A senior Canadian air force commander has pleaded guilty to the murders of two women, the sexual assault of two others and dozens of burglaries. Colonel Russell Williams was the commander of Canada’s largest Air Force base until he was charged earlier this year.
He pleaded guilty on Monday to two first-degree murder charges, two sexual assaults and 82 burglaries in a court in Ontario.
The commander stole panties from the bedrooms of girls as young as 11. Prosecutors said Williams targeted girls and women in their teens and 20s and often photographed himself in their underwear.
He faces an automatic sentence of life in prison with no possibility for parole for at least 25 years.
The case shocked the country, hurt soldiers’ morale and prompted fears that the commander of Canada’s most high-profile military base, and the man who once flew the country’s prime ministers and Queen Elizabeth, could have been a serial killer.
“Many people here are trying to reconcile between his public image and, indeed, this very disturbing private life that he has,” Al Jazeera’s Imtiaz Tyab, speaking from Toronto, said.
“The military, no doubt, and indeed investigators, are asking themselves just how he managed to carry out so many crimes for so long, crimes which as we know led to two women being brutally assaulted and two other women losing their lives,” he said.
Prosecutor Lee Burgess said many of the facts will be difficult for the victims to hear, but said it was “important to have a full account of the crimes”.
Burgess began presenting photos showing Williams wearing a 12-year-old girl’s cartoon-decorated underwear, with his genitalia protruding. Many of the photos showed Williams masturbating in the stolen lingerie.
Another photo shows Williams wearing his military uniform with his trousers dropped to show he is wearing stolen pink panties that have stains on them.
The 47-year-old was charged with the first-degree murder of Jessica Lloyd, 27, whose body was found in February, and Marie Comeau, 38, a corporal under his command who was found dead in her home last November. Both women were asphyxiated.
Williams was charged with forcible confinement, breaking and entering and sexual assault after two other women were attacked during separate home invasions in Ontario in September 2009.
Investigators are looking into other places where Williams had been stationed.
The commander has been in the military for 23 years. He had never been in combat but has been stationed across Canada and abroad, including a stint in 2006 as the commanding officer for Camp Mirage, a multi-national air force base near Dubai.