A woman who was ambushed in her living room and sexually assaulted by ex-colonel Russell Williams is now accusing the killer’s wife of knowing about his sadistic crimes before his arrest and concealing the truth from authorities.
Laurie Massicotte—who was attacked on her couch, stripped naked with a knife, and ordered to pose for Williams’s camera just weeks before he committed his first murder—alleges in newly filed court documents that Mary Elizabeth Harriman “was aware” of her husband’s “illicit conduct” but “did not report that conduct to the police.” Massicotte also claims her assailant’s longtime spouse “gained financially from this illicit conduct” by acquiring Williams’s assets after he was captured, including his half of the couple’s new Ottawa townhome.
The former commander of CFB Trenton, Canada’s largest and busiest air force base, Williams confessed four years ago to a vile crime spree that shocked the country: two horrific murders, two home-invasion sexual assaults, and dozens of fetish burglaries targeting women’s lingerie. But never before has anyone connected to the case—police, prosecutors, or other victims—publicly accused Williams’s wife of knowing he was a serial sexual predator.
Harriman denies the explosive allegation, stating in her own court filing that Massicotte has “provided no evidence whatsoever to support” such a “frivolous” and “vexatious” claim. Harriman’s lawyers, Mary Jane Binks and Jonathan Richardson, declined an interview request from Maclean’s but reiterated their client’s position in a prepared statement: “These allegations are scandalous and are nothing more than an attempt to diminish Ms. Harriman in the eyes of the public and the eyes of the Court.”
A senior executive at The Heart & Stroke Foundation of Canada, Harriman is a defendant in three active lawsuits filed by some of her husband’s many victims: “Jane Doe,” the first woman he sexually assaulted; relatives of Jessica Lloyd, who was abducted from her bedroom and killed inside the couple’s Tweed, Ont., cottage; and Massicotte, a neighbour who lived just three doors down from that now-infamous lakefront bungalow. Although Williams is the key defendant, all three lawsuits also accuse Harriman of acquiring his half of their $700,000 house in a “fraudulent” post-arrest deal designed to shield his assets from potential litigation. (Harriman has denied any wrongdoing, insisting she paid “good and due consideration” for his portion of the property.)
But Laurie Massicotte now alleges something far more sinister than a suspicious land deal. She claims Mary Elizabeth Harriman knew her husband was leading a depraved double life and chose not to turn him in.
That stunning accusation—not proven, and yet to be tested in court—is among numerous proposed amendments to Massicotte’s $7-million lawsuit, first launched in September 2011. Her Toronto lawyer, Philip Healey, has filed a motion with a Kingston judge seeking approval to update the original statement of claim to include the new pleading against Harriman, among other changes. (Healey is also alleging that Section 30 of the Pension Act, which protects a person’s pension from court-awarded damages, is unconstitutional. Under current law, Williams’s victims have no right to demand his military pension, reported to be $60,000 a year.)
A hearing on the motion is scheduled for February 20 in Kingston.
Exactly what prompted this latest allegation against Williams’s wife is not clear, especially after so much time has passed. Healey, a partner at the Bay Street law firm Aird & Berlis, did not respond when contacted by Maclean’s. An affidavit filed in support of his motion says “the action is still in its early stages” and “no party will suffer prejudice if the proposed amendments are granted.”
Harriman’s lawyers oppose the request to amend, arguing that the supporting materials filed to date “introduce no evidence whatsoever of the scandalous allegations now being made.” Massicotte issued her original statement of claim more than two years ago, they note, yet only now is she suddenly accusing Harriman of having prior knowledge of her husband’s crimes. If the amendment is ultimately allowed, they contend, it should be promptly struck from the claim as “frivolous, vexatious, and an abuse of process.”
A gifted pilot and natural leader, Williams was a rising star in the Canadian military, a respected officer who ferried the Queen and prime ministers before earning the top job at the country’s most important air force hub. Yet by the time he assumed command in July 2009, he was literally a monster in uniform, a relentless, obsessive stalker hiding in colonel’s clothing. Now a few weeks shy of his 51st birthday, Williams pleaded guilty to 88 charges and is serving a life sentence at Quebec’s maximum-security Port-Cartier Institution. If he lives to be 72, he will be eligible to apply for parole.
Harriman, 56, has never spoken publicly about her notorious husband, and fair or not, her silence has fueled endless speculation about their marriage—and how anyone in her position could be so oblivious. When police searched the couple’s Ottawa home following Williams’s arrest, they found a pillowcase in the garage and multiple computer boxes in the basement, all stuffed with stolen women’s clothing. A bag beside their bed contained a black skull cap. At the Tweed cottage 200 km away, investigators found yet another duffel bag filled with hundreds more pieces of lingerie.
In hindsight, the proof was all there, just waiting to be discovered. But as consumed as Williams was with chronicling his crimes and collecting his perverse trophies, the evidence disclosed at his 2010 sentencing hearing suggests he was equally careful about keeping his alter ego a secret from his spouse. As prosecutors said, he made sure to bury his crime-scene photos and videos in a “deeply nested and complex series of subfolders” on their computer “so that his wife would never discover the evidence of his criminal activities.” He also told Harriman he took all those late-night walks to stretch out his sore back.
In the end, Williams did break down and confess for the sole sake of his wife. Grilled for hours by the Ontario Provincial Police on Feb. 7, 2010—and told that officers were currently searching his Ottawa residence—the killer finally buckled. “I’m struggling with how upset my wife is right now,”
Williams told his interrogator, taking a deep breath. “I’m concerned that they’re tearing apart my wife’s brand new house.”
“I want to, um, minimize the impact on my wife,” he continued, a few minutes later. “My interest is in making my wife’s life a little easier.”
After he confessed, Williams wrote a note to his “Dearest Mary Elizabeth,” expressing his affection and regret. “I am so very sorry for having hurt you like this,” he wrote. “I love you, Russ.” In previously filed court documents, Harriman says it was “devastating” to learn the truth about her husband and that she, too, is a “victim” of his double life.
As part of a “domestic contract” signed six weeks after Williams’s arrest, Harriman paid $62,000 in cash and assumed the remaining mortgage on the Ottawa townhouse, while he took sole possession of the cottage, purchased a few years earlier for $178,000. Although Harriman claims she had “absolutely no intention whatsoever” of shielding Williams’s assets from litigation—and that the deal was done solely for her “financial security”—his victims have described the land transfer as “clearly suspicious” and carried out in “secret.” (As Maclean’s reported last May, Williams has since sold the cottage for $165,000, with the proceeds being held in trust pending the outcome of each lawsuit.)
Harriman, who still lives in the same Ottawa home, initiated divorce proceedings after Williams pleaded guilty, but three years later they remain husband and wife. She originally asked for a publication ban on portions of the divorce file, including her financial and medical records, on the grounds that the inevitable “media feeding frenzy” could jeopardize her fragile mental health and maybe even her position at the Heart & Stroke Foundation. But in January 2012, the Court of Appeal for Ontario ruled against Harriman, concluding that her desire for privacy doesn’t trump the public’s right to open and accessible court proceedings.
Still, the province’s highest court was clearly sympathetic, describing Harriman as “indeed yet another victim of Williams’s depravity.” She “was shocked and devastated by the charges laid against her husband,” the ruling stated. “Through the revelations that followed the laying of the charges, [Harriman] learned that her husband, to whom she had been married for many years and who she believed to be a highly respected, successful and loving man, was in reality a sexual predator and coldblooded serial murderer.”
Ironically enough, Harriman’s efforts to keep her divorce private actually revealed the most details yet about what she endured in the months after Williams was caught—including “emotional shock and chronic stress” and “symptoms consistent with a diagnosis of major depressive disorder.” A letter from her psychiatrist, disclosed as part of the court case, said Harriman lost 25 lb. in the year after her husband’s arrest and may not have endured if it wasn’t for her gratifying job and supportive friends and colleagues. “[W]hen not extremely busy in the workplace, she has found herself preoccupied with the victims of her husband, and their relatives,” her psychiatrist wrote. “[She] is a private individual and she does need calm, peace and quiet in order to continue functioning normally. She currently feels that she has no privacy left.”
The divorce proceedings also confirmed, for the first time, that Harriman followed her doctor’s advice and left the country on vacation during Williams’s October 2010 sentencing hearing. But it also revealed—to the shock of many—that Harriman continued to visit her disgraced husband in prison after his guilty plea, with the most recent confirmed visit occurring in March 2011.
Whether that was Harriman’s final visit, or whether the couple continues to communicate, is not known.
Unlike the other two lawsuits, Massicotte’s claim also seeks damages from the Ontario government for the alleged negligence of the provincial police. She says the OPP should have warned her Tweed neighbourhood after “Jane Doe” was attacked in her home on Sept. 17, 2009, less than two weeks before Massicotte was ambushed. “The police carried out their investigation in a manner which placed the value of the criminal investigation above their duty to protect the Plaintiff by allowing women to be vulnerable to further sexual assaults,” reads another proposed amendment to her claim. “They did this by choosing not to warn potential victims like Ms. Massicotte.”
Her claim also criticizes authorities for leaving her partially naked and bound during the early hours of their investigation, for referring to her as “crazy” over the police radio, and treating her “with disbelief.” In her most damning allegation, Massicotte, now 49, also accuses the OPP of initially excluding her neighbour as a potential suspect “due to his position as the Colonel in charge of CFB Trenton.” (Massicotte’s three adult daughters are also named as plaintiffs, demanding damages for the “loss of guidance, care and companionship from their mother.” They “are afraid to attend” their mom’s home, the lawsuit alleges, and “have been humiliated by the release of information of their mothers [sic] injury and assault.”)
Ontario says Massicotte’s claims against the province should be dismissed. In a statement of defence filed in 2012, the government acknowledges “the extremely distressing experience that Ms. Massicotte endured as one of Williams’s victims” but insists the investigation was “thorough and reasonable” and that the OPP “acted at all times honestly, in good faith and in accordance with their public duties as police officers.”
Williams himself also filed a statement of defence, his only one in any of the lawsuits. Despite admitting that he assaulted Massicotte, the ex-colonel says she is not entitled to financial damages—and that she should have to pay his legal costs incurred on the file.
In December, Williams was served with Massicotte’s notice of motion, including the new accusation against his wife. As of February 7—the four-year anniversary of Williams’s now-infamous confession—his lawyer had yet to file a reply.