The Unsung Victims of Serial Murder

The recent case of the former Commander of CFB Trenton Russel Williams has captured the fascination of Canadians for a number of reasons. Mostly, it was his double-pronged life that kept us glued to our televisions and newspapers: one minute he could be flying a plane for the Queen or the Prime Minister and the next could be breaking into women’s homes in the middle of the night to steal undergarments, leave menacing notes and eventually even torturing and murdering his victims.

But as his infamy slowly dies down and he contemplates his life choices in a tiny segregation cell in Kingston Penn, the media still seem to be focusing on his wife. How could she not have known, they ask.

Mary Elizabeth Harriman married the man of her dreams in 1991. They were extremely compatible from the start, both being driven in their respective careers. They were extremely forward focused and had no plans of having children. They walked together hand in hand, played golf together and seem like the perfect love story. Russell Williams was as perfect for her as she was for him.

Neighbours in their Ottawa suburb home of Orleans that knew them for fifteen years described them as a perfectly happy and normal family. And there was certainly nothing of Williams’ demeanour to suggest that he might be a sexual sadist.

Unlike many serial murderers who may have high intelligence but are unable to put it into practical use, Williams excelled at everything he did. He was a rising star in the military. He performed excellently in school and had generally become a very powerful man. There was never any reason to think that something might be amiss.

I write this for the unsung victims of serial murder; the spouses, boyfriends, girlfriends, parents, siblings, cousins and friends of those found guilty of heinous crimes. It is extremely rare to ever hear of the plight of these victims, for society does not view them in the same light as a first hand victims. But psychologically speaking, it can have much the same effect as having lost a loved one.

In essence, you have lost them. They are no longer who you believed they were. In many cases, they are likely as good as dead.

Mrs. Harriman’s life, which was going along swimmingly, is now in complete and utter shambles. The man she thought she knew and the man she thought she loved turned out to be one of the most notorious sexual sadist killers in the history of Canada. And every time she leaves the house, she has another reporter breathing down her neck asking her the same question.

‘How could you not have known?’

The answer to that question should be another question. How could she have known?

Russell Williams is a master manipulator. One of the best. Coupled with his high intelligence and military training, he wasn’t one that left too many clues lying around the house. He had a stash of stolen panties and other items in the rafters of the garage, certainly out of view. But other than happening upon that by accident, how else was she supposed to know?

Serial killers don’t wear special uniforms or wear a particular type of glasses. They look like you. And in many cases, they act like you.

John Wayne Gacy’s wife used to complain about the horrible smell coming from the basement but never assumed that it was from the decaying bodies of several young men that her husband had brutally murdered. Why? Because the last thing anyone ever thinks about is whether or not their husband is a serial killer. People don’t marry people they think might become serial killers. It’s not on your radar.

Gary Ridgway killed 48 women. His wife described their relationship as making her ‘feel like a newly-wed every day.’

Many serial killers, if not most, are what is now referred to as an antisocial personality. This means that they can be superficially charming, yet malicious in their intent. They can lie with ease and do not feel guilt or remorse. It is the perfect guise for a double-life.

I personally can’t even fathom the emotional toll it would take if I found out someone close to me was a serial killer. I don’t even know how I would process that information. But what I do know for sure, is that I wouldn’t want the media following me everywhere I went, hounding me and making an already terrible situation even worse.

Mrs. Harriman is filing for divorce from Williams. Of course, she would like to do this in the quietest manner possible. Her life has already been torn inside out and she does not wish to be exposed to the scrutiny of the cameras as she deals with the most painful situation anyone could ever fathom. But the media won’t give her that. We are curious beings, and we are probably going to follow her until every last drop of news is squeezed out of her.

The bottom line is she didn’t know, and you wouldn’t have known either.

So leave her alone and allow her to properly grieve the death of her husband, Russel Williams.



  1. wanda said,

    May 19, 2011 at 7:46 pm

    I agree 100%, she is not responsible for anything he/it did. I feel sorry for her, none of us can really judge her, can’t imagine being in her shoes.

  2. T. James Cresswell said,

    December 6, 2011 at 8:57 pm

    I know you can’t really base anything off of what you see on television, but the main character on the show “Dexter” is a shining example of how a person can easily mask ill intent behind a mask. All one needs is an understanding of ethics to be perceived as ethical, even if said person doesn’t actively pursuit what would be considered “morally ethical”

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