Russell Williams: Pure Evil

Last Thursday, October 21st, Russell Williams (finally stripped of his title of Colonel), one of Canada’s worst serial killers, was given two concurrent life sentences in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years. Not that he will ever be released because, like Paul Bernardo – with whom Williams is now neighbours at Kingston’s maximum security penitentiary – Williams will never be rehabilitated. You cannot rehabilitate psychopaths because, really, they just don’t care.

I avoided reading about the details of the trial and simply awaited news of William’s incarceration, but since everyone was talking about it, I couldn’t avoid picking up some information here and there. A lot of people seem to have a horrid fascination for the utter perversity and callous destructiveness of people like Williams. This is not a judgemental statement, I understand it intellectually. Psychopathy is so foreign to those of us who don’t have it. To not feel anything for anyone, ever, and to impose harm and often, death, upon others without remorse is absurd to us, an aberration, and it draws our curiosity. However, it, the idea that pure evil can manifest itself in a person, leaves me stone cold and nauseous.

I remember dragging myself through the Bernardo case, reading, listening to, and watching all of the media releases on his capture and trial. I remember how I cried thinking about his victims, just young girls, and their parents. And I remember how nauseated I felt when I saw that he had been brought to my city for psychiatric evaluation at the hospital. All of that came back to me when Williams was captured and I immediately pulled myself away from the media reports. My only interest in the case had been that the missing girls – Jessica Lloyd in particular – had been found alive. Since that became impossible, I only wanted to hear that Williams was convicted and put away.

Of course, my discomfort with Williams is nothing in comparison to the suffering of the victims and their families. But what I really wanted to address here is the sheer horror that absorbs me when I really start to think about someone like Williams and to try to discover why, besides the obvious, this is so. He is a true psychopath, fitting the definition perfectly:

Imagine – if you can – not having a conscience, none at all, no feelings of guilt or remorse no matter what you do, no limiting sense of concern for the well-being of strangers, friends, or even family members. Imagine no struggles with shame, not a single one in your whole life, no matter what kind of selfish, lazy, harmful, or immoral action you had taken.

And pretend that the concept of responsibility is unknown to you, except as a burden others seem to accept without question, like gullible fools.

Now add to this strange fantasy the ability to conceal from other people that your psychological makeup is radically different from theirs. Since everyone simply assumes that conscience is universal among human beings, hiding the fact that you are conscience-free is nearly effortless.

You are not held back from any of your desires by guilt or shame, and you are never confronted by others for your cold-bloodedness. The ice water in your veins is so bizarre, so completely outside of their personal experience, that they seldom even guess at your condition.

In other words, you are completely free of internal restraints, and your unhampered liberty to do just as you please, with no pangs of conscience, is conveniently invisible to the world.

You can do anything at all, and still your strange advantage over the majority of people, who are kept in line by their consciences will most likely remain undiscovered. (The Psychopath: The Mask of Sanity)

The title, “The Mask of Sanity” is so perfect. Williams was a base commander for one of Canada’s largest airbases. He continually fooled the strict evaluations of the military and evaded lie-detector tests easily. He ran the base, from what I can tell, very well, but at the same time, was committing these terrible crimes. I don’t wish to sensationalize, but it was reported that in more than one instance he was seen smiling during the trial as the evidence was brought forth. Evidence such as his extensive collection of women’s lingerie which he had stolen as trophies from his victims’ homes and meticulously folded, arranged and catalogued. And more grotesquely, evidence which included his videos he had taken while he raped and murdered his victims.

It has taken me a long time and many approaches to writing this article. I wasn’t really sure, at first, why I was writing it. But finally, after speaking to a friend, my true motive became obvious. It’s difficult for me to accept that people like Williams exist even though it has been proven possible for…well, ever – as long as humans have been around. Sadly, the psychopaths don’t go around wearing black, with EVIL written across their foreheads so we can tell them apart from normal humans – people with a conscience. And this, the “mask”, is what I believe, is at the foundation of my fear. Although I don’t wish to diminish concern felt by non-parents, I think my concern has grown exponentially as a mother. How can you protect yourself or your child from someone who you don’t even know we need protecting from? The only answer is to listen to your instincts which we often discount. A friend of the family explained to my mother that she had come in contact with Williams at a Christmas concert where, some had suggested he, as Base Commander, should do a reading. She refused to ask him as she had felt very uncomfortable around him. She only later found out why.

I don’t want to spend my life distrusting people and I still believe that I don’t have to. Yes, someone like Williams shakes my security but how many times have you encountered a psychopath? Or maybe the better question is – how many times have you avoided one? I know, it’s hard to say. William’s victims had no choice in the matter, and you may think it’s too random to control. I don’t really have an answer for you as much as I wish I did. I just know that we can’t, even though it would be easy after reading about Williams and the horrid killers before him, live in fear. We can only try to be aware and to listen to our instincts. Little comfort, I know, but please be safe.

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16 thoughts on “Russell Williams: Pure Evil

    1. You know, Gabriela, while I was writing this I was wondering if psychopathy affects the animal kingdom or whether it’s something that only affects humans. I guess it’s impossible to tell, since they don’t have “society” and “laws” like we do – although they do have their own basic, instinctual rules. Anyway, you’re right, someone like this does not seem at all human, and perhaps not even animal…or as you said…like any living being. Thanks for your comment.

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  1. This is an appalling case but it does seem that Williams is an extremely dangerous individual indeed. Imbued with Sociopathy and high intelligence – worse possible mix. Canadians are perhaps lucky that he has been caught now, beyond a shadow of a doubt he would have carried on until incapacitated by death or imprisonment.

    I think I may share your ‘interest’ (hard to be interested in such matters I know) in the frame of mind of these people. Off the top of my head I have known personally two Sociopaths and met a couple of others in Northern Ireland (they were terror suspects now well known to the media, although most terrorists are not Sociopaths). Sociopath A was for a brief while a soldier I knew in my unit. He was unsurprisingly given a criminal discharge after a few months. He was utterly incapable of realising the consequences of hs criminal actions (the only person he felt sorry for was himself) and had a high amount of impulsivity. Fortunately he was kicked out (via prison) before he did any serious harm. Yet get this if he wanted something of you, be it a cigarette, cup of tea or anything he was quite friendly and charming. I don’t want to know where he is now but would bet my bottom dollar he is in prison for violent offences.

    What I find shocking about this case and I hope this is addressed, is how did Williams (reportedly he once flew the Queen wtf?) achieve such a position of responsibility? This amazes and baffles me. Perhaps his high intelligence (which Sociopath A lacked) enabled him to get round psychometric tests and manipulate others. I don’t know, either way I feel a 25 year tariff is inappropriate. I would not be sorry to see him hanged. In England and Wales at least with new laws insects like him get a whole life tariff. But your courts have dealt leniently with a monster perhaps because they do not realise what he actually is.

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    1. Hi Paul. It is unnerving, to say the least, that Williams managed to make it to such a high position in the military without anyone detecting his…lack of sanity. I’m sure you’re right that his intelligence had a lot to do with it. Psychopaths, often have an easy time of fooling people, or so it would seem. They can easily mimic accepted behaviour and can seem very personable. I’m sure the question of how this happened is being asked among the folks in our military.

      Just out of interest sake, you may want to note that psychopaths and sociopaths are different creatures. I researched this a bit before I wrote the article because I wasn’t sure. If you type psychopaths vs sociopaths in your browser you’ll get a tonne of hits. Williams definitely fits the definition of psychopath, although the fellow you mentioned about in Ireland may actually be a sociopath.

      After this case, many Canadians are debating the question of the death penalty. The problem is that, a man like Guy Paul Morin (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guy_Paul_Morin) was wrongly convicted although it seemed the evidence was overwhelmingly against him, just like Williams. Emotionally I can understand people’s call to have him put to death, but morally, I will never agree with the death penalty. Our judicial system may seem lax to some, but to me it worked very well in this case. The article I attached clearly defines his new living conditions and they are rather grim. I’m ok with that.

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  2. Being a regular follower of your blog I understand how difficult it has been for you to compose this post while maintaining your own composure. You walked a very thin line between reporting objectively and infusing a breath from your burdened humanist mind. You did it spectacularly well!

    The look in the eyes of Russell Williams (the attached photo) is disturbing. Of course I might be saying that because he is already known for what he is. But come to think about it, I’ve seen similar looks before (in photos and in real life) in the eyes of a few world leaders and narcissists from all walks of life: pools of perversity without a drop of conscience.

    The world is a better place without Russel Williams. I hope his victims’ loved ones have realized a sense of justice. For the memory of the victims themselves I have no words.

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    1. Yes, Abufares, I took a long look at his eyes too and I tried to decided whether he looked like a psycho because I know that he is or because he really looks that way. I’d like to think I would have a gut instinct that would keep me away from him like my mother’s friend, but I’m not sure. The more I read about psychopaths, the more easy it is to see how they get themselves into such positions of power. You might find this article interesting: http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-the-difference-between-a-psychopath-and-a-sociopath.htm.

      It was a fluke that Williams was caught…a brilliant part of the investigation was to check tires to match tire tracks found at, I believe, the location where they found Jessica’s body. Who knows how long he would have gone on with his horrible criminal acts otherwise. Justice was done as best as it could be – without anyone lacking the power to bring the girls back.

      Thanks so much for your comment.

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  3. Thoughtful, sensitive post, Isobel. Thank you for expressing so eloquently, and gently how such people can affect us. Thankfully, it’s some small consolation that these people, at least to Williams’ degree, are extremely rare.

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  4. Isobel, I only followed this as a result of praying for Jessica when she was missing, it is a tragic tale.

    I know what evil is in the heart of humans, thankfully restrained for the most part. But the level of depravity in this man seems a bottomless pit.

    It is a hard thing to both believe the best about people, to trust until trust is broken, and yet know what could be there and be on the lookout for signs of ‘mask slippage’.

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    1. Thanks, Kinzi. I apologize, somehow I missed your comment. Or perhaps, at the time, I just agreed with you and didn’t have anything further to say. Anyway, I’m always glad to have you drop by.

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  5. The tire tracks were found at Jessica’s house. Russell Williams himself revealed where the body was. As for his lack of conscience and regard for others, he did love his wife. This is a sick man…if he had cancer or some other physical illness, we would not be writing the horrible things that we have about him. But, because his illness is in his mind, we scorn him. I too mourn the lives that he took, but I also understand that it was his illness that propelled his actions. As a forensic psychologist, I understand the thin line between sanity and insanity, and how easily the human mind can slip into madness. I for one (as a trained professional and academic) feel that he can be rehabilitated and hope that he receives the treatment needed to be released in 25 yrs…just as we hope that those we know who suffer from the ravages of illnesses like cancer and AIDS are restored to wellness

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    1. Hi Alina. I’m glad you took the time to respond. It is interesting to get the perspective of someone who is trained in psychology. I’m sure that you have a far better understanding of his condition than many of us. But I’m also sure you know that most people are afraid of that which they don’t understand – which, in many ways, was the point of my post. And when you have someone with a mental illness that appears to drive them to kill randomly, it’s terrifying. I’m glad to hear that you have hope for his recovery, and for others with the same disease. But I have to reiterate that I am not sorry to see him behind bars indefinitely until either he is rehabilitated or passes away. I haven’t heard any news that Paul Bernardo or Clifford Olsen, for example, are well on their way to “recovery”. In fact, I haven’t heard of any serial killers leaving prison because they have been “cured”. I’m not saying that I don’t believe it’s possible, but I’m dubious about the likelihood. Perhaps with your knowledge, you could tell me more.

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  6. A lot of these people are incredibly intelligent which makes it even scarier! I have had many gut feelings on people i have crossed paths with over the years and i truly believe that when you get that feeling in your gut that you need to trust it. More times than none those feelings have led me in the right direction, so i have learned not to ignore them. Animals are also amazing judges of characters expecially dogs, i know mine has let me know she does not trust a handful of people which i also learned to trust! my dog is always friendly or nice and there have been a couple people she just wont back away from and watches while grawling….
    Unfrotunately these people are all over the world as scary as it is…. we as the ones with the concsiece need to make sure to trust it and more times than none wether we realize it or not thats what gets us out of these unfortunate situations, unfortunately for his victoms they probably had doubt with what their gut was telling them as like you said our own country and pshychologists trusted him and he ran his base well, beating all the testing required within. it is a scary thought i know we have all douobted ourselves at some point in time to know that it could end like that.

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    1. Hi. Thanks for your comment. I agree that animals are an excellent judge of character and observing their behaviour can be beneficial to us.

      Many people have forgotten how to trust their gut and find themselves in dangerous situations as a result. I’d like to think my intuition would be good enough for me to spot a psychopath, but unfortunately many of them are very good at mimicking appropriate behaviour in social situations. Sometimes they are almost too good to be true…and therein lies the trick I guess.

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  7. The scariest thing about Russell Williams is that complaints and suspicions about him go back to as far as the late 80’s, when even Stephen King wrote about the young psychopath Ace Williams, in The Body (“Stand By Me” ), but were roundly dismissed. I believe King’s story was a direct reference to Russell Williams, and police now searching for early victims of his should read it. Whose body was the eponymous subject of the novella though, King never says

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  8. For instance, police suspected at that time, the mid ’80s, that Christine Jessop’s killer was a horn/flute player who lured her to her death with a wooden recorder.
    Guy-Paul Morin was the sax player they arrested, later vindicated through DNA evidence. Williams, playing trumpet, also fits the description, and its high time they started looking at child murders during those years with him as the suspect. He was certainly in Ontario then. Perhaps this is why Williams also wanted police to cover up his interest in kiddie porn, lest other police forces get the right idea.

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