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Colonel Russell Williams appears in a Belleville, Ont., courtroom on Oct. 7, 2010, as depicted by a sketch artist. (Alex tavshunsky/Alex Tavshunsky/The Canadian Press)
Colonel Russell Williams appears in a Belleville, Ont., courtroom on Oct. 7, 2010, as depicted by a sketch artist. (Alex tavshunsky/Alex Tavshunsky/The Canadian Press)

Accused colonel told interrogators he was distressed by death of his cat Add to ...

It was on Feb. 7, at some point during his nine-hour interrogation by the Ontario Provincial Police, that Colonel Russell Williams finally got around to addressing that which had been haunting him.

At the time, he had murdered two young women by suffocation, beaten and tied up two of his neighbours before photographing them naked, and stolen about 500 items of lingerie and clothing from the closets of unsuspecting women. But one of the things that had been most distressing for him, he confided to his interrogator, Detective Sergeant Jim Smith, was the death of his old black and white cat, Curio.

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"The only thing he expressed regret about was his cat. He mentions it on two or three occasions," said a source close to the investigation who has reviewed Col. William's detailed statement to police.

This week, when Col. Williams stands in a Belleville, Ont., courtroom and pleads guilty more than 80 times, his many victims have said they hope to find an inkling of an explanation in the horrifying spectacle. But according to several sources, the only two possible hints the former air base commander has ever let slip about why he went on his after-dark, misogynistic rampages - the passing of his cat and his chronic joint pain - will leave everyone wanting.

Perhaps the most flabbergasting of those hints, investigators say, is the euthanizing of Curio, an 18-year-old indoor cat that had been with the officer and his wife, Mary-Elizabeth Harriman, since it was a kitten. The couple acquired Curio - the word means an unusual, and often fascinating, object of art - in the early 1990s, when Col. Williams was stationed in Portage La Prairie, Man., training up-and-coming pilots.

The few people who were close with Col. Williams have said Curio's death, which took place around the 2008 Christmas holidays, had a profound and visible impact. When police raided his two homes, they not only uncovered a neatly catalogued trove of women's underwear and videotapes of the slayings, but hundreds of digital photos of the cat in a variety of poses and backdrops. An image of the animal served as the wallpaper on the colonel's BlackBerry. Neighbours at his former home in the Ottawa suburb of Orleans, as well as neighbours at the couple's cottage in the village of Tweed, recalled the decorated officer being near tears when he told them about Curio's passing.

Sources close to the investigation scoff at the idea that the cat was a possible trigger - and not merely because it sounds so absurd, but more so because it can't be squared with the chronology of Col. William's dark descent; Curio's death took place more than a year after Col. Williams began his string of lingerie thefts.

Col. Williams also revealed to police in the interrogation that he suffered from chronic pain, a condition that his co-workers and old friends have returned to time and time again when they've been asked by reporters about any changes they observed. Jeff Farquhar, Col. Williams' former university roommate and one of his few close friends, said he couldn't help but notice about eight prescription bottles on the officer's bathroom counter during a visit to the cottage in the summer of 2009.

"I got the impression that some of it was painkillers, but there were many different labels. I wasn't snooping and I didn't examine the labels," Mr. Farquhar said. Other associates, such as Paul Ferguson, the program director at Belleville country music radio station Cool 100, recalled that at the annual wing commander's golf tournament in 2009, Col. Williams, an avid golfer, couldn't use a driver because he said it would ruin his back.

Police say they have no knowledge of Col. Williams seeking psychiatric treatment or reports of mental illness, though his associates over the years have certainly offered their own informal diagnosis. At the University of Toronto's Scarborough campus residence, he was known for demanding cleanliness, and he was repeatedly bugged about his obsessive compulsive-type behaviour. He accounted for every penny he spent by writing it down on a clipboard he kept in his room, and assigned cleaning tasks for everyone in his four-bedroom residence. His hyper-attention to order escalated in later years, and it was impossible for him to walk away from a fingerprint on his stainless steel fridge without wiping it off. He was an avid photographer, and he stored and categorized all of his digital photos in his office on individual memory keys, with each key assigned to its own cardboard box and clear plastic baggy.

"It was like you had walked into somebody's museum. Everything was painstakingly organized," Mr. Farquhar said.

Follow live updates from the courtroom as Globe reporter Timothy Appleby covers the plea and sentencing hearing of Colonel Russell Williams. Readers using BlackBerries and iPhones can click here.

Follow on Twitter: @McarthurGreg

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