Clifford Robert Olson, Jr. haunted the dreams of my parents and the parents of many British Columbia children and teens, I’m sure.
The now-convicted serial killer exacted his reign of terror in a series of vicious murders from November of 1980 to July of 1981. He confessed to murdering two children and nine youths.
Olson’s presence and the lack of any clear pattern changed the way Vancouverites lived. Doors were locked habitually, parents gripped their children firmly during even the most mundane trips to the grocery store, people looked over their shoulders regularly.
And now Olson, now 71 years old, is days away from death.
Sharon Rosenfeldt, whose son Daryn Todd Johnsrude was among the killer’s victims, received a phone call from the commissioner of Correctional Services Canada, Don Head. “He has cancer that has metastasized, which means that … he is expected to die within the next few days,” she told CBC News.
Olson was transferred from a maximum security prison in Quebec to a Laval hospital.
Interestingly, Olson was born into the newspapers as one of the celebrated New Year’s babies. He was born on January 1, 1940 at 10:10 at night. His parents, Clifford and Leona, lived in the Canadian prairies before moving to Vancouver.
Olson was far from a good student and he skipped classes many times. By age 15, he’d failed his classes many times. By grade eight, he was already seeing the inside of a jail cell. From age 17 to 24, Clifford Olson, Jr. racked up some 83 convictions for a variety of offenses ranging from forgery to possession of firearms.
Throughout his youth and early adulthood, Olson was put in prison a number of times. He also escaped frequently.
Then, in November of 1980, 12-year-old Christine Anne Weller went missing. The Surrey, B. C. girl was found on Christmas Day that year. She had been strangled, stabbed and tortured.
In April of 1981, Colleen Marian Daignault, a 13-year-old girl from Surrey, went missing. In September of that year, her skeletal remains were found in a forest. Her sister, Coreen, was called to identify the body just three days shy of what would have been Colleen’s birthday.
Daryn Todd Johnsrude also went missing in April of 1981. He was visiting his mother in Vancouver as a birthday present. The Saskatchewan native’s body was found in May 1981 seven miles east of Mission. According to the coroner, Johnsrude died of repeated hammer blows to the head. At the time, police did not link the murder of Johnsrude to the killings and disappearances of Daignault and Weller.
Clifford Olson, Jr. was married to Joan Hale in May of 1981 at the People’s Full Gospel Church in Surrey. He had already killed three children by the time his own son, Clifford Olson III, was born.
Four days after his wedding to Hale, Olson picked up Langley’s 16-year-old Sandra Wolfsteiner. He convinced her that he could give her a job washing windows for $13 an hour. He murdered in her thte dense brush near Chilliwack Lake Road.
The victims and the stories carry on, each one startling and heart-rending and revolting. In a period of less than nine months, Clifford Olson killed 11 times – at least. Panic afflicted British Columbia’s Lower Mainland like never before and the sweltering summer of 1981 became hell for parents and children across the province. There was no pattern and information was slight. Newspapers produced headlines like “Cunning Killer with Blazing Eyes.”
Now, Olson had been picked up a number of times for a number of charges, including impaired driving. He was linked somewhat to the disappearances and police were watching him and his erratic behaviour. He often changed rental cars and he drove everywhere, once having ventured over 20,000 kilometres (nearly 12,500 miles) in three months in four different rentals.
In August of 1981, Olson was picked up for impaired and dangerous driving after he picked up two young women hitchhiking near Nanaimo. The police searched his rental vehicle and found a green address book with the name of Judy Kozma, a 14-year-old New Westminster victim, in it.
At the time of his arrest, only three bodies had been discovered. By August 25 of 1981, he was charged with the murder of Kozma.
It was then that the provocative “deal” was made. Olson told police that he would tell them where his 11 victims were. The catch? He wanted $100,000. With the bodies of Weller, Johnsrude and Kozma recovered, Olson communicated a list and a timetable of the remaining victims and agreed to give police all the evidence they’d need in exchange for the cash. The money was eventually given to Olson’s wife and son.
Back in 1980s-era British Columbia, the mind of the serial killer was unknown. A psychopath such as Olson was simply unheard of and police made suppositions based on ignorance that led to not linking the crimes originally. Because of an ostensible lack of pattern, the investigation was disorderly from the outset.
And yet here was Olson, mocking the province and the police with the deal. His consequent trial ended after just three days when he changed his plea to guilty. He was sentenced to 11 concurrent life sentences and placed in one of Canada’s super maximum security prisons in Sainte-Anne-des-Plaines, Quebec.
The agony for the families of the victims did not end when Olson was put behind bars.
There was no question that Olson would offend again. He said so himself. As a sexual sadist, psychopath and narcissist, his life revolved around tormenting the innocent.
In August of 1997, after serving just 15 years of his sentences, Olson appeared in a Surrey courtroom and asked the judge and jury for an early parole hearing. Families read impact statements, reliving the gruesomeness of 15 years ago. It took the jury 15 minutes to deny Olson’s request. The request was made under Section 745 of the Canadian Criminal Code: the “faint-hope clause.”
In July of 2006, he again asked for early parole. Three families came to court to once again read impact statements. During the hearing, Olson claimed to have information about 9/11 and stated that the United States had granted him clemency for the inside scoop. He was denied parole. He was again denied parole in November of 2010.
Now, after an eternity of dread that forever altered the province of British Columbia, it appears that Clifford Olson, Jr. will die.
I cannot speak to particulars, but I think it is fair to say that Olson impacted the lives of many British Columbians in intense fashion. His petrifying butchery and tormenting certainly influenced the way I was raised, the way my parents held me tighter as a child in the Lower Mainland, the way they didn’t let me out of their sight in even the most ordinary of locations. His impact on my life is more profound than I will perhaps ever recognize.
For the families of the victims, the wounds never heal. News of Olson’s imminent death produced mixed reactions, to say the least, with some stating that his departure would finally allow their loved ones to be suitably put to rest. Others pronounced his eventual expiry as a form of final justice.
When those who terrorize us meet their end, it’s hard to know how to react. Nothing, not even the cruellest and most unbearable of deaths, can undo the horror Clifford Olson, Jr. visited on British Columbia and Canada.
But the end of a life such as his is, at least in some small way, cause for somewhat restrained celebration. When Olson breathes his last revolting lungful, a dreadful chapter will be finally closed.