Four years after he was sentenced to life behind bars, serial sex killer Russell Williams has reached an out-of-court financial settlement with some of his many victims, Maclean’s has learned.
Months in the works, the deal brings to an end two multi-million-dollar civil lawsuits that targeted not only the disgraced ex-colonel, but his wife: one launched by “Jane Doe,” Williams’s first sexual assault victim; another by the devastated mother and brother of Jessica Lloyd, who was kidnapped from her Belleville, Ont., home and murdered inside the former air force commander’s cottage.
Although both lawsuits demanded hefty damages for Williams’s “brutal” and “vicious” conduct, they also accused his long-time spouse, Mary Elizabeth Harriman, of participating in a “fraudulent” and “clearly suspicious” property transfer aimed at shielding their assets from the very type of litigation they ended up facing. Jane Doe’s original statement of claim sought $2.45 million from the couple; the Lloyds demanded $4 million.
“We are pleased to announce that the actions commenced at Belleville on behalf of the victims of Russell Williams, being Roxanne and Andy Lloyd, and Jane Doe, have been resolved to the mutual satisfaction of all parties,” reads a prepared statement released by Michael Pretsell, the victims’ lawyer. “The actions have been settled with Mr. Williams and will be dismissed as against Mary Elizabeth Harriman on a without-costs basis.”
How much money Williams paid to settle both lawsuits will remain confidential, as per the agreement. “Out of respect for the privacy of the families,” the statement continues, “no further statement or comment will be made by the parties or their counsel.”
Despite the settlements, the Williams legal saga is not over yet. A third lawsuit — filed by Laurie Massicotte, a Tweed, Ont., neighbour who was ambushed in her living room and assaulted at knifepoint just weeks before Williams committed his first murder — remains active. Her $7-million claim casts a much wider net than the other two, including accusations that the Ontario Provincial Police failed to warn her neighbourhood about a potential predator, and that Williams’s wife “was aware” of her husband’s depraved double life but “did not report that conduct to the police.” (None of those allegations has been tested in court. Lawyers for the province insist police acted “in good faith” during the entire investigation, and Harriman’s lawyers say Massicotte has “provided no evidence whatsoever” to support such a “frivolous” and “vexatious” claim.)
As Maclean’s reported earlier this month, Massicotte’s Toronto lawyers are also pursuing Williams’s military pension, which, under current law, is protected from court actions. Whether Massicotte should be allowed to challenge that law as unconstitutional is now before the Ontario Court of Appeal.
A talented pilot and former top officer at CFB Trenton, Canada’s largest and busiest air force base, Williams confessed in 2010 to a sadistic crime spree that rocked the military: two horrific murders, two home-invasion sexual assaults, and dozens of fetish burglaries targeting women’s lingerie. His criminal proceedings were swift (just eight months after his arrest, he pleaded guilty to 88 charges and was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years), but the ensuing civil lawsuits took much longer to unfold.
For two sets of plaintiffs, at least, the wait is finally over.
Jane Doe was the first victim to file suit, serving Williams with a statement of claim in May 2010, just three months after he confessed to police (and five months before his sentencing hearing, when Canadians saw that dramatic videotaped interrogation for the first time). Doe, whose identity is protected by a publication ban, was 21 and home alone with her newborn baby when Williams broke in, tied her up, and began snapping photographs. As she later told detectives, she was terrified the intruder would kill her daughter. “The conduct of the defendant was harsh, vindictive, malicious, horrific and reprehensible,” her lawsuit read.
Doe’s claim also named Williams’s wife as a defendant, alleging a “secret” property transfer executed six weeks after his shocking arrest. Harriman paid her husband $62,000 in cash and assumed the remaining mortgage on their newly built $700,000 Ottawa townhouse, while he took sole possession of their lakefront cottage, purchased a few years earlier for $178,000. The townhouse transaction, Doe alleged, was a “fraudulent conveyance” aimed at protecting Williams’s assets from creditors.
Harriman denied any wrongdoing, insisting in court filings she had “absolutely no intention” of shielding assets and that the property deal was initiated to ensure her “financial security.” A senior executive at the Heart & Stroke Foundation of Canada, Harriman also said she was “devastated” to learn the truth about her husband, and that she, too, is a “victim.” (She initiated divorce proceedings following Williams’s conviction, but after she failed to convince the province’s highest court to issue a sweeping publication ban on the file, there has been little movement. On paper, at least, they remain husband and wife.)
The family of Jessica Lloyd, Williams’s second and final murder victim, launched their lawsuit in early 2012. A 27-year-old with a wide smile and a wider circle of friends, Lloyd worked for a school bus service company and lived alone in the same rural home where she grew up. Her father, who died of cancer in 1996, was himself a Canadian Forces officer who served 25 years in the navy.
Williams broke into Lloyd’s house as she slept, blindfolded her with duct tape, and drove her to his cottage in the early morning hours of Jan. 29, 2010. After parking in the garage and leading his hostage inside, he emailed a subordinate to say he couldn’t come to work that Friday because he was nursing a stomach flu—and not to tell his wife if she happened to phone the base.
For hours, Williams promised Lloyd he would set her free if she obeyed his orders, and she complied in every possible way. At one point, a terrified Lloyd wept as Williams’s video camera rolled. “I don’t want to die, please,” she pleaded. “If I die will you make sure my mom knows that I love her?” Williams left her lifeless body in his garage for four days before dumping her at the side of a secluded rural road.
In the end, it was a collection of clues linked to Lloyd’s disappearance—boot prints in the snow near her house, and muddy tire tracks on the edge of the property—that led police to a serial predator in colonel’s clothing. (“Your vehicle drove up the side of Jessica Lloyd’s house; your boots walked to the back of Jessica Lloyd’s house,” Det.-Sgt. Jim Smyth told Williams during his now-renowned interrogation. “You and I both know you were at Jessica Lloyd’s house, and I need to know why.”)
When Williams pleaded guilty in October 2010, Roxanne Lloyd carried a large, framed photograph of her daughter into the Belleville courthouse. “I can never hold my daughter Jessica in my arms ever again, I can never hug her and tell her that I love her, I can never hear her voice telling me that she loves me too,” Roxanne said, reading a heartbreaking victim-impact statement during the sentencing hearing.
“There’s no punishment that could make this better for me; no sentencing will make this sorrow disappear. He did not give any mercy to Jessica. No amount of suffering that Russell Williams might feel after today can compare to the suffering we have felt.
“I have never used the word ‘hate’ when I’ve referred to anyone before,” she continued. “But I can honestly say that I hate Russell Williams.”
Jessica’s older brother also read an emotional victim-impact statement, describing the “sheer agony” his family has endured. As he spoke, his sister’s killer sat silently in the courtroom prisoner’s box.
“The only good thing to come from all of this is these crimes have been stopped,” Andy Lloyd said. “No other woman can ever be hurt, traumatized, raped or murdered ever again by Russell Williams, and it’s because of my sister that he has been stopped … Myself and the rest of the community think she is a hero for stopping him before he could do this to another family.”
The Lloyds’ statement of claim described her murder as “one of the most highly publicized criminal cases in Canadian history,” leaving them “repeatedly exposed to reminders of the assault and gruesome death of Jessica.” Her mom and brother have “suffered a permanent and deep loss,” it continued, and “will require extensive therapy and medical attention.” Like Doe, the Lloyds also accused Williams’s wife of participating in a “fraudulent conveyance” intended “to defeat the plaintiffs’ claims.” (The family of Cpl. Marie-France Comeau, Williams’s first murder victim, did not sue.)
“The Defendant Williams sexually, emotionally and mentally abused, assaulted and traumatized Jessica Lloyd and inflicted mental suffering upon her prior to her death,” their claim continued. “The Defendant Williams’s murder of Jessica Lloyd is horrific.”
Now 51, Williams is a prisoner at Quebec’s Port-Cartier Institution, a maximum-security facility 800 km northeast of Montreal. He was transferred from now-shuttered Kingston Penitentiary in 2013.