Canadian war hero charged with sex attacks and murder

He is one of Canada's top military commanders, boasting a chest full of medals and a glittering CV that had put him in charge of the nation's biggest airbase and seen him pilot official flights for the likes of The Queen and Stephen Harper, his country's Prime Minister.

But behind the starchy façade, prosecutors claim that Colonel Russell Williams was a dangerous sexual predator whose bizarre obsession with collecting women's underwear led him to commit scores of burglaries, two sexual assaults, and two grisly murders.

This week, Col Williams appeared in court in Ottawa accused of 86 lurid crimes that have alternately transfixed and appalled Canada since his arrest two months ago. If he pleads guilty – or is found guilty at trial – he faces spending the rest of his life behind bars.

The married father-of-four was detained at a police roadblock in Belleville, Ontario, in late February, not far from the house where a 27-year-old local called Jessica Lloyd had been sexually assaulted and strangled by an intruder a few days earlier.

The prosecution says that officers noticed that the tyres on his SUV matched a very rare pattern left in the snow near the murder scene. When the military veteran failed to properly explain what he'd been doing on the night of Lloyd's death, he was brought in for further questioning.

Soon, detectives were searching the home in suburban Ottawa where Col Williams and his family lived. They turned up five hundred sets of underwear, belonging to at least 82 different women, together with evidence which prosecutors say links him to a murder in nearby Brighton, and two sexual assaults.

Prosecutors believe the 47-year-old military veteran, who was in charge of logistics for Canada's relief efforts in Haiti and Afghanistan and who flew The Queen and Prince Philip during their visit to his country in 2005, had since 2008 been in the habit of leaving his sleeping wife at night, and breaking into houses to steal women's underwear. "Some people who have been contacted didn't even know that he or anyone else had been in their house," John Williams, the local mayor, told reporters.

"They just thought their underwear had gone missing in the wash, or something. It's really weird. He was a respectable man, heavily involved with the local community. Shocking is the right word."

At least four of the burglaries committed by Col Williams are said to have ended violently. On two occasions female homeowners in Tweed, Ontario, allegedly disturbed him during a break-in and were promptly forced to strip naked before being blindfolded and told to pose for photographs.

Both of the murders he is accused of involved a victim being blindfolded and sexually assaulted. Prosecutors say he carried out robberies at 47 properties near to the Canadian Forces base at Trenton, where he was the commander, often returning to the scene of previous crimes to steal yet more underwear. One house was broken into nine times.

After his arrest, Col Williams was suspended from the military on full pay. His deputy has since been running the Trenton base, which is home to Canada's biggest search-and-rescue mission, together with its most important rapid deployment force and the fleet of private jets used by government officials.

During his spell in custody, the "Creepy Colonel", as headline-writers have dubbed him, has already attempted suicide, and for several weeks was on a hunger strike. If he does not plead guilty, or fails to strike a plea bargain with prosecutors, he's scheduled to return to court for a full trial in June.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power