Ontario police spearheading a broad investigation of a military commander facing murder and sexual assault charges said Tuesday they’re fielding calls from other forces and families of victims of crime about so-called cold cases.
Col. Russell Williams, 46, is charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of Jessica Lloyd, 27, of Belleville, Ont., and Cpl. Marie France Comeau, 38. Williams is also charged with forcible confinement, break and enter and sexual assault after two women were allegedly attacked during two separate home invasions in the Tweed area in September.
CFB Trenton’s top commander is also charged in two sexual assaults in Tweed in September.
A career military man who’s been stationed in various cities across Canada and internationally, Williams was arraigned and remanded into custody Monday and is scheduled to appear in court again via video Feb. 18.
“We are looking at other areas where he has been posted. That will be part of the investigation,” said Sgt. Kristine Rae of the Ontario Provincial Police.
Lloyd’s body was found in Tweed on Monday. Comeau, who was based at CFB Trenton, was found dead in her Brighton home in November.
Other forces are looking at unsolved crimes, said Rae, who wouldn’t reveal which forces, citing the need to protect the investigation.
“Whenever you have two homicides and two home invasions and sexual assaults it’s prudent to ensure that if there’s any other investigations that have gone unsolved to see if there’s any similarities. That’s just good policing,” she said.
Unsolved crimes that have similarities to the Williams’ case will likely be reviewed but the main focus of the investigation is on the four cases he’s charged in, said Rae.
Police have told the mother of Kathleen MacVicar, 19, of Glace Bay, N.S., they are re-examing her case in connection with Williams. MacVicar was staying with relatives at CFB Trenton when she was sexually assaulted and fatally stabbed at the base in 2001.
“I’m pleased that they’re looking at it again, I am,” Colleen MacVicar said with a heavy sigh.
“It would be nice if it was solved, but I’m just waiting here. I’m not getting my hopes up. We’ve been disappointed before.”
In addition to being 8 Wing commander at CFB Trenton, Williams was posted to Shearwater, N.S., in 1992, and also worked at 412 Squadron in Ottawa, Camp Mirage in Dubai, and went to the Canadian Forces language school in Gatineau. He graduated from the University of Toronto before he joined the Canadian Forces in 1987.
Rae said she expects the investigation will be a lengthy one.
“It’s a very large investigation at this point,” she said.
Toronto police haven’t been asked by provincial police to reopen specific cases, nor have they been provided with new evidence or information with regards to anything unsolved at this point related to the Williams’ investigation, said Const. Wendy Drummond.
There are unsolved murder cases involving sexual assault in Toronto from the late 1980s, Drummond added.
Williams is not named as a suspect or person of interest in any unsolved files in Ottawa, said Ottawa police Insp. Al Tario. There are unsolved cases, but to make any link to those is premature, Tario said.
Halifax police have spoken with officers in Ontario but “so far those discussions haven’t provided any information that impacts any of our investigations,” said Const. Brian Palmeter.
There are three unsolved homicides in Halifax during the period from 1992 to 1994, when Williams was in the city, but Palmeter said “nothing so far has been provided to us to suggest any link to those files.”
Family members of victims of other crimes have called in looking for information and police have asked them to be patient, Rae said.
“Those inquiries will be reviewed and looked at,” she said.
“If it’s another police service, obviously there would be some information sharing there to see if there’s anything we can help them with, to see if there’s anything out there that’s outstanding.”
Mark Safarik, who spent more than 12 years as a senior profiler in the FBI’s Behavioural Analysis Unit, said it’s unusual to see someone Williams’ age arrested for sensational crimes with no prior record.
Police looking at unsolved cases after the charges against Williams will examine homicides and sex crimes but also precursor-type crimes such as burglaries, said Safarik, who has retired from the FBI but is executive director of Virginia-based Forensic Services Behavioral International.
“There’s typically an escalation of behaviour that has occurred over a long period of time, and it’s this precursor types of crimes that they’ll be looking for,” he said.
Safarik said as an investigator he would focus on burglary cases.
“Burglary cases at night where nothing is taken where victims are saying things like, ‘I felt like there was somebody in the house but I didn’t find anything missing, I heard somebody, I thought I saw somebody at my window, prowling, peeping,’ ” he said.
The fact that Williams was posted to multiple locations during his career makes the investigation more difficult, Safarik added.
“The other complicating piece is that those (military) communities themselves tend to be on the move all the time. So that people that were living there in a community two years ago aren’t going to be living there now,” he said.
The Canadian Forces National Investigation Service has been working with provincial police investigators since Comeau’s slaying, said Rae.
Police left Williams’ Ottawa home with bags on Tuesday and were also combing his cottage in Tweed for evidence.
“Shocked is an understatement,” said neighbour Michael Gennis of his reaction to Williams’ arrest.
Gennis got to know the couple over the last few months during the construction of their semi-detached homes in Ottawa, where Williams’ wife Mary-Elizabeth Harriman works.
He described Harriman as “lovely person” who is always smiling and very pleasant to talk to.
“You’d be grateful that she’s your neighbour,” he said of the Manitoba native who works as associate executive director of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada.
Gennis said he was just about to make an extra key for the couple so they could check in on their house while they’re on holidays next month.
He said his 17-year-old daughter was particularly taken aback by the allegations against Williams.
“She knows the crimes have to do with sexual assault and she’s scared,” he said. “She doesn’t exactly want to be alone in the house.”
-With files from Allison Jones, Tobi Cohen and Allison Auld