Hundreds of thousands of crimes are committed in North America every single day. A vast majority of them go unreported and many of those that are reported remain unsolved. Thankfully, the majority of these crimes are innocuous and nonviolent.
What happens though, when a string of seemingly-innocuous crimes portend something far more sinister to come? And what happens when law enforcement is unable to see that connection before it’s too late…
The police in Ottawa were dealing with a rash of burglaries in a middle-class neighborhood. Whoever the thief was, he was careful only to break in when no one was home and only took one thing: lingerie. He was most certainly a pervert, but he seemed to be a mostly harmless one. He struck again and again, but never seemed to leave witnesses.
In Tweed, a town about 200 kilometers west of where the burglaries took place, two women were sexually assaulted by a man. He took pictures of them, but thankfully didn’t attempt penetration. In both cases, detectives in Ottawa and Tweed had no leads. There was no reason to believe that the crimes were committed by the same criminal…
In Brighton, just south of Tweed, police received a call that an air force flight attendant had not only been beaten and raped, but murdered afterwards. The officers weren’t aware of it, but they were indeed looking for the exact same criminal: and whoever he was, he was escalating. It wasn’t until some weeks later that they happened upon a coincidence.
Clues at the Scene
27-year-old Jessica Elizabeth Lloyd went missing in Tweed sometime later and though the police still weren’t sure about the connection, some clues left at the scene would lead investigators to the culprit. Though nothing could have ever prepared them for the most unlikely suspect imaginable…
Mistakes were Made
During the asphyxiation of 38-year-old Marie-France Comeau, the air force flight attendant, the killer had left a partial print in some of her blood. It was an imprint of the killer’s footwear. More treads were found at the scene of Jessica Lloyd’s kidnapping, only these were from a sports utility vehicle and were left in the snow around her home.
The treads of the tire matched those on the SUV of one Col. Russell Williams, a man who up until that moment had an unblemished personal history. He graduated from the University of Toronto with a degree in economics and eventually joined the Canadian Air Force: which of course linked him to at least one of the crimes…
It didn’t make any sense. Col. Wlliams was, by all accounts, the perfect guy. He was competent on the job and friendly with staff. He was altruistic and even visited his secretary in the hospital when she got sick. He golfed, fished, and played cribbage with the neighbors. He even started a fundraiser for the sick cousin of a coworker.
The most anyone could accuse Russell Williams of was being a prankster, and that was more back in his college days than in his current position as a respected air force pilot. That decision, to join the Air Force, was not one he took lightly and came on the heels of a difficult break-up with a girlfriend. It would be a long time before he dated again and perhaps that was where the trouble began…
Still, after a long successful career, Williams did eventually find love and had a happy marriage. He seemed the most unlikely person to ever embark upon a crime spree. In fact, his “life of crime” didn’t really even begin until September 2007, when Williams was 44 years old. It all started with his break-ins.
Jekyll and Hyde
If he was indeed the man committing these crimes, then Col. Williams was sort of a modern Jekyll and Hyde. By day, he was base commander of CFB Trenton, the biggest air force base in Canada. Yet by night, as far as police believed, he was a perverted sexual predator whose urges were no longer kept in check by simple stealing women’s panties…
Links to Homes
Col. Williams primary residence was in Ottawa, where the burglaries took place. He also had a cottage in Tweed, where he would take regular jogs through the neighborhoods in order to find willing victims. It was during these “reconnaissance missions” that he began to formulate a plan in his head.
Plans and Plots
Williams wasn’t your run-of-the-mill impetuous criminal. He was cold, calculating, and had spent a good deal of time casing not only the homes he broke into, but also looking for opportunities. In this case, looking for victims to sexually assault. His first few crimes made it clear though, he couldn’t seal the deal…at first anyway…
Experts believe that Williams is a paraphilic, or what many people would consider a sexual deviant and that he couldn’t achieve what he wanted with his wife. This meant that he had to find his jollies elsewhere. The reason he stole lingerie, took pictures of the women he assaulted, tied up, and raped, was because he needed the sexual gratification: and he wanted trophies to look back on later.
He was involved in over 82 break-ins during his spree. It must have made him feel almost uncatchable, invulnerable. It was natural that he would begin to escalate to the level he did. He must have assumed he’d never be caught. Because of this, he got sloppy, which is what eventually led police to him…
Col. Williams began attacking people he knew, like the flight attendant. This risked him being identified but it must not have dawned on him until after he had sexually assaulted Marie-France Comeau. He attempted to clean the crime scenes, but just wasn’t good enough.
After he forgot about his tire tracks, police called him in for questioning and though he initially failed to cooperate with them, he was eventually forced to give in. They executed a warrant on his properties and Williams had no choice but to come clean to interrogators. He confessed to the sex and the murders….
Written in Violence
It’s strange that people like Ted Bundy, the American murderer who killed more than 30 women during the 1970s, was a compulsive thief in high school and had a history of violence leading from his teens, but that Col. Williams didn’t begin his criminal behavior until after middle age. He doesn’t fit neatly into the profiles of the typical serial killer.
Vernon Quinsey, professor emeritus of psychology, biology and psychiatry at Queen’s University weighed in on the unusual nature of Col. Williams’ case. “It’s very unusual for a guy who’s got his act together like that…to all of a sudden start committing crimes at a late age…The guys you typically see start earlier…”
Killers of a Certain Age
He adds that almost nobody starts a life of crime in their mid 40’s and indeed most prolific serial killers show signs of psychopathy from a very young age. Equally unusual in Williams’ case was his escalation from panty fetish to sex assault to murder. Williams’ sentence was exactly what one might expect.
Col. Williams would go on to spend the rest of his life in prison for what he’d done, though he did attempt suicide once prior to his sentencing. Despite the fact that many believed him to be schizophrenic, Quinsey dismisses suggestions of a split personality. His argument is that Williams was very organized and his escalation didn’t result from anything but a severe compulsion.