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.