Camouflaged Killer

Oct 31, 2011 - by David A. Gibb

David A. Gibb’s book, Camouflaged Killer: The Shocking Double Life of Canadian Air Force Colonel Russell Williams.

Special to Crime Magazine:  An excerpt from David A. Gibb’s book, Camouflaged Killer: The Shocking Double Life of Canadian Air Force Colonel Russell Williams.  By day Williams commanded the largest military base in Canada; by night he stalked single women in their bedrooms.  What began as a fetish to steal women’s undergarments grew into a compulsion to rape and murder. 

by David A. Gibb

Chapter Ten

 

Enemy under Fire

With true military precision, Colonel Russell Williams arrived at the Ottawa police headquarters at 3 p.m. and reported for his scheduled interview.

He was introduced to Detective-Sergeant Jim Smyth, a forty-something, slightly bookish, unassuming officer in a dark suit and tie. Mild-mannered in his approach and soft-spoken by nature, Smyth was not the type of fellow one would suspect of being a police officer. In fact, much like TV’s Columbo, he probably owed much of his success to people’s innate tendencies to underestimate his talents and resolve. At six feet two, Williams’s tall and lean build dominated the smaller-framed officer.

Smyth, who had started his policing career in 1988, was one of only a half-dozen certified criminal profilers in Canada. His success as a profiler and polygraph operator for the OPP’s Behavioral Sciences and Analysis Services unit had been well documented.[1] As far as cops went, he seemed to have the proverbial Midas touch, the kind of cop most case investigators would want holding their ladder.

That day, the reserved detective would lead a commanding officer of Canada’s military to room 216, a small second-floor unit just as nondescript as the interviewer. More aptly described as an enclosed cubicle, the video room, as police call it, was probably not much bigger than the walk-in bedroom closet at the colonel’s Ottawa home. Hidden behind the scenes, four officers were discreetly observing the video feed from an adjacent room.

Unlike the interrogation tactics of yesteryear, there’d be no swinging lampshades with hot lights, no tired good-cop, bad-cop acts with testosterone-fueled shouting matches, and no pounding fists with rolled-up sleeves.[2] Instead, the interviewer would strive to appear confident yet relaxed, and at least as calm as the suspect.[3]

As he swaggered into the room, chewing confidently on a wad of gum, Williams was directed to take a seat across from the small tabletop workstation. Unlike his interviewer’s seat, his chair was without wheels—a standard police protocol. The off-duty colonel removed his bright yellow jacket, draped it over the back of the chair, and placed his black leather gloves on the desktop before sitting down.

“I’m just going to move your gloves,” Smyth said, motioning to a tabletop recorder that they were blocking. “That’s a little microphone.”

Williams seemed friendly and very agreeable, despite a touch of arrogance. His relaxed demeanor was reflected in his casual dress: blue jeans and a short-sleeved, blue-and-white-striped polo shirt. If he was feeling at all stressed or concerned from having been called in to speak with the police, it wasn’t showing.

“As you can see here, everything in this room is videotaped and audiotaped,” Smyth said, drawing the colonel’s attention to three mounted cameras that were recording their meeting from different angles.

“Check,” Williams replied, in the macho tone of a pilot readying for takeoff.

“Ever been interviewed by the police in a room like this before?” Smyth asked.

Williams smiled broadly, still chewing his gum, and looked up at one of the ceiling mounted cameras.

“I have never been interviewed by the police,” he said with a smug grin. Both his voice and demeanor were remarkably reminiscent of the calm charisma of legendary screen actor Clint Eastwood. He interjected his high-ranking military status strategically by adding, “I guess the closest . . . I was interviewed by NIS [National Investigation Service] for top-secret clearance.” It was a subtle way of reminding the officer of Williams’s own rank and power.

“Have you ever been read your rights before?”

The colonel said he hadn’t.

“Basically in Canada, as you know, I’m sure, we all have our rights guaranteed under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” Smyth said, before he told the colonel that he was not under arrest and was free to leave the building at any time. “If there’s anything that comes up in our interview today, Russell, that you feel you want to talk to a lawyer about, you just let me know.”

“Sure,” the colonel replied.

Smyth talked briefly about the four crimes that had by now obviously been linked: the two sexual assaults in Tweed, the sex murder of Marie-France Comeau, and the suspicious disappearance of Jessica Lloyd. He told Williams that whoever was responsible for the crimes would be facing a number of serious charges.

“I hope so,” Williams mumbled, his face projecting an unspoken arrogance, as though he was trying to keep from smiling.

“When we find out who’s responsible for one or all of those crimes, they could be charged . . . whether it’s you or whether it’s anybody else, all right?”

The colonel nodded and continued to chew his gum.

“That’s why it’s important that we make sure the people understand what they have to do, and what they don’t have to do, when they’re talking to us,” said Smyth. “So as I said before, any point today you feel the need to speak to a lawyer, you just let me know and we can take you to a room where you can do that in private, okay?”[4]

“Okay,” Williams responded with a firm nod.

“Do you have your own lawyer?”

“I had a realty lawyer,” Williams chuckled, “but, no, I don’t have a lawyer.”

Smyth advised him that the police had a list of attorneys that could be made available to him to provide free advice over the phone, and asked whether he’d like to call one now. Williams showed no interest and declined his offer.

There were a couple more “fairly simple and straightforward” things that Smyth said he had to discuss to make sure “everybody” was clear. First, Williams was told that he was not under any obligation to talk to the officer.

“That’s because the law considers me to be what we refer to as a person in authority . . . probably similar to what you may be considered to be on the base,” Smyth said—a statement that served to stroke the colonel’s ego, but also remind him that he was now a fish out of his own safe waters.

Smyth told the colonel that while he may have been called upon to speak with officers at the base regarding Comeau’s murder, or may have spoken with other law enforcement officials about the crimes, he should not feel restricted by any previous comments that he had made to them.

Williams listened to the officer intently, with furrowed brows and a tightly clenched jaw.

“I don’t want what they may have said to you to make you feel influenced or compelled to say anything to me today, okay, whatever you might have felt influenced or compelled to say to them earlier.”

And with that, Smyth had delivered what is known within policing circles as a soft rights caution. By avoiding the tersely worded and scripted format that officers must read an accused upon arrest, this “soft” form can be presented in a more casual and less intimidating manner in order to avoid spooking a suspect into clamming up.

Smyth then explained the reasons that police had focused their attention on him: the obvious geographical connections with three of the women and his military relationship with Comeau. When he asked the colonel what he had done on Friday, January 29, 2010, the day following Jessica Lloyd’s disappearance, Williams explained that he had stayed home for most of the day. “I had sort of a stomach flu,” he said.

He had left home later that night, around 8 or 9 p.m., to sleep at the base before flying a crew to California the next morning. Upon returning to the base later that night, he had driven straight back to his home in Ottawa to spend a couple of days with his wife.

Smyth then began focusing his questions on Marie-France Comeau, and asked Williams how they had met.

“I only met her once; she was on a crew I was on just after I got to the base,” he said. “I think it was a one-day trip . . . transporting, you know, our troops for the first leg out of Edmonton [to Afghanistan]; we tend to hopscotch them across,” Williams explained, using a chopping motion with his hand.

Smyth asked him the circumstances of how he learned of Comeau’s death and what his schedule and routine was around that time. During this line of questioning, Williams folded his formerly relaxed arms in front of him, a pose that he’d maintain for much of the rest of the interview.

The detective’s conversational-style questioning flip-flopped around with little apparent focus, often seeming to lack any specific direction or structure.

He asked the colonel what they would find should they conduct an investigation into his background. “Is there anything you can think of that anybody may have misinterpreted or anything in your history that somebody might say, Russell Williams did this?”

“Absolutely not . . . no,” Williams responded, shaking his head vehemently. “It’d be very boring.”

Smyth chuckled and changed the subject again, asking the colonel whether he ever watched the television show CSI”as he segued into a discussion about DNA evidence and modern advances in forensic testing procedures.

“I prefer “Law & Order,” but I do watch “CSI”occasionally,” Williams said.

“Well, what would you be willing to give me today to help me move past you in this investigation?” he asked.

Williams looked bemused. “What do you need?”

“Well, do you want to supply things like fingerprints, blood samples . . . things like that?”

“Sure,” the colonel responded, rather foolishly.

“Okay, um, footwear impressions?” Smyth continued.

Williams cast his eyes downward. “Yeah,” he muttered.

Smyth then paused the interview for twenty-two minutes while officers obtained the samples from a fully compliant Colonel Williams, who also surrendered his BlackBerry and brown leather boots for forensic examination.

 

When they returned to their seats following the break, Williams was no longer chewing on the wad of gum. He sat defensively, with his arms folded in front of him and his left leg extended.

“Can I assume you’re going to be discreet?” he asked Smyth firmly, with the first hint of stress and irritation apparent in his voice. “’Cause you know this would have a very significant impact on the base if they thought you thought I did this.”

“That’s certainly one of the things that went into our decision to give you a call at home today and see if we could deal with this today,” Smyth offered.

“’Cause it’s tough to undo the rumor mill once it gets started . . . but I appreciate that.” Williams sat quietly as he looked to the floor.

Smyth asked him if he was concerned about whether the Buccal (DNA) swab they had taken would match any samples taken from the four crime scenes. He shook his head.

“We talked recently about, you know, the whole idea of any unusual sex acts of your history . . . but another thing that can often happen in cases like this is that people become concerned about . . . affairs,” he said.

After extending the colonel the opportunity to admit to any extramarital relationships, Smyth became blunt. “Is there any contact that you may have had with any of those four women that you may not want your wife to be aware of . . .”

Williams looked insulted, then exhaled deeply, grinned wide, and shook his head. “Absolutely not,” he said, re-crossing his arms and shifting himself forward in his seat.

The detective explained how DNA profiling had advanced so much that only a tiny sample was now required to determine a match. “Essentially [it] has become more and more precise to the point where, when you and I walked in this room earlier today, we could’ve sat down, talked for thirty seconds, walked out . . . CSI officer could’ve come in three, four days from now, did some swabs here, and he would’ve found your DNA and my DNA . . . and probably a lot of other people’s DNA.”

Smyth continued, “As we talk, you know a little bit of saliva comes out of our mouths . . .”

“Yeah, no, I understand,” Williams interrupted.

“. . . that contains our DNA. Our blood or our skin cells contain our DNA.”

He offered Williams another chance to explain how or why his DNA could have gotten inside any of the victims’ homes. Had he been there at any time? the officer asked.

“No,” Williams insisted, shaking his head slightly, his arms still folded tightly in front of his chest.

The conversation soon took another dramatic shift.

“What kind of tires do you have on your Pathfinder?” Smyth asked.

Suddenly the unshakable colonel looked very uncomfortable. He shifted in his seat, leaned his head forward, pursed his lips, and rubbed the back of his neck.

“I think, um, they’re Toyo.”

The detective asked if he remembered the model, but Williams said he didn’t.

“Okay, I’ll read this off to you, see if it rings a bell . . . you ever heard of . . . does Toyo Open Country H/Ts . . .”

“That sounds right,” Williams reluctantly admitted, then struggled to make the revelation seem less damning. “Our dealership here in Ottawa says they’re very popular for the Pathfinder, so . . .”

Smyth abruptly changed the topic again and began discussing swipe access cards that were used on the base. He challenged the colonel as to why he did not use his swipe card on Tuesday, November 24, 2009 (the day following Comeau’s murder), despite the fact that it was used every other day that week at the base.

Williams politely reminded the detective that he had already told him that he had been attending a high-level aircraft acquisition meeting in Ottawa that day and did not return to his duties at the base until Wednesday.

“Do you remember where in Ottawa you were?”

“Yeah. I was in Gatineau, as I said, meeting about the C-17.”

“Okay, now if that is the day you had a meeting in Ottawa, do you remember being at the base on the Monday the twenty third and swiping your card in and out? Do you remember what you would’ve done that evening to go to Ottawa for that meeting? Like would it be, uh . . .”

A broad grin stretched across Williams’s face as he leaned forward, unfolded his arms, and put his hands on his knees. He looked at the floor dismissively, as though growing increasingly annoyed with repeating answers to questions that he had already answered.

“I drove to Ottawa in the morning,” he said as he sat up and folded his arms again.

After eliciting more details about the colonel’s day-long trip to Ottawa and the dinner that he shared with his wife before returning to Tweed that evening, the detective hastily returned to the topic of tires. Smyth referenced the field near Jessica’s house where the colonel had been stopped at the roadside check and asked, “Has there been a time in the recent one or two weeks that your vehicle has left that road for any reason whatsoever . . . ?”

“No,” Williams said, still sitting with his arms folded in front.

“I want you to rack your brain here, this is important . . .”

“Yeah, yeah,” Williams responded.

“So is there anything you can remember doing that, you know, would cause you to drive off the road at that section of the roadway?”

“No . . . That’s the early part of the highway and I’m just heading out . . . It’s about thirty minutes from there—no, probably twenty—from there to my home.”

The detective’s relaxed posture and gentle hand gestures deceptively concealed the fact that he was about to drop a bomb on the colonel’s head.

“Okay. Would it surprise you to know that when the CSI officers were looking around her property that they identified a set of tires . . . along the north tree line . . .”

Williams leaned his head forward and furrowed his brows, paying close attention as the detective slowly revealed his hidden cards.

“They examined those tire tracks, and they have contacts in the tire business, obviously . . .”

Williams nodded.

“Tire tracks are a major source of evidence for us.”

“Sure,” Williams said, his arms still folded tightly in front of his chest.

“Shortly after this investigation started, they identified those tires as the same tires on your Pathfinder,” said Detective-Sergeant Smyth.

“Really?” The pitch of Williams’s voice rose as the word stretched from his lips. A forced frown displayed his apparent disbelief.

The detective told him that further efforts had been taken to identify the vehicle responsible for making the tracks, including collecting witness reports.

“There was a female police officer that actually drove by that location that evening and recalls seeing ‘an SUV-type vehicle’ in the field . . . consistent with a Pathfinder. It may be consistent with other things, but consistent with a Pathfinder . . .”

“Yeah, yeah,” Williams replied.

“What they also do to try and identify the type of vehicle is they look at what they call the wheelbase width,” the officer told him, explaining that various makes and models have different measurements. “Your Pathfinder’s wheelbase width is very, very close to the width of the tires that were left in that field,” Smyth said, his tone still very calm and calculating. “Do you have any recollection of being off that road?”

Williams smiled and shook his head. “No, I was not off the road, no,” he said.

After the detective had deftly planted the seed in the mind of his now-rattled opponent, he excused himself from the room for a break.

It was during these short breaks, when Smyth disappeared behind the closed door, that he’d consult with the police monitors who had been observing from the adjacent room. Together they would compare notes and plan their next course of action before Smyth returned to the video room.

This time, unbeknownst to the already squirming colonel, another shoe—or rather boot—was ready to be dropped.

 

When Detective-Sergeant Smyth returned to the interrogation room, Williams was sitting with his arms folded and his legs leisurely stretched out and crossed at the ankles. The detective broke the cold silence.

“I told you when I came in here that I’ll treat you with respect, and I’ve asked you to do the same for me,” he said. “But the problem is, Russell, every time I walk out of this room, there’s another issue that comes up, okay? And it’s not issues that point away from you; it’s issues that point at you, okay?” Smyth placed some photos onto the desktop. “I want you to see what I mean.”

Williams unfolded his arms and leaned forward, his interest keenly focused on the photographs before him.

“All right, this is the footwear impression of the person who approached the rear of Jessica Lloyd’s house on the evening of the twenty-eighth of January . . .”

“Yeah,” the colonel mumbled, his eyes still locked onto the desk.

“When you’re dealing with footwear impressions, we have a gentleman on the OPP who’s basically world-renowned . . . his name is John Norman,” Smyth said. “And essentially with footwear impressions, you’re in a situation where you’re pretty much in the area of fingerprints.”

The detective took a strategic pause to build his quarry’s anticipation before revealing another photograph.

“Okay . . . this is a photocopy of the boot that you took off your foot just a little while ago,” Smyth said, his tone becoming uncharacteristically stronger. “These are identical, okay? Your vehicle drove up the side of Jessica Lloyd’s house . . . your boots walked to the back of Jessica Lloyd’s house on the evening of the twenty-eighth and twenty-ninth of January.”

The colonel sat forward in his seat still leaning over the photos, appearing to examine them studiously.

“Okay, you want discretion, we need to have some honesty, okay? Because this is getting out of control really fast, Russell . . . really fast.”

Colonel Williams sniffled. “Hmmm” was the only sound he could muster as he shuffled farther back into his seat.

“This is getting beyond my control, all right?” The detective’s words became hostile, yet his tone remained steady and firm. “I wanted to give you the benefit of the doubt, but you and I both know you were at Jessica Lloyd’s house, and I need to know why.”

The humbled colonel began nodding his head ever so slightly. He grabbed the prints to take a closer look. For thirty seconds, a tumultuous silence fell upon the room, seeming to last much longer, as Williams stared emotionlessly at the photos.

Finally, he spoke.

“I don’t know what to say, it’s, um . . .”

“Well, you need to explain it,” the detective told him as he prepared to unleash yet another shocking revelation to the already speechless commander. “Right now . . . there is a warrant being executed at your residence in Ottawa, okay? So your wife now knows what’s going on,” Smyth said. “There’s a search warrant being executed at the residence in Tweed, and your vehicles have been seized, okay?”

The police had laid a carefully crafted plan to trap Williams. They knew that if they did not have the search warrants and were not prepared to execute them while he was undergoing questioning, their suspect would likely have walked from the room—and possibly destroyed any evidence before they had the opportunity to find it. But by keeping an ace up his sleeve, Smyth knew that his quarry would be stuck on the hot seat.

And he was right. Williams sat with his head bowed forward, his hands on his knees. He no longer looked the part of the confident, self-assured, gum-smacking military officer who had entered the room three hours earlier.

“You and I both know they’re going to find evidence that links you to these situations, okay?” The tone of the formerly mild-mannered detective’s voice grew noticeably more combative as the colonel’s bowed head began to nod very subtly, perhaps unconsciously, in response. “You and I both know that the unknown offender male DNA on Marie-France’s body is going to be matched to you, quite possibly before the evening’s over . . .”

The detective’s words fought gallantly for the women who no longer had a voice. But sensing that relinquishing control would be a difficult step for the career military man who had been trained to remain tough and withstand intense interrogation tactics by enemy forces, he offered the colonel a concession.

“Your opportunity to take some control here . . . is quickly expiring.”

Williams mumbled his agreement, his slouched head still nodding.

As the detective told him that investigators were applying for a warrant to search his office at the military base, Williams sat upright and sighed, his earlier confidence clearly diminished. He felt cornered, and his fight-or-flight responses were in obvious conflict with each other.

“And Russell . . .”

Smyth waited twenty seconds for a response, but the colonel was lost in thought and didn’t hear him.

“Russell,” he repeated.

The colonel looked up. “Mm-hmm?”

“Listen to me for a second, okay?” the detective demanded. “When that evidence comes in and that DNA matches, when that phone rings, and somebody knocks on this door . . . your credibility is gone, okay?”

Smyth leaned forward and looked down at his cowering adversary, whose mind was clearly swirling as he assessed his options. Recognizing that the colonel was in a vulnerable state and close to breaking, Smyth continued to push.[5]

“I know you’re an intelligent person, and you probably don’t need to hear this explanation,” the detective said, stroking the colonel’s ego to win his favor. “But I also know your mind’s racing right now, okay? . . . ’Cause I’ve sat across from a lot of people in your position over the years.”

Williams showed no emotion as his inner debate continued. He stared blankly ahead with his arms folded defensively as the officer’s words fell upon deaf ears.

“What are we going to do, Russell? You know there’s only one option . . .”

The word caught his attention.

“What’s the option?” the colonel replied, anxious to develop his strategy.

“Well, I don’t think you want the cold-blooded psychopath option. I might be wrong . . . ’cause I’ve met guys who actually kind of enjoyed the notoriety . . . got off on having that label, [Paul] Bernardo being one of them. I don’t see that in you . . . but maybe I’m wrong . . .”

Smyth had chosen to use logic as his primary weapon of choice against the colonel’s cognitive military mind, but was now targeting something else he held in high regard: his personal and professional reputation. His wife, family, and the armed forces were poised to become collateral damage on his personal battlefield. The proud military man would be certain to want to save face, contain the damage, and minimize the impact.

“Russell,” the officer prodded. “What are we going to do?”

The colonel raised his head, rubbed his neck, and looked his interrogator straight in the eyes. “Call me Russ, please.” His congenial tone finally indicated a readiness to move forward.

Smyth had not only managed to establish a rapport with the commander of the country’s largest military base, but in a very short time had also earned his respect and admiration.

“Okay, what are we going to do, Russ?”

Williams sniffed and held his open hand against the side of his bowed face, resting his chin on the heel of his palm.

As he sensed an imminent confession, the detective shuffled his chair closer and purposefully mirrored the colonel’s pose.

“Is Jessica somewhere we can find her easily?” he asked calmly. “Like, is it something where I can make a call and tell somebody to go to a location . . . or is this something where we have to go and take a walk?”

Williams sighed. He sat up and crossed his arms as he quietly contemplated his next step. He realized that there would be significant consequences for his actions, so his decision had to be a calculated and informed one. And, like many decisions that military airmen must make, it had to be quick and certain.

“Which direction are we heading in here?” Smyth prompted.

Close to a minute of stark silence passed as Williams sat stock-still.

“Russ, maybe this would help . . . Can you tell me what the issue is you’re struggling with?”

There was no response.

“What’s the use of you struggling now?”

After another long pause, Williams sighed. As he sat quietly with his head slumped forward, holding his face in his hand, his body language spoke clearly.

“It’s hard to believe this is happening,” the colonel said, exhaling deeply as he sat up and folded his arms.

“Why is it hard to believe?”

Williams leaned forward and ran his tongue along his teeth.

“Um, it’s just hard to believe.”

Despite being on the verge of a confession, the detective inexplicably veered off course, beginning yet another line of questioning. He asked the colonel about an order that had allegedly been given at the base advising subordinates that they did not have to speak to the police and to seek legal counsel before they did so.

Williams vehemently denied being aware of such an order, and became defensive at the suggestion that it had been given by someone under his command. During this exchange, the colonel’s words became more assertive, his mind clearly focused, and his body language much more confident.

“No, absolutely not,” he fired back, shaking his head in denial when the detective insisted that the order had gone out to all base personnel.

Inciting such an argument was a dangerous move for the detective, who risked losing the ground that he had earlier gained. Realizing this, he quickly corrected his course.

“That’s fine, now let’s go back to the issue . . .”

After several minutes of backpedaling, the detective managed to salvage the interview and refocus on the aspects that had been breaking the colonel’s resolve.

“When you talk about perception,” Williams said, “my only two immediate concerns . . . are what my wife must be going through right now and the impact this is going to have on the Canadian Forces.”

“Russ, is there anything you want from me, is there anything you want me to explain . . . that I can shed some light on for you?” Smyth said softly, with a caring, compassionate tone.

Williams exhaled deeply. “Now I’m struggling with how upset my wife is right now.”

The verbal struggle continued for over twenty minutes. The detective, as though trying to land a big fish, continued to pace his efforts by offering his adversary some slack before tactfully reeling him in just a little bit more.

Williams pulled his chair closer to the desk and stared down at the photos that the detective had earlier laid out. But his mind was clearly somewhere else.

“I’m concerned that they’re tearing apart my wife’s brand-new house,” he told the officer begrudgingly.

“So am I,” said Smyth. “But if nobody tells them what’s there and what’s not, then they don’t have any choice . . .”

It was a carefully crafted statement that offered the colonel a modicum of control over the events that were rapidly transpiring around him. The detective explained how his computers would be forensically analyzed and that no stone would be left unturned. The stern expression on Williams’s face and his folded arms revealed the mixed bag of emotions he felt as he was told that the case managers refused to pull any punches. The investigation, Smyth said, involved fifty to sixty officers and would end up costing well over $10 million.[6]

“I don’t know what else to do to make you understand the impact of what’s happening here,” Smyth said as he tried to coax some dialogue from his steely-eyed suspect.

Williams’s head continued to bob in a rapid succession of gentle nods, his forehead growing increasingly flush from the stress he was under.

“I want to minimize the impact on my wife,” he said, as though it were part of a boardroom negotiation.

“So do I,” said Smyth.

“So how do we do that?” Williams asked.

“Well, you start by telling the truth,” Smyth replied firmly.

After thirty seconds of silence, the colonel’s head started to nod.

“Okay,” he said.

“All right, so where is she?” Smyth asked bluntly.

Williams contemplated in quiet for another twenty-two seconds before he suddenly surrendered and his clenched lips spoke.

“Got a map?” he asked nonchalantly.

Less than five hours after he had driven to police headquarters in the same SUV he had used to abduct Jessica Lloyd and strode into the interview room wearing the same boots that he had used the night of her attack, the truth had finally surfaced.

With three simple, yet ominous, words, the distinguished base commander, respected colonel, and trusted pilot for the prime minister and Queen Elizabeth II had sealed his fate and was set to shock an entire nation.

 

While metaphorical handcuffs had been slapped around the colonel’s wrists, the interview was still far from over. In fact, it wasn’t even halfway over.

“Okay, Russ, you’re doing the right thing here,” the detective assured him as he offered his open hand to the confessed killer. Williams looked up at him, shook his hand, and then passively cast his eyes to the floor.

Committed to his decision, the colonel offered to draw diagrams for the officer showing exactly where he had hidden memory cards and two hard drives full of evidence at his Ottawa home—hoping that police would then be less intrusive with their search efforts. They’d find a mother lode of explicit images on the devices, featuring all four of his victims, he assured Smyth.

Some of the memory cards were simply stowed in a camera bag, while others were tucked away in a desk drawer in his office. But the hard drives he had carefully hidden in aluminum air vents in the garage, and a large cache of women’s underwear was stashed in an empty computer scanner box that sat amongst unpacked boxes lining the basement wall of their newly built executive home. “We just moved in, so there’s boxes everywhere,” he told the officer before describing the box’s exact location.

“Just that . . . this place . . . my wife, it’s been a dream for the better part of a year, so I’m keen to get them what they need so they can leave her alone,” the colonel stressed once again.

He admitted to the detective that he had originally planned to drive back to Tweed that day, and had earlier gathered a bunch of the women’s panties and bras to burn in a field upon his return.

As Williams worked on the diagrams, Detective-Sergeant Smyth excused himself to print off some maps so that he could pinpoint the exact location of Jessica’s body.

“But I do want to talk to you, Jim,” the colonel said wistfully as the officer turned to leave the room. Williams didn’t want the level of comfort that had been established with Smyth to be disturbed by any unfamiliar faces.

“That’s the plan. Okay, I’ll be right back.”

The detective returned with a cup of water for Williams and some maps from Google that he had printed off showing the Tweed area. The colonel studied the maps and plotted the specific spot where he had hidden Jessica’s body.

She was in the woods, behind a rock on the east side of Cary Road, forty feet from the roadway and exactly 0.7 kilometers south of East Hungerford Road. They’d be able to find her easily there, Williams assured him.

Intrigued by the accuracy of his measurement, the detective asked him how he had recalled such a specific distance.

“That’s just the way I am,” Williams replied. “Numbers. I have to know the numbers.”

He then explained to the officer that he had killed her on Friday night before flying some troops to California early the next morning. When he returned later that same evening, he drove straight back to Ottawa to help his wife with some unpacking, since he had the Monday off work. On Tuesday evening, Williams returned to his Tweed cottage after visiting with a military unit earlier in the day and promptly disposed of Jessica’s body sometime between midnight and 1 a.m. He smiled and chuckled as he told the officer how he then drove back home, vacuumed his carpets, and wiped the tiled floors clean. It would then be only two days before he’d be stopped and questioned by police at the fateful roadside canvass.

Jessica’s body, meanwhile, had remained lying in the woods for close to a week, her bleeding head wrapped in towels, amongst scavenging coyotes, brush wolves, and foxes. Williams had chosen to place her body off to the side of a rarely used, unpaved access road about six miles east of Tweed. Used primarily by hunters, there were no homes or other buildings anywhere along the road. Coincidentally, perhaps, Cary Road was often used by the colonel’s next-door neighbor to reach his secluded hunting camp. A neighbor by the name of Larry Jones: the Mayor of Cosy Cove.

 

Smyth then elicited more details of the four attacks, despite fumbling over the names of the two sexual assault victims and having to be reminded by their attacker. He then stumbled over the pronunciation of their names and forgot the order in which the crimes occurred. But he plugged along relentlessly, without losing his footing.[7]

Williams spoke frankly and matter-of-factly, showing no emotion as he described how he had planned and carried out the rapes and murders. The graphic details were disclosed as though he were describing scenes from a grisly movie. Wisely, Smyth was careful not to overreact to the horrors he heard. He concealed his true feelings by relaxing the pitch and tone of his voice while maintaining his calm and easygoing demeanor.

At times, Williams became agitated when Smyth would circle between the attacks and end up repeating the same questions several times.[8] His efforts to keep the conversation alive sometimes seemed strained and contrived.

As he pushed the colonel for details about his abduction of Jessica, the detective’s questioning sank to the depths of absurdity when he asked Williams to explain what he meant when he said that Lloyd had been cooperative.

“Cooperative can mean a number of different things. Was she excited about leaving with you?”

Williams clarified that she had simply not put up “much of a fuss” upon being taken from her house and led to his truck.

Smyth later made attempts to gain an understanding of the psychology behind his quickly escalating attacks.

“Why do you think these things happened?” he asked.

Williams didn’t know.

“Have you spent much time thinking about it?”

“Yeah, but I don’t know the answers.” Williams took a long pause, his eyes glazed. “And I’m pretty sure the answers don’t matter.”

Smyth could have disagreed, but instead kept the momentum going. “Did you like or dislike these women?”

The colonel raised his head and looked passively at the police officer. “I didn’t know any of them,” he said.

Smyth asked him about what kind of feelings he experienced with Jessica, having spent almost twenty-four hours together.

“I thought she was a very nice girl,” Williams said.

“Do you know why you killed her?”

“Well, I think I killed her because I knew her story would be recognized.” He feared that the ritualistic behavior of having his victims pose for explicit photographs would have caused the crimes to be linked together.

“So if you didn’t take pictures, what would you have done with her?” the investigator probed.

But once again, the man who had commanded over three thousand air force personnel had no easy answer for him. He really didn’t understand himself any better than the detective did.

Then he was asked about Comeau and the circumstances of his first murder.

“I’m just trying to understand, like, why her versus, you know, the dozens of other women you’ve probably come across on a daily basis?”

Again Williams shook his head and shrugged. He did not know why he had targeted Marie-France from amongst all of her colleagues on the base and purposefully used his status as base commander to specifically access her personal information.

Over the hours that passed, Williams succumbed to both mental and physical distress. His body language had slowly shifted from a cocky confidence to distress, defeat, and, ultimately, resignation. As he had progressed through the stages, his restlessness and discomfort caused him to frequently shift position in his chair, squirming and shuffling around and rolling his shoulders. Eventually he began to take breaks from his seat, leaning against the wall for long periods of time.

He stood staring at the floor as the detective asked two questions that would soon be on the minds of many people.

“How do you feel about what you’ve done?”

“Disappointed,” Williams replied quietly.

“Let me ask you this,” Smyth continued. “If this didn’t come to the point it’s at right now . . . if, for whatever reason, you didn’t end up on our radar so to speak, do you think it would have happened again?”

To most people, the answer was quite obvious. One does not escalate to such a level and then suddenly stop. It was likely even he knew that.

“I was hoping not,” said the man who was once called a “shining bright star” of the Canadian military. “But I can’t answer that question.”

 

The interview continued for several hours, but Williams did not balk. The fact that he spoke so openly and candidly with his interrogator was indicative of two things: the colonel’s resolve at sticking to a decision once he had made it, and the great sense of relief he probably felt from having unbottled all of his horrific secrets.

At some point during the evening, Colonel Russell Williams was formally arrested for the murders of Marie-France Comeau and Jessica Lloyd, as well as the two sexual assaults against Laurie Massicotte and Jane Doe. He was read his formal rights to counsel and caution, and given a further opportunity to consult with a lawyer, which he declined.

Detective-Sergeant Smyth provided him with a pad of paper and a pen and suggested that he write some letters of apology to his victims, another common tactic used by police to avoid later allegations of a false confession. When he returned twenty-five minutes later, Williams had written nothing. Smyth gave him another chance to complete the voluntary exercise and left him alone again. This time when the officer returned, Williams had written a total of five apology letters (and three discarded drafts).

They read as follows:

To his wife of nineteen years, Mary Elizabeth Harriman:

Dearest Mary Elizabeth,

I love you, sweet [illegible]. I am so very sorry for having hurt you like this. I know you’ll take good care of sweet Rosie [their cat].

I love you,

Russ

To Roxanne Lloyd, the mother of twenty-seven-year-old murder victim Jessica Lloyd:

Mrs. Lloyd,

You won’t believe me, I know, but I am sorry for having taken your daughter from you. Jessica was a beautiful, gentle young woman, as you know. I know she loved you very much—she told me so, again and again. I can tell you that she did not suspect that the end was coming—Jessica was happy because she believed she was going home.

I know you have already had a lot of pain in your life. I am sorry to have caused you so much more.

[Scribbled signature]

Earlier drafts to Mrs. Lloyd read as follows:

Mrs. Lloyd,

I know you won’t believe me but I am sorry for having taken your daughter from you. Jessica was a beautiful, gentle young woman. I know she loved you very much. Though I forced her to have sex [He then stopped midsentence and scribbled lines through the sentences.]

Another draft read:

Mrs. Lloyd,

You won’t believe me, I know, but I am sorry for having taken your daughter from you. Jessica was a beautiful, gentle young woman. I know she loved you very much because she told me she did, again and again. The moment she died she was quite happy, because she believed I was going to let her go. She did not know what was coming. [He then stopped and scribbled through all the writing. At some point he had gone back and scratched out “The moment” and written, “Immediately before” over top of it.]

To Jane Doe, his first sexual assault victim, he wrote:

[Protected from disclosure],

I apologize for having traumatized you the way I did. No doubt you’ll sleep a bit easier now that I’ve been caught.

[Scribbled signature]

To Laurie Massicotte, his second sexual assault victim, he wrote:

Laurie,

I am sorry for having hurt you the way I did. I really hope that the discussion we had has helped you turn your life around a bit. You seem like a bright woman, who could do much better for herself. I do hope that you find a way to succeed.

[Scribbled signature]

And finally, to Ernie Comeau, the father of thirty-eight-year-old murder victim Marie-France Comeau:

Mr. Comeau,

I am sorry for having taken your daughter, Marie-France, from you. I know you won’t be able to believe me, but it is true. Marie-France has been deeply missed by all that knew her.

[Scribbled signature]

A slightly different earlier draft read:

Mr. Comeau,

I am sorry for having taken your daughter from you—I know you won’t be able to believe me, but it is the case. I know she has been deeply missed by all that knew her. [He then stopped writing and scribbled out the lines he had written.]

A much more formal letter of condolence had been sent to Mr. Comeau on official “Office of the Wing Commander” military stationery on December 1, 2009, written and signed in the capacity of Marie-France’s commanding officer. That earlier letter had read:

Dear Mr. Comeau,

I would like to take this opportunity on behalf of the men and women of 8 Wing Trenton to express my sincere condolences on the tragic death of your daughter.

Marie-France was a professional, caring and compassionate woman who earned the respect of all with whom she came into contact. She set high standards for herself and others and was devoted to the well-being of those around her. Marie-France made a lasting impact in Trenton, and will be sorely missed by her many friends.

Please let me know whether there is anything I can do to help you during this very difficult time. You and your family are in our thoughts and prayers.

With our deepest sympathy,

[Scribbled signature]

D.R. Williams

Colonel

Wing Commander

 

Meanwhile, police had been scouring the woods along Cary Road, following the detailed map and directions provided by Williams without any success. Frustrated by their inability to find Jessica’s body, they recruited the help of Williams himself.

Smyth and another officer escorted him from the police building at 1:33 a.m. and arrived on the scene on the outskirts of Tweed at 3:47 a.m. Williams led them straight to her body, her head still wrapped in towels, exactly where he had told them it could be found: behind a large rock, forty feet from the road, and exactly 0.7 kilometers from the intersection of East Hungerford Road.

The isolated stretch of road would soon be flooded with police. It would remain an active crime scene for the next twenty-four hours, as forensics officers descended on the cold and frigid brush that had been Jessica’s resting place for almost a week.

But karma and society would soon punish Williams for his crude and horrifying actions. He’d not be returning to his warm Posturepedic mattress or snuggling up to his wife anytime soon. Instead, the colonel would find himself sleeping in a cold concrete bunker in the much-maligned segregation unit at Quinte Detention Centre, located in Napanee, Ontario. It was just a few steps from the building where Jessica had once worked, but a huge leap from the life that her killer had abandoned just hours earlier.

Williams had thought that he could outsmart us all. But he was wrong. And now, just like his four bound and helpless victims, there was nothing the air force colonel could do to escape his fate.

His hands were tied.[9]

 


 

[1] This specialized unit, which was founded in 1995 and now employs about 110 police officers and civilian staff, is headquartered in Orillia, Ontario (one hundred miles north of Toronto). Part of their mandate is to pore over unsolved cases to establish links between violent crimes that have been reported by police agencies through (ViCLAS). In 2003, Smyth was part of an investigative team that developed an interrogation strategy that led to the confession of child murderer Michael Briere. Six years later he was credited with following “a hunch” and finding the body of eight-year-old murder victim Tori Stafford in a remote country field.

[2] Modern police tactics are much more benign and non-adversarial. Interviews are conducted one-on-one, so there is no real or perceived “ganging up” to intimidate the suspect. Those seated on the other side of the table are made to feel comfortable and at ease, for that is the frame of mind most conducive to revealing sought-after information.

[3] The Reid Technique model for police interviews was followed by Smyth throughout Williams’s interview.

[4] When it comes to police interrogations, the law in Canada varies significantly from its American cousin. In Canada, once a person has been cautioned (advised of his/her right to remain silent), even if they choose to “lawyer up,” police can continue questioning the suspect before their lawyer is present. Of course, the person is under no obligation to answer the questions and still has the right to speak with counsel; however, anything said after such a consultation remains fully admissible in court.

[5] The detective’s response was not in keeping with standard protocol for dealing with a suspect who, like Williams, displays body language that suggests a confession is imminent. In those cases, conventional wisdom dictates that the interrogator should say little or nothing while the suspect stews.

[6] Glenn Woods, former director of the RCMP’s behavioral sciences unit, doubts the investigation would have cost this much, and suggested the figure was likely a guesstimate thrown out by Smyth. Although the Williams case was likely to be a very expensive one, by comparison the much more intensive investigation into serial killer Robert Pickton in British Columbia (which took several years to resolve) ran about $75 million, not including court costs.

[7] Immediately following a suspect’s confession, investigators are advised to obtain further proof of the suspect’s involvement by soliciting such details as crime scene descriptions and information relating to the crimes that wasn’t released to the media. Often the suspect is asked to provide sketches of crime scenes or draft letters of apology to his victims. These steps lessen the chances of defense counsel later suggesting that their client had given a false confession.

[8] Smyth’s behavior could be due to the detective’s efforts to “keep talking”—another golden rule for interviewing suspects.

[9] Smyth’s interrogation of Colonel Williams is already being used as a training model by the Ontario Provincial Police. Instructors have been referencing the techniques used to elicit a confession from Williams extensively in their classes and workshops. However, whether or not Williams’s confession was actually required for conviction, considering the vast amount of physical evidence that was seized from his homes, will remain a matter of legal conjecture. But perhaps the most valuable aspect of the interview was not his confession, but rather his admission as to where he had secreted the large caches of evidence that may otherwise have gone undiscovered.

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