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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
Suited and booted in the Lanvin show at the Paris menswear collections
fashionParis Fashion Week
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
An asteroid is set to pass so close to Earth it will be visible with binoculars
news
News
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Credit Controller / Customer Service

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding business...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Engineers / Senior Electronics Engineers

£25000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Based in Henley-on-Thames, this...

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project