Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

Colonel Russell Williams. (Cpl Igor R. Korpan/DND)
Colonel Russell Williams. (Cpl Igor R. Korpan/DND)

Blatchford

Russell Williams is the new Paul Bernardo Add to ...

The wait is over.

For 15 years, during which his name has been frequently invoked - as the perennial, usually imaginary suspect in many of the country's unsolved murders; for the legal precedents set by his criminal trial; as the embodiment of horror - Canadians have been braced for another Paul Bernardo.

More related to this story

With a lengthy agreed statements of facts now on the record at Ontario Superior Court in this small eastern Ontario city, the murders of two glorious young women described as fully as they ever will be officially, a former high-flying air force star, Colonel Russell Williams, fairly can be described as the new Bernardo.

Col. Williams - only now that he has been formally convicted can the military start the process of stripping the 47-year-old of his rank - was pronounced guilty of two counts of first-degree murder, two bizarre sexual assaults and forcible confinements, and 82 lingerie break-ins Tuesday by Judge Robert Scott.

There are, of course, differences between the two killers.

Chiefly, unlike Mr. Bernardo, Col. Williams didn't have a nimble helpmate like Karla Homolka to help him work the video camera, and thus had the bother of having to hold it himself in one hand while violating his victims, sometimes with the other hand.

Col. Williams's wife, Mary Elizabeth Harriman, wasn't involved in his crimes. The two spent long periods living apart - she in their Ottawa home, he at their Tweed, Ont., cottage, close to the base he ran.

(There has never been a suggestion Ms. Harriman had any idea what her husband was up to, though the evidence presented in court makes it clear she was astonishingly uncurious - Col. Williams kept well hidden his treasured videos and pictures, but left piles of stolen underwear and sex toys in ordinary boxes and bags all over the basement and spare room of their Ottawa house.)

And where Mr. Bernardo and Ms. Homolka videotaped their lethal sexual assaults upon three teenagers (her sister Tammy, Leslie Mahaffy and Kristin French) as well as other assaults on girls who survived, the pair stopped short of filming the actual murders.

Col. Williams did not.

He videoed the moment of Marie France Comeau's dreadful death - with the camera still rolling, he taped what is believed to have been duct tape to her nose and she went limp, pleading in her last breath, "Have a heart please. I've been really good. … I want to live."

Then her head rolled slightly and fell onto the wall she was leaning against.

As prosecutor Lee Burgess read aloud in court, "She stops breathing and appears to have just suffocated to death. The video stops."

The 37-year-old corporal, who followed her father into the Canadian Forces and served as a military flight attendant, fought Col. Williams tooth and nail from the moment she happened upon him, hiding in her basement, when she went looking for one of her cats before she went to bed.

Neither that death footage nor any pictures of the assaults on Ms. Comeau or 27-year-old Jessica Lloyd, Col. Williams's next murder victim, were shown in court or to the media out of deference to their families.

The other significant difference between the two killers is that where Mr. Bernardo was a low achiever, a failed accountant who then turned to cigarette smuggling, Col. Williams was a bright light in both his professional military life and in the burgeoning criminal career he began, from all the evidence the police investigation has found, at the advanced age of 44, rather long in the tooth for such fellows.

Indeed, though Col. Williams turned off his BlackBerry when he ventured off to the homes of Ms. Comeau and Ms. Lloyd - taking time away from his job as commander of CFB Trenton down the highway - having killed them, he went straight back to work.

After he watched Ms. Comeau die, he cleaned up her house, stole some underwear and drove directly to Ottawa for a "C-17 acquisition" meeting.

Similarly, after strangling Ms. Lloyd with some rope at about 8.15 p.m. on Jan. 29 this year - about 22 hours after she text-messaged a friend she was home safe, only to fall into his clutches for that period - Col. Williams left her body in the garage of his Tweed cottage, drove to CFB Trenton, slept there overnight and then flew troops to California the following day.

Only on Feb. 2 did he get around to driving her body to an isolated part of Tweed and dumping it.

He had skills Mr. Bernardo could only dream of - the ability to function at a high level in both halves of his life. An Ontario Provincial Police written summary of the videos noted repeatedly how calm and controlled he always was, even in the midst of the blood and violence he was inflicting.

But where the two men are alike is in the way they controlled their victims.

They both used whatever worked - raw violence, as when Col. Williams beat Ms. Comeau unconscious or tied Ms. Lloyd's hands behind her back so tightly that they turned purple in the video; death threats, as when he fashioned a noose out of black zip ties around Ms. Lloyd's neck, tightened it and asked, "You feel that? I feel something I don't like, I pull on that and you die, got it?"; lies, as when Ms. Comeau asked, "You're going to kill me, aren't you?" and Col. Williams denied it.

They both issued whispered instructions - at Mr. Bernardo's lengthy trial, this practice was called "scripting" - to their victims to get them into the poses they wanted. They both forced their victims to role-play: As Mr. Bernardo dressed Ms. French in a schoolgirl's kilt and had her pretend, with Ms. Homolka, to be putting on makeup for a night on the town, so Col. Williams showered with Ms. Lloyd during her captivity, and frequently kissed her - as though they were lovers, not hostage-taker and prisoner.

Both men also loved the camera - Col. Williams's only recorded smiles came, the OPP report noted, as he was raping Ms. Comeau and looking back to the lens - and were utterly fixated on genitals, their victims' of course, but mostly their own.

Mr. Bernardo even had a pet name for his penis - "Snuffles" - and it was with Snuffles literally in hand over a cowering girl that he would sometimes say, "It's good to be the king."

Well, the king is dead. There's a new boy in town now.

cblatchford@globeandmail.com

Follow us on Twitter: @globeandmail

In the know

Most popular videos »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most popular