Murderer’s Uniform Goes Up in Flames

A number of you have sent me the report in Canada’s “The Globe and Mail” last week about Russell Williams, the former Canadian Air Forces Colonel who was arrested earlier this year for the murder and rape of young women. Last month, he was found guilty of multiple murders and assaults. He is currently serving two life sentences and is unlikely to be ever set free.

Prior to his arrest, Williams had led an upstanding military life. He was highly decorated, had flown dignitaries and Royals around, was a keen fisherman and avid golfer along with his wife. But behind this facade lurked a different Russell Williams. Initially, he started off as a fetishist who broke into young women’s homes to steal their underwear. He kept detailed records of police reports of the crimes he committed and took photographs of himself wearing the trophies.

One of the worst set of images I have ever posted

Normally, I find pictures of grown men dressed in female underwear faintly amusing but these images of Williams that were published in the Montreal Gazette are shocking even for me. With two young daughters, it is difficult to remain impartial when considering Williams in a detached manner.

The reason I am telling you about Williams, is that last week the Canadian Forces burned all his military clothing. According to Canadian Forces spokesperson Cmdr. Hubert Genest, the idea to burn the uniforms had emerged “from the bottom up and been endorsed by the chain of command.”

“We did what we felt was necessary,” said Cmdr. Genest. “It feels right.”

Various commentators called the act unprecedented  but I would contest that it is simply a manifestation of evil contamination as described in SuperSense. This was more than symbolism – these items were infested with evil essence. What’s more, the authorities would not comment about the black market interest in murderbillia – the perverse collecting of items associated with murderers.

With over 346 comments on the article, you can tell that feelings run high for this case. I find it quite disturbing but we need to be aware that individuals can be made up of multiple selves.


Filed under Essentialism, In the News

12 responses to “Murderer’s Uniform Goes Up in Flames

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Murderer’s Uniform Goes Up in Flames | --

  2. One of the worst set of images I have ever posted

    Yes it is, Bruce, yes it is. Thanks a lot. :p

    I’d wear a killer’s cardigan, but uniforms make me uncomfortable. And besides, I already know you don’t actually pay members of your audiences to wear a killer’s cardigan. Funny the press was disturbed by the perceived tactlessness of the stunt; I was disturbed by the false promise of a payout.

  3. Sarah

    This is disturbing and disgusting. What is the purpose of keeping people like this alive?? He’s a murderer and I believe in the death penalty. No need to waste money to keep him in jail, oft him and be done with it. What a nut case.

    • How many reasons do you want?

      Problems with the death penalty: False positives, racial and class biases, not actually effective as a deterrent, not actually cheaper (unless you want to get rid of the appeals process, in which case your false positives and unfair biases go up), difficult to administer in a humane way, and runs strongly against most modern conceptions of ethics.

      Not that I’m disagreeing that it would just fine with me if this guy was no longer with us. The problem is that history has shown us that no matter where you draw the line (both in terms of standard of evidence and in terms of who “deserves it”), you are going to encounter problems. Best to just not do it. (Especially since, as I say, it’s not actually cheaper)

      • Sarah

        I must respectfully disagree with some points. Who cares how “humanely” these murderers die? Did they kill their victims humanely??? Their victims were given a death sentence for DOING NOTHING. Sorry, I say fry ’em, gas ’em, whatever but get rid of them. Cost? I cannot fathom that it costs more to oft them than feed, clothe and pay medical for the rest of their lives. Not to mention the” perks” they get ( college courses, tv, better meals than I can afford) on my dime. There should not be endless, pointless appeals and yes, I agree mistakes can be made. But!! The likes of Charles Manson and his bunch, Mumia, etc should be executed. You cannot fix these folks. If we do keep them, then do as Sheriff Joe does, give them basic and I mean basic necessities – tents to live in, 3 basic meals, no mail and no t.v. I also think that the people who are against the death penalty should be required by law to have the darlings serve their time as house arrest in their home around their families. I mean, hey, if these folks are so against this “in humane” way of dealing with this people, then they should welcome them with open arms and maybe they can give them warm fuzzies and they’ll be good boys. Pahleeze. In Virginia they just executed a woman for murder. Now, here’s the interesting part….. a “do gooder” intervened and suddenly!! discovered she was mildy retarded?? UMMMM, she planned, plotted and hired a hit man to kill her husband and step son and you want us to believe she is mildly retarded?? what a load of crap. If you can think all that out and plan like that you are far from mentally challenged.
        I do think we need to perfect the system,however, I see no need in wasting time with hardened criminals.

  4. Jacob Vohs

    I’m wondering if Williams was torn between being a lumberjack or a soldier as a child. And clearly there was one key element missing from the uniform pyre.

  5. Jesse Bering

    Hi, Bruce.

    When I was doing research for a SciAm piece on transsexuals, I came across the following interesting little tidbit about transvestic fetishists (a very different demographic from the more general MtF trans community) from Ken Zucker’s clinic in Toronto. I didn’t include it in the article but seems apropos regarding this case:

    “Men who admitted becoming aroused by cross-dressing were overwhelmingly heterosexual (87 percent; and zero were exclusively gay). They were also more likely to be sadomasochists, to masturbate more frequently and to be more sexually excitable in general, and to have displayed exhibitionist or voyeuristic behaviours in the past. When the “Voice of Basketball,” legendary sports broadcaster Marv Albert, was arrested in 1997 on charges of forcible rape and sodomy (he also apparently bit a woman violently on her back), one of his accusers added that he was wearing women’s panties and a garter belt when the assault occurred.”

    • brucehood

      That’s fascinating Jesse. I am wondering whether in some individuals, the self-concept is really a conglomerate of competing concepts that are diametrically opposed. It is a theme that crops up time and time again in the media (“judge caught curb-crawling”) or the repressed Col. Frank Fitts in “American Beauty.” I know it all sounds a bit psychoanalytical but it does have a ring of truth. All grist to my mill on the illusion of self.

  6. Arno

    They burned it? Interesting, but not surprising. Reminds me of Rozin’s (Nemeroff & Rozin, 1994) work where in one of his studies he asked participants how they would be able to ‘cleanse’ jumpers belonging to different owners. Burning was the most efficient solution, pretty much irrespective of the ‘nature’ of the contamination (being physical or non-physical), though those who attributed a more spiritual nature also believed that the evil could be reversed by having a good person wear the item.
    So yeah, using Rozin’s ideas, there could be multiple possibilities why they did this:
    1) using a symbolic model, the burning could serve as a sign that the soldier no longer existed to them. They symbolically distanced themselves from him and his deeds. In that context, the burning serves as a way to show the outside world that they distanced themselves from a black sheep.
    2) using an associative model, the burning could serve as a way to ‘forget’ the person and remove any ties of the soldier with the army. Those bits that reminded them of him as a soldier, one of theirs, no longer exists, and thus all ties are broken. In this context, the burning serves as a way to get rid of the memories that haunt the soldiers of his presence amongst them, and is more meant for the soldiers than of the outside world.
    3) using a spiritual model, they exorcised his evil. The uniform, tainted by the evil of its owner, was destroyed to get rid of any physical remainder of his evil.

    I am fairly certain that all three play a part here, and that while 1) is clearly the most obvious, 2) might actually be the strongest motivation here. Soldiers learn to rely on each other and watch each other’s back at all times. This creates a deep emotional tie, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the soldiers felt a need to severe this tie. About 3), I doubt the army will ever admit they tried to exorcise the uniform, even if this does play a possible role.

  7. Interesting observation. The idea that the Canadian Forces were trying to prevent symbolic contamination hadn’t occurred to me.

    My theory is that his uniforms were burned as a means of symbolic annihilation. His action were so repugnant and dishonorable that the Canadian Forces wanted to erase him, if not literally than symbolically. What better way to do so than to destroy his personal affects and the very clothes that tied him to the forces?

  8. I like Arno’s analysis of the burning. Makes sense to me. I also agree with Ahab on the theory of symbolic annihilation.

    I know that this falls into the killer’s cardigan category, but really, what about those people out there who actively seek to purchase items belonging to famous killers? What’s the explanation for that other than pure sensationalism?

  9. Greetings! I know this is somewhat off topic but I was wondering which blog platform are you using for this site? I’m getting tired of WordPress because I’ve had problems with hackers and I’m looking at alternatives for another platform. I would be great if you could point me in the direction of a good platform.

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