CFB Trenton commander charged with murder

Canadian military commander Col. Russell Williams has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of two eastern Ontario women.

Col. Russell Williams accused of killing 2 women, sexually assaulting 2 others

A military commander from Canadian Forces Base Trenton in eastern Ontario has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of two women.

Col. Russell Williams, 46, of Tweed, the top commander at 8 Wing/CFB Trenton, was arrested Sunday in Ottawa, Ontario Provincial Police Det.-Insp. Chris Nicholas said at a news conference Monday.

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Williams has been charged with first-degree murder in the death of Jessica Lloyd, 27, whose body was found Monday off Cary Road in the municipality of Tweed.

Lloyd had been missing since Jan. 28 from her home outside Tweed, about 30 kilometres north of Belleville.

Ontario's chief coroner is to conduct an autopsy on Lloyd's body, which arrived in Toronto late Monday afternoon.

Williams's rise through the military ranks:

1987: Williams joins the Canadian Forces after earning a degree in economics and political science at the University of Toronto.

1992: Posted to Shearwater, N.S., where he flew the CC144 Challenger and patrolled the coast.

1996: Posted to Ottawa where he flew the Challenger jets that ferried around dignitaries like the prime minister and Governor General.

2004:  Receives master's degree in defence studies at Royal Military College.

2009: Becomes wing commander at CFB Trenton.

*Read William's full biography.

Williams was also charged in the death of Cpl. Marie-France Comeau, 38, of Brighton, Ont., who was killed in her home Nov. 25. Comeau served with the 437 Squadron at CFB Trenton.

Nicholas said police linked the two slayings because of similarities in the cases. They do not expect to make any other arrests.

In addition to the murder charges, Williams faces counts of forcible confinement, break and enter, and sexual assault in relation to two home invasions in the Tweed area in September.

As wing commander at CFB Trenton, Williams oversaw operations at the air force base, which according to the Department of National Defence is "the heart of Canada's air mobility forces."

"He was just a shining, bright star," said Maj.-Gen. Yvan Blondin, the commander of 1 Canadian Air division based in Winnipeg and Williams's immediate superior.

"And if you talk to people on the [base], they will probably tell you that they admired the wing commander," Blondin said at a news conference Monday afternoon at Trenton. "He was involved in everything in the community here. Nobody had one thought that something like this could be possible."

Williams now in custody

Williams made a court appearance Monday afternoon for a bail hearing, walking confidently into the provincial courthouse in Belleville, Ont. His hands and legs were shackled and he wore a blue prison-issue jumpsuit and blue booties.

Cpl. Marie-France Comeau, 38, left, was slain Nov. 25, 2009. The body of Jessica Lloyd, 27, right, was found by police Monday morning. (Canadian Press)

When asked, he said he understood the proceedings against him. He was remanded in custody and will appear in court by video on Feb. 18.

A publication ban was ordered, as is typical in bail hearings.

A handful of distraught-looking people were in the courtroom for the bail hearing, and one man uttered an obscenity as Williams got up to leave.

The mayor of Quinte West, the region where the military base is located, said his community is in disbelief over the charges.

"Well, it's just shock," Mayor John Williams said, speaking about his own reaction. The mayor is not related to the accused.

The mayor said he was in Williams's office last Thursday.

"I deal with the wing commander on a fairly regular basis and the best word to describe it is shock," John Williams told CBC News.

Nicholas said Russell Williams was brought to the attention of police based on evidence gathered while questioning people along Highway 37 last Thursday night.

Police would not comment on possible links among the cases other than to say they took place within the same geographic area. They said they were looking at where Williams has been for the past several years and were continuing their investigation.

OPP at accused's Ottawa home

As of 3 p.m. Monday, OPP officers were parked outside a home that Williams and his wife own in Ottawa's Westboro neighbourhood, waiting for a search warrant that would allow them to enter.

Police said his wife was at home at the time of his arrest.

"We were actually getting ready to invite them for dinner," Michael Gennis, who lives next to Williams and his wife, Mary Elizabeth, on Edison Avenue. Gennis said the two had been living next door to him and his partner for about a month.

"They were lovely people in my encounters — with Mary Elizabeth more [so] — but even with Russ," Gennis told CBC News.

"It's very surprising. I just texted my partner to say … 'Oh my God, you wouldn't believe what's going on here.'"

On Monday morning, police searched their second home in Tweed.

Lt.-Gen. André Deschamps, chief of air staff for the Canadian Forces, issued a statement that "although one is considered innocent until proven guilty, in light of the seriousness of the charges, and in consideration of the high level of responsibilities" attached to Williams's position, an interim wing commander for 8 Wing Trenton will be appointed to replace him.

A review will also be done by 1 Canadian Air Division in Winnipeg to determine the most appropriate action pending the outcome of his trial, said the statement from Deschamps.

It was not immediately clear if the military has suspended Williams in the meantime, or if he will continue to be paid while he is relieved of his duties.

With files from The Canadian Press