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Episode 3: Russell Williams Interrogation

Russell Williams was a 47-year -old married Colonel in the Royal Canadian Air Force whose sex crimes has increased in severity from peeping through windows, to stealing underwear, to forcible restraint, to sexual assault and murder. By February 7, 2010, when this interrogation took place, the Ontario police had enough evidence to place him at the scene of the home of Jessica Lloyd, a 22-year-old woman who had recently gone missing. The interrogation took place over 10 hours. In the interrogation, Detective Sergeant Jim Smyth uses what’s known as  “the Reid technique,” which involves bonding and forming a relationship with the person being interrogated, finding their weak points and pressing on them very subtly.  In this first hour, Smyth treats Williams with respect and deference, but slowly begins to present a series of increasingly damning connections between Williams and the death of Jessica Lloyd.

Williams, too, remains relaxed at first. He begins the interview by blithely noting that the previous officer who came to interview him was also named Russ, and appears eager to co-operate, but his nervous quick responses make him sound very much like Norman Bates being interrogated by Arbogast in Hitchcock’s Psycho. He clearly grows increasingly agitated, his answers getting shorter and shorter, until at last he clams up entirely,  giving nothing away (at times, he is silent for almost five minutes).

Finally, Smyth hits the right button. He says that even as they speak, officers are tearing apart Williams’s wife’s new “dream home.” This is Williams’s fatal weakness. He agrees to co-operate to “minimize” the effects of his crimes upon his wife.

In the second stage of the Reid interrogation technique, the goal is to make the suspect progressively more and more comfortable with acknowledging the truth about what they’ve done. Williams remains in denial at first, unable to believe the situation he’s found himself in, but as soon as he says, “Call me Russ,” Smyth knows he has broken through the Colonel’s terrible wall of silence.

In this part hour of the interrogation, Smyth is most urgently interested in finding the body of Jessica Lloyd as soon as possible. Once he has the location of her body, he sends out officers to find it, then he moves on to talk to Williams about her murder and the other crimes he’s suspected of (the murder of Marie-France Comeau and the sexual abuse of two other women, whom he tied up and photographed). Although Williams’s responses are shocking and Smyth is clearly disturbed by them, he continued to remain composed, understanding, patient, and non-demeaning. As in similar criminal confessions (such as those of Ted Bundy and Dennis Rader), Williams is monosyllabic when it comes to the most important details, which have to be forced from him by Smyth, but is happy to talk about related issues such as the number of kilometers) he drove from Jessica Lloyd’s home (he’s obsessed with numbers, as well as underwear).

Once Williams has confessed to Jessica Lloyd’s murder, Smyth goes on to ask Williams about the murder of Corporal Marie-France Comeau.

By now, Detective Smyth has developed a rapport with Williams, using friendly and understanding conversation to create a non-threatening atmosphere. In the final section of the interrogation, Smyth asks Williams for details about other crimes he sexually-related offenses he’s committed, and continues to ask him where to find evidence of the crimes. Smyth tries to remain impartial and non-judgemental even when Williams tells him where to find videos of his crimes, as well as chests full of stolen lingerie, and even photographs of himself wearing it.

Listen to the episode here