The voice on the answering machine is polished and professional.
But Mary Elizabeth Harriman never returns the call.
She has had, understandably, nothing to say publicly about her 19-year marriage to a man who’s just begun his — at minimum — 25-year life sentence as Canada’s most notorious (for this week) sexually deviant serial killer, rapist and fetishist.
Harriman has always gone, as a career woman, by her maiden name. But she is Mrs. Russell Williams.
The one who presumably slept, matrimonially, alongside a husband now familiar to everyone in this country as house-creeping predator, sniffer of trophy underwear, tormenter and torturer of the women he attacked, the women he killed.
She is the one Williams professes to love, insofar as he is capable of such tender sentiment — the stone-cold assailant, the slack-jawed masturbator, the self-documenting satyr — who so effectively compartmentalized all the dimensions of his life: husband, military boss, sleaze-ball, psychopath.
It was purportedly for her that Williams, caught in the crosshairs of a skilful interrogator, made a clean breast of it, deflating from puffed up cocksureness to undone narrator of his lurid saga.
“I want to minimize the impact on my wife,’’ Williams tells Det. Sgt. Jim Smyth on the videotaped confessional interview.
At one point during that marathon 10-hour session, Smyth asks Williams why he’s giving it all up now, and he answers: “Mostly to make my wife’s life easier.’’
As if that were remotely possible.
In his parallel existence as a spouse who apparently attracted no suspicions of aberrant behaviour — certainly not among friends and neighbours and allegedly neither among the military personnel he commanded at CFB Trenton — Williams seemed above reproach, if surely cocooned within his stature as a colonel. That commission was formally revoked for the convicted killer on Friday, Williams stripped of his rank and booted out of the Canadian Forces.
Whatever his wife feels for him now, has felt for him since Williams was arrested in February, she has kept to herself. If police have ever questioned Harriman, they’ve not said so publicly.
What she has to tell may have no evidentiary value — the case was nailed on forensics and by Williams’ admissions — but it might illuminate the dark recesses of a pathological mind.
In custody, he wrote to his wife on that Feb. 8 day:
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. I love you . . . Russ.
Rosie is the cat.
They have no children.
Harriman has returned to her job as associate executive director of the Heart and Stroke Foundation in Ottawa. She’s not been seen at her home in the upmarket Westboro area of Ottawa — a $700,000 house the couple had moved into only two months before Williams’ arrest — but Rosie is frequently spotted peeking through the blinds. A neighbour has been collecting the mail.
Williams stayed there only on weekends, spending weekdays at a cottage in Tweed, Ont.
Harriman became sole owner of the property in March, a transaction between spouses that seems intended to protect her financial assets.
What everyone has wondered: How could Harriman not have known about her husband’s nocturnal activities? If not the rapes and murders — no one has suggested any knowledge of that — then at least about his perversions, his alarming inclinations?
But what if she had?
There’s no way of deciphering what goes on inside a marriage, what idiosyncrasies partners accept in each other, sexually and otherwise. While sadistic with the women he assaulted and killed, it’s entirely possible Williams — cat-lover — was gentle with his wife. It is all speculation.
But it’s possible to say this much: She appears to have been a most incurious woman.
Williams kept methodical records of his break-ins and assaults. Police searches at both of the couple’s properties turned up a treasure trove of evidence. Some items, including a hard drive that contained his vast photographic record of crimes committed, were stored in “safe places’’ — the basement ceiling of the Ottawa home, inside a piano at the Tweed cottage. Even Williams’ duffle bag could be described as secure, since military wives are unlikely to go rooting in there.
Yet nearly all the stolen undergarments and sex toys Williams kept were simply stuffed into bags and boxes found in the basement and garage of the Ottawa house, in plain sight.
Harriman never even glanced in them?
Sometimes we look but dare not see.