TORONTO—As Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip waved to the crowd after a 2005 visit, a tall, fit officer stood next to them. He saluted the royal couple, and flew them home to Britain.
Now that same elite Canadian pilot, Colonel Russell Williams, stands charged with the murder of two women, the sexual assault of two others and 82 break-ins, during which he often stole women’s panties.
The charges have shocked a country, hurt soldiers’ morale and prompted fears that the commander of Canada’s most high-profile military base and the man who once flew Canadian prime ministers could be a serial killer.
“It’s unprecedented. I’ve never ever heard of anybody, particularly at that level, being charged with something like that. It’s unheard of,” said retired Major Greg McQuaid, who wrote reports that got Williams promoted early. “It just doesn’t equate.”
Williams worked under McQuaid as a flight instructor at a Canadian Forces flying school in Manitoba from 1990 to 1992. He seemed to have it all, McQuaid said: He was educated, smart, had money and was apparently in a stable marriage.
He was quiet and diligent, McQuaid said, but stood out for his intensity.
“I remember he had a very focused stare or look, and I was just reminded of that when this happened and they showed the photos of him and I said, there’s that look. I remember that look. It was like he’s looking through you at the back of your head,” McQuaid said.
The picture of Williams with the Queen in 2005 appeared on the front page of the official newspaper of Canadian Forces Base Trenton, the largest air force base in Canada, which Williams took command of four years later. The base is where the bodies of soldiers who die in Afghanistan are flown for ceremonies.
Williams was photographed in January with Defense Minister Peter MacKay and Canada’s top general during an inspection of a Canadian aircraft on its way to support relief efforts in Haiti. He is alleged to have killed his second victim just over a week later.
Williams, 47, is charged with the first-degree murder of Jessica Lloyd, 27, whose body was found in February, and Marie Comeau, a 38-year-old corporal under his command who was found dead in her home in November. Both women were asphyxiated.
He is also charged with forcible confinement, breaking and entering and sexual assault after two other women were attacked during separate home invasions in the Tweed, Ontario area in September 2009.