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Russell Williams, Canadian Forces Colonel Turned Criminal

Updated on September 2, 2017


The Russell Williams case was big news in Canada in the latter part of 2010.


What made this case a media sensation is the high profile status of the former Commander of Canadian Forces Base Trenton and his wife Mary Elizabeth Harriman, Associate Executive Director Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada Ottawa. They are not the reclusive types from troubled homes.

Williams has no history of parental abandonment or physical and sexual abuse. His brother is a doctor. Both his birth father and stepfather are scientists. His mother is a physiotherapist.

So because they are successful, respected people in their community, we naturally question how did Russell Williams go about murder and burglary undetected? Murdering his own subordinate and burglarizing his own neighbourhood. How could he pull off this double life flawlessly?

He's stumped the experts.

Experts are baffled by Williams. Many serial killers are sociopaths, but the colonel’s actions do not indicate he is one. A sociopath, for example, would not attempt suicide (in his jail cell), nor would he confess unless there was some benefit to him. There is also no evidence he suffers from mental illness. He was functional and organized. “He is a rare specimen in a number of different ways. He doesn’t fit neatly into the profiles of the typical serial killer,” says Jack Levin, professor of sociology and criminology at Northeastern University and co-author of the book Serial Killers and Sadistic Murders - Up Close and Personal. Williams was also making mistakes that a seasoned and prolific killer would not make, such as leaving a body at a scene and leaving behind evidence such as a footprint and tire tread. If the treads had not brought him down, experts agree Williams would have killed more women. He may also have a conscience, “even if it was a weak one,” says Levin.

It gives the chilling realization that anyone could get away with murder if not enough evidence shows up. And so I wonder how many others will study his case in order to master and surpass his deviant achievements.

Unfortunately his wife will have to bear the brunt of the consequences, having to sever ties and start her life over. My heart goes out to this poor lady. People question how could she not know. I speculate that because they worked and lived in different cities (he in Tweed, she in Ottawa), she was busy with her career and he had no history of deviant behaviour, it was easy for him to act unsuspected.

His Jekyll & Hyde persona is a devastating story to Canadians. Because a colonel should be a hero. Not a threat and disgrace to our society.


Despicable crimes committed by Williams were methodically outlined in gruesome detail in the courtroom in what seems to be unprecedented judicial candor.

On the October 19th CBC's National News Anchor Wendy Mesley discussed Day 2 of the Williams hearing with Correspondent Ioanna Roumeliotis. Ms. Roumeliotis reported that "the evidence presented in court today was revolting".

"Today the nation is getting a good dose of reality ... Of just how evil people can be." Ontario Provincial Police Det. Insp. Chris Nicholas, the lead investigator in the case, said outside court.

He explained that they may be releasing too much information but it is important for the public to know. "We want to make sure 25 years from now that someone who was not here today has a full picture if they have to determine whether or not this man should get parole or not. So we want to make the record very detailed and very clear just to what this person was all about."

Ioanna Roumeliotis added, "But what I can tell you is however disturbing the material in our report tonight, it only represents a tiny fraction of what we heard in court today ..."


In his video confession Williams appeared calm and cool during police interrogation. Williams is a skilled strategist. Overconfident with a belief that he could outsmart us all. He has been stripped of his army rank and decorations. National Defence said it intends to claw back Williams' $12,000 monthly salary, which he's been paid since his arrest in February. But he will be getting a $60,000-a-year military pension. "Under the (Canadian Forces) Superannuation Act, there are no grounds to revoke his pension," Lt.-Gen. Andres Deschamps, head of the air force, said at Canadian Forces Base Trenton, Ont., the massive facility Williams commanded. Prime Minister Stephen Harper told journalists that Defence Minister Peter MacKay “has made clear the Forces will undertake all necessary actions to ensure that all sanctions possible and all benefits possible that can be withdrawn will be withdrawn from the former commander.”

On October 21, 2010, Williams received two 25-year life sentences for the first degree murders of Jessica Lloyd, 27, and Marie-France Comeau, 38. He was also sentenced to one year each for his 82 break and enter charges, and 10 years for each of his four sexual assault and forcible confinement charges. All sentences will be served concurrently, meaning Williams will serve a total of 25 years before he is eligible to apply for parole. Since he has been convicted of multiple murders, Williams is not eligible for early parole under the so-called "faint hope clause" of the Canadian Criminal Code. However, those serving life sentences are eligible for day parole three years prior to full parole eligibility. There is no death penalty in Canada, this is the maximum punishment for his crimes. According to the 2003-04 Statistics Canada report the average daily inmate cost in an Ontario jail is $154 CDN. When you do the math you could say he's screwed us taxpayers over too. No wonder he's smug.

Williams is now in isolation unit at the maximum security facilities Kingston Penitentiary where notorious Canadian serial killer Paul Bernardo is also serving his sentence.


In December 2010 newsrooms across Canada voted Russell Williams The Canadian Press Newsmaker of the Year for 2010.

Some may recoil at the thought of Williams as 2010s top newsmaker, but it's an "act of news judgment," not an award, said April Lindgren, a veteran reporter who now teaches journalism at Toronto's Ryerson University.

"People have to understand, he wasn't selected Newsmaker of the Year because he's a great guy," Lindgren said. "He was selected Newsmaker of the Year because of the magnitude of his evil, and because of the news his deeds generated."

In the long history of The Canadian Press year-end survey, criminals rarely draw many votes from those who produce the country's newspapers, newscasts and news websites. Despite their notoriety, killers like Clifford Olson, Paul Bernardo and Robert Pickton were never selected.

"It is a dark choice, and maybe counterintuitive, but it is hard to deny the impact of the story on Canadians," said Jennifer McGuire, general manager and editor-in-chief of CBC News.

"It made us all look at the world a little differently. And we reacted to it viscerally and emotionally."

CBC 2010/12/23

See for yourself

Slideshow including images provided at hearing, Day 1

Portions of a videotaped police interview with Col. Russell Williams were played in court Oct. 20, 2010. In these excerpts, Williams is asked why he thought he committed the crimes and how he feels about what he'd done

Photos of handwritten letters by Russell Williams after confession

Photos of boot prints, tire tracks

February 2011

'Dateline NBC' details the astounding double life of Air Force Col. Russell Williams

In the two-hour special, Keith Morrison interviewed victims of those initial break-ins, the neighbor who was for a time a suspect in the sexual assaults and a police chief whose officers gathered the clues that helped them snare the colonel. Morrison also detailed Williams’ astonishing double life and interviewed his unsuspecting friends and former military colleagues.

Videos of show in link.

July 2012

Canadian network nixes Russell Williams movie

A Canadian television station has scrapped its plans for the Canadian debut of a controversial film based upon the crimes of killer Russell Williams.

The Movie Network (TMN) had planned to broadcast An Officer and a Murderer in August. The controversial Canadian-made production aired in the U.S. July 21.

Spokeswoman Deborah Wilson said in an e-mail to QMI Agency the network pulled the movie after controversy erupted following the U.S. showing.

“...After reviewing some of the media coverage prompted by the movie's airing in the U.S., we agreed that the title may not be appropriate for our network at this time," said Wilson, vice-president of publicity for Astral Media Inc, TMN’s parent company.

The movie has been pulled from the schedule in the near-term and may or may not air in the future, she said.

That decision would “most likely” not be made until 2013.

Victim says Williams’s wife knew he was a predator

February 2014

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.

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.”

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.

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 skullcap. 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.

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.


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