Colonel charged with terrorizing community

TWEED, Canada — Cosy Cove Lane, as its name suggests, is the kind of sleepy place where doors were left unlocked for as long as anyone can remember.

It’s a dead-end dirt road hugging one side of a heart-shaped inlet in the village of Tweed, a rural community of 1,500 people in southeastern Ontario.

The 21 homes on the lane are a mix of summer cottages and year-round residences. A hand painted wood sign at the lane’s entrance, put up years ago by a now dead resident, misspells Cosy with a “z.” No one is bothered to change it.

“I don't think anything [bad] ever happened before this,” said Ernestine Cole, who is in her 80s and has lived on Cosy Cove for two decades. “We used to call it Geritol Lane because it was full of old people.”

Cole is alluding to a slew of home burglaries that began terrorizing the community during the past two years, culminating in the sexual assault of two women in their homes last fall — one on Cosy Cove Lane and the other one street away.

A woman was then murdered in a town south of Tweed last November, and another young woman was murdered just outside of the village in January.

Terror turned to dismay in February when Colonel Russell Williams was charged with the sexual assaults and murders. On April 29, he was hit with a further 82 charges involving break and enters and theft — much of it women’s lingerie.

The fact that Williams was commanding officer of the biggest military airbase in Canada — CFB Trenton, about an hour’s drive south of Tweed — turned the arrest into a major national news story. No one was more stunned than the residents of Cosy Cove Lane: Williams was their neighbor. He has owned the cottage at 62 Cosy Cove Lane since 2004.

A decorated pilot, the 47-year-old Williams used to head the squadron that flew VIPs, including the prime minister. He was also commander of Camp Mirage, a secret air force staging base in Dubai that conducts assignments in Afghanistan.

But by the time he was made commanding officer of the biggest air base in Canada in July 2009, police allege he had already broken into his neighbor’s houses 58 times. And more were to come.

Some break-ins occurred within walking distance of his Ottawa residence, which he shared with his wife, Mary Elizabeth Harriman, the executive director of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. She was apparently ignorant of her husband’s alleged double-life. Other home burglaries were within walking distance of his Tweed cottage.

Included in the 82 break-and-enter charges is the home of Cpl. Marie-France Comeau, 38, who worked under Williams’ command at the Trenton base. Williams is accused of stealing her personal belongings on Nov. 16, 2009 — eight days before he allegedly killed her.

The chilling stalking pattern appears to have also occurred with a woman Williams is accused of sexually assaulting on Cosy Cove. He is charged with breaking into her home twice — Sept. 24 and 26 last year, allegedly stealing her underwear — before she was attacked in her home on the 30th. He is alleged to have blindfolded her, tied her up and cut off her clothes before sexually assaulting her.

The charges also suggest a compulsion to return to the scene of the crime. He is accused of sexually assaulting a second Tweed woman on Sept. 17, 2009 — then returning the very next night and again on the 22nd to steal personal belongings.

He is also charged with breaking into a Tweed neighbor’s home nine times between April 2008 and August 2009.

“I feel very fortunate,” said the woman who has lived in that home for five years. “A lot of other girls got it a lot worse than me.”

All the while, Williams was conducting air force business, including meetings with the minister of defense and the military’s chief of staff.

On Sept. 13, he left on a 13-hour flight aboard a Hercules aircraft from CFB Trenton to Canadian Forces Station Alert on Ellesmere Island, in Canada’s Arctic. The return flight left on Sept. 16. The next day, after attending to business at the Trenton base, Williams is accused of committing his second sexual assault.

His co-workers noticed nothing strange. Neither did his Cosy Cove neighbors. They would often see him photographing birds. Before mowing the lawn, he would stomp around his yard to chase out frogs and spare them a horrible fate. He would stroll around with his cat, Rosebud, slung over his shoulder. And when his wife was at the cottage, they would be seen walking down the lane hand-in-hand.

Williams was arrested at a police roadblock, set up on the highway he took to get from the Trenton base to his cottage. Reports say police matched his tires with the tread marks left in the snow around the house of the second murder victim. He reportedly led police to the wooded area in Tweed where her body was dumped.

Since his arrest, he has twice appeared in court via video link from the detention center where he is being held. He looked like a broken man. His trial is weeks away. According to one report, he recently tried to kill himself in his cell.

The headline of this story has been changed from its original version.