David Russell Williams
(born March 7, 1963) is a convicted murderer, rapist, and former
Colonel in the Canadian Forces.
From July 2009 to his arrest in February 2010,
he commanded Canadian Forces Base Trenton, a hub for air transport
operations in Canada and abroad and the country's largest and
busiest airbase. Williams was also a decorated military pilot who
had flown Canadian Forces VIP aircraft for Canadian dignitaries
such as Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, the governor
general, the prime minister, and others.
On February 8, 2010, he was relieved as the
base commander at CFB Trenton due to criminal charges. He was
formally charged by the Crown Attorney pursuant to provisions set
forth in the Criminal Code of Canada on evidence collected by the
Ontario Provincial Police with two counts of first-degree murder
along with two counts of forcible confinement and two counts of
breaking and entering and sexual assault; another 82 charges
relating to breaking and entry were subsequently added.
On October 21, 2010, Williams was sentenced to
two life sentences for first-degree murder, two 10-year sentences
for other sexual assaults, two 10-year sentences for forcible
confinement and 82 one-year sentences for burglary; all the
sentences will be served concurrently at Kingston Penitentiary.
The life sentences mean Williams will serve a minimum of 25 years
before parole eligibility. 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.
On October 22, 2010, Williams was stripped of
his commission, ranks, and awards by the Governor General of
Canada on the recommendation of the Chief of the Defence Staff.
His severance pay was terminated and the salary he received
following his arrest was seized, although he is still entitled to
a pension. Subsequent to his conviction, his uniform was burned,
his medals were destroyed and his vehicle crushed and scrapped.
Williams was born in Bromsgrove, England, to
Cedric David Williams and Christine Nonie Williams (née Chivers).
His family immigrated to Canada, where they moved to Chalk River,
Ontario. His father was hired as a metallurgist at Chalk River
Laboratories, Canada's premier nuclear research laboratory.
After relocating to Chalk River, the Williams
family met another family, the Sovkas, and they became good
friends. The families would spend a lot of time together.
Williams' parents divorced when he was six years old and soon
after, Nonie Williams married Jerry Sovka. During this time
Williams took on the name Sovka from his stepfather Dr. Jerry
Sovka, and moved again to Scarborough, Ontario. While in the
Scarborough Bluffs area, Williams began high school at Toronto's
Birchmount Collegiate, but finished at Upper Canada College. He
delivered The Globe and Mail newspaper and learned piano.
By 1979 his family had moved to South Korea, where Sovka was
overseeing another reactor project. Williams completed his final
two years of high school as a boarding student at Toronto's Upper
Canada College while his parents were in South Korea. In his final
year in 1982, he was elected as one of two prefects for his
boarding house, and reported to his house steward, Andrew Saxton,
now the Conservative Member of Parliament for North Vancouver.
On June 1, 1991 he married Mary Elizabeth
Harriman, who is an associate director of the Heart and Stroke
Foundation of Canada. According to Canadian Defence Department
Williams biography, Williams is a keen photographer, fisherman and
runner, and he and his wife Mary Elizabeth are also avid golfers.
The couple moved to Orleans, a suburb of Ottawa
in July 2006. By then Williams had been posted to the Directorate
of Air Requirements at NDHQ. He served at the Airlift Capability
Projects Strategic (CC177 Globemaster III) and Tactical (CC130J
Hercules J), and Fixed-Wing Search and Rescue.
Williams' wife has since December 2010 started
the process of filing for divorce together with a request to have
any of her financial and medical information sealed by the court.
Williams was regarded as a model military man
over the course of his 23-year career. He enrolled in the Canadian
Forces in 1987 after graduating from the University of Toronto
with an economics and political science degree. He received his
flying wings in 1990, and was posted to 3 Canadian Forces Flying
Training School, based at CFB Portage La Prairie, Manitoba, where
he served for two years as an instructor.
Promoted to captain on January 1, 1991,
Williams was posted to 434 Combat Support Squadron at CFB
Shearwater, N.S. in 1992, where he flew the CC-144 Challenger in
the electronic warfare and coastal patrol role. In 1994, he was
posted to the 412 Transport Squadron in Ottawa, where he
transported VIPs, including high-ranking government officials and
foreign dignitaries, also on Challengers.
Williams was promoted to major in November 1999
and was posted to Director General Military Careers, in Ottawa,
where he served as the multi-engine pilot career manager.
He obtained a Master of Defence Studies from
the Royal Military College of Canada in 2004 with a 55-page thesis
that supported pre-emptive war in Iraq, and in June 2004, he was
promoted to lieutenant-colonel and on July 19, 2004 he was
appointed commanding officer of 437 Transport Squadron at CFB
Trenton, Ont., a post he held for two years.
From December 2005 to May 2006,
Williams also served as the commanding officer of Camp Mirage, a
secretive logistics facility believed to be located at Al Minhad
Air Base in Dubai, United Arab Emirates that provides support to
Canadian Forces operations in Afghanistan.
He was posted to the Directorate of Air
Requirements on July 21, 2006 where he served as project director
for the Airlift Capability Projects Strategic (C-17 Globemaster
III) and Tactical (CC-130J Super Hercules), and Fixed-Wing Search
and Rescue (CC-127J Spartan), working under Lieutenant General
Angus Watt at this posting.
In January 2009 he was posted to the Canadian
Forces Language School in Gatineau, Quebec, for a six-month period
of French language training, during which he was promoted to
colonel by recommendation of now retired Lieutenant-General Angus
On July 15, 2009, Williams was sworn in as the
Wing Commander at Canadian Forces Base Trenton by the outgoing
Wing Commander Brigadier General Mike Hood. Canadian Forces Base
Trenton is Canada's busiest air base and locus of support for
overseas military operations. Located in Trenton, Ontario, the
base also functions as the point of arrival for the bodies of all
Canadian Forces personnel killed in Afghanistan, and the starting
point for funeral processions along the "Highway of Heroes" whence
their bodies are brought to Toronto for autopsy.
Williams has been described as an elite pilot
and "shining bright star" of the military. He had flown Queen
Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh, the Governor General of
Canada, the Prime Minister of Canada, and many other dignitaries
across Canada and overseas in Canadian Forces VIP aircraft.
Investigation and arrest
Jessica Lloyd, 27, had vanished on January 28,
2010. Investigators identified distinctive tire tracks left in
snow near her home. One week after her disappearance, the Ontario
Provincial Police conducted an extensive canvassing of all
motorists using the highway near her home from 7 pm on February 4,
2010, to 6 am on the following day, looking for the unusual tire
treads. Williams was driving his Pathfinder that day — rather than
the BMW he usually drove — and an officer noticed the resemblance
of his tire treads. These were subsequently matched to the treads
near Lloyd's home.
On February 7, 2010, the CFB Trenton base
commander was at his newly built home in Ottawa, where his wife
lived full-time and he lived part-time, when he was called by the
OPP in Ottawa and asked to come in for questioning. During the
10-hour interview he confessed to the numerous crimes of which he
was later convicted. Early the next morning Williams led
investigators to the woman's body in a secluded area on Cary Road,
about 13 minutes away from where he lived. Williams was also
charged in the death of Corporal Marie-France Comeau, a
37-year-old military flight attendant based at CFB Trenton, who
had been found dead inside her home in late November 2009.
Along with the murder charges, Williams was
charged with breaking and entering, forcible confinement, and the
sexual assault of two other women in connection with two separate
home invasions near Tweed, Ontario in September 2009. According to
reports, the women had been bound in their homes and the attacker
had taken photos of them.
Williams was arraigned and remanded into
custody on Monday, February 8, 2010. The Canadian Forces announced
that day that an interim commander would soon be appointed to
replace him (Dave Cochrane took over 11 days later), and removed
his biography from the Department of National Defence website the
Hours after the announcement of Williams'
arrest, police services across the country reopened unsolved
homicide cases involving young women in areas where Williams, a
career military man, had previously been stationed. According to
news reports, police began looking at other unsolved cases based
on a full statement that Williams gave to police.
A week after his arrest, investigators reported
that, along with hidden keepsakes and other evidence they had
found in his home, they had matched a print from one of the
homicide scenes to his boot.
In addition to the four primary incidents, the
investigation into Williams includes probes into 48 cases of theft
of women's underwear dating back to 2006. In the searches of his
Ottawa home, police discovered stolen lingerie that was neatly
stored, catalogued, and concealed.
In April 2010, Williams was placed on suicide
watch after he tried to kill himself by wedging a stuffed
cardboard toilet paper roll down his throat.
On February 7, 2010, Williams was interrogated
at Ottawa Police Service headquarters by Detective Sergeant Jim
Smyth, a member of the Ontario Provincial Police's Behavioural
Sciences Unit. The interview started at 3 p.m. and by 7:45 p.m. he
was describing his crimes. The interrogation lasted approximately
ten hours. Excerpts of the confession were shown in court at
Williams' sentencing hearing on October 20, 2010.
In the confession, Williams gave details of his
crimes, including the sexual assaults in Tweed and 82 break-ins
and thefts. Some of them occurred in Ottawa homes within walking
distance of his Orleans, Ontario home where he lived with his
wife. Other break-ins and thefts occurred in Belleville, and in
Tweed, where the couple had had a cottage since 2004.
He also told police where they could find
evidence, including hidden keepsakes, inside the Ottawa home. The
couple had moved to a new house two months before he was
interrogated by police. He told Detective Sergeant Jim Smyth where
police could find the thousands of images he took of Lloyd and
Comeau and the two women he sexually assaulted. He then identified
on a map where he dumped Lloyd’s body. A video of the
interrogation was made available to the public and was posted
online by several newspapers and on YouTube.
proceedings and trial
Williams appeared before the Ontario Court of
Justice in Belleville, Ontario via video link from the Quinte
Detention Centre on July 22, 2010, where his next court appearance
was set for August 26. Again via video link, Williams waived his
right to a preliminary inquiry and thus had his next appearance
scheduled at the Ontario Superior Court of Justice for October 7,
2010. Williams' lawyer stated then that his client would plead
guilty to all 82 Criminal Code charges filed against him.
On October 18, 2010 Williams pleaded guilty to
all charges. On the first day of Williams' trial and guilty plea,
details emerged of other sexual assaults he committed, including
that of a new mother who was wakened with a blow to the head while
she and her baby were asleep in her house. The first day of trial
revealed that Williams also had pedophiliac tendencies, stealing
underwear of girls as young as nine years old. He made 82
fetish-related home invasions and attempted break-ins between
September 2007 and November 2009.
Williams progressed from break-ins to sexual
assaults with no penetration to rape and murder. He kept detailed
track of police reports of the crimes he was committing, logged
his crimes, kept photos and videos and even left notes and
messages for his victims. In a break-in into the bedroom of a
12-year-old, he left a message in her computer saying: "Merci"
("Thank you" in French). He took thousands of pictures of his
crimes and kept the photos on his computer. Crown Attorney Robert
Morrison presented numerous pictures of Williams dressed in the
very underwear and bras he had stolen, frequently masturbating
while lying on the beds of his victims.
Some of the photos presented on the first day
of his trial were published in several newspapers. As some
newspapers explained, although troubling, the photos were
published because they capture the essence of the crimes of
Williams and show the true nature of his crimes. Among the news
media that published some of the released photographs were The
Montreal Gazette and The Toronto Star.
Ontario Superior Court Justice Robert F. Scott
sentenced Williams on October 22, 2010, to two concurrent terms of
life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years.
In what is believed to be a first, Williams'
uniform was destroyed through burning by the Canadian Forces, as
his name had been stitched into the fabric. His medals were also
later destroyed and his Pathfinder was crushed and scrapped.
Williams gets 2 life terms
for 'despicable crimes'
October 21, 2010
A judge has sentenced Col. Russell Williams to
two terms of life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years
for the first-degree murders of Cpl. Marie-France Comeau and
The decorated former commander of Canadian
Forces Base Trenton was also sentenced in Ontario Superior Court
in Belleville on Thursday to 10 years for each of his two charges
of sexual assault and two charges of forcible confinement. He was
also sentenced to one year for each of the other 82 lesser charges
Just before sentencing, Williams told Justice
Robert F. Scott he is "indescribably ashamed" of the crimes he's
committed, and especially apologized to the families of the two
Williams, 47, had pleaded guilty Monday to 88
He blew his nose before standing in the eastern
Ontario courtroom to address Scott. Williams was shaking, tearing
up and paused between sentences during his five-minute address.
"Your Honour, I stand before you indescribably
ashamed. I know the crimes I have committed have traumatized many
people," he said.
"The family and friends of Marie-France Comeau
and Jessica Lloyd in particular have suffered and continue to
suffer profound, desperate pain and sorrow as a result of what
Williams said he understands "the hatred
expressed yesterday and that has been palpable throughout the
week. I deeply regret the harm I know I've caused."
He also said: "I committed despicable crimes,
your honour, and in the process betrayed my family, my friends and
colleagues and the Canadian Forces."
Before delivering his sentence, Scott said
nothing surprises him anymore and that he believed Williams's
apology was sincere.
"Fortunately for all, the nature of these
crimes are very rare in our society. The depths of depravity
demonstrated by Russell Williams have no equal," Scott said.
Williams's sentence also includes:
That he be prohibited for life from
That he be registered for life as a sex
That he submit DNA samples to the police data
That he pay a $100 victim surcharge for each
charge, for a total of $8,800.
While Williams is eligible to apply for parole
in 25 years, Scott said there is no guarantee he will be released.
Crown lawyer Lee Burgess said he would not seek
to have Williams declared a dangerous offender because it would
have just prolonged the hearing. He called it "superfluous"
because he believes the facts he outlined during the week will
prevent a parole board from ever allowing Williams out on parole.
Williams will serve his sentence at the
The prison has a maximum-security area called G
Block, where dangerous offenders like Paul Bernardo spend the rest
of their days in small isolation rooms, some for 23 hours a day.
Earlier Thursday, Burgess had asked Scott to
sentence Williams to one-year concurrent sentences on each of 82
break-ins and 10-year concurrent sentences on each of two sexual
"They were violated, sir, not only by this
man's hands, but by his lens, two young women terrorized in their
last hours, just for the sexual gratification of this man,"
Burgess told the judge.
Burgess contrasted the image of
Comeau, blindfolded and bloodied yet still fighting for her life,
with the image of the man who murdered her with a piece of duct
tape. Burgess also mentioned how Lloyd co-operated to try to save
her life and how Williams knew he'd kill her but told her she
would live if she did not fight.
"David Russell Williams is simply one of the
worst offenders in Canadian history," Burgess said.
Applause could be heard in court after Burgess
finished his statement.
Burgess asked that some of the items used in
evidence be destroyed, including Williams's digital cameras, the
ropes and the stolen lingerie, as well as the Nissan Pathfinder he
used to abduct Lloyd and dump her body. This request was granted
by Scott. The thousands of photos and videotapes Williams took
documenting his crimes will be kept for possible review by a
future parole board, Burgess said.
"We are a community that's been shocked and
saddened by all that's transpired," Burgess said. But he stressed
that Williams's crimes don't define the region; it is defined by
how it pulled together in the wake of them.
"You could hardly open your eyes in the days
after Lloyd's disappearance without seeing posters or something
about her. We're a community that has also been transformed by his
crimes. The impact of his crimes extends far beyond his crimes.
What makes it more despicable is this is a man considered above
reproach," he said.
Burgess said Williams no longer represents the
Armed Forces, which the community continues to support.
"He betrayed this community and he betrayed the
military and he betrayed the men and the women who serve in the
military. He was a leader in that base and in the community. He
exploited that to divert suspicion from himself," he said.
He contrasted how in one night, Williams
dropped the puck at a Belleville hockey game, and then later tried
to break into the home of a woman he had sexually assaulted. When
he carried the Olympic torch, the community came to cheer him on,
"this man who had already committed the crimes," Burgess said.
Defence lawyer Michael Edelson said he had no
issue with what the Crown proposed.
"There is nothing that can be said to change
the legal outcome and consequences here today," Edelson said. "It
is not the role of the defence to specifically address the victim
impact resulting from the crimes. But we wish to acknowledge their
suffering and we take no issue with what Crown counsel [is]
Edelson pointed out mitigating factors that
Scott should consider when sentencing Williams. He said a lengthy
and costly trial — a case of this magnitude could take several
years to reach a conclusion — was avoided by Williams confessing
to the crimes and pleading guilty.
"It is important to note that only 17 of 48
homeowners had reported homes were broken into. Until he
confessed, they were unable to identify a suspect," he said.
Edelson also noted how detailed Williams's
confession was and how he assisted police to locate Lloyd's body
and told them where he hid his copious images and trophies of the
Outside court Thursday, Andy Lloyd, Jessica
Lloyd's brother, said: "As long as he dies in jail, I'm happy."
He thanked everyone who worked on the case and
said his family is indebted to them.
"It's over with, it's done with," Lloyd said.
"This is the best thing that's happened to our family since this
stuff has happened…. We just want to be normal again."
In St. John's Thursday, Prime Minister Stephen
Harper commented on the case.
"Our thoughts, our prayers, our hearts
obviously go out to the victims and to their families," Harper
"Also, our thoughts go out to all the members
of the Canadian Forces who knew the commander, and who have been
very badly wounded and betrayed by all of this."
He reiterated that the military intends to take
the necessary actions to ensure that all sanctions that are
possible are applied.
What Williams said:
Your Honour. I stand before you indescribably ashamed. I know the
crimes I have committed have traumatized many people. The family
and friends of Marie-France Comeau and Jessica Lloyd in particular
have suffered and continue to suffer profound, desperate pain and
sorrow as a result of what I’ve done. My assaults of Ms. [name
redacted because of publication ban] and Ms. Massicotte have
caused them to suffer terribly as well. Numerous victims of the
break and enters I have committed have been very seriously
distressed as a result of my having so invaded their most intimate
privacy. My family, your honour, has been irreparably damaged. The
understandable hatred that was expressed yesterday and that has
been palpable throughout the week has me recognize that most will
find it impossible to accept, but the fact is, I deeply regret
what I have done and the harm I know I have caused to many. I
committed despicable crimes, your Honour, and in the process
betrayed my family, my friends and colleagues and the Canadian
The secret life of Col.
Russell Williams expose
Jim Rankin and Sandro
Contenta - TheStar.com
October 18, 2010
BELLEVILLE—The charges against the colonel took 36 minutes to be
read out to a silent courtroom.
David Russell Williams stood facing the clerk
listing his crimes, his head bowed as if the weight of his deeds
were crushing him.
To the first count of murdering Marie-France
Comeau, a flight attendant who worked at his air force base, he
pleaded in a clear voice: “Guilty, your honour.” To the second
count of killing Jessica Elizabeth Lloyd, his guilty plea was
Crown attorneys then took turns revealing the
full extent of Williams’ depravity, evidence that left family
members of victims covering their eyes and gasping — “He’s sick,”
one said. In an overflow courtroom, some members of the public got
up and left. “Oh, my god,” said one woman. “Disgusting,” said one
By day, Russell Williams was the commander of
Canada’s biggest air force base, CFB Trenton. By night, he broke
into homes, taking pictures of himself modeling the bras and
panties of little girls.
He escalated quickly, from fetish break-ins, to
sex assaults with no penetration to rape and murder. He logged his
crimes, kept track of police reports of his crimes and left notes
and messages for his victims. “Merci,” he thanked a 12-year-old in
a typed message on her computer.
“Merci beaucoup,” he captioned a souvenir photo
he took of his penis strapped to a sex toy he stole from a
24-year-old Ottawa victim in June 2008.
We learned that Williams made a video of his
brutal beating and asphyxiation of Comeau after breaking into her
home Nov. 24, 2009. He also made sex tapes of Lloyd after
kidnapping her the night of Jan. 28, taking her to his cottage in
Tweed, raping and torturing her for at least a day before dumping
her corpse in a field.
Lloyd’s mother, Roxanne, sat in the front row,
cradling a framed portrait of her daughter.
We learned that Williams, 47, had pedophile
tendencies, stealing underwear of girls as young as 9 years old
during the 82 fetish home invasions and attempted break-ins
between Sept. 2007 and November 2009. He broke into 48 different
homes in the Belleville-Tweed area and Ottawa. One, he hit nine
separate times. And he was good at it.
Sixty-one of the 82 break-and-enters went
either undetected or were not reported. He targeted homes where
attractive women lived, but as is disturbingly evident in photos
of him naked and masturbating in young girls’ rooms, he had other
Williams took “thousands” of pictures of his
crimes, Crown attorney Robert Morrison said, all of which he kept
on his computer. The court saw numerous pictures of Williams
dressed in the panties and bras he stole, often lying on the beds
of his victims, masturbating.
There were photos of him wearing the stained
pink underwear of a girl under what looked like his air force
issued pants. Morrison suggested Williams might have worn the
stained pink panties to work at the base he commanded.
There were photos of him lying in beds
surrounded by the stuffed toys and panties of little girls, or of
him wearing negligees and camisoles. In all the photos, his
expression was stern, as if on parade for inspection.
On New Year’s Day 2008, he broke into a home in
the Ottawa neighbourhood where he lived and sprayed semen on a
15-year-old girl’s dresser. He then took a picture of himself with
the girl’s make-up brush touching his penis.
“There is nothing to suggest that make-up brush
was stolen,” Morrison added to the audible gasps of the family
Throughout most of the day, Williams sat with
his head bowed low, as though he wanted to crawl under a bench.
But he looked at the video screens when pictures of himself in
women’s lingerie were posted.
“The offences emphasize his obsessive
behaviour,” Morrison said.
There was a pattern to the photos he would take
during a break-in: He would first photograph the bedroom of his
victim, then the underwear in her dresser. He would then arrange
the lingerie neatly on a bed or on the floor, before modeling them
Another ritual was to turn his back to the
camera and peer back over a shoulder. There were also many
close-ups of his penis, protruding from women’s underwear.
He collected hundreds of panties and bras from
his break-ins, so many that he twice took some of his “trophies”
to a field in Ottawa and burned them. He kept the photographs,
though, and hid them on hard drives he stored in the ceiling above
the basement of his Ottawa home. He used a system of deep
electronic folders to make them more difficult to find.
There were four crown attorneys in court, and
it soon became clear why so many. The reading of the facts took
such time that voices croaked before handing over the task to
The court heard of Williams’ chilling
escalation from fetish burglaries, to sex assault and finally
murder from September 2007 to January 2010. On July 10, 2009, he
was at a neighbour’s house in Tweed, which he would eventually
break into nine times. This was his sixth visit.
At 1:30 a.m., he watched as the young woman
stripped and stepped in the shower. Williams stripped naked, broke
into her home, walked to her bedroom and stole her panties. “He
admitted that at this point he wanted to take more risks,”
In another escalation, he hoped to watch a
teenager undress, and while waiting outside her window, stripped
naked in the bushes and masturbated.
Near the end of the first, long day of facts,
crown attorney Burgess turned the attention to the first of two
sex assaults, in September 2009, near Williams’ Tweed cottage. The
victim, known as Jane Doe, is already suing Williams and over the
incident. He broke in while she and her newborn baby slept.
He beat her, bound and blindfolded her with
pillow cases and fondled her while taking pictures of her naked.
Two hours later, Williams left.
The day in court began with a warning.
“I caution the court and the public that these
facts will be extremely disturbing,” Burgess told the court at the
outset. Referring to the 40 family members of victims in
attendance, he added: “We recognize that representation of the
evidence will further cause them emotional pain.”
Outside the courtroom, Andy Lloyd, Jessica’s
brother, said the facts you heard were “horrible man. It’s
terrible, terrible stuff.”
He said his mother brought a framed portrait of
Jessica to court to “bring my sister’s face back into it, so that
it’s not all about him, and what he’s done and to try to remember
that there are families who are very angry at what he’s done.”
Williams, he said, looked “like a broken man,”
but noted that he did occasionally look up to see his trophy
pictures on big screen televisions set up in court.
As Williams sat in court, the military moved to
remove him from the forces, beginning a month-long process that
will strip him of his rank and medals. However, Williams will
still have a right to his military pension.
Williams became a suspect when he was stopped
at a police roadblock Feb. 4 on Highway 37, leading from
Belleville to Tweed, where Williams owns a cottage on Cosy Cove
Lane. The tire treads on his vehicle matched those found at
Lloyd’s home, along Highway 37, the day after she disappeared.
Questioned at an Ottawa police station Feb. 7,
Williams confessed to his crimes, Morrison told the court.
His first known break in was September 2007,
when Williams invaded the home of his next door neighbour on Cosy
Cove Lane. He was friends with the family. They would have dinner
together and go fishing. He broke into their home three times.
One of the photos shows Williams lying naked on
the bed, masturbating with a red panty believed to have belonged
to his neighbour’s daughter. Fourteen of the photos he took that
night show him “with his penis protruding from (stolen)
underwear,” Morrison said.
As the photos flashed on the screen, a family
member of the Cosy Cove victim sobbed at her seat in the
courtroom. She left the courtroom during a break and didn’t
On Nov. 1, 2007, he broke into the home of
another neighbour on Cosy Cove Lane. He spent at least two hours
taking photographs in a bedroom.
“Here, Mr. Williams is kneeling on a bed
wearing a camisole, with his penis in his hand,” Morrison told the
court, describing the picture on the screen. “There are many
Morrison often noted Williams’ “obsession with
organizing the items he stole,” first taking pictures of the whole
stash he stole, and then taking pictures of each item
“This is a process he carried out over and over
again,” Morrison added.
Williams did everything to get into houses: he
picked locks, he pushed through window screens and, often, he
walked in through windows and doors left open. In many cases, the
victims didn’t know they had been burglarized, and didn’t call
He left few clues, aside from a muddy footprint
here and there. Forensic experts were unable to get DNA evidence
from semen he left in one of the homes.
He was obsessed with gathering personal
information of his young victims, often taking pictures of
documents that identified them, or of the photos of family and
friends they had in their rooms.
When he couldn’t identify girls he targeted, he
would refer to them, in his computer, as “the mysterious little
Colonel Russell Williams: The making of a
By Greg McArthur and Colin Freeze - Saturday's
Globe and Mail
October 18, 2010
The fourth-floor personnel office at the
University of Toronto's Scarborough campus was a suitably staid
place to work, so department manager June Hope could hardly expect
what greeted her one morning when she arrived to unlock her door.
Everything – her desk, her computer and her
chair – had vanished beneath a tangled mess of white paper that
filled the room from floor to ceiling. Whoever had pulled this
stunt had not only broken in the night before but spent hours
crumpling computer paper until it formed the unwieldy mass that
stood before her.
Just as Ms. Hope turned to announce her
surprise to her co-workers, she heard a familiar sound. “Click.”
Behind the camera was the department's latest
part-time hire, a polite and proper young man with strawberry
blond hair the women on staff had taken a real shine to.
“Russ, do you not have anything better to do
with your evenings than sit there rummaging through blank paper
and filling my room with it?” Ms. Hope asked.
“No,” he replied.
In the late 1980s, Russell Williams was
renowned for pulling off elaborate and clever practical jokes.
Today, he is famous for something much more sinister. Although a
decorated and high-ranking member of Canada's armed forces, he is
charged with murder and confined to an Eastern Ontario jail cell.
Two weeks ago he tried to commit suicide; now he is refusing to
During his undergraduate years, the young man's
pranks were the stuff of legend. He hid in dark closets so he
could leap out and surprise unsuspecting roommates, and once woke
at sunrise to slip a fertilized chicken egg into a friend's
carton. Now, the 47-year-old air-force colonel is, according to
police, a prime suspect in nearly 50 late-night break-ins from
Belleville to Ottawa where, for more than three years, a cat
burglar with an appetite for women's lingerie baffled
investigators and dodged surveillance crews trying to catch him in
the act. Windows were the primary point of entry, but on some
occasions, the intruder picked the lock.
Col. Williams is charged with breaking into the
homes of two women last September near his cottage in Tweed, a
30-minute drive north of Belleville. Police say the women were
blindfolded, stripped and photographed in the nude.
He is also accused of creeping, more than a
month later, into the home of a subordinate, Corporal Marie-France
Comeau, an air force flight attendant who was beaten and wrapped
in tape that covered her airways, suffocating her.
Finally, on the night of Jan. 28, a young woman
named Jessica Lloyd went missing from her home on the highway
between Col. Williams's cottage and his base. Her body was
discovered in the brush not far from the cottage the same morning
the colonel was charged with her murder and that of Cpl. Comeau.
The accusations shook the armed forces and the
Canadian public. Col. Williams had been hand-picked and, in
military parlance, “pipelined” into the upper echelons of the air
force. He trained new pilots, flew the prime minister's plane and
last summer was awarded command of 8-Wing Trenton, with 2,300 men
and women the country's largest and busiest air-force base.
How is it possible that someone so polished and
groomed for leadership could stand accused of such crimes?
An extensive examination of his early years
involving interviews with dozens of former colleagues, friends and
classmates as well as a review of court records, chronicles the
evolution of a complicated and often contradictory young man known
to wall off parts of his life, including a fractious and distant
family. He was almost obsessively neat and orderly, but also at
times, an irrepressible rascal.
Today his small group of old friends and
acquaintances can't help but wonder about the gags, many of which
involved infiltrating someone's private space. But back then there
was no question: It was all just a joke.
Small town, big drama
Deep River, Ont., was a company town that
sprang up in great secrecy in the 1940s along with the nearby
laboratories of Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. Visitors had to
travel 200 kilometres northwest of Ottawa along a two-lane
highway, pass through a checkpoint and dodge the occasional moose.
The town was strategically situated next to Camp Petawawa, the
army base that served as the first line of defence if anyone tried
to attack what was then one of world's great nuclear secrets.
After the Second World War, Deep River's
population exploded with the arrival of a wave of scientists
hand-picked to split atoms and develop new ways to generate
electricity. After a hard day in the lab, many could be found in
tiny white boats that dotted the Ottawa River. Among the sailors
were Dave Williams, a British metallurgist, and Jerry Sovka, an
Alberta farm boy turned nuclear visionary, who competed together
in a two-man racing dinghy known as an International 14.
Outgoing and a charmer, Mr. Williams sang in
the glee club and acted in a community theatre group, drawing
praise for his “sense of comic timing” from The North Renfrew
Times. Mr. Sovka, a round-faced graduate of the prestigious
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was a fierce competitor and
a leading scorer for the Deep River Neutrons, a basketball team.
Mr. Williams and his wife, Christine, also
British and an avid tennis player, had two children, Russell and
young brother Harvey. They lived a block and a half from Jerry and
Lynn Sovka and their kids.
“The Sovkas and Williams ... were good
friends,” recalls another former Deep River sailor. “They were
together, both families, a fair bit.”
The two couples epitomized the “high-energy,
high-performance people” – as a former colleague describes them –
who made Deep River unique. With a population of just 5,000, it
supported more than 60 clubs and teams, and residents boasted that
theirs was the only small-town stop on the national ballet's
There was a downside. Inflated minds begat
inflated egos, and the town developed a class system. A former
resident once told Canadian Geographic magazine that she was
shocked when asked by her little boy one day what a PhD was. A
woman had come up and asked him, “Is your father a PhD?” and when
he couldn't answer, said: “Well, be off with you then. My children
only play with other PhDs."
At other times, social conventions were
relaxed, extremely relaxed. On the hexagonal dance floor at the
Deep River Yacht and Tennis Club, for example, the moves could get
racy. “The Brits brought ... a freer kind of [culture],” one
former scientist says. “If you went to a dance, you didn't just
dance with your wife. You danced with three or four other
And things could go too far. “One or two dances
with one person – that would be one thing. But if you're having
half a dozen, you're having a little bit too much fun with …
someone else's wife.”
The sexual tension wasn't limited to the dance
floor. Young people housed in AECL's dormitories as late as the
1970s have a website where, as well as their current whereabouts,
they list their old “hotel romance partners.”
Many marriages blossomed, but others succumbed
to temptation, and on Oct. 31, 1969, Christine Williams filed for
divorce. This was several years before the age of “no fault,” and
Ontario judges demanded a reason for dissolving a union. Mrs.
Williams cited “adultery” – court documents show her husband was
having an affair with Lynn Sovka – and within months, she'd sold
him her share of the house and moved to Scarborough, then a
But she didn't leave alone. Not only did she
have custody of the boys, on June 2, 1970, a little more than four
months after her divorce was final, she married – Jerry Sovka.
After sharing a boat, the sailing partners had ended up with each
other's wives – news that “swept the town like wildfire,” another
Lynn Sovka's relationship with Dave Williams
fizzled, but Christine and Jerry would be together nearly 30
As for Russell, at the tender age of 7, he had
a new home and new name. His mother changed hers completely,
making her middle name her first to become Nonie Sovka.
‘Thought he was better’
At some schools, he would have been labelled a
band geek, but fortunately for Russ Sovka, music carried a lot of
weight at Birchmount Collegiate Institute. Led by a colourful and
highly respected teacher named Christopher Kitts, the band
travelled widely, performing for ball fans at New York's Shea
Stadium and flying to Germany to win a competition in Frankfurt.
In his first year of high school, the young
trumpet player leapfrogged to the senior band, but made it clear
that he had no time for fooling around. The future practical joker
developed a reputation as a snob – a label that would stick into
“I know he kind of thought of himself as being
better than other people. That was part of the reason why I didn't
care for him,” says Tony Callahan, a percussionist who rose to the
senior band with him. “There was just an air about him, the way he
talked... It was almost the way he would roll his eyes at you if
you said something. He was condescending.”
Not everyone shared that opinion. Every day
after band practice, young Russ would walk home with his
girlfriend, a flute player who lived a few blocks from him (now a
Toronto-area teacher, she declined to be interviewed).
Despite his musical success, Russell's mother
let it be known to neighbours that she didn't think highly of
Birchmount. Half of the school's families were affluent, most
living near the Scarborough Bluffs overlooking Lake Ontario, but
other students came with rougher edges. For every high-achieving
disciple of Mr. Kitts, there was another kid who spent most of the
day in the school's smoking area.
Jerry and Nonie Sovka had entrenched themselves
in Toronto's sailing scene, as members of the upscale Boulevard
Club, and Russ and Harvey were constantly on the move. Their
mother, elegantly dressed with her hair in a bun, “made sure they
did the right activities,” a former neighbour says. “I remember
them taking tennis lessons. ... She had them doing stuff all the
As Russell reached Grade 11, the Birchmount
problem was solved when the family left for South Korea, where his
stepfather had been hired to oversee the construction of a nuclear
plant in Pusan. The boys attended a school for expatriate
children, but Russell later described the year abroad as “not a
happy experience.” He was teased by Korean kids and called a
Yankee, and he told a roommate in university he was disgusted at
how Korean men spit at Caucasian women. (“I found that hard to
believe,” the roommate now says.) The few reminders of Asia that
he brought back included a love of baseball, a kimono he used as a
housecoat and an Aiwa stereo that he cherished.
Back in Toronto, his parents decided to send
him and brother Harvey to boarding school, choosing one that would
have appealed to his more serious sensibilities – Upper Canada
College, which has honed young minds from Liberal Leader Michael
Ignatieff and grocery magnate Galen Weston Jr. to jailed media
tycoon Conrad Black.
Although the family had no ties with the elite
school for boys, which is expensive and has high standards for
enrolment, a family member says Mr. Sovka's impressive CV helped
to “persuade” administrators of the children's potential. Russell
was assigned a corner room in Wedd's House, one of UCC's dorms,
but didn't exactly fit in.
“At a boarding school, a lot of guys like to
goof around and have some fun,” says his former roommate, speaking
on condition he not be named. “He was always serious and didn't
really get into the banter, joking and friendship aspect of it
The two boys had little in common: Russ liked
playing his trumpet and studying, while the roommate was into
girls. Russ listened to the same Diana Ross song over and over,
irritating someone with a taste for The Clash and Talking Heads.
He also folded his laundry fastidiously, while across the room,
junk piled up. The only time they were forced to be together, the
nightly study hour, was spent in silence.
Their differences were superficial and
surmountable, but Russ refused to open up. “My parents had just
gotten divorced … so theoretically we had something in common,”
the roommate explains. “I don't think it was something that he
even raised with me.”
He contends that Russ “lacked any social skills
whatsoever. It was very difficult to have just a basic
conversation with him. … I can't even recall him having a single
person he spent a lot of time with.”
All the former UCC bandmates, teachers and
staff who agreed to discuss Russell Williams agreed that they
could think of no one close to him. The future military man didn't
join the cadet corps.
In his final year, he served as a prefect, a
position often decided by student vote. But UCC alumni recall that
he was selected by the staff, and moved to a floor reserved for
students in Grades 9 and 10, to keep the youngsters in check.
UCC has an active alumni network that maintains
a password-protected, online database that “old boys” can use to
keep track of each other. There is no contact information for
Russ. He is listed as “lost."
If the first few weeks were any indication,
Russ Sovka was destined to experience the same isolation as a
student at the University of Toronto's Scarborough campus.
He was assigned to live with five other
students in unit C8, a townhouse in a sea of brown brick residence
buildings. Before his roommates had a chance even to figure out
where their classes were, he announced who was buying meals that
week, who was scheduled to do the cooking and how they would
rotate through the jobs he had assigned each of them.
“I thought, ‘This is one dude that I'm going to
keep my distance from,' just because he was a little bossy,”
recalls Jeff Farquhar, who was among those on the duty roster.
He was so orderly, focused and authoritative –
keeping his own room spotless and persuading his roommates to wear
slippers – that nicknames came fast and furious: Drill Sergeant,
Sergeant Major and Mother Goose.
It got so bad that Mr. Farquhar, destined to
become a close friend, says he teased him about being obsessive
compulsive. “I don't know if he was diagnosed, but I know damn
well, without being a doctor, that if he's not, I don't know who
Then something changed. For some reason, Russ
lightened up a bit. Armed with his trumpet, he gathered a dozen
students and, outfitted with garbage-can lids and drum sticks,
they paraded around campus blasting the Beatles' Yellow
Submarine. He regularly unleashed his high-pitched laugh – a
half-gasp, half-eruption that some of his roommates can imitate to
He still abstained from partying, studied with
the discipline of a monk and folded his laundry with intense
precision, but he lost a bit of the edge that had turned people
That wasn't all. Within weeks, Russ Sovka went
back to calling himself Russ Williams. No one asked why, and he
offered no explanation.
He also started to expand his repertoire of
pranks and became known for what one friend called his
“off-the-wall sense of humour."
When one roommate kept coming home late, he
gathered the others to watch as he disassembled the lock on their
front door and adjusted it to work with the key to their laundry
room. “How did he know how to work the tumblers on the lock?” Mr.
Farquhar asks. “There were four of us staring at the tumblers,
watching him do it. And we were asking questions like, ‘How's this
going to work?' and ‘Are you sure?'”
He was. The nighthawk had to spend part of the
night sleeping on the front lawn.
For some pranks, he was a traditionalist –
Saran-wrapping the toilet bowl or trapping a roommate in his room
with a girl by jamming pennies into the doorframe to stop the knob
from turning. But he could also innovate, convincing another
roommate that he had shattered Mr. Farquhar's mirror when in fact
the cracks had been drawn with a prank pen and were easily erased.
The hits just kept coming. When one of his
friends prepared a vodka mix in a wineskin for a long bus trip, he
replaced the booze with water and vinegar. If a can of Coke were
neglected, before long he was pouring in soya sauce.
But all that was fairly tame compared with the
gag he pulled repeatedly in his last year as an undergrad.
“He'd go into my room, stand in the closet and
later I'd come in and start studying at my desk, and he could be
there for maybe half an hour, and then push open the closet door
and scare the hell out of me,” Mr. Farquhar says.
“I'd be on the ceiling and he'd be laughing his
In fact, he burst out of his roommates' closets
so frequently that they started pulling the same prank on him.
Finally, they adopted a Waltons routine: To ensure that
no one was still lurking in the shadows, they all climbed into bed
and, mimicking the famed TV family, calling out “good night” to
They also closed ranks when tragedy struck. One
roommate lost a teenage sister to bone cancer, and Russell was
among those who routinely trekked out to the family's home near
Stirling, Ont., to offer condolences and support.
If this seemed odd, it was only because his own
family didn't seem to be a factor in his life. Some of his friends
vaguely remember his stepfather worked on reactors in Korea, but
that was it. Once they brought up his parents' divorce but never
made that mistake again. “I do recall the topic being painful,”
one roommate says. “He didn't really want to talk about it.”
When the Christmas exodus rolled around, Russ
usually stayed put. The same was true for summer vacation, and
despite what his friends expected of a UCC alumnus, he picked up
part-time jobs – at the library, alongside the ladies in the
personnel office and in the athletics department.
As for money, he accounted for every penny,
literally. Upon returning from the local sports bar, he would pull
out a clipboard and write down how much he had spent on chicken
wings and two (never more) bottles of Labatt 50. “He had his whole
life with him in residence,” Mr. Farquhar says.
By the time he had his degree in politics and
economics, his stepfather had become chief engineer of another big
project – the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope perched atop a
dormant volcano. His biological father, meanwhile, had remarried
and was living in Schenectady, N.Y., corporate headquarters of
General Electric, where he worked.
His roommates remember no parental visits, and
Mr. Farquhar says the one trip his friend made to Hawaii
“flabbergasted” him simply because Russ so rarely left campus and
never spent that much money.
It was unclear whether family relations were
strained, his detachment was a product of his independence or some
of both. “The only thing that stuck out is that he seemed a bit
lonely …,” one roommate says. “He rarely, if at all, talked about
But there was a plus to being on campus so
much. During one of the early breaks, when everyone else was back
in their hometowns, his roommates recall that he met a young woman
who would be his girlfriend until his final year.
What made him cry
The juxtaposition was striking. He hovered
around 6 feet, with a wiry build from all his squash, tennis and
jogging. She was a student from Japan, more than a foot shorter.
But in her company the “Drill Sergeant” seemed
to be drained of his authority, the roommates say. He was a
different person with her around.
“She ran him like a whipped horse. It was
always her way or the highway, and he was always trying to
acquiesce,” Mr. Farquhar says. “And she always wanted to hit the
books harder and didn't have a lot of time left over for Russ.
That's what I always remember him saying. … There was always an
argument of finding time to do things together.”
The girl rarely spent the night at their place,
the roommates say, and Russ often came home late, clearly
disappointed that he was alone. Still, he was deeply offended when
one day a roommate came to her townhouse to collect him and yelled
up the stairs: “Come on, Russ. Get your pants on.”
“You never saw them touch each other physically
in public,” another roommate recalls.
Then, when they were in fourth year, the
girlfriend decided the relationship was over, crushing Russ and
prompting him to withdraw completely. He would return from class,
lock himself in his room with his treasured stereo and Bjorn Borg
poster, and not emerge until the next day. It was the only time
one friend ever heard him cry.
He campaigned to win her back but failed. A
dozen long-stemmed roses were sent back, and when he began to
appear just as her lectures were ending, she tracked down Mr.
Farquhar and said: “Make him stop."
Today the former girlfriend declines to comment
on the relationship or how Russell reacted to the breakup: “All I
can say is, whatever my experience was, I don't think it will be
of any use.”
But Mr. Farquhar recalls the fallout period as
“a very upsetting time for him. He wasn't dating anyone.” If the
guys were going out to dinner or a dance, he stayed home. “I
remember saying to him at one point, ‘You know, you don't even
have to take a date.' And he said, ‘No. I'm not going. I don't
want to go.' So I'd just leave it alone.”
This resistance continued even after
university, says Mr. Farquhar, who kept in close touch with Russ
and last saw him this summer at the Tweed cottage. It wasn't until
about four years after the breakup, when Russ met his current
wife, Mary Elizabeth Harriman, that he resumed dating, he says.
It was also an extremely spooky time on the
Scarborough campus, which had been rocked by a succession of
attacks and unsolved rapes. At night, male students were escorting
women home from class.
Several years later, infamous serial killer
Paul Bernardo, who graduated from the school in 1987, a year after
Russell, confessed to having committed several of the sex crimes.
(Shortly after Col. Williams was arrested, the Toronto Sun
reported that the two had been “pals” as students and “partied”
together, but according to the roommates, it's unlikely they even
met. “If he had known Bernardo, I would have known Bernardo,” Mr.
After earning his degree, Russ spent another
year in Scarborough trying to decide what to do with his life. He
lived alone in a basement apartment, working part-time at the
university and waiting on tables at Red Lobster.
He applied to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police
and underwent a rigorous background check and interviews only to
turn down an offer of employment, the roommates say. He was still
waiting to hear back from his first choice.
An uncle of Mr. Farquhar owned a Cessna and
had, on occasion, let Russ take the controls while in the air. And
Hollywood provided some added inspiration just as his interest in
flying was taking off – he went to see Top Gun over and
It was not lost on his friends that, for most
of the movie, the fighter pilot played by Tom Cruise persists in
his attempt to win the affection of a senior, flight instructor.
Mr. Farquhar says that “I used to joke about it
behind his back: ‘Oh shit, he thinks this is going to win [his
ex-girl friend] back. He's going to show up in his F14.'”
And before the year was out, Russ Williams got
the call. The practical joker with a penchant for carefully folded
shirts decamped for basic training at CFB Chilliwack.
His rapid ascent in the military makes it clear
that the orderly, hyper-organized half of his personality
persisted and prospered.
His old friends and acquaintances are left to
wonder what became of the prankster.