Russell Williams’s infamous cottage is once again a crime scene. Only this time, the ex-colonel is the victim.
Maclean’s has learned that police in Tweed, Ont., are investigating a Williams-style break-in at the serial killer’s own lakefront bungalow, which has sat deserted since his shocking arrest 2½ years ago. The robbery occurred in late July, when someone pried open a living-room window and climbed inside. Among the stolen items was Williams’s beloved fishing boat, still parked in his garage after all this time.
For police, the burglary itself is only half the mystery.
In what appears to be anything but a coincidence, the aluminum boat—stripped of its expensive motors and set on fire—was later discovered off the same isolated road where Williams dumped the body of his second murder victim, Jessica Lloyd.
Officially, the Ontario Provincial Police will not confirm that Williams’s cottage was the target, let alone speculate on a possible motive. Spokeswoman Kristine Rae would only say that a boat was stolen from an address on Cosy Cove Lane on July 28, and later recovered near rural Cary Road, 10 km away. Disclosing the exact house, she said, would be a breach of privacy. “I can’t identify a victim, no matter who that person may or may not be,” the sergeant said. “It is presently under investigation, and there has not been any arrests or charges at this point.”
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But in Williams’s former neighbourhood—100 km from his current home at Kingston Penitentiary—the news is hardly a secret. “Everybody knows about it, and everybody is talking about it,” said one resident, who asked not to be identified. “In broad daylight somebody went in that house and took the boat out of the garage—in broad daylight.”
Said another local: “Maybe it was a revenge thing, I don’t know. It is really weird. How would they know to go out to Cary Road?”
In February 2010, Williams chose that same isolated stretch to dispose of Lloyd’s body, parking his Nissan Pathfinder and carrying her into a heavily wooded area. Five days and one confession later, Williams was back on the scene, pointing detectives in the right direction.
His blue and grey boat, believed to be worth up to $15,000, was found just a short distance away. “It was off the same road,” said Chris Moak, the tow-truck driver who hauled it from the bush. “It was in there quite a ways; I had to tow it out with my four-wheeler.” Asked to describe the damage, Moak replied: “Oh, it’s burnt.”
Michael Pretsell, a lawyer who represents the Lloyd family, said he had not heard about the break-in or the charred boat. But as the news continues to spread, one thing is certain: the long list of people terrorized by Russell Williams will have little sympathy for Cosy Cove’s latest “victim.”
Before he even took the reins of CFB Trenton, Canada’s largest and most important air force base, the colonel was already a depraved stalker who had broken into dozens of homes and swiped hundreds of bras, panties and other pieces of lingerie from women’s (and girls’) bedrooms. He picked locks. Walked through open doors. Sliced through screens. Sometimes, Williams hit two properties on the same night. He snuck into one particular house nine different times.
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All told, Williams committed 82 fetish break-ins or attempted break-ins—snapping thousands of disturbing photographs of himself wearing and methodically organizing each stolen undergarment. Thirty-four of the burglaries took place in Ottawa, where he and his wife, Mary Elizabeth Harriman, shared a home in the suburb of Orléans. The rest occurred two hours away, near the coupe’s once-charming Tweed cottage.
And it was at that cottage—62 Cosy Cove Lane—where Williams rapidly spiraled from lingerie burglar to serial predator.
The property is just a 30-minute drive north of CFB Trenton, so when he assumed command of the airbase in July 2009, Williams moved full-time to Cosy Cove while his wife remained in Ottawa. They connected mostly on weekends. As Williams later confessed, his deviant behaviour began to “escalate” that summer. He wanted “to take more risks.”
He committed his first sexual assault in the early morning hours of Sept. 17, 2009, tying up and photographing a 21-year-old woman while her newborn baby slept nearby. He told his victim, identified only as “Jane Doe,” that she was “perfect” and “sweet.” Two weeks later, Williams struck again—this time, just three doors down from his cottage. Laurie Massicotte was asleep on the couch when Williams struck her in the head, stripped her naked with a knife, and forced her to pose for his camera, bound and blindfolded.
That November, while still spending most nights at the cottage, Williams drove to nearby Brighton, Ont.—the scene of his first murder. With his video camera rolling, he repeatedly raped and tortured Marie France Comeau, a 37-year-old corporal stationed at his base. She begged to live. Williams duct-taped her face and filmed her last breath.
Lloyd, his final victim, did not die at home. He kidnapped the 27-year-old and drove her to his cottage, where he continued to hold her hostage for the next 16 hours. (At times, Williams took a break to check his BlackBerry and email subordinates; in one note, he told a staffer that he had the stomach flu—and not to tell his wife if she happened to phone.)
Williams promised Lloyd that she would live if she obeyed, and she complied in every possible way. He tossed her strangled body in the garage, just steps from his fishing boat.
Lloyd remained in that garage for four more days, while her killer flew a mission to California and spent a weekend with his wife in Ottawa. Only then did he drive her to Cary Road, still convinced he would never be caught.
When police did finally catch him, Williams pleaded guilty to 88 charges and was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years. (The disgraced officer also offered a tearful apology in court, saying he was “indescribably ashamed” of his “despicable crimes.”) Today, however, his sensational case is far from closed.
Three of his victims—Jane Doe, Laurie Massicotte, and Lloyd’s family—have each filed multi-million-dollar lawsuits. They are also suing his wife, alleging that she “fraudulently” acquired Williams’s share of the their $700,000 Ottawa home in the weeks after his arrest in “secret” deal to shield his assets from victims. (As part of the transaction, Harriman paid her husband $62,000 in cash and assumed the mortgage, while Williams took sole possession of the cottage.) A senior executive at the Heart & Stroke Foundation of Canada, Harriman denies any wrongdoing. In court documents, she says she paid “full consideration” for the property, and the purpose of the transfer was to provide her with “financial security.” Williams himself has also defended the property deal, insisting there wasn’t “any fraudulent intent.”
As first reported by Maclean’s in June, Williams has filed only one statement of defence to date: against Laurie Massicotte, who is suing for $7 million. He concedes that he assaulted her in her home, but denies she is “entitled to the relief claimed” and puts her “to the strict proof thereof.” Williams also says he “has no knowledge” of most of her detailed allegations, including the fact she feared for her life and has been left “unable to properly and normally function within society.” Williams wants the lawsuit dismissed—and for Massicotte to pay his legal costs.
Until all the cases are resolved, a judge has ordered Williams and Harriman not to liquidate their assets, including the notorious cottage. Harriman has since filed for divorce, triggering even more questions about how their property will be divided—and what might be left for victims. “It is a shame,” says one the neighbours, referring to the boat. “That’s 15-grand that isn’t going to go to the victims.”
Back in 2010, investigators found a treasure trove of evidence inside Williams’s cottage, including a military-style duffel bag stuffed to the zipper with stolen lingerie. Outside the house, yellow police tape surrounded the property. For days, satellite television trucks lined the road.
Since then, though, the white-paneled house has been abandoned. Nobody has slept there since Williams, and these days, the only people who come to visit are the gawkers who want to see it with their own eyes (and, in some cases, take pictures). Military police officers did show up one night to retrieve—and later burn—Williams’s uniform, but 2½ years later, most of the killer’s belongings remain exactly where he left them.
Including, until last month, his boat.
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