Jessica Lloyd was last heard from on Jan. 28, when she typed a late-night text message to a friend. The following morning, a Friday, Col. Russell Williams called in sick. At the time, a nasty flu bug was swirling around the headquarters building at Canadian Forces Base Trenton, so nobody had any reason to doubt his sniffles. Or suspect that he might be covering up a murder.
As far as his subordinates were concerned, their wing commander was recuperating at his waterfront bungalow in Tweed, Ont., an hour’s drive from the base. The colonel slept there alone on weeknights, and spent most weekends commuting to and from Ottawa, where he and his wife, Mary Elizabeth Harriman (Mary Liz, as everyone calls her), had just built a swank new townhouse. At some point on the weekend of Jan. 30, that’s where Williams headed.
Over the next 48 hours—while police in Belleville, Ont., ramped up their search for Jessica Lloyd—Williams remained in the capital with Mary Liz. He took Monday off, too, as part of a pre-arranged leave. On Tuesday, after meeting with members of the Challenger squadron, the Ottawa-based unit that ferries prime ministers and other dignitaries around the country, the colonel climbed into his SUV and headed back to Tweed. Lloyd was still unaccounted for.
The next evening, Feb. 3, Williams and two of his officers drove to Toronto for a planning session with military colleagues. The boss sat in the back seat, poring over paperwork. “There was nothing abnormal about the car ride,” says Chief Warrant Officer Kevin West, who was behind the wheel that night. “We talked about regular business and what was going on at the base.” Nothing strange. Nothing suspicious. By then, the search for Jessica Lloyd was in its sixth day.
On day seven, Williams visited the salad bar for lunch. It was now Feb. 4, a Thursday, and he was sitting with a group of colleagues in a base cafeteria when he noticed Janet Wright standing near the cash register. The colonel waved her over and pulled out a chair. Wright knew Williams as well as anyone. In 2004, when he was in charge of Trenton’s 437 Squadron, she was his executive assistant. She kept his schedule, listened to stories about his beloved cats, and even visited the now-infamous Tweed cottage, just a few doors down from her sister’s place. “He was always very caring,” she says. “I went through a kidney transplant while he was there, and he visited me in the hospital. He couldn’t be kinder.” In July, when Williams was sworn in as wing commander, he made sure Wright was at the ceremony, sitting in the front row with Mary Liz.
The two enjoyed such a friendly relationship that a few months before that lunch, Wright felt comfortable asking him during a phone conversation what he thought of the gossip around his street. In September, two Tweed women had been sexually assaulted in their homes—both tied to a chair, stripped naked and photographed—and Williams’s next-door neighbour, Larry Jones, was fingered as the prime suspect. “I spoke with him at length about it,” she says of Williams. “He said, ‘Oh, it wouldn’t be Larry. Larry would never do something like that.’ He even indicated to me that Mary Elizabeth was also very upset about it.”
Those assaults seemed like a distant memory by Feb. 4, when Wright joined Williams in the cafeteria. No one else in Tweed had been attacked since September, and police had not yet revealed a link between the break-ins, Lloyd’s disappearance, and the unsolved murder of Marie-France Comeau, a corporal from the base who was killed at home in November. As Williams, 46, chewed his salad, nobody at the table mentioned the crimes.