ Williams. After Harriman’s father passed away, he surprised Mary-Liz by having his Second World War medals professionally mounted and framed. And when she wanted to build that dream home, he was happy to oblige.
“Woman after woman after woman that I’ve encountered in these cases—and I’ve been doing this for 35 years—knew nothing,” says Louis Schlesinger, a leading forensic psychologist. “I absolutely believe them. Leading a double life is very, very typical. It’s the rule rather than the exception.”
It doesn’t matter that Williams was a high-ranking, universally respected colonel with a sense of humour and a natural ability to lead. People still cling to the false belief that all predators come with greasy hair and dirty trench coats. It makes us feel safe to think we can spot the monster in our midst.
Which helps explain why Harriman’s name now generates 145,000 Google hits. Judging her from afar—if she just looked in the printer box, he could have been stopped—is strangely comforting. “Most people believe they can detect deviance or deception by looking at or talking to someone,” Schlesinger says. “It’s not true. But people want to believe that because it gives them a sense of security.”
If Williams really did love his wife, the publicity she has endured—a “never-ending onslaught,” according to her lawyer—is his harshest punishment. As her psychiatrist wrote in a recent affidavit, the 53-year-old is in a “vulnerable emotional state,” and “if pushed further by constant invasions of her privacy, there is a very strong possibility that Harriman will deteriorate and be incapable of functioning at her current level of ability.” (And that was before Appleby’s book was released, reporting that Williams “had not had sex with his wife for years.”)
Harriman’s only public comments have come in her own affidavit, filed in response to the lawsuit launched by her husband’s first victim. She insists she “had absolutely no intention whatsoever” of fraudulently acquiring Williams’s assets, including the townhouse. “At all times my intent in executing the conveyance was to provide for my financial security,” she wrote. “The revelation of these charges has been devastating to me.”
Was their marriage strained? Were they essentially living separate lives, even when they were under the same roof? Was there ever a moment, however brief, when Harriman wondered: what is Russ really doing during all those walks?
Does she regret filing that complaint about her hardwood floors? Was it done in a moment of hysterical desperation, before the details of her husband’s crimes had sunk in? Does she want to say something to his victims, but can’t quite yet? Does she understand why people want to hear her side of the story?
For now, all that’s certain is that Williams’s wife is determined to hold on to what little is left. She has filed for divorce. She is still living in her dream home with Rosebud, the cat they adopted after Curio died. And she has returned to her desk at the Heart & Stroke Foundation, where colleagues have been nothing but supportive. On Oct. 21—the very same day her husband was driven in shackles to a solitary cell at Kingston Penitentiary—Harriman’s name appeared on the charity’s updated list of registered lobbyists.
Maclean’s has also learned that she has offered to settle the property dispute out of court, not only with Jane Doe, but with Laurie Massicotte and other victims traumatized by her husband. Mike Pretsell, a lawyer who represents Jane Doe, would not confirm the negotiations. “I want that issue determined on its merits,” he says. “I don’t want to be seen as extorting money from Ms. Harriman by embarrassing her further.”
Neither does Laurie Massicotte. Williams snuck into her living room and held her hostage for three hours, stripping her with a knife and forcing her to pose for his camera. Eighteen months later, she continues to be haunted by the memory of it all, and the guilt of knowing that she survived while others didn’t.
Massicotte is sure that Harriman lives with her own deep sense of guilt—that she blames herself for failing to recognize her husband’s true identity. “Hopefully some day she will be able to forgive herself,” Massicotte says. “For me, that’s my biggest hurdle to get over: forgiving myself. So I just hope and pray she can someday forgive herself, too.”
Monday, April 11, 2011