BELLEVILLE—Col. Russell Williams didn’t just take thousands of pornographic pictures during his 82 break-ins — he videotaped the actual murder of at least one of his victims.
The Crown confirmed in court Monday that both murder victims, Marie-France Comeau and Jessica Lloyd, were videotaped by Williams.
In Comeau’s case, her actual murder is on tape.
What is not clear is how the court will handle this when the videotapes are presented as evidence, likely on Tuesday.
In the case of schoolgirl killer Paul Bernardo, convicted in 1995, Justice Patrick LeSage ruled videotaped evidence of teen victims being attacked and tortured would be heard by the public, but not seen.
They were later destroyed, and transcripts of the tapes kept in the file.
The murders of Comeau and Lloyd followed break-ins in the small community of Tweed, in Belleville and in Ottawa over 26 months.
During the break-ins Williams stole lingerie after methodically recording a pattern of sexual perversity in each home.
A pilot once entrusted with flying government dignitaries, Williams often spent an hour or two in a house during each break-in.
First, he took a panorama photograph, concentrating on wall decorations and honours. Then, he photographed the underwear drawer and took “catalogue” snapshots of each piece. Then, the colonel photographed himself in various poses wearing the lingerie or masturbating, his expression blank.
At the brief morning recess, Neil and Fidel Matthews wore the first hour of the hearing on their faces.
The local couple had sat in the overflow room watching images of Col. Russell Williams wearing a 12-year-old girl’s underwear and masturbating in front of his digital camera.
Neil, a member of the armed forces, came with his wife out of curiosity for a case that has shaken the force.
“It’s shocking. It’s horrifying,” Neil said. “The general sense in the military would be, you know, horrified. It’s a complete surprise,” he said. “This needs to be wrapped up.”
Fidel was particularly disturbed that a 12-year girl had been targeted by Williams. The couple has a 13-year-old daughter.
“It’s more devastating than I thought,” Fidel said.
“These facts will be disturbing,” Hastings County Crown Attorney Lee Burgess had warned before unleashing a torrent of Williams’ self-made pornography.
“The underwear had a little cartoon character on the front,” said Burgess of one photograph.
Of another: “Williams is photographing himself, while naked, with a red garment draped around his erect penis.”
Said Burgess, “The offences emphasize his unusual behaviour, his unusual sexuality.”
As the photographs flashed on a giant screen in the court, often to gasps from the crowd, Williams fixed his eyes on the floor. By mid-afternoon, his head was hanging down, limp. He looked slumped over.
In one house, he shot 25 pictures of a girl’s underwear. In others, he left a “merci” message for his victim.
The man once in charge of Canada’s biggest air force base photographed himself wearing just orange panties and a training bra taken from a girl’s underwear drawer. Other shots show him wearing a 15-year-old girl’s dress or holding another girl’s stuffed animal and masturbating.
A few times, he was nearly caught when families came home. His obsessive cataloguing included media accounts of the crimes.
Williams, 47, formally admitted Monday to all of the charges against him: the murders of two women, the sexual assaults of two others and 82 fetishistic burglaries to steal lingerie.
The pleas came three years after his first break and enter, 15 months after he became commander of 8 Wing Trenton, Ont., 13 months after two sexual assaults, 11 months after Marie-France Comeau, 38, was killed, 10 months after Jessica Lloyd, 27, was killed, eight months after he was arrested.
“Count 54, he did…”
This is how the clerk began each of the charges laid against Williams in a courtroom filled with media, victims and their families and police.
It took the clerk more than 20 minutes to wind her way through the list of charges—including more than 80 break-and-enters, both attempted and actual, and each corresponding theft of lingerie.
The family of victims, who filled the left side of the courtroom, sat quietly, some crying, as the clerk worked methodically through each incident over a 26-month period. Lloyd’s mother, Roxanne, arrived carrying a large framed portrait of her daughter, who was last heard from the night of Jan. 28 when she reported arriving home safely.
Sixty-one of the break-ins were undetected or unreported until Williams confessed to them after his arrest on Feb. 7. He kept stolen lingerie in bags and boxes at home. When they overflowed, he burned some of his stolen loot.
The first burglary was Sept. 9, 2007. The last one was Nov. 17, 2009, a string that terrorized Cozy Cove Lane, Ottawa and Belleville and ended just before the murder of Comeau on Nov. 24 or 25 of last year.
Many happened around the Ottawa neighbourhood where Williams once lived with his wife of 19 years, Mary Elizabeth Harriman.
Williams, wearing a dark suit, stood still, shielded by glass, in the prisoner’s box. Neither family nor friends came to the court.
Lt.-Col. Tony O’Keeffe, a friend and colleague from CFB Trenton, attended early court appearances but has not been seen in court lately. Harriman is reported to have made multiple visits to Quinte Detention Centre in Napanee to see Williams.
His first pleas were to two charges of first-degree murder, his voice quieter on the second one.
Williams faces an automatic sentence of life in prison, with no possibility of parole for at least 25 years.
Ken and Sharon Jones, who live in Belleville, tucked themselves in a corner behind the cameras on the courthouse steps. The couple attends all the repatriation ceremonies in nearby Trenton for the slain Canadian Forces soldiers whose bodies are returning from Afghanistan. They had taken photos of Williams as a celebrated colonel when the Olympic torch came through last year.
“This has done so much damage to the image of the forces,” Sharon said sombrely.
The couple planned to return each day of the hearing.
“It has hit the community really hard,” Ken said of how the case has affected Belleville. “But it’s bringing everyone together. It’s on everyone’s mind.”
Gen. Walter Natynczyk, Chief of the Defence Staff for the Candian Forces, issued a statement saying the formal process to kick Williams out of the military would begin on conviction.
“The tragic events surrounding Col. Russell Williams stunned all Canadians and none more so than the members of the Canadian Forces,” he wrote. “Today’s guilty plea is the first step in a healing process that will no doubt take many years.”
Toronto criminal lawyer Adam Boni called it a “Jekyll and Hyde” scenario, something that hasn’t been seen before in Canada.
Comeau was a flight attendant at CFB Trenton and served aboard the same military VIP flights Williams piloted for much of the 1990s, ferrying the Governor General, the prime minister and other dignitaries on domestic and overseas trips.
Court documents show Williams is alleged to have burglarized Comeau’s home 10 days before she was found dead on Nov. 25.
Lloyd worked in Napanee, Ont., coordinating school-bus schedules.
Journalists covering the hearing Monday started lining up outside the courthouse at 6 a.m. and more than 30 filled up six benches set aside for them.
Others were in another room set aside for the media, where they followed the proceedings by video.