BY SUSAN LAZARUK, THE PROVINCE SEPTEMBER 30, 2011 4:21 PM
Clifford Olson, pictured here in custody in August 1981, tortured and killed eight boys and three girls between the ages of nine and 18. In 1982 he pleaded guilty to 11 first-degree murder charges and worked out a deal with prosecutors to reveal the location of the bodies in exchange for $10,000 each.
Photograph by: Rick Loughran file, PNG
Clifford Olson, one of Canada’s most notorious serial killers, has died of cancer in a prison hospital in Quebec. He was 71.
The murderer had been in jail since 1982, when he admitted to killing 11 children during a nine month period in 1980-81 after offering them jobs and plying them with drugs and alcohol and physically and sexually assaulting them.
His name triggers revulsion still like few can, not only for the killings but also for his legal applications from behind bars, which ironically had the positive impact of making it tougher for criminals like him to get parole from or pensions in prison and other changes.
Olson, who at his 1982 trial reversed his not guilty plea three days into the trial for the first killing, also admitted he’d killed the others and offered to sell RCMP the information about where the bodies were for $10,000 each.
The $100,000, which went to his ex-wife and son, Clifford Olson III, set off a controversy in which police were accused of accepting “blood money” and the anger lingered for years.
But, as pointed out in a 1993 Saturday Night magazine article, at the time police only knew of four of the murders and hadn’t drawn any connection between them and there was little evidence against Olson.
Seven of the 11 children were listed only as missing and six were presumed to be runaways from broken homes. The concept of a “serial killer” wasn’t well known in the 1980s and there was no realization that someone was stalking and killing young people.
“I’m absolutely convinced it was the best investment the Mounties ever made,” said the writer, Peter Worthington, who in the 1980s had publicly opposed the RCMP’s deal.
The horror over the killings sparked the concept of victims’ rights, now an important part of court proceedings in Canada and elsewhere.
Olson received 11 concurrent life sentences, with the judge recommending he never be granted parole.
But it didn’t stop him from trying.
Olson applied for parole 15 years later under the “faint hope” clause, written into the Criminal Code in 1976 when the death penalty was banned to mitigate the harshness of a life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years. His application was dismissed in minutes.
The so-called “Olson clause” was this year amended to exclude serial killers after victims’ families and others protested. Killers of more than one person are no longer able to ask for early parole and the chance of an early parole hearing is no longer automatic for even one-time murderers.
Olson, always the unrepentant convict who was well-versed in prisoners’ rights and issued several challenges from behind bars, including unsuccessfully protesting being confined to a small concrete exercise yard as “cruel and unusual punishment,” also bid in 2006 for parole after serving 25 years but failed.
Olson was entitled to re-apply every two years, and each time he resurfaced in the news, it was a fresh reopening of the wounds of his victims’ families, some of whom prepared and read victim impact statements.
The outcry over his repeated attempts — he failed at a third bid last year — led to Ottawa increasing the time between parole hearings for multiple murderers.
Olson, who was born on Jan. 1, 1940, insisted he had a normal, happy childhood with his soldier father who married his mother when he returned from war when Clifford was three.
But Worthington’s article said, “He says he remembers being (sodomized) by an ‘uncle’ when he was four ‘but it was no big deal, the sort of thing all kids go through.’”
Olson, also when just four, filled empty beer bottles with water before recapping them and selling them to family for $1, a huge sum at the time. That, and his later practice of stealing flowers and fruit from neighbours’ yards in Richmond and selling them back to them, earned him his family’s approval.
Worthington wrote that Olson’s mother’s creed was, as he recalls her telling him, “If you do something, don’t get caught.”
He later stole money from his father’s change jar when Clifford Sr. worked as a milkman, graduating to stealing it from the customers and then to crawling through the openings for the milk deliveries to rob houses, according to the magazine.
Olson also told Worthington he shot at Air Canada planes landing at Vancouver’s airport with a .22 rifle, which he considered “just kid stuff.”
A teenage bully, Olson faced his first charge, a break and enter, at 17, when he was listed as having a “dull normal IQ.”
But he later earned marks of ‘80s and ‘90s at the university correspondence courses he took in prison, where he wasn’t considered dangerous but a highly manipulative liar, Worthington wrote.
“While it was noted that Olson had grandiose ideas about himself, he was basically perceived as likable, friendly, nonviolent, and harmless,” he wrote about Olson the convict.
Olson's victims are listed here in the order in which they disappeared:
- Christine Ann Weller, 12, was reported missing Nov. 19, 1980. She was last seen riding a 10-speed bike near her home in Surrey. A man walking his dog in Richmond on Christmas Day, 1980 spotted Weller's body.
- Colleen Daignault, 13, was last seen April 16, 1981, when she left a friend's house in North Delta. She planned to take the bus to her grandmother's house in Surrey. She was never seen alive again.
- Daryn Todd Johnsrude, 16, of Saskatoon was visiting relatives in Coquitlam when he was last seen April 21 heading toward a Coquitlam shopping mall.
- Sandra Lyn Wolfsteiner, 16, of Langley was last seen May 19, hitchhiking on the Fraser Highway. She was observed getting into a grey, two-door vehicle.
- Ada Anita Court, 13, of Burnaby, planned to catch a bus home June 21 after leaving her brother's Coquitlam home, where she had been babysitting her two nieces.
- Simon Partington, 9, went missing July 2 while riding his bicycle to a friend's house near his Surrey home.
- Judy Kozma, 14, of New Westminster, left her home to visit a friend in Richmond on July 9. She was last seen waiting at a bus stop.
- Ray King Jr., 15, told his father July 23 he was going to the Canada Manpower youth employment centre to see if there were any jobs. His bike was found chained to a post behind the Manpower centre in New Westminster, not far from his home.
- Louise Marie Chartrand, 17, left her sister Mary's home in Maple Ridge at 6:30 p.m. on July 20 to meet friends for coffee before starting her night shift job as a waitress at Bino's restaurant. She hitchhiked part of the way and stopped in Haney to buy cigarettes. She was never seen again.
- Sigrun Charlotte Ellsabeth Arnd, 18, was visiting Canada as part of a tour group from Germany. She went missing in July.
- Teri Lyn Carson, 15, left her Surrey home to apply for a job at the Guildford Town Centre. She was last seen Aug. 1 having a beer in a hotel on the King George Highway.
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