The commander of one of Canada’s largest military bases is in a prison cell today, accused of murdering two Ontario women—including a fellow service member—and sexually assaulting two others.
Col. Russell Williams, a career air force officer, was the top man at CFB Trenton, the same Ontario base that has welcomed home the flag-draped caskets of every Canadian soldier killed in Afghanistan. But on Sunday night, police slapped him with another label: serial predator.
Investigators are hesitant to reveal specifics, but the charge sheet speaks for itself, accusing the once-impeccable colonel of leading a secret double life of rape and murder. In September, police say he broke into a pair of homes and attacked two women (both victims lived near Tweed, the same Ontario hamlet where Williams resided). His next alleged victim was Marie-France Comeau, a 38-year-old corporal who was also stationed at CFB Trenton. She was killed inside her home in late-November, her lifeless body discovered by her boyfriend. And this morning, detectives discovered the remains of a second slain woman: 27-year-old Jessica Lloyd of Belleville, Ont., who was missing since Jan. 28. Arrested in Ottawa Sunday night, Williams now faces two counts each of first-degree murder, forcible confinement, break and enter, and sexual assault.
Police are not saying whether the murders were random, or if the colonel, who is married with no children, had a previous relationship with either of the women. Speaking at a press conference today, Detective-Inspector Chris Nicholas of the Ontario Provincial Police also refused to reveal what specific evidence led them to Williams—a man whose 23-year career included a stint flying the VIP Challenger jets used by prime ministers and other dignitaries. Nicholas would only say that Williams came first came to their attention Feb. 4, when officers were questioning motorists on the same rural highway where Lloyd lived. There was “a singularity” in all the incidents, Nicholas said, without providing details. He did say this, however: “We are certainly tracking the movements of where this man has been over the past several years, and we’re continuing on with our investigation.”
Dressed in a blue prison jumpsuit, Williams made a brief appearance today in a Belleville courtroom. He stated his full name, said he understood the charges, and was remanded in custody until another hearing scheduled for Feb. 18.
Needless to say, news of his arrest sent shockwaves through the Department of National Defence, where Williams seemed destined for an eventual promotion to general. As commander of 8 Wing Trenton, he was already in charge of the country’s busiest airbase, a sprawling facility between Ottawa and Toronto that houses transport planes, search and rescue aircraft, and Canada’s Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART). He took over the top job in July. “These are exciting times for the air force,” he said at the time. “I am confident that the team here is up to the task and I look forward to getting right into that work.”
Today, Lieutenant-General André Deschamps, Chief of the Air Staff, issued a far more somber statement. “This situation affects us all and I wish to extend my deepest sympathies to the families of those affected by these tragic events,” he said. “Although one is considered innocent until proven guilty, in light of the seriousness of the charges, and in consideration of the high level of responsibilities attached to the position of Wing Commander, an interim Wing Commander for 8 Wing Trenton will soon be appointed…The Canadian Forces hold their members to a very high standard of conduct and performance, in Canada or abroad, on or off military duty. I confirm that the Air Force is fully supporting civilian authorities in the conduct of the current matter.”
A self-described “avid golfer, keen photographer, fisherman and runner,” Williams enrolled in the Canadian Forces in 1987 after earning an economics and political science degree from the University of Toronto. He received his flying wings in 1990 and two years later was posted to 434 (Combat Support) Squadron in Shearwater, where he flew the CC144 Challenger in the electronic warfare/coastal patrol role. He was subsequently posted to 412 (Transport) Squadron in Ottawa, where he continued to fly the Challenger, this time hauling VIPs. Promoted to major in 1999 and lieutenant-colonel in 2004, he also served as commanding officer at Camp Mirage, the ultra-secretive forward logistics base that the government has never officially acknowledged, but is widely reported to be in Dubai. In January 2009, he was posted to the Canadian Forces Language School in Gatineau, Que., for a six-month period of French training, his last step before Trenton.