Debra Black, Lesley Ciarula Taylor, Jesse McLean
Bill Tremblay / The Independent
The commander of CFB Trenton, a career officer with 23 years in the military, has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of two women – a corporal at Trenton and a Belleville woman who vanished 11 days ago.
Col. Russell Williams, 46, was also charged Monday in with sexual assault in connection with two home invasions in the Tweed area, Det. Insp. Chris Nicholas said at a news conference today in Belleville.
The charges came “due to a singularity in those incidents,” Nicholas said. “We linked those crimes to a single suspect.”
Jessica Lloyd, 27, vanished Jan. 28 and police said on Monday that her body had been found. A second woman, Cpl. Marie France Comeau of the 435th squadron, Trenton, was found dead in her home in Brighton on Nov. 25, 2009.
The home invasions occurred in September. “Geography played a role” in the investigation, said Belleville Police Chief Cory McMullan.
Williams has had a full and high profile 23-year career in the military.
He has been responsible for some of Canada’s most significant recent military operations, including overseeing the backbone of Canada’s contribution to the crisis in Haiti – a 24-hour “air bridge” that links Trenton with Port au Prince, Jacmel and Kingston, Jamaica.
He also was responsible for co-coordinating re-supply for Canada’s mission in Afghanistan and air support at the Vancouver Olympics.
Earlier in January, Williams made an appearance and was photographed with defence minister Peter MacKay and General Walter J. Natynczyk, Chief of the Defence Staff during an inspection of a Canadian aircraft that was on its way to support relief efforts in Port-au-Prince.
During his career he has also been responsible for flying Canadian dignitaries around, including the Governor General.
At a late afternoon news conference, Maj. Gen. Yvan Blondin, flanked by other miliatary personnel, offered his condolences to the loved ones of those who had been murdered. He also announced that Williams has been relieved of his command.
Blondin said the entire base “was shocked” by the news of the charges. Blondin flew to CFB Trenton this afternoon from his base in Winnipeg. He is Williams’ direct commander and spent the afternoon meeting with staff on base as well as members of the community. “We are as touched as the community,” he said.
He told the news conference that the operations of the base – which are vital to Haiti, Afghanistan and the Vancouver Olympics – “must and will continue.” As to Williams and the charges, Blondin said: “We don’t know the results of the investigative process … we do know charges have been laid.”
Blondin said that the military does not perform pyschological evalutations before it promotes its officers. Promotions are based on perfomance and those who are promoted for leadership “are extraordinary,” he said. As Williams’ commander, Blondin said that’s what he saw – extraordinary performance during his military career. He assured the media that due process will take place.
Earlier Monday afternoon Williams appeared in the provincial courthouse in Belleville in hand and leg shackles. He entered the courtroom confidently, dressed in a blue prison-issue jumpsuit and booties. He was remanded in custody and will appear by video on February 18th. A publication ban was ordered, typical in bail hearings, and there is a publication ban is on the names of the sexual assault victims.
A family friend, who did not want to be identified, told The Canadian Press earlier that Lloyd’s family was told about the discovery of the woman’s body on Sunday night.
The last time anyone heard from Lloyd was at 10:36 p.m. on Jan. 28 when she sent a text message to a friend.
She was reported missing the next day after she failed to show up for her job with the Tri-Board Student Transportation Services in neighbouring Napanee.
Lloyd’s purse and her glasses were still in her apartment when they went there to check for her.
Police had used ground and helicopter searches to look for Lloyd, and friends and acquaintances distributed flyers around the Belleville area and had set up several Facebook groups to spread the word about her disappearance.
“The community is devastated,” said Tweed reeve Jo-Anne Albert.
“Everyone has followed the news and hoped and prayed that this young lady would be found and brought home to her family. So it’s definitely not the outcome that we wanted.”
Albert and her staff can’t believe it, she said. Tweed is a peaceful community and this is the first time something like this has happened there, she said.
Everyone has been involved because of how close Lloyd lived to Tweed, said Albert, who did not know Lloyd or her family personally.
Comeau’s boyfriend discovered her body inside her Raglan St. home, neighbours said.
He had come to check up on her after she missed a shift as a flight attendant with 437th transport squadron at CFB Trenton.
“He came out white as a ghost, just saying, “She’s been killed. She’s dead,’” one neighbour said.
Chanci Mackenzie, who lived next door to her, said Comeau, 37, had moved to the newly-developed street in September, 2008.
She was quiet and kept to herself, perhaps the result of being a French speaker in a mostly Anglophone neighbourhood. But in their brief encounters, Mackenzie said Comeau was always friendly.
“She was really nice, really pleasant,” she said. “It’s a very new street. We all moved in at the same time and we were still all getting to know each other.”
Since her death, Comeau’s friends and family have commemorated her life on a Facebook page.
“Marie, you were such an absolutely (sic) beautiful angel here on earth with your warm and embracing nature and the love you had for everyone who surrounded you,” wrote Marion Chalut.
Adam Morrison, a friend of Comeau’s for eight years, wrote, “I will truly miss you and your open mind as well as your beautiful smile and always shining personality.”
Comeau’s death rattled the small community, home to dozens of military personnel. Now that Col. Williams has been charged, the area is in shock.
“The phone hasn’t stopped ringing. People from the base calling around,” said one neighbour, who asked not to be named. “(Williams) is someone who is very much respected in the military community… it makes it even more personal.”
An active member of the local community, Williams made a public appearance this past fall at a Belleville Bulls’ hockey game when the team announced plans to dedicate the 2009/2010 season to the men, women and families of 8 Wing Trenton. He also was front and centre at Trenton when the Olympic flame torchbearer was announced for his base.
Williams, who has a degree in Economics and Political Science from the University of Toronto and a Master of Defence Studies from the Royal Military College, enrolled in the Canadian Forces in 1987.
He received his wings in 1990 and was posted to three Canadian Forces flight training schools where he was an instructor. Williams, who has no children, is said to be a keen photographer, fisherman and runner.
In 1992, Williams was posted to the 434th (Combat Support) Squadron in Shearwater, Nova Scotia, where he flew the CC144 Challenger – a military plane used to transport high-ranking officials such as the Prime Minister and the Governor General.
He is married to Mary Elizabeth Harriman, who lives and works in Ottawa as the associate executive director of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. According to a neighbour who asked not to be identified she comes to their house in Trenton on weekends.
“Mary Elizabeth is a beloved member of our staff … She’s taking an extended leave of absence to focus on this matter,” said spokeswoman Eileen Melnick-McCarthy, declining to comment further.
In January 2009 he was posted to the Canadian Forces Language School in Gatineau for a 6-month period of French language training, during which he was promoted to his current rank. He took over as commander of 8 Wing CFB-Trenton in July, 2009.
With files from Canadian Press