BELLEVILLE, Canada — It’s a Jekyll and Hyde story that adds a new twist to the study of serial killers.
Russell Williams — a colonel in the Canadian air force — was found guilty last week of brutally beating, raping and murdering two women, sexually assaulting two others, and committing or attempting 82 fetish home burglaries.
But how did the commander of Canada’s biggest air force base turn into one of the most notorious killers in Canadian history?
“I have committed despicable crimes, your Honour,” Williams, 47, told the court as he had his say before sentencing. “I deeply regret what I have done and the harm I know I have caused.”
During his four-minute statement, he alternated from seeming to be overcome with emotion to sounding as though he were reading from a script.
He was then handed life sentences. He can apply for parole after 25 years, but few believe he’ll ever see the outside of a maximum-security prison. Williams was led handcuffed and shackled from the courtroom, taking the reasons for his depraved double life to a cell barely bigger than a grave.
“This guy is quite unusual,” said psychologist Vernon Quinsey, who spent 16 years assessing criminals at the Oak Ridge maximum-security psychiatric hospital in Ontario.
Nothing suggests Williams was abused as a child. He studied at the country’s elite schools. He had a successful military career, a long, apparently loving marriage, and didn’t embark on a life of crime until he began his fetish home invasions in September 2007, at the age of 44.
“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,” said Quinsey, now professor emeritus of psychology, biology and psychiatry at Queen’s University.
“The guys you typically see start earlier,” he added. “Almost nobody starts a life of crime when they’re in their 40s.”
Clifford Olson, the British Columbian who pleaded guilty in 1982 to 11 murders, was known to police by the age of 10. He was well on his way to a life of theft, armed robbery, fraud and sexual sadism by the time he served his first prison sentence at 17.
Ted Bundy, the American who killed more than 30 women during the 1970s, was a compulsive thief in high school. He was arrested twice as a juvenile, and some evidence suggests he committed his first murder in his teens.
Quinsey dismisses suggestions that Williams might be schizophrenic.
“The most common variety [of schizophrenic] that commits murder is completely disorganized,” he said. “They kill someone and wander off into the arms of the police.”
Williams was calculating. He planned his crimes. His regular jogs through his neighborhood in Ottawa, where he owned a home, and in the hamlet of Tweed, where he owned a cottage, were reconnaissance missions.
Williams is what experts call a paraphilic — a sexual deviant. Deviants like Williams get “turned on” by “hyper-dominance, sexual coercion and rape,” Quinsey said.
Prosecutors at his trial showed some of the thousands of pictures Williams took of himself during those break-ins. Many showed him modeling women’s underwear he stole, his penis often protruding from tight panties. In others he lay on the bed in the rooms of his victims, masturbating with lingerie. He raided the underwear of girls as young as 9.
In one photo, he wore stained stolen panties, with what appeared like his military-issued slacks at his hips. The prosecutor suggested Williams might have worn the stolen pink panties to work at his air base that day.
Equally unusual was Williams’ escalation from panty fetish to sex assault to murder. Most serial killers assault and kill in tandem, right from the start.
During his two sexual assaults, he beat, bound and blindfolded the women — one of whom lived three doors from his cottage. He cut off their clothes, took pictures, but he didn’t try to rape them.
Then, in November 2008, he broke into the home of Marie-France Comeau, 38, a corporal at his airbase. He smashed her skull with a metal flashlight, tied her to a pole in the basement and raped her repeatedly before asphyxiating her.
In January 2009 he broke into the Belleville home of Jessica Lloyd, 27, in southern Ontario. He beat, bound and raped her repeatedly before killing her.
Williams left tire treads and footprints on Lloyd’s property the night he kidnapped her. In February, police set up a roadblock in front of Lloyd’s home, checking the treads of all vehicles that passed. Williams was stopped and police noticed a possible match.
Three days later, he was called to an Ottawa police station for questioning. He arrived driving the SUV he used to kidnap Lloyd, and wearing the boots whose prints he left on her property. It showed a level of arrogance, or stupidity, rarely seen.
He waived his right to a lawyer, and even volunteered a DNA swab and boot print when asked to do so. He eventually confessed after confronted with the matching boot print and tire treads during a masterful interrogation, part of which was played in court.
Prosecutors described his crimes in grim detail and left many in the courtroom’s public gallery gasping and crying. The tapes, and the worst of his picture collection, were not shown at the sentencing hearing.
“I stand before you,” Williams told the judge, “indescribably ashamed.”