"48 Hours Mystery" producer Paul LaRosa questions fellow producer Josh Yager about his recent broadcast: Name, Rank and Serial Killer?" - the story of Canadian Air Force Colonel Russell Williams and his confession to rape, murder and sexually deviant behavior.
Josh, tell me how you got involved in this story?
Having produced TV news pieces on crime, war and current affairs for nearly two decades, I always set out to find stories that seem somehow new to me - stories I feel I haven't covered or even watched before. The Russell Williams case - the air force colonel accused of rape, murder and sex crimes - fit the bill right away. I first became interested in the story when it appeared last fall on the news wires in Washington, where I am based. After a flurry of phone calls, I realized just how surreal this story was - and took off for Canada. I spent the next six months interviewing victims, experts and other relevant people, while digging into the startling crime spree that made Air Force Colonel Russell Williams infamous as the worst offender in Canadian history.
Why do you think the police in Canada did not want to be interviewed, given that they did a good job solving such a high-profile case?
That's a very good question. We repeatedly approached the Ontario Provincial Police for interviews, our primary objective being to interview Det. Sgt. Jim Smyth, who performed so well in the interrogation. But the OPP, as they're known, refused us any cooperation, citing a press release they'd issued soon after Russell Williams pled guilty in which they said they would not be doing any press interviews on the case. According to the press release - and subsequent correspondence with them - their reasons for declining to be interviewed included a desire to respect the victims' families and a need to avoid divulging interrogation techniques.
As the media reviewed and broadcast hugely detailed video excerpts of the interrogation, was the OPP really concerned about protecting interrogation techniques? They have a right, of course, to grant interviews - and decline them - wherever they wish. But the way the OPP handled the media in the Williams case was the most perplexing I've seen in nearly 20 years working with police around the world. It sent a mixed message to the international media, which were inclined from the beginning to give the OPP the benefit of the doubt for a job extremely well done. Perhaps they didn't want to respond to uncomfortable questions about their investigation - questions they assumed we would be asking.
The big question is why, which you addressed in the broadcast but we're all still curious. Was there anything in Col. Williams' background or early childhood that at least gives us a clue to his actions?
Investigations of Russell Williams' background haven't yielded any definitive clues about why he went off the deep end, or for that matter, why he apparently waited until the age of 44 to act out. We do know that in his childhood, he suffered through a strange family reconfiguration, in which his parents divorced and their best friends did the same. Then his mother married the male best friend. And his father married the female best friend. Later in life, Russell Williams had turmoil in his own romantic life, as he apparently suffered through a devastating breakup in college.
It's a good thing his videotapes of the murders will never be seen. Has anyone besides the police seen them? Was any more revealed about the tapes?
What people have to realize about this case is how utterly shocking the court hearing was. Cameras were not allowed, but the public was. Sitting there listening to details and watching dozens and dozens of photographs being projected on a giant screen - photos infinitely more graphic than the ones in our broadcast - was upsetting and draining. I found it hard to imagine how authorities could also have subjected the public to those tapes. As we noted, they did describe what was on the tapes for the record. Most of the details are too horrible to go into here, but I do recall a collective gasp in court as the lawyers told the judge that rape/murder victim Jessica Lloyd can be heard on one of the tapes pleading with Russell Williams to make sure to "tell my mother I love her," or words to that effect.
A story like this shakes the trust we all have in others. Is there any way to predict this sort of behavior? Did anyone Col. Williams work with notice anything, even in retrospect?
The short answer is no. While experts tell us there are certain commonalities in the backgrounds of some serial killers, there are others who defy stereotyping. Killers of the Russell Williams variety are so rare that they're difficult to study. In the Williams case, nobody - from friends, to colleagues, to military screeners - noticed anything awry. He may have been a bit of a control freak with a strange sense of humor, but Russell Williams was seen by most of those who knew him as a diligent, earnest, responsible man of high moral standing. That image undoubtedly helped him conceal his crimes from those around him - literally ghastly murders and assaults and appearing at public events within days of each other.
What happened to Col. Williams' wife? Has she moved and divorced him? To your knowledge, has she ever visited him in prison?
As might be expected, Russell Williams' wife Mary Elizabeth Harriman isn't speaking to the press. What we do know about her is that she is filing for divorce. And there's this piece of interesting information: After police executing a search warrant in her Ottawa home scuffed up the new hardwood floors, she reportedly sued them for damages. No word yet on whether she'll get William's pension, reported to be about $60,000 per year.