The case of former colonel Russell Williams offers insight into the psychology of criminal behavior. Williams's confession interview was released to the public and aired on The Fifth Estate, offering criminologists, sociologists, psychologists, and law enforcement officials unique access to the mind of a criminal. Analysts interviewed for The Fifth Estate documentary note that Williams presents a conundrum for psychologists and criminologists, as his reactions to the police interview did not fit any previously known profile, such as that of a psychopath. Williams exhibits traits that resemble psychopathic behavior, in accordance with individual trait theory. For instance, he meticulously recorded his crimes and kept the photographic and video imagery as souvenir mementos.
Yet Williams also denies his right to an attorney, permits a foot imprint of his incriminating boots, and also states in the interview that he "was hoping" that he would not have raped or killed again had he not been caught. In addition to trait theory, then, routine activity theory can be applied to the curious case of Russell Williams. Unlike trait theory, which focuses almost exclusively on the criminal, routine activity theory takes into account the victim's attractiveness as a target. Williams's selection of women was based on the type of opportunism that routine activity theory would suggest. Moreover, there is an element of opportunism in Williams's methodology, even if his actions were premeditated. Russell Williams will continue to confound criminal psychologists because he combines the unique traits of the psychopath with the calculated opportunism of observing his targets go about their routine activities. This paper will substantiate the claim that both trait theory and routine activity theory are necessary for understanding Russell Williams, based on an analysis of the facts of the case as well as relevant secondary sources.
As Warren, Dietz & Hazelwood (2013) point out, the collection of artifacts, memorabilia, evidence, and souvenirs of a crime is counterintuitive and paradoxical. The behavior therefore represents a unique subset among serial offenders. After all, the evidence is kept close to the offender in, for example, his house. The evidence provides an unequivocal link between the offender and the crimes that have been committed, and in some cases offer bulletproof evidence in the form of DNA and other irrefutable items. The amassing of artifacts is a peculiar psychological trait belonging to a subset of criminals that can be used to uphold trait theory. Trait theory explores the quirks of individual behavior, including quirks like the motivation to keep a database of artifacts from crimes in spite of the risk inherent in doing so. Collection of artifacts is a "trait" that belongs to Williams and others like him.
In addition to taking photographs and videos, Williams also collected his victims' undergarments. He had in his collection dozens and dozens of bras and panties from his victims. Psychologists note that the collection of victims' undergarments represents much more than a perverted sexual fantasy, and are "more than just fetishes," (LaSalle, 2013, p. 1). There are two reasons for the behavior of artifact collection, both of which are offered in accordance with trait theory. One of those reasons is related to the sense of power the offender has over the victim. Just as rape and murder are crimes in which power is exerted and expressed, so too do the preservation of the artifacts indicate that the offender maintains power over his victims well after they are dead. The power inherent in collection also reinforces the sense of self-efficacy and success that the offender feels in getting away with each successive crime. The second reason for artifact collection is that it is an integral element of the ritualized criminal behavior. Reverie and remembrance of the victims reinforces the sense of power, reminding the offender why he commits the crimes and motivating him to do so again.
The extent of Williams'...
Williams, a former Canadian Forces colonel, had been trained his whole life in hierarchies and understood well the importance of power and the role it plays in a white man's life. For a myriad of reasons, such as a sense of losing control or deep cognitive dissonance, Williams at some point realized that he needed to acquire more power by whatever means possible. Having exhausted legitimate sources of power in his life, Williams created an alterego of sorts. He did not begin his crimes until 44 years old (LaSalle, 2013). The interview during e interrogation with police reveals a split in Williams's personality, as he expresses remarkable sympathy with his wife and a strong desire to protect her in spite of his behavior. It is as if Williams sees that there are two parts of himself: the man who is married and moving into his new house with his wife, and the man who needs to rape and murder. Until he is caught, Williams can comfortably segment these two halves of himself. Williams may even have refused a lawyer precisely because the Williams who cooperates with police is not the same Williams who rapes and murders. One of Williams's rape victims has recently claimed that his wife in fact knew of his double life, withheld evidence, and actually benefitted financially from the case (Friscolanti, 2014).
Trait theory may not entirely or fully capture the motivation behind Williams's crimes. For example, one psychiatrist who had been assigned to the case withdrew from it because it made a mark on him and caused him to have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as he claims to the CBC ("Dr. John Bradford won't work Magnotta case because of PTSD," 2014). The psychiatrist, Dr. John Bradford, claims that Williams had lived a normal life and was "not a psychopathic individual" before he turned that fateful age of 44 and started to act out his crimes ("Dr. John Bradford won't work Magnotta case because of PTSD," 2014, p. 1). According to Bradford (2014), something specific happened in Williams's personal life, an actual trigger event, "which has never been in the public domain ("Dr. John Bradford won't work Magnotta case because of PTSD," 2014, p. 1). If this is the case, then perhaps Williams cannot be understood to be a typical psychopath, but as someone who had a psychopathic "break" in the way that psychotics can have a "psychotic" break in spite of their previously never having exhibited psychological problems.
According to LaSalle (2013), the trigger event that has presumably never been released to the public domain could have been Williams's controversial "cocktail of prescription drugs" he had been taking for "an excruciating bout of chronic joint pain" that was threatening to end his career as a pilot (p. 1). If pharmaceuticals are to blame for the psychopathic break, then it is easy to see how trait theory applies to Williams's crimes. Trait theory suggests both that Williams had a preexisting tendency for the crimes he committed, evidenced in his admission of fantasizing about stealing women's underwear when he was in his 20s and 30s (LaSalle, 2013). Similarly, trait theory shows how pharmaceutical drugs can enhance or alter personality traits that make criminal behavior possible -- or in Williams's case -- perhaps inevitable. Trait theory is based not only on elusive psychological and personality traits, but also on biological markers that preclude (or deter) people from committing crimes. Pharmaceuticals are expressly designed to alter brain chemistry. This is why drugs might be implicated in releasing or preventing the release of neurochemicals associated with factors like emotion and inhibition.
Individual trait theory cannot completely account for several elements in Williams's case, including his double life. Therefore, routine activity theory must be combined with individual trait theory when trying to understand the crimes of Russell Williams. Routine activity theory shifts the focus somewhat away from Williams, and takes into account the characteristics and lifestyle of the victims. The theory does not patently ignore the importance of the offender's role in the crime, and in no way engages in blaming the victim. However, routine activity theory shows how opportunism and circumstances are critical components of every crime ("Routine Activity Theory," (2011).
In the case with Williams, several of his more high profile rapes and murders reveal the importance of routine activity theory. The crime for which he was initially arrested, the disappearance of Jessica Lloyd, reveals the importance of routine activity theory. In the interrogation, aired by The Fifth Estate, Williams admits that he first staked out Lloyd's house and spied on her for some time before committing the crime. One evening, he noticed that she was not home and he decided to take advantage of the opportunity to break into the victim's home. He later returned, armed with the familiarity of her home, to claim the victim. Williams also confessed that he similarly planned out the rape and murder of Corporal Marie-France Comeau.
Related to rational choice theory, routine activity theory suggests…
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