Clifford Olson

The Olson case is one of the most significant cases in Canadian legal history. It raised questions not raised before, and helped to shape an ongoing movement regarding the rights of victims.

Where And When?: Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley regions of British Columbia. November 1980 - July 1981.

Who?: Clifford Robert Olson was born in Vancouver on New Year's Day 1940.  Olson has been described as having dull-normal intelligence and the emotional maturity of a child. He was known to police and acquaintances as a habitual criminal from age 10. His crimes included theft, armed robbery, forgery, break and entry, auto theft and escaping custody. Although arrested on sexual offenses several times, Olson somehow managed to keep such crimes absent from his record. Olson's life consisted of prison sentences, starting at age 17. He was in and out of prison regularly for the next 25 years, until his arrest in 1981. He was a notorious inmate in the 1970s, known for manipulating the system, writing countless letters to politicians complaining of conditions and buggering young inmates against their will. Olson was also known as a 'rat' in prison. He would readily point the finger at fellow inmates if it would be beneficial to himself. Because of this, Olson was a marked man. He was regularly attacked by other inmates, and was even stabbed 7 times in 1976 by a fellow prisoner at Prince Albert's Saskatchewan Penitentiary. It was necessary for Olson to be moved from prison to prison in order to keep him from being murdered. During one such move, Olson met B.C. prisoner Gary Marcoux, who was being held for brutally raping and murdering a young girl. He befriended Marcoux and learned the grisly details of his crimes. Then, forever the con man, Olson 'ratted' out Marcoux, showing officials letters and drawings his new 'friend' had produced outlining his sordid deeds. Olson got what he wanted. He was recognized by authorities for his assistance in convicting Marcoux and even received a commendation. Olson gained something else too; a love for child pornography and violence. He spent thousands of hours pursuing his new interests, expounded by hearing of and visualizing Marcoux's crimes. As soon as he was released in 1978, Olson left British Columbia for a stint in the Maritimes. There he became wanted on charges of child pornography, but was never arrested on those counts. The reason was simple; by the time Olson was located, he was back in a B.C. jail. This time for rape. The east coast police dropped their charges, thinking Olson would receive justice on the west coast. They were wrong.

The rape charge stemmed from a New Year's Day incident in 1981. Olson was accused of sexually assaulting a 16 year old girl and arrested on January 8. His lawyer, along with self-proclaimed jailhouse lawyer Olson, fought until Olson was awarded bail on April 8, 1981. Little did they know that they had released a man who killed a 12 year old girl in the fall of the previous year. She was one of many to follow.

The Murders: Christine Weller disappeared on November 17, 1980. She was heading to the run-down motel in Surrey, B.C. that her family called home. Christine Weller was a street wise tomboy who did not have the benefit of expert parenting. She had run away before, and her parents disregarded her absence for over a week before police were contacted. When Christine's ravaged body was finally found on Christmas Day, it was revealed that she had been stabbed 19 times. Police interviewed many persons about the disappearance. Among them was the motel manager from where Christine lived. He was asked about three individuals that lived in the area. he could supply no information about any of them. On the list of names was Clifford Olson. The rape Olson was arrested for, only one week after Christine Weller's body was found made police more suspicious, yet Olson was not questioned about the deceased girl. Olson's second victim was murdered 8 days after his release from prison in April, 1981. Colleen Daignault, 13, was coerced into taking a ride in Olson's car. He used what was to become a common ploy with his victims. The killer offered the girl a job, promising substantial renumeration. He then offered her a drink containing some drug that rendered her unable to move effectively. Olson then drove Colleen to a secluded location, where he raped, then murdered her. Olson's victim was different. Daryn Johnsrude did not fit the pattern that Clifford Olson was establishing. He was 16, around the right age, but was male. Serial killers generally adhere to a routine or M.O.. Clifford Olson proved that he was not picky. No one was safe. This 'change' also made things more confusing for investigators, who didn't yet realize that they were dealing with a serial murderer. They were treating many of the cases as potential runaways. Olson's sixth victim changed all that. Simon Partington was only nine years old when he disappeared on July 2, 1981. This left no doubt as to the question of whether Lower Mainland children were being abducted. The case generated much publicity and brought it to the forefront with numerous media reports. Meanwhile, the police let their man slip through their fingers on two occasions. A week after Daryn Johnsrude's disappearance, Olson was arrested for shoplifting. On July 7, five days after the Partington kidnapping, Olson was charged with an indecent assault on a 16 year old girl, but was released. July was a prolific month for the killer. Olson claimed six victims during that time period. Among them was 14 year old Judy Kozma. Olson went to a new height of perversion and psychotic behaviour when he telephoned the home of the Kozma family landlord, then played a tape of Judy's cries and agony. He also called her closest friends, threatening that they would be next.  By July 28, police were beginning to feel sure that they had their man. An officer set up a meeting with Olson, under the guise that he wanted to use him as an informant. By that time, three bodies had been discovered. Olson agreed to work with police and asked what they would like information on. When he was told that the officer wanted information about the Lower Mainland Missing Children case, Olson seemed eager to help. The officer would later recount that he believed Olson wanted to be caught when he offered to find the locations of nine victims. He also said that he would need to receive money for his efforts. This was the last time the two met. Olson now knew that he was likely under surveillance. Even though this was true; police were in fact watching Olson's movements, he managed to kill again only 2 days later. Louise Chartrand was coincidentally murdered on the same day that the R.C.M.P. finally set up a central task forth to deal with the Case Of The Lower Mainland Missing Children. July had been a busy month for Clifford Olson. He had driven over 10 000 km in rented cars cruising for his victims. Because of this, he had accrued huge debts with rental car companies. In an effort to raise funds to pay them the money owed, Olson broke into at least two homes in early August. Olson was finally arrested on  August 12, 1981, when officers who had been followed his car trailed him to a deserted area. Olson had two young women in the vehicle with him. When he ordered one of them out of the car, and to leave the area, police, who had been listening from bushes nearby had seen enough. They arrested Clifford Olson for drunk driving and took him to jail.

Trial And Outcome: Clifford Olson's case started out with little physical evidence against him. Police had his address book, with Judy Kozma's address written by her own hand. This however, was not enough to convict him of multiple homicides. A break came when a witness, who had spent time socializing with Olson, put him with Judy on the night of her murder. Police charged Olson with her killing. Soon after, bodies began to appear. Olson was charged with ten counts of murder. In court, Olson entered a plea of 'not guilty' to all charges. The judge then broke the bad news to jurors that they would have to be sequestered for the duration of the trial because of the attention it was receiving in the press. Olson, forever the legal disturber, came to court the next day and reversed his pleas. A weepy Clifford Olson plead guilty to 10 charges of first-degree murder. At that time, the prosecutor introduced an eleventh charge, to which Olson also plead guilty. He received life in prison, with a recommendation from the judge that he never be granted parole in his lifetime. This however, was far from the end of the story. For months, there had been reports in the media of a 'cash for corpses' deal with Olson. This was confirmed after the trial. Olson had asked for $100 000 to reveal the locations of his victims' bodies, and to provide details of the crimes that 'only the killer would know'. Police accepted this deal in order to ensure proof that would convict the killer. The public was outraged, and cries of 'blood money' echoed across the world. In actuality, Olson was paid $90 000 for his admissions. The money went to a bank account in cash, presumably to Olson's wife. He said that his motivation was to ensure a future for his wife and son, Clifford Jr. The Olson case was important for inspiring a Canadian law, now in effect in many countries, that states 'criminals should not be able to profit from their crimes'. The thought that Olson may have received more money if only he had claimed more victims is a concept that is abhorrent in a civilized society. Olson's case also brought police methods into question. The fact that 4 victims died after Olson was put under surveillance stills haunts British Columbia law enforcement. Olson continues to be a legal thorn in the side of Canada. He continually writes letters complaining of his treatment in Kingston Pen, where he is currently housed. He has written a book, and for a while had his letters regularly published by newspapers. That 'affair' finally came to an end when editors, and the public tired of the sanctimonious moral and religious beliefs espoused by this sick individual. In all liklihood, if a fellow inmate doesn't get the chance to become a cellblock hero by dispatching Olson, his judge's recommendation to spend his life behind bars will likely become gospel.

Back to "Serial Killers"