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True Crime Canada: The case of disgraced former Col. Russell Williams

Between February and October of 2010, the commander of Canadian Forces Base Trenton was stripped of his command. His uniform was burned. His scroll for his commissioner as an officer was shredded. Warning: This story contains details that may be distressing to some readers.
A prosecutor said the facts of the case ensure Russell Williams would likely never receive parole.

Warning: This story contains details that may be distressing to some readers.

In 2010, the commander of the Canadian Forces Base Trenton was stripped of his command. His uniform was burned. His scroll for his commissioner as an officer was shredded, and his medals were destroyed.

The former colonel Russel Williams had just been convicted of multiple counts of murder, sexual assault and forcible confinement.

He had gone from a decorated officer who had flown VIP flights for the Queen, Prince Philip, the governor-general and the prime minister to the subject of the nightly newscast that repulsed the Canadian public.

It's a truly Jekyll and Hyde tale.

Timeline: from top officer to escalation of sex crimes

Born in England, Williams came to Canada as a child, where his father worked as a scientist at a nuclear power research facility. 

After his parents divorced, Williams went to the tony Upper Canada College boarding school, later graduating from the University of Toronto Scarborough. He joined the military in 1987, spending time at bases in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba and Shearwater, Nova Scotia, before he was posted in Ottawa.

Williams went on to earn his master's degree before being named the commanding officer of a transport squadron at CFB Trenton, where he would graduate to the commander of a secret logistics outfit believed to be based in Dubai that supported military operations in Afghanistan. 

His security clearance rating was top secret.

Then, in 2008, Williams began breaking into homes and stealing women's and girls' underwear — in one case taking 186 pieces of clothing. Sometimes he would take photos of himself in the homes masturbating. 

The photos were discovered on the computer he shared with his wife. The stolen clothing was also found in the home, catalogued in minute detail. 

The court heard that twice his collection of stolen clothing became so large that he had to burn it in an Ottawa-area field.

Meanwhile, no one was wiser about his criminal activities.

By July 2009, Williams was sworn in as CFB Trenton's wing commander — in charge of Canada's largest and most important military air base.

Only two months later, he had committed his first sexual assault after blindfolding a terrified young mother, taking photos of her as her baby slept nearby. 

The next assault was on a woman who lived only several doors down from his home. In public, he told people his wife was spooked by the attack. Suspicion fell on a neighbour who was ostracized by the community until the colonel's arrest months later.

'You're going to kill me, aren't you?'

By November, his crimes had moved to a new level of horror.

Corporal Marie France Comeau was under William's command at CFB Trenton. The pair had only met once, although the colonel noted she said she lived alone.

That November, he broke into her house and took photos of himself in her underwear. A week later, Comeau arrived home, and in a search for her cat, she found Williams masked and hiding behind her furnace.

He was armed with a bag full of plastic zip ties, a camera, duct tape and a flashlight he repeatedly struck her head with.

Williams then secured the home, dragged Comeau upstairs and assaulted her for several hours as she pleaded for her life. All the time, he recorded it on camera.

"You're going to kill me, aren't you?" she asked Williams near the end of the attack, the court heard. "Have a heart, please. ... I want to live."

Instead, he covered her nose and mouth with duct tape. She suffocated to death. He then took more photos.

Before leaving Comeau's home, he bleached her bed sheets, covered her with a duvet and took several pieces of lingerie.

Her boyfriend later found her body.

Ironically, on the same day, Williams was handcuffed and thrown in "jail" as part of a United Way fundraiser.

A week later, as CFB Trenton commander, Williams sent Comeau's father, a military veteran, a condolence letter.

Three months later, Jessica Lloyd disappeared.

'If I die, will you make sure that my mom knows that I love her?'

On Jan. 27, 2010, Williams saw Lloyd, 27, on a treadmill through her home window.

A text she sent to a friend the next day was the last anyone heard from her.

The next day, Williams waited in Lloyd's backyard for her to fall asleep. Once inside her bedroom, he bound her and forced her to model lingerie as he took photos and taped himself sexually assaulting her.

Hours into the assault, he drove her to his home in Tweet, Ont. where she had a seizure and begged him to take her to a hospital. 

"If I die, will you make sure that my mom knows that I love her?" she asked him during the ordeal.

Williams gave her some fruit and continued his attack. He dressed her and began to walk her away from the house as if he were letting her go; instead, he struck her in the head with a flashlight before strangling her.

The next day he dumped her body. His SUV's tire treads would be his undoing.

An alert officer conducting road checks after the discovery of Lloyd's body noticed the unusual pattern on Williams's tire. They were a match to the crime scene. 

Williams was arrested and soon confessed to his crimes after a 10-hour interview, which played at his trial. 

In addition to the two murder counts, Williams was charged with the sexual assault of two women, breaking and entering and forcible confinement.

He pleaded guilty to almost 90 charges and was sentenced to two counts of life without the possibility of parole for 25 years for the murders. He also received two 10-year sentences for the sexual assaults, two 10-year sentences for forcible confinement and 82 one-year sentences for breaking and entering. 

The sentences run concurrently.

A prosecutor said the facts of the case ensure Williams would likely never receive parole.

He is believed to be imprisoned at the high-security prison in Port-Cartier, Que., home to some of Canada's most notorious criminals, including B.C. serial killer Robert William Pickton.

At one point, he tried to kill himself in prison. His would-be suicide note was written in mustard.

After his arrest, Williams's long-time wife, Mary-Elizabeth Harriman, was drawn into legal battles. Their property was divided. He took a house in Tweed, Ont., while she had possession of a more expensive Ottawa residence.

A $2.4-million lawsuit begun by Williams's first assault victim claimed the swap was a ruse to give Harriman the more expensive property beyond the reach of a civil suit. Harriman denied the charge saying she was devastated by the revelations about her husband. The case was later settled for an undisclosed amount.

As details of Williams's crimes came to light, other police forces from places he had been reached out for help with cold cases. However, Ontario police believe they have the full details of Williams's crimes. 

If you or someone you know is a victim of sexual assault, help is available.

  • In an emergency, call 9-1-1
  • In a crisis, call 1-800-563-0808 
  • To report a person under 19 who needs protection to the Ministry of Children and Family Development, call 310-1234 (no area code required)

You can find a full list of resources on the B.C. government’s website.