David Russell Williams is another character in our series on highly functioning sadistic killers. In 2010, he was arrested for and later confessed to murdering two women, raping two others and 82 counts of home breaking and entering. He is serving two terms of life in prison.
Williams, born in England in 1963, was a colonel in the Canadian Forces and a decorated military pilot. Literature suggests (Gratzer & Bradford, 1995; Prentky et al., 1989) that extreme sadists are often found to be higher functioning than both less severe sadists and other types of sexual offenders. As a rookie instructor in the old CT-134 Musketeers, Williams was an obvious standout and described as quiet but intense.
“He was super,” said Greg McQuaid, a retired major who was chief flight instructor at the time. “I wrote the personnel evaluation reports that got him promoted to captain. He was smart, hard-working and skilled. He could be so focused that sometimes it was like he could look right through you.”
Williams was regarded as a model military officer over the course of his 23-year career, which included command of two Canadian bases. He earned a Master of Defense Studies from the Royal Military College of Canada in 2004 with a 55-page thesis that supported preemptive war in Iraq.
From December 2005 to May 2006, Col. Williams served as the commanding officer of Camp Mirage, a secretive logistics facility believed to be located at Al Minhad Air Base in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, that provides support to Canadian Forces operations in Afghanistan. The base was rumored to be involved in sabotage, assassinations and other black ops.
From July 2009 until his arrest in February 2010, Williams commanded CFB Trenton, Canada’s largest military airbase and a hub for the country’s foreign and domestic air-transport operations. Incredibly, he murdered two servicewomen who were under his command.
Early in his career, starting in 1994, he was also a decorated military pilot who had flown Canadian Forces VIP aircraft for dignitaries, such as Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip, the governor general and the prime minister of Canada.
Here’s Williams on the tarmac with Queen Elizabeth.
Our interest in Col. Williams centers around two questions or anomalies. One would think that in the surveillance state we live in, at least one benefit might be vetting high ranking officers. This case presents an unprecedented breakdown of military security protocol in the Canadian Air Force. After all Williams was breaking and entering residences on a weekly basis for two years. Was this failure to vet just a business-as-usual compromise dossier? Was Col. Williams being primed for further high level advancement before he was actually caught? He seems like the perfect high command operative for the Crime Syndicate.
Second, we question the premise that Col. Williams didn’t commit any sadistic murders until the age of 46. Supposedly, he began his criminal life in 2007 at the age of 44 and quickly escalated to murder. Really? His rapid late-life progression from fetish-related break ins to sexual assaults with no penetration to serial rape and then serial murder all within the span of just two years stymied the experts. The DSM-5 cites one study that gleaned the mean onset age of sexual-sadism killing among males as 19.4 years age.
The officer who interrogated Col. Williams after his arrest and got his confession had pressed unsuccessfully for details on earlier crimes. Williams was tight lipped. The following 160-minute video shows portions of the interrogation. We recommend skipping forward to minute 00:35:00 for a classic interrogation.
A case study of Col. Williams can be gleaned here. We’ve used excerpts from this study within this post.
Reasons given for his late-in-life spree seems weak and improbable. Reports indicate he served a six-month tour of duty in Dubai in 2005 and afterward developed an unspecified chronic-pain condition for which he started taking prednisone. Prednisone is used to treat a variety of inflammatory and autoimmune diseases and, at least anecdotally, has been linked to violent behavior. In an anonymous letter to the Toronto Star, a writer claiming to be a former co-worker of Williams’ said the colonel had been on strong medications that changed his behavior.
Police say Col. Williams has not been ruled out as a suspect in the unsolved 2001 death of Kathleen MacVicar, 19, which happened at CFB Trenton.
Williams had been posted to the Shearwater base near Halifax, N.S., from 1992 to 1994. During that time frame, Andrea King, 18, Shelley Connors, 17, and Kimber Leanne Lucas, 24, were murdered and remain cold cases. But could the failure to follow up aggressively on earlier cold cases be by design as the system would be further tarnished by such an admission?
In his confession, Col. Williams gave details of his crimes, including where police could find thousands of images and videos he took of his murder victims Lloyd and Comeau and the two women he sexually assaulted. He then identified on a map where he dumped Lloyd’s body.
On the first day of his hearing and guilty plea, details emerged of other sexual assaults he committed, including that of a new mother who was weakened with a blow to the head while she and her baby were asleep in her house.
In October 2009, he assaulted Laurie Massicotte in her home. Massicotte awoke to someone punching her in the head. He then blindfolded her, restrained her and forced her to assume pornographic poses while he took pictures. Indeed, it seems he made it clear to her that he was more concerned with getting pictures than with raping her. Interestingly, at one point in the three hours of terror, Williams apologized to Massicotte for punching her in the head and allowed her to take some aspirin. During one of his sexual assaults, he reportedly told his victim that he was attacking her so that he could “move on with (his) life.”
His hearing also revealed that Col. Williams had pedophile tendencies. During his numerous break ins, he had stolen hundreds of undergarments of girls as young as nine years old. He kept detailed track of police reports of the crimes he was committing, logged his crimes, kept photos and videos and had even left notes and messages for his victims.
Following the trial, evidence emerged to indicate that he also possessed child pornography.
The investigation into the colonel included probes into 48 cases of theft of women’s underwear dating back to 2006. In the searches of his Ottawa home, police discovered stolen lingerie that was neatly stored, cataloged and concealed. Photos taken during break ins show him wearing girls and women’s undergarments. Inquiring minds would like to know: How did he take these photos?
In one case, he broke into the home of a 12-year-old girl and spent almost three hours taking pictures of himself posing in her underwear, standing in front of a mirror with a pink piece of clothing draped across his erect penis, or laying on the bed masturbating.
In another case, pictures revealed him lying on the bed of a 15-year-old girl, masturbating and holding a stuffed bear.
While at university, Williams demanded cleanliness and orderliness — both for himself and of others — and maintained an account of every penny he spent (McArthur 2010). Friend Jeff Farquhar recounted how Williams was unable to tolerate fingerprints on his a stainless steel fridge (CBC). All his digital photos were stored and cataloged on individual memory sticks, with each stick assigned to its own cardboard box and clear plastic baggy.
According to Farquhar, “It was like you had walked into somebody’s museum. Everything was painstakingly organized” (McArthur 2010).
Snuff Films and the Bernardo Connection
Then suddenly in late 2009, his interests turned toward murder and snuff films. Was this a natural progression or a did an order come down for such footage? A report by the Toronto Sun suggests Col. Williams and notorious Canadian sadistic serial killer Paul Bernardo were friends. Both came from elite backgrounds and attended the University of Toronto Scarborough campus. They both studied economics at the Military Trail campus during the mid-1980s. They graduated together in 1987, Williams with a politics and economics degree, Bernardo, with a commerce and economics degree. Their families both lived along the Scarborough bluffs.
Police sources told the Toronto Sun the two were college “pals” who “partied” together and that their relationship is the subject of intense scrutiny by the joint forces team probing the murders of Cpl. Marie-France Comeau and Jessica Lloyd. After graduation, Williams went on to establish a career in the Royal Canadian Air Force while Bernardo went to work for Price Waterhouse, which later became Pricewaterhouse Coopers (or PwC), one of the world’s largest professional auditing firms.
In November 2009, Williams’ criminal behavior escalated further when he stalked and killed Corporal Marie-France Comeau, a 37-year-old military flight attendant based at CFB Trenton. Comeau discovered him hiding in the basement of her home, at which point he struck her repeatedly with a flashlight. Despite her best efforts to fend him off, Comeau was eventually rendered unconscious, her face wrapped in duct tape.
For two hours, Williams’ repeatedly raped, tortured, and tormented Comeau; all the while, snuff filming his escapade and meticulously directing the degradation. Snuff filming was repeated in his second known murder, that of Jessica Lloyd. He downloaded his snuff videos to an external hard drive that he hid in his basement ceiling.
After killing Comeau, Col. Williams, who was her base commander, wrote an official letter to her father expressing his condolences.
In late January 2010, Col. Williams broke into the home of Jessica Lloyd, a 27-year-old resident of Belleville, a community near Tweed. He blindfolded Lloyd with duct tape and bound her hands with rope. For three hours, he sexually assaulted her, including forcing her to perform fellatio. Then, he took her to his cottage in Tweed where the torture continued for another 21 hours. Finally, after reassuring her that he would not kill her, he clubbed Lloyd with his flashlight and strangled her. Williams carefully documented (via photo and video) all the details of her torture and death. He left her body in the garage and went to work. Three days later, he returned, retrieved her body and dumped it near a roadside.
Profile of Sadistic Killers
Williams is a paraphilic. Paraphilia is a focus (i.e. arousal) that may involve nonhuman objects (e.g., women’s underpants), the infliction of physical pain or suffering, including humiliation of self (i.e. masochism) or one’s partner (i.e. sexual sadism) and/or prepubescent children or other non-consenting persons.
There may be a higher prevalence of paraphilics in the community (vs. clinical settings) based on the apparent burgeoning commercial market in paraphilic pornography and paraphernalia.
It seems that Col. Williams’ paraphilia behaviors may have begun with transvestite fetishism involving female undergarments and sex toys. Literally speaking, the term “transvestism” means to wear the clothing of the opposite sex.
The two paraphilias that represent the enactment of fantasy – fetishism and transvestism – are the two most often associated with sexual aggression (Prentky et al., 1989). Others (e.g. Langevin et al. 1985) have suggested that when transvestism is associated with sexual sadism, the propensity for violence increases, presumably because the fantasy life is more potent.
During the police interrogation, Col. Williams disclosed that he had become interested in women’s underwear in his 20s or 30s but did not act on it until a few year ago. Interestingly, it’s not unusual for males with transvestism disorder to display compensatory behaviors, such as associating with “macho organizations” like the military or paramilitary organizations (Barlow, Durand and Stewart 2009, p.370). It’s also not unusual for these individuals to seek employment in hyper-masculine professions (e.g. race care driving, munitions operations).
The diagnostic criteria for sexual sadism requires that the individual has experienced “recurrent and intense sexual arousal from the physical or psychological suffering of another person, as manifested by fantasies, urges or behaviors” (p. 695, Criterion A). The person must have “acted on these sexual urges with a non-consenting person.
When sexual sadism is practiced with non-consenting partners, the activity is likely to be repeated until the person is apprehended, with the severity of the sadistic acts increasing over time. Interestingly, sexual sadists who commit murder often employ asphyxiation, as did Col. Williams.
According to Brittain (1970), “Asphyxiation confers the sadist with ‘god-like power’ to give victims their lives or to snatch it away.”
Hazelwood, Dietz and Warren (1992) found that among the 30 sexual sadists who partook in their study, half used alcohol or other drugs, a third served in the Armed Forces and 43 percent were married at the time of a sadistic offence. Forty-three percent of the men participated in homosexual activity as adults. (Homosexuals and bisexuals make up about 4 percent of the U.S. population.)
In the aftermath of his arrest, former roommates from boarding school remarked on how difficult it had been to carry on a basic conversation with Williams. Others commented on his abstinence from partying, his monk-like discipline for study and his precision in folding laundry (McArthur & Freeze 2010).
According to Brittain, the sadist has little sexual experience and difficulty achieving an erection with a partner, which contributes to feelings of inadequacy and inferiority vis-a-vis other men. On the other hand, his secret life of sexual fantasies and paraphilia behaviors contributes to feelings of superiority. Reports indicate that Williams had limited sexual experience prior to marriage.
A number of associates commented on Williams’ apparent fondness for his cats – Curio and Rosebud – and his distress at having to have Curio euthanized. According to Brittain, the sadist would be seen as good mannered, effeminate and fussy – a place for everything and everything in its place. Reportedly, Williams kept his university room spotless and encouraged his roommates to wear slippers.
Brittain writes that after the crime has been completed, the individual may feel relaxed and he may experience a great relief of tension. This could explain why, only hours after murdering Cpl. Comeau, he drove to Ottawa for a meeting about the purchase of a transport plane and, only hours after Lloyd’s murder, he was able to pilot some of his troops to a training exercise in California.
The prevalence of underage physical and/or sexual abuse and other types of violence in the families of sexual murderers tends to be very high, with estimates ranging from 86 percent to 94 percent (Ressler, Burgess, Hartman, et al. 1986; Myers 2004; Myers et al. 1998). Being sodomized is often a factor in the trauma. To date, no evidence has emerged to suggest that Williams was a victim of physical and/or sexual violence. However, all male boarding schools are notorious in the British system for hazing and sexual abuse. It could well be that a low self esteem straight arrow like Williams was targeted for that.
Quinsey in Rankin & Contenta (2010) suggested that Williams’ cross dressing might be ego-dystonic. In other words, although comforting and arousing, he considered the behavior to be unacceptable, not to mention threatening his view of himself as a man.
It’s likely that the desire for power over his victims was more important to him than the infliction of pain. Brittain (1970) found that power-wielding sadists do not consider themselves to be cruel, because cruelty is not their primary objective. It’s only a means to an end.
Eroticized feelings of power and control are central to sexual sadism (Hucker 1997). According to Brittain, the desire to wield power over others is an essential part of the sexual sadist’s psychopathology.
Psychological facilitators (e.g. compartmentalization and dehumanization) also may play a role in the paraphilia process. Fox and Levin (1994) suggested that serial killers utilize psychological facilitators to neutralize guilt and remorse. Compartmentalization would allow them to categorize people into those they care about and those they don’t; the latter being those whom they can victimize without compunction. Compartmentalization also allows the individual to separate himself from his crimes and to separate his crimes from the other domains of his life.
In the following photo, we see a compartmentalizing Dick Cheney kicking back and relaxing with feet up on desk just as a Twin Tower is about to come down on his TV set. Things to do and places to be. The system is saturated with these psychopaths.
Castle and Hensley (2002) suggest that certain social contexts, such as the military, might be especially conducive to learning these behaviors. Military people are taught to accept death and killing as a way of life. They also are taught that there are two groups of people: fellow service members and enemies.
Castle and Hensley (2002) suggest that dehumanization and compartmentalization may be learned by serial killers in the military and then transferred into civilian life. Whether or not Williams learned these behaviors in the military, certainly it would have been reinforced, along with the values of violence and aggression.