Neighbours stunned by arrest of Col. Williams

Ottawa resident Michael Gennis was stunned when he found out his new neighbour, Col. Russell Williams, had been charged with killing two women in eastern Ontario.
Police officers entered Williams's home in Westboro Tuesday and came out with two bags. ((CBC))
Ottawa resident Michael Gennis says he was stunned when he found out his new neighbour, Col. Russell Williams, had been charged with killing two women in eastern Ontario.

Williams, 46, was arrested Sunday and is facing two first-degree murder charges in connection with the deaths of 27-year-old Jessica Lloyd of Tweed, Ont., and 38-year-old Cpl. Marie-France Comeau of Brighton, Ont.

The commander of Canadian Forces Base Trenton is also charged with breaking and entering, sexual assault and forcible confinement in connection with two home invasions in Tweed, about 30 kilometres north of Belleville, Ont.

Gennis, who lives next door to Williams and his wife on Edison Avenue in Ottawa's Westboro neighbourhood, said he came home around 8 p.m. Sunday to find unmarked police cars parked in front of the two homes. Police were escorting Williams's wife, Mary Elizabeth, in and out of the couple's house to collect some of her belongings.

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Gennis said he sometimes spoke to the couple about landscaping or snow clearing. He had recently talked to Mary Elizabeth Williams about exchanging keys, as she had offered to look after his home when he was away.

"We were just doing the neighbourly thing, and because we were joined at the hip, so to speak, architecturally, it made a lot of sense to look out for each other," Gennis said.

Gennis said he found the arrest of his neighbour and the charges against him surprising and unsettling.

Former neighbour met weekly with Williams, wife

George White, a former air force mechanic, lived two doors down from Williams for 12 years in Ottawa's east-end Orléans neighbourhood.

In July, Williams and his wife moved into their cottage in Tweed and lived there for six months before returning to Ottawa to settle in a new house in Westboro, White said.

White said he was floored when he first heard about the charges against Williams. White and other neighbours used to meet the colonel and his wife about once a week for coffee. The couple had no children but did have a few cats, White said.

Map of eastern Ontario, showing the location of CFB Trenton, where Col. Russell Williams was base commander. ((CBC))
White described Williams as extremely ambitious. He was guarded about personal affairs but not reclusive, he said. He was often seen jogging through the neighbourhood.

On Tuesday, Ontario Provincial Police entered the couple's home on Edison Avenue shortly before 2 p.m. They came out 15 minutes later carrying two bags, threw them into a police car and drove away.

Small towns shocked by attacks

Meanwhile, Belleville Mayor Neil Ellis said Tuesday that news of Williams's arrest has left his community, which has close ties to the Trenton base, reeling.

"That [is] shocking news, that somebody of [Williams's] position and trust is accused of these murders," Ellis said.

Ellis recalled that the community had rallied together in an effort to locate Lloyd, who disappeared on Jan. 28. Her body was found outside Tweed on Monday, a day after police arrested Williams.

"It's not the outcome we hoped for," Ellis said.

He expressed relief that someone has been charged in Lloyd's death and said the community can now hopefully move forward "in the next chapter of having the whole story come out."

In nearby Tweed, the local reeve, Jo-Anne Albert, said people were still trying to come to terms with the news of the attacks and Williams's arrest.

"I keep saying that this brought the big city to small rural Ontario," Albert said. "You never think it's going to happen in your own town."