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Russell Williams
Russell Williams

Review: Non-fiction

A New Kind of Monster, by Timothy Appleby Add to ...

A New Kind of Monster

The Secret Life and Chilling Crimes of Colonel Russell Williams

By Timothy Appleby

Random House Canada, 277 pages, $29.95

This book is a solid piece of journalism that meticulously records what is known about the murderous life of Russell Williams, the man who disgraced his country, his family, his wife and the Canadian air force. Its many insights into this rapist, fetishist and killer are frequently illuminating; and, given the unlikelihood that further information will become available, the book will probably remain the source on this bizarre case.

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Globe and Mail crime reporter Timothy Appleby does his level best to shield us from the worst details of the crimes, but in this case the killer had videotaped and photographed, then meticulously recorded, everything about where, when and how the violations took place. Unbearably, the words spoken by the victims (and the indignities to which the killer subjected them) as they begged their tormentor for mercy are all on the videotapes.

It is exceedingly unusual, perhaps unique, for a serial killer to emerge from a distinguished upper-middle-class family or to have such a stellar career as Williams himself had. He graduated from Upper Canada College and the University of Toronto, then went on to a brilliant career in the air force, piloting the Queen and the prime minister, mixing with the political elites and ultimately becoming the prestigious commander of Canada's busiest air-force base, CFB Trenton.

Appleby is an experienced and respected reporter, and he does not fall into the trap - an error so common among those who write books or make films on killers - of swallowing the lies the killer routinely dispenses after capture to exonerate himself of full responsibility for his brutal crimes. In maintaining his no-nonsense stance, Appleby provides us with a sound and reliable account of how Williams devastated so many lives.

Only two aspects of the book made me cringe. The first is the urge of Appleby and some members of the judiciary, and even some victims, to report the "good side" of the rapist: For instance, during one of his sexual assaults, his heavy blows to his victim's head had left her with a savage headache for which Williams gave her two Aspirins. He called her by her first name, and she said he seemed like a "nice person": "He was patting my head [and] apologizing, saying, 'Sorry for that.' "

If this surviving victim understandably needed to "forgive" to get on with her own life, what would provoke the sentencing judge to say he "believed [that Williams]was genuinely remorseful and that his apology was sincere"? What on earth made him possess this "belief"? What was the evidence? Superficial politenesses?

The second, and wacky, cringe-maker is Appleby's insistence that Williams was not a sociopath - not a "person with no empathy or sympathy for the rest of the human race." No, he was merely a sexual deviant, a paraphiliac "with sexual obsessions rooted so deeply that once he gave them rein, they took over his life." This was no sociopath, thinks Appleby, but rather a man who "had feelings, emotions and attachments of all kinds: He cared about his wife [from whom he lived apart] he cared about the military [which he utterly betrayed] and he was devoted to his cats" (Hitler, you will recall, loved his dog). Remember well this "man of feeling," who was indifferent to the pleas for mercy from the innocent young victims of his torture, rape and murder. It is the behaviour, not the psychiatric label, that determines what manner of human sits before us.

Let us instead give all due respect to the superb police work that brought down this most unlikely perpetrator: In quickly apprehending him, the police undoubtedly saved many more young women from his pitiless hands. Similarly, let us acknowledge the good citizens (local handyman Lyle Barker and a relative) who noted the killer's SUV parked suspiciously in a victim's field late at night and then reported their suspicions to the police: They literally deserve a medal. And let us bury with contempt the memory of this multiple rapist and murderer who convincingly appears to have loved only his cat.

TIME TO KILL

A selection of the best works about serial killers:

Killer: A Journal Of Murder , by Thomas E. Gaddis and James O. Long

A pioneering study of one of the few intelligent serial killers. It includes an important personal journal of his life

The Die Song: A Journey Into the Mind of a Mass Murderer , by Donald T. Lunde and Jefferson Morgan

One of the finest psychiatrists to work in the homicide field, Lunde, and colleague, provide a literate and thoughtful review, concentrating on multiple murderer Herbert Mullin.

Dance With the Devil: A Memoir of Murder and Loss , by David Bagby

A highly personal story about the murder of Bagby's only child and only grandchild by a Canadian woman doctor.

The Killing of Bonnie Garland , by Willard Gaylin

A classic story, told with outraged passion, about how, to suit the needs of defence attorneys, victims can be defamed in court in order to put the killer on trial in the best possible light.

Hunting Humans: The Rise of the Modern Multiple Murderer , by Elliott Leyton

My own study of two of the better known forms of multiple murder and multiple murderers: serial killers and mass or "rampage" killers.

Past president of the Canadian Sociology and Anthropology Association, Elliott Leyton has published many books and essays on homicide and violence.

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