Laurie Massicotte watches the same two television programs before bed: Law & Order at 11 p.m., and Without a Trace at midnight. On that Tuesday evening last September, she followed her typical routine, curling up on the living room couch with an apple, the remote control, and one of her daughters’ old Barbie blankets. Within 15 minutes, she was fast asleep. “It was a busy day,” she says now, one year later. “I spent most of it cleaning: bringing in pots from the yard, rearranging furniture in the basement. I was exhausted.”
When she woke up in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, Massicotte remembers two specific things: hearing the theme song for the final credits of Without a Trace, and being smothered under her blanket as someone on the other side delivered punch after punch to her face. In those first few seconds, the 46-year-old was so disoriented and so short of breath that she assumed the house was on fire, and that thick smoke had filled her eyes and lungs. She soon realized the terrifying truth. “Shhh,” said the intruder, in between blows to the head. “I need you to be quiet.”
What transpired over the next 3½ hours was pure terror. Home alone, Massicotte was blindfolded, shackled, stripped naked with the sharp edge of a knife, and forced to pose for dozens of unthinkable photographs before the stranger in her house finally fled. Every time he ordered her to sit this way or lean that way, his threat was the same: “Don’t make me make you.”
“I thought he was going to kill me at any given moment,” she says. “It was just like a horror movie, and I didn’t know what was going to happen in the next scene.” The scene five months later was almost as sickening. In February, two detectives from the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) visited Massicotte’s home in Tweed, a small eastern Ontario town just north of Belleville. “It’s all over,” one of them told her. “We’ve caught the person who did this to you, and he has confessed.”
Three doors away, Massicotte could see yellow police tape wrapped around the property. The man who lived there—Col. Russell Williams, the 46-year-old commander of Canadian Forces Base Trenton—was already locked in a jail cell, his alleged double life finally revealed. “I couldn’t comprehend any of it,” she says. “I was in total shock.”
An elite officer with a spotless record—a gifted pilot who escorted prime ministers and the Queen, and was hand-picked by military brass to lead Canada’s largest and busiest air force base—was suddenly an accused predator. His charge sheet paints a chilling portrait of a meticulous, relentless stalker who, despite the heavy demands of his high-profile job, found ample time to feed his perversion. If police are correct, the disgraced colonel committed dozens of burglaries, stole hundreds of pieces of lingerie, attacked two women inside their homes—one of them Laurie Massicotte—and murdered two others: Marie-France Comeau, a 38-year-old corporal stationed at his base, and Jessica Lloyd, 27.
Williams has waived his right to a preliminary hearing and will be back in court Oct. 7, when lawyers are expected to discuss the timing of his eventual trial. Massicotte hopes to be in the gallery that day. “It’s going to be difficult, but I want to have the strength to be able to do it,” she says. “I know he can’t do anything to me now.”
In the meantime, Massicotte has found the strength to do something else she has long dreaded: show her face, reveal her name, and tell her story. Until now, in a series of exclusive interviews with Maclean’s, the mother of three has never spoken publicly about the hell she endured that morning—or the nightmare she has lived ever since. “I need to be able to do this in order to move on with my life,” she tells Maclean’s, sitting in a restaurant not far from her home. “I’ve been trapped for so long, and now finally I can tell the truth. I hope people can appreciate the truth, even Russ Williams.”
Like so many victims of sexual assault, Massicotte’s ordeal did not end on Sept. 30, 2009, when the stranger in her living room snapped his last photo and climbed out a window. She has spent countless hours in therapy, grappled with survivor’s guilt, and assumed, in those early days, that everyone in town was a suspect. She despises Williams, prays that he spends the rest of his life behind bars, and hopes to sue him in civil court. Yet for reasons that even she can’t explain, Massicotte says she has found it in her heart to somehow forgive him. “I can’t put it into words. It’s between me and him. He let me live.”
In fact, Massicotte saves her harshest words for the police, convinced that the cops could have done more to stop her attacker before he climbed through her window. Hours after her assault, an OPP investigator told her what is now a well-known fact. “He said: ‘Laurie, we have a confession to make,’ ” she recalls. “ ‘Apparently, 12 days ago this same situation happened to a girl just down the road from you. We’re really sorry we didn’t get it out to the public, but I can tell you right now we’re putting out a release and it will be on tomorrow’s news.’ ”
For Laurie Massicotte, the OPP “safety alert” came a day too late.
Col. Williams and his wife, Mary-Elizabeth Harriman, purchased their Tweed cottage in the summer of 2004. The following year, in December 2005, Williams was given the top job at Camp Mirage, the Canadian military’s secret forward logistics base in the Middle East. Deployed for six months, he missed the annual neighbourhood Christmas party. Laurie Massicotte was there, chatting with fellow residents of Cosy Cove Lane, a picturesque strip of waterfront homes overlooking Stoco Lake. A friend introduced her to Harriman. “I talked to her for a minute,” she recalls. “She said her husband was overseas.” Other than that, Massicotte doesn’t remember having any contact with the couple three doors down. “I never knew him,” she says.
Unlike most on Cosy Cove, Williams and Harriman were not permanent fixtures; the cottage was a part-time getaway, not a full-time home. But after he returned from Mirage in the summer of 2006 and was reassigned to National Defence headquarters, Williams and his wife spent as much time as they could in Tweed, an easy two-hour drive from their house in the Ottawa suburb of Orléans.
It wasn’t long before the bizarre break-ins began.
In the fall of 2007, three properties within walking distance of Williams’s cottage were burglarized, including the house directly next door—twice. By 2008, the pace intensified. In March, two different homes were broken into on the same Friday night. A week later, Williams allegedly struck again, this time sneaking into a home on nearby Charles Court that would become his favourite target. According to authorities, he would return to that same address eight more times.
In most cases, the Tweed victims had no idea that a man was even in their house. The culprit was so professional—and usually stole only a small amount of items—that the bulk of his crimes went unnoticed at the time.
- Col. Russell Williams to plead guilty—Accused killer and former base commander will plead guilty to all counts, says lawyer (October 7, 2010)
- Colonel Williams’ wife, under attack—An accused killer’s spouse struggles to rebuild her shattered life (July 27, 2010)
- Col. Russell Williams, accused sex killer, makes brief court appearance—Murder victim’s brother among those in attendance (July 22, 2010)
- Williams faces additional charges—Former CFB Trenton commander linked to 82 more crimes around Ottawa, Belleville and Tweed (April 29, 2010)
- Colonel accused of double murder tries to kill himself—Russell Williams used mustard to write his suicide note (April 5, 2010)
- I feel pity for Colonel Williams if he’s guilty—Barbara Amiel on the blessing and the curse of human sexuality (February 23, 2010)
- Colonel Williams: ‘Behind those eyes’—How could the accused killer have time to commit those crimes? (February 19, 2010)
- Col. Russell Williams, a timeline (PHOTOS)—The busy schedule of an accused killer (February 18, 2010)
- The secret life of Colonel Russell Williams—If police are correct, he was a cold-blooded planner who in hours could transform from commander to monster (February 16, 2010)
- The two faces of Col. Russell Williams (VIDEO)—Portrait of an accused predator (February 10, 2010)
- Round up: Investigating Col. Russ Williams—Tire tracks led police to Williams; investigators look into unsolved crimes (February 9, 2010)
- Col. Russell Williams’ double life?—Top officer facing murder charges commanded Canada’s largest air base, flew top diplomats (February 8, 2010)