Monday November 20, 2017

'I have felt joy re-enter back into my life': Why Carys Cragg reached out to her father's killer

When Carys Cragg was 11, her father was brutally murdered in his own home. Her book, Dead Reckoning, follows her search for restorative justice and her experience getting to know her father's killer.

When Carys Cragg was 11, her father was brutally murdered in his own home. Her book, Dead Reckoning, follows her search for restorative justice and her experience getting to know her father's killer. (Arsenal Pulp Press)

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Dr. Geoffrey Cragg was stabbed three times on the night of Sept. 16, 1992.

He'd awakened to the sound of an in intruder in his Calgary home. A struggle ensued, and later that morning, Dr. Cragg was dead.

'He (Geoffrey Cragg) was full of energy, full of life.' - Carys Cragg

It happened so quickly, and it made so little sense. In the weeks and months after his death, Cragg's wife Marion and their four children struggled with the enormity of their loss.

Sheldon Klatt, 22, was arrested and found guilty of second-degree murder.

But as the years passed, the eldest of Dr. Cragg's children could never shake her questions about what had really happened that night. 

Carys Cragg was 11 when it happened.

Geoffrey Cragg and Carys Cragg on the Salish Sea, Autumn 1983

Geoffrey Cragg and Carys Cragg on the Salish Sea, Autumn 1983 (Cragg family)

"My dad was a very cool guy," Cragg told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti. 

"He was full of energy, full of life … he always made you feel like you were the most important person in the room."

Her father was a very accomplished, and very busy physician, said Cragg, but he'd always made time for his children.

"I have vivid memories of my dad and I going around town … just having these lovely little moments … that's what I remember."

'I felt absolutely lost in this vast void of emptiness'

But it all changed that fateful September night.

"Everything changes. Everyone around you changes. The whole house feels different. I felt absolutely lost in this vast void of emptiness."

Two decades later, Carys Cragg decided she wanted to contact the man who'd killed her father.

The idea came to her while she was sitting in a coffee shop with a new friend from work.

"She was the first friend to ask me … 'Do you know anything about the offender?' It was just like this overwhelming 'Boom!'"

"He changed from this ghost-life experience my whole life and all of sudden he became this person." - Carys Cragg on connecting with her father's murderer

Cragg said she had an insatiable appetite for information about her father's murderer. He was never discussed in her family as she was growing up.

"He almost became this ghost … but I didn't know much about him. I wasn't even mad at him, per se, because I didn't have anything to hold onto," saidCragg.

"I was a very mad young girl, but I was more mad at the world about how unfair this was, but I didn't really have anything to locate that [anger] onto."

Seeking restorative justice

There were five years left on Klatt's sentence at that time, so Cragg sought out a restorative justice process as a way to connect with him in prison. At first, she wrote him a letter.

"I know that that there are multiple official options for what it is called when 'victims' speak with their 'offenders'. I don't really care what anyone calls this process — dialogue, or whatever," she wrote.

"I'm more so interested in just acknowledging that our life paths have crossed in an extremely significant way and, at least for me, to go on in life without acknowledging that connection would be living a less than full life."

"[Restorative justice] offered me something that was missing, and I didn't know it was missing until I did it." - Carys Cragg

Klatt wrote her back. He said he was apprehensive.

Cragg, in a strange twist, had to work hard to convince him she wasn't seeking vengeance for her father's death.

Establishing trust

"We had to spend a little bit of time establishing that trust, where trust is very murky thing," Cragg said.

"The thing I remember most is he became a person. There were words attached to him, there were feelings. He changed from this ghost-life experience my whole life and all of sudden he became this person. And I appreciated that immensely."

They wrote letters back and forth for two years. She learned that he had a horrific childhood, but she could never accept it as an excuse for what he did. Eventually, she went to meet him in prison, on the 20th anniversary of her father's death.

"I realized I was living with this general unease in my life, and by the end of contacting him, that unease, that lack of trust, that lack of safety, that went away and I've never felt that unease again," Cragg toldTremonti.

"It was absurdly odd day, and one of the most meaningful days in my life."

'[Restorative justice] offered me something that was missing, and I didn't know it was missing until I did it'  - Carys Cragg

But she still had questions that went unanswered. It was infuriating at first, but Cragg learned to set her frustration aside. She couldn't make Klatt answer. If he never did, she would have to live with that. It never gave her closure, but the process was still worthwhile.

"[Restorative justice] offered me something that was missing, and I didn't know it was missing until I did it, and that was so lovely."

Klatt is now out of jail and granted full parole earlier this year.

Cragg said she feels very satisfied that he has been able to rebuild his life into something worthwhile.

"I'm very glad that he's doing well and is on a good trajectory, but I'm glad of that for me. Because he's on this good trajectory, that means I get questions answered, I get satisfaction. If he wasn't on that trajectory, I would feel more unease."

Carys Cragg

Carys Cragg ( David P. Ball)

She said she hopes he goes on to have a family, if only so he can understand what it was that he took away from her when he murdered her father.

"Since meeting him and writing to him, I have felt joy re-enter back into my life. Of course it's not the same as the joy my father carried around with him, but it's my new type of joy … I'm so excited for what the rest of my life will bring. I didn't want to be in survival [mode] any more."

Cragg had her first child — a baby boy — earlier this year. She named him John Geoffrey, after he step-father John and her father Geoffrey.  

She wrote about her experience getting to know her father's killer in her new book, Dead Reckoning: How I Came to Meet the Man who Murdered my Father.  

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this web post. 

This segment was produced by The Current's Ines Colabrese.