Belmont Club

Crime and Punishment

The crimes and confession of former Canadian Air Force Colonel Russell Williams are sensational in several ways. First, the numerous rapes, perversions and murders he committed were gruesome in themselves. The second and more disturbing aspect was his demonstration of how vulnerable trust systems are. Williams could be a smooth Dr. Jekyll and the next moment a brutal Mr. Hyde. It is the ease of deception which is so frightening. If a man so thoroughly vetted that he flew the Queen of England, the Prime Minister of Canada and dignitaries too numerous to mention, so trusted that he commanded one of Canada’s most important bases and so highly regarded that he seemed destined for high command could do this, then which of us is safe from the person sitting quietly across the room, eyeing us with apparent indifference? Not everyone is worried. The Canadian Press  writes

it’s just so, so rare, which is what makes us all so interested in this case,” said Marnie Rice, a psychiatry professor at McMaster University and psychologist at the Mental Health Centre of Penetanguishene, Ontario. “I would really hope that women wouldn’t be terrified that there are people like him wandering around.”

Williams tortured young women as he raped them, taking special care to videotape their agonies, the better to remember them.  He continued to torture and strangle his victims even when they pleaded for their lives. He cavorted in his victim’s underwear, again recording the images for posterity. Then he stored the images on the hard drive of his home computer.  He was, one might say, a piece of work. Russell Williams exuded a delusional sense of invincibility despite the fact that he must have known in that part of his rational mind which coexisted with the Animal, that his crimes were so numerous that he would inevitably be caught.

Rice is probably wrong to think that Williams is completely unlike the common herd. Most humanity is acquainted enough with evil to know what it is. Many people now walking the street have a sordid little place in which they keep some secret vice. But thankfully, nothing like William’s house of horrors. And the question is why. Why evil can grow to such monstrous proportions.

One theory is that Williams built his mansion of darkness in a moment of terrible submission. He said ‘yes’ to evil and it gave him its reward. It gave him powers and feelings that few of us, even the semi-tough, have ever wanted and more important, instinctively feared.  Some part of a normal person says no to evil; feels shame at that secret place. Whether from a childhood memory of good or pure grace, who can say? And yet this little thing saves us. But for those who wholeheartedly answer the call in the night a whole new world opens. The power of pain, the delight in treachery, the thrill of cruelty.  “Experts say the airman was likely fantasizing for some time before actually doing anything. Once he realized he could get away with it, his fantasies escalated.” And they escalated until nothing but the flowers of evil could stimulate his jaded appetites.

[youtube ziuy7CWx0ks?fs=1&hl=en_US]

To the classic question of  how a God of love can send anyone to hell one possible answer is that its denizens don’t want to leave it even though they despise it.  And so they build it, fondly elaborating it with hideous ornaments until Hell, should we find ourselves in it, should contain such wonders of malice that we should be thunderstruck. When in the video above, a detective finally breaks Williams and he knows the jig is up, you can almost sense the acceptance of inevitability, the arrival of the long awaited moment. For a moment he hates himself and yet it is an open question whether, if he could lead his life all over again, he would not do exactly the same thing. Heather Mallick of the Star doubted that there was much real regret in his formulaic courtroom mea culpa.

It isn’t the declaration of a murderer who’s sorry, it’s more like the airless press release of a CEO when a mouse is found in a beer bottle. A small business fire needs putting out or people might turn to Heineken for the summer season.

But Williams figured this was what was called for. See? I’m doing it too. I’m talking about appropriateness instead of the real subject which is “Why I’m aroused by little girls and want to torture and kill anyone who wears panties, which is what I did.”

Williams’ speech was bureaucratic and odd in all its aspects. He was describing his crimes in the abstract, in the third person, which is the hallmark of all fakers. They don’t say “I strangled her and I’m sorry.” They use phrases like “have caused them to” and “as a result of,” both of which dotted Williams’ speech.

Maybe his contrition sounds so faked because in the end Williams felt most sorry for himself. Sorry that he’d never get another chance to get his jollies in the one way he likes best, with him in absolute control. What disappoints him is that the candy store is closed for the day. He is not eligible for parole for 25 years. That is the extent of human justice. Maybe there is some sense to the notion that God lets us extend our sentence indefinitely on our own. CS Lewis, who gave a lot thought to the subject of hell wrote:

“There are only two kinds of people in the end:
those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’
And those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done’
All that are in Hell, choose it.”

How's it goin' bro?

Maybe it’s not too late, but then again, maybe the choice has been made.