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Do you think she suspected?

I just read in the Ottawa Citizen this morning that Mary-Elizabeth Harriman, wife of Colonel Russell Williams (who awaits trial on charges of sex killings, home invasions, sexual assaults and break and enters), has been ‘devastated’ by the charges against her husband.

“As a result of the charges, my previously anticipated future and financial security had become jeopardized,” the affidavit said.

The affidavit is in response to a lawsuit filed jointly against Harriman and Williams by one of his sexual assault victims, who claims that Williams transferred ownership of the house to Harriman on March 26th in order to protect it from legal action.

A couple of things caught my attention here. One is her focus is on her financial security. Frankly, I would think her financial security pales in comparison to what other women lost as the result of her husband’s alleged actions. And that brings me to the second point: she says she lost her security as a result of the charges.Since the charges were a direct result of the Colonel’s alleged actions, I would say she lost her security as a result of her husband’s actions, not as a result of the charges. Maybe it’s a minor detail, but the implication is that it’s the system’s fault rather than her husband’s fault.

This brings me to another question. I can’t help but wonder how much Ms. Harriman knew about her husband’s horrific hobby. Is it possible that she lived with him all those years and had no inkling that he was breaking into houses, stealing women’s underwear, raping women and occasionally murdering them? Did she never stumble across his massive collection of stolen underwear and baby blankets and other ‘trophies’? Did she never see blood on his clothing or scratches on his body and wonder where they came from? Did she never wonder where he went during his middle-of-the-night excursions?

Do you think it’s possible she turned a blind eye to her own suspicions in order to protect her “financial security” from the truth?

27 comments to Do you think she suspected?

  • I’ve often thought that since this came out: how could she NOT know? Or at least have a pretty strong hunch? In conversation with others, it has come up that he probably had her under pretty strict control, and that maybe she was being abused as well… and so perhaps learned not to ask questions? Who knows… I just don’t think there is any way that she could have been completely oblivious to it. I just don’t see how that could possibly be.

  • That’s exactly what I wondered when I read the article.

  • EK

    I always wonder how you can really not know something so major about your partner… is it a lying to yourself thing? You want so much to be happy and a “normal” couple you just tune it out, knowingly or unknowlingly?

    In this case, her statement about “charges” was probably made because he’s only been charged, not convicted. Making a sworn statement that her husband’s actions have ruined her financial future would not be OK, since we don’t know “for sure” if he did it or not.

    This is my assumption, extrapolating from what I learned in a class on journalism and the courts and what you can and cannot report.

  • Tian

    As a military brat, who knows several military men, and has been in an abusive relationship, I can guess somewhat as to the situation. Many military men, particularly those further up the ranks, are very used to wielding power and not being questioned. It’s not just their job, it’s who they are. For many, it crosses the line into being abusive towards their partner and children. It’s not something that starts out huge. It starts subtly and grows. A woman attracted to the manliness and strength of the military/para-military man likes the way his power makes her feel secure. The postings take the family away from family support; the military women cling together in unfamiliar surroundings. All living similar lives, it becomes the ‘norm’, and is unquestioned. You get beaten down.

    Depending on his duties, he may need space at home to store things related to work that must be kept secret. He may have to work at odd hours. Depending on the postings he has had, he may experience stress that leaves him unable to sleep and he may have developed different coping mechanisms, such as going out for drives in the middle of the night, etc. Or he may just tell her these things exist. How is she to know? Her contact with his workplace/colleagues is controlled by him, and his buddies will always cover for him with the wife.

    Many of these men are the ‘macho’ type who have serial affairs. The wives do not wish to see, so they do not look too closely. Moving every 4 years makes it difficult for the wives to develop careers that would give them the financial independence to leave without a significant change in lifestyle. Usually there are children involved who, again because of postings, would be deprived of seeing their father regularly.

  • I think it’s very difficult to see inside a couple’s relationship.

    Think of the cases in which one partner in a relationship carries on an affair, or hides his or her true sexual orientation from a spouse, or financial malfeasance, or a secret family.

    Add on to that that Col. Williams was (no pun intended) a high-flying officer in the forces and his wife a senior executive at a national organization. Travel would be the rule, rather than the exception, I’d guess. It’s my understanding that they kept two houses and Williams commuted between Trenton and Ottawa.

    It seems to me it wouldn’t be that hard for Williams to confine his criminal activities to times when he was “alone”.

    Finally, let my hypothesize a bit. You are Williams’s wife, and you are confronted with the fact that your husband has been charged with horrific crimes. It quickly would become apparent that his legal bills will be substantial (quite likely in the six-digits). It also becomes apparent that the person you married is a serial rapist and murderer. And then you are served with a claim for two million in damages by one victim.

    Is it not likely that you would think that other victims would make claims as well? If one victim’s suffering is worth $2M, and he has 83 charges against him, does that mean $160M?

    And finally, let’s assume that you now think your married life has been a sham and that you would like nothing better than to see the man you are married to picked apart by buzzards. Do you want to be held jointly liable for his loathsome activities and see your every dollar eaten up paying for his victims’ damages?

    Williams appears to be monstrous. But Harriman has been charged with no crime. Innocent until proven guilty.

  • The statement she made is specifically in the context of her being sued by one of the alleged victims, on the grounds that Williams transferred their house to her exclusive ownership to protect himself and her from a lawsuit exactly like this. So the context for the statement is money, money, money, money.

    In a statement of defence in a civil suit — just like in a statement of claim — you throw everything at the wall and see what sticks when the court sorts everything out. People make all kinds of ridiculous claims when they sue, and that kind of forces defendants to make all kinds of ridiculous assertions and counterclaims in their own defence. So you can’t read much into what kind of a person Harriman is from this document. It’s just a stage in the judicial process.

    Also, the things Williams is charged with go back only to 2007, and the alleged violent attacks were only a few months before his arrest. Definitely still long enough to wonder what Harriman knew or should have known — and it’s possible there were previous activities that haven’t led to charges — but we’re not, at this point, talking about a timeline that extends the whole length of their marriage.

  • Tian

    “…Also, the things Williams is charged with go back only to 2007, and the alleged violent attacks were only a few months before his arrest. Definitely still long enough to wonder what Harriman knew or should have known — and it’s possible there were previous activities that haven’t led to charges — but we’re not, at this point, talking about a timeline that extends the whole length of their marriage…”

    But 2007 to 2009 did not happen in a vacuum, and in the context of their relationship, and what she may, or may not have known, the whole length of their marriage is pertinent.

    Besides, her statement was most likely written, very carefully, by a lawyer.

    This is the perfect example of why couples should always keep their finances separate. Divide the bills equally, but keep separate accounts. Because of his unilateral action, she may now be financially screwed.

  • Meagan said

    “In conversation with others, it has come up that he probably had her under pretty strict control, and that maybe she was being abused as well”

    Yeah and Karla Homolka’s lawyers tried to use this defense too. The evidence told a totally different story, one of actual involvement.

    His wife isn’t crying abuse now, she’s crying loss of financial security. Doesn’t sound like an abused woman to me.

  • Good comments above, especially by Tian and Reevely.
    It is normal for people to try to shift the blame and if it gives his wife some peace of mind, she will definitely blame “the charges” for her problems, rather than what is (obviously, now) her own mistake in choosing her mate. But was it a mistake at the time? Probably not. And was she willfully blind to his activities? Probably. Nothing’s every easy while you’re in the midst of it. Anyway, what good would it do HER to admit that she suspected something? It might help her later, mentally and emotionally, when she is alone and starting her life over again, but all it does now is open her up to liability.

    It’s easy to say that she should distance herself as fast as possible and in every way she can, from her husband. But they have a long history together and it is difficult to extricate oneself.

  • woodsy.nymph

    I am with Bob on this one. Thank you Bob… thank you very much.

  • Mudmama – just because one is involved doesn’t mean there isn’t abuse and control there.

    I’m not saying she did or she didn’t (though I don’t know how she couldn’t have), but let’s say for a moment that she did know what was going on… Perhaps she had it drilled into her that no one would believe her anyway because of his rank, his reputation, etc.? It’s plausible, non?

    Anyway, this woman doesn’t NEED a defense, because she’s not being charged with anything (as of yet, anyway.) We’re not talking about whether or not she’s implicated in actually perpetrating a crime, we’re talking about the possibility that she knew what her husband was up to. And I think it’s totally possible that she did, but was scared (for whatever reason, including loss of financial security or plain old spousal abuse) into keeping quiet.

  • XUP

    No offense to the journalists in the group, but I would hesitate to make any assumptions about anything based solely on a newspaper account. Who knows the context of those few words attributed to Harriman? Newspapers print quotes to fit in with an impression they’re trying to convey. Unless Harriman was actually encouraging Williams’ activities or participating in them (and there has been no suggestion at all of that) then maybe she’s living in a nightmare right now. Given who he was, the nature of his profession, I think it’s absolutely possible that she didn’t know what he was up to. She certainly wouldn’t be the first person to be completely duped by a spouse.

  • woodsy.nymph

    Xup, thank you too. This is great, if I wait long enough someone writes what I am thinking. Saves me so much time.

  • I really disagree with immediately jumping to put the woman into the role of victim here.

    She was NOT some military wife who had no job opportunities and small children moving from base to base without connections to family etc. She was a powerhouse in her own right – associate executive director of the heart and stroke foundation. She was established in her career before meeting up with him. She’s well educated and mobile and established within the community. They maintained two households.

    She doesn’t have the usual list of reasons why abused women stay with their abusers.

    I think this is a valid question.

  • Tian

    And you know this how, mudmama? I’ve seen precious little mention of Ms. Harriman in the press at all. Education and being a ‘career woman’ do not preclude her from being an abused spouse.

    Many women are quick to jump to the conclusion that ‘she must have known’ because they refuse to entertain the possibility that they themselves could be fooled in such a way as well. The truth is, some people are very good at hiding that which they do not want others to know, particularly those with military and para-military training and interests.

  • Education, marrying later, maintaining two households so they can live separately when needed (and they did live separately for periods of time as much because of her career as his), having a very high profile SOCIAL job, yes these things remove her from the poor little isolated base wife you’ve cast her as. Other things that remove her from that role of abused wife with no way out – they didn’t have children, and she has independant means of financing her life. She is not in a profession that allowed him control over her socially – her job REQUIRES schmoozing. She was not trapped.

    There is NO reason to assume that she is abused unless you hold the stereotype that all women are victims waiting to happen. I don’t buy it.

    Don’t you wonder why the police took some of HER items into evidence?

    I’m not suggesting she was involved intimately in his crimes, but I really find it strange that he would put the house in her name only without them having discussed the necessity. I think it is completely valid to wonder if she suspected he was up to something strange.

  • Oh and I have been in an abusive relationship Tian, I know the cycle of abuse well.

  • Tian

    Are you privy to information the rest of us don’t have, or just making assumptions? Had I been in her shoes, as soon as I got wind of anything, my first call would have been to my own lawyer. I would have insisted that the house be put in my name alone so he couldn’t put a mortgage on it to pay for his legal fees, and so I would at least have a roof over my head regardless of the outcome at the end of it all. For all we know, her earnings paid for most of it anyway.

    I am not willing to assume it was an equal-power partnership merely by virtue of her resume, which you clearly are. Nor am I assuming she was abused. The question has been asked if it was likely if she knew, and it was surmised that she must have known. I was describing a scenario that explained how she may not have known.

    I have known too many intelligent, well-educated, career women who are totally stupid when it comes to the men in their lives and how they treat them to be quick to assume she knew, or suspected, or just didn’t want to see.

    I am not prepared to judge her. Clearly you are.

  • Actually Tian I think you’re making more assumptions than I am. I’ve responded to the automatic assumption that MANY people have made that she MUST have been abused too. There is NO evidence to suggest that. You made assumptions about the lives of all military wives and I’ve pointed out that she is far from the stereotype. Some of her belongings have been taken into evidence. She has been ordered not to sell the house he put in her name. She is being sued alongside him.

    Reread my posts here I’ve taken issue with automatically assuming she must be an abused wife. And I’ve said this is a valid question, it’s valid to wonder if she suspected something was going on.

    I really don’t think a woman has to be abused to make excuses for their partner’s “bad” behaviour – whatever form it takes – drinking, drug use, influence peddling, cross-dressing, extra marital affairs, rape and homicide.

    But I will say this, I don’t know *anyone* who has left a relationship over any of these sorts of things (or for different reasons altogether) who didn’t in the very least go a little mad with the *knowing* that SOMETHING was going on, despite continual reassurances to the contrary. They might have been completely off base about what the “something” was, but they were not blindsided when it came out.

  • Carmen

    Well said Tian.

  • I just want to point out that I never made an “automatic assumption” that she was abused. I said that she was “probably” under strict control, which is absolutely not out of the question, and that “MAYBE” she was experiencing abuse as well. It’s not an automatic assumption, it’s a plausible scenario that COULD have happened. The point is that WE DON’T KNOW. There hasn’t been a trial yet, and as such, no “evidence” outside of media reports as to the nature of their relationship

  • I really don’t think a woman has to be abused to make excuses for their partner’s “bad” behaviour – whatever form it takes – drinking, drug use, influence peddling, cross-dressing, extra marital affairs, rape and homicide.

    But I will say this, I don’t know *anyone* who has left a relationship over any of these sorts of things (or for different reasons altogether) who didn’t in the very least go a little mad with the *knowing* that SOMETHING was going on, despite continual reassurances to the contrary. They might have been completely off base about what the “something” was, but they were not blindsided when it came out.

    SO. BANG. ON.

    My ex had affairs, of varying degrees during the course of our relationship. Many, many times my gut told me something was very wrong. I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t know if it was an affair (though once the pattern had been established it was the first thing I thought when things started to feel ‘off’) or if it was his chronic depression rearing it’s ugly head or if it was something far more nefarious. My gut knew, and there was always some shred of evidence, even if just the tiniest. Weird cell phone calls on the bill, secrecy over the computer, whatever.

    When the truth came out in some way (never because he proactively fessed up, btw), the story was yes, I did it, but it’s not about you, it’s me. I am messed up. I love you, I need you, I want to spend the rest of my life with you, you are my soulmate, blahblahblah. So here I am, thinking yeah right, you’re just going to do it again, but on the other hand, I married him for a reason and here he is in my face begging me to believe him. I had small kids and hadn’t worked in many years to boot, so of course I wanted him/us to get help and make things better. So I stayed. He’d go to therapy or tweak his meds or whatever and for awhile I’d be happy and optimistic and not go to the part of my brain that said, this just going to happen again. Then, months or years later, I’d find out about another affair, and the whole cycle would begin again.

    I called this pattern a mindf*ck, and it really was.

    Anyhow, all that to say that my own guess is that she knew that something was really off, but could have really not known *what* the off was about. She might have been thinking affairs or whatever, but as far as anything criminal goes, she really could have not gone there in her mind. It wouldn’t be the first place my mind would go to, unless I found something screamingly blatant like a stash of women’s underwear. I’d be thinking affair or an addiction or something much more pedestrian first.

  • There are so many insightful comments here on both sides of the debate.

    Tian paints an interesting picture of military family culture, and points out how secrets and abuse can flourish in this context.

    Mudmama describes the ways in which Harriman does not fit the profile of an abuse victim, being neither dependent on her husband nor isolated from others. She also challenges the readiness of people to presume victimhood on the part of women.

    The question was, “Did she suspect?” Even Tian says, with respect to affairs, that military wives sometimes don’t look too closely if they don’t want to know. I agree with that. It’s called willful blindness, and I think it sometimes extends beyond affairs to all kinds of things a person might choose not to know, all the way up to and including murder.

    Whether that’s the case with Harriman or not, well, we’re all just speculating.

    Bob and XUP both think it’s possible she didn’t know – other people have been completely duped by their spouses. I agree with this. It’s possible. (By the way, XUP, while writing the post I checked many other papers to see if more of Harriman’s statement was quoted, because it occurred to me that the economic security comment might be taken out of context. But there really wasn’t much more – probably because, as David Reevely points out, her statement was limited by the context of responding to a specific lawsuit.)

    As for Julia’s comments and Bob’s hypothetical musings – good point. If I were in Harriman’s position I would most likely get myself a good lawyer and do whatever she suggested to protect myself, my assets and my reputation from the inevitable repercussions of my husband’s behaviour. But innocent until proven guilty? As Meagan says, she doesn’t need a defense since she hasn’t been charged with anything. She’ll never be proven guilty, but it doesn’t mean she’s entirely innocent either.

    All I’m asking is if she ever suspected what he was up to. Entertaining a suspicion is not a crime. Turning a blind eye to one’s suspicions might be cowardly and immoral, but is probably not illegal.

  • But Meagan, he hasn’t been charged with spousal abuse, and she’s made no efforts to distance herself from him (when would there be a safer time to do so if she were abused?).

    Their relationship isn’t a topic for his trial.

    Her statement to the media regarding the civil case was that the charges against her husband were jeopardizing her financial security. That statement was carefully crafted for the media. And what does that say? If there was ever a time for her to distance herself from him and state she’s also a victim, this would be it, wouldn’t it?

    I think right now a statement about how this affects her financially is a wee bit callous.

  • Mudmama, that is precisely my point. Their relationship is not the topic of the trial, thus to make any comments about the “evidence” of her abuse or non-abuse is not right. We’re postulating! We are questioning whether or not she knew anything. I say, maybe she did. Maybe she didn’t say something for whatever reason. Then again, maybe she didn’t… as I said in my original post: who knows?

    Sure, now WOULD be the perfect time for her to come out and play the victim card; if ANYTHING about this were rational in the least, now would be a good time. But the situation is not rational. And I know that he hasn’t been charged with spousal abuse, I was postulating that PERHAPS that would be something that might deter her from disclosing any knowledge.

    PERHAPS does not mean it 100% for sure absolutely without a doubt happened. That is not at all what I said. It means that maybe, possibly, PERHAPS it was a factor. And just because she doesn’t say it, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

    One need only look to numerous celebrity abuse cases to know that needing to shmooze has no part to play in whether or not someone is abused or controlled. And I think it’s very important to remember that abuse is not just physical – mental and emotional abuse can cause people to act and react in ways that are far outside what might be expected.

  • Tian

    “As a result of the charges, my previously anticipated future and financial security had become jeopardized,” the affidavit said.

    To my understanding, ‘my previously anticipated future’ means the future life we all hope to lead with our chosen loved one, into our ripe, old age. Had she said ‘my hopes and dreams’ I think everyone would have been in a greater uproar.

    And ‘financial security’ means exactly that: they’re married, unless she takes steps to protect herself, she could be on the hook for huge legal bills and a hand-full of civil suits. He may hold all their investments in his name, including RRSP’s, we don’t know.

    And that’s the point. We don’t know. But I am not so quick to assume that she MUST have known or suspected something was going on.

    A slightly odd, tightly wound, highly performing and highly positioned military man under considerable stress by virtue of being one of the youngest to hold the job of CO at Trenton, who gets a little more odd and a little more tightly wound, would not necessarily cause his spouse’s radar to go off, particularly noting that at about the time he really ‘got busy’, they were living apart most of the time.

    I am not ready to tar and feather her.

  • TechWood

    I am not ready to take any position of belief or disbelief on whether she knew something so horrific was going on or was in anyway involved. I suspect that most people charged with such a crime (the colonel, not her) wouldn’t share that kind of information with their loved ones. I suspect Karla H. was an exception.

    What doesn’t seem to be talked about is that it’s an AFFIDAVIT, not a happy-go-lucky press-release. It was brief and to the point.

    I think that anyone faced with their loved one being charged with a plethora of crimes would quickly realize that their future was never going to be the same. High profile positions will likely not be an option if her husband is convicted. Who’s going to want the wife of a mass-murderer doing their schmoozing for them? So I don’t think it’s at all indecent or uncaring of her to state that her future and financial security are jeopardized in an affidavit. I also don’t think the victims should be able to include her in their civil suit. She hasn’t been charged with a crime, therefore she should be allowed to protect her position in their financial holdings by whatever means necessary. I feel equally bad for her as I do the victims families in all of this. I’m sure on a personal level, her life is just as shattered and in turmoil, etc.