Serial killer Clifford Olson dies

Canadian serial killer Clifford Olson, who confessed to killing 11 children and youths, died in a Quebec hospital Sept. 30.

Canada's most notorious dangerous offender dead from cancer


  • B.C.'s notorious serial killer was dying from metastasized cancer
  • Arrested in 1981 and told police the locations of 11 bodies in exchange for $100,000
  • Received 11 life sentences in 1982 and first applied for parole in 1997
  • Started collecting Old Age Security at age 65

Serial child killer Clifford Olson, who pleaded guilty to murdering 11 children in 1982, is dead.

Relatives of his victims greeted the news with quiet relief and emotion, finally delivered from having to face the weight of Olson's psychopathy every time the man made news even from prison.

"I don't have to think about it anymore. About him, anyway," said a subdued Raymond King, whose 15-year-old son was killed by Olson.

"He's never going to pop up in our lives again. He's never going to open those wounds again. It's done. It's over. Now it's time for me."

Serge Abergel, the Quebec region spokesman for the Correctional Service of Canada, said Olson died at the Archambault hospital centre, which is part of the prison complex where he had been an inmate.

"He was at the regional reception centre which is a multi-level federal penitentiary in Saint-Annes-de-Plaines, Quebec and at the time of his death he was at the institution's health care centre which is attached to the jail itself," Abergel told The Canadian Press.

He said any burial service will be kept low key.

"In a case that is notorious like this, there will come a point where the funeral will happen and it's likely that it will be at an undisclosed location and so the public will not be made aware of the whereabouts," Abergel said.

Olson, the 71-year-old whose name has been repeatedly invoked over the decades by those who supported bringing back the death penalty in Canada, died of cancer.

"These are tears of happiness, because justice is done for the children," said an emotional Trudy Court, the sister of one of Olson's victims.

"Our justice system couldn't do it for them. But life has. He's gone now."

Olson's victims were all between nine and 18 years old. 

Declared a dangerous offender, Olson had often described himself as the "beast of British Columbia." He spent 30 years behind bars, but his incarceration did not keep him out of the headlines.

Clifford Olson leaves Chilliwack Provincial Court on August 8, 1981. (Nick Didlick/Canadian Press)

In fact, his notoriety was such that it often led to changes in Canadian law.  Among the changes: restrictions on early parole for murderers and the eventual elimination of the "faint hope clause," the denial of federal pensions to certain prisoners and increased time between parole hearings for multiple murderers. 

His case also spurred on the victims' rights movement and the creation of a police tracking system for violent crimes. 

Cash for bodies 

It was Christmas Day 1980 when the body of 12-year-old Christine Weller was found, strangled and stabbed. The young girl from Surrey, B.C., was the first of his 11 known victims. 

He reportedly lured them with the promise of a job, and then plied them with alcohol and drugs. He tortured them, sexually assaulted them, killed them and then dumped their bodies. 

Olson became a suspect early in the police investigation. He had been a juvenile delinquent and had spent all but five years of his adult life in prison.  His fellow inmates had tried to kill him. 

However, police later claimed they didn't have enough resources to keep tabs on him as he drove thousands of kilometres around B.C. in rental cars. 

Olson's arrest on Aug. 12, 1981 ended the killing spree. Before he pleaded guilty in 1982, Olson struck a notorious cash-for-bodies deal with police.

His wife received $100,000 after Olson led investigators to the bodies. The deal angered many of the victims' families, who felt Olson had profited from their tragic losses. 

Torments victims' families 

Olson was sentenced to life in prison, but being behind bars didn't stop his ability to terrorize.  That's how Gary Rosenfeldt, who died in 2009, once described what happened to his family. 

Daryn Johnsrude was murdered by Clifford Olson in 1981, one of 11 young victims. (Canadian Press )
His 16-year-old stepson, Daryn Johnsrude, was Olson's third victim. In the spring of 1981, Johnsrude ran an errand for his mother, Sharon Rosenfeldt, to the corner store near his home in Coquitlam, B.C. His body was found a month later; the teen had been sexually assaulted. 

After his stepson's death, the Rosenfeldts launched a group called Victims of Violence. A few years later, in 1986, Olson wrote a letter to Rosenfeldt describing Johnsrude's ordeal. 

"He described in detail exactly what he did to our son," Rosenfeldt said.  Olson also wrote book manuscripts, and was allowed to make a series of videotapes in prison. In them, he described what he did to his victims, including driving nails into their heads and asking them how it felt. 

For the Rosenfeldts there were also problems with the justice system.

"We feel strongly that had justice worked in the manner it was supposed to work, 30 years ago, Clifford Olson would have been in jail serving time for other sex crimes that went unattended, that were stayed by the courts, and I feel that the justice system helped create the monster that he became and my son paid for this with his life," Sharon told the CBC's Mark Kelley in 2011. 

In 1989, while testifying at an inquest into an inmate suicide at Kingston Penitentiary, Olson said God had forgiven him for his murders.

"I've asked for forgiveness, I've been forgiven and that's the end of it." 

Olson and the 'faint-hope clause' 

In August 1997, after serving 15 years of his sentence, Olson appeared in a Surrey courtroom asking for an early parole hearing.

Sharon Rosenfeldt holds a photo of her late son Daryn Johnsrude at her home in Carleton Place, Ont., in September 2011. For Rosenfeldt, Daryn's murder by Olson is 'an open wound that goes on and on.' (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)
For four days, the court heard victim impact statements. The likelihood of Olson's release was slim — it took the jury 15 minutes to reject Olson's request for parole. 

However, in those days, Olson had a right to apply for an early parole hearing under Sec. 745 of the Criminal Code, the so-called faint-hope clause. 

The clause dates back to 1976, when Parliament scrapped the death penalty and added a parole hearing for inmates that had served 15 years of a sentence. 

The clause was seen as an incentive for good behaviour, affording prisoners a parole hearing before they served 25 years, when a parole hearing is mandatory. The controversy surrounding Olson's request, and the anguish it caused for his victims families, sparked a campaign to have the clause erased.

Days after his 1997 parole hearing, the families and others opposed to the clause staged a demonstration in B.C.  The law was eventually amended to exclude serial killers like Olson.

And for other killers, such hearings were no longer automatic. A judge would screen the applications, and juries would have to be unanimous before a murderer's parole ineligibility period could be shortened. 

In April 2006, the newly elected Harper government promised to get rid of the faint-hope clause and it was finally repealed in 2011, when the Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act received royal assent. Olson was the last multiple murderer in Canada to be allowed to ask for early parole.

First mandatory parole hearing, 2006 

Convicted killers have the right to apply for a hearing after serving 25 years, so on July 18, 2006, Olson was again in front of a jury asking for parole. Three of the families came to the hearing in Montreal to present victim impact statements.

However, the session was suspended before the jury made its decision. Before the break, Olson said he wasn't applying for parole and the board had no jurisdiction over him.

"I will be staying in my cell," he said. "I won't be coming back to hear your retarded decision." 

During the hearing, Olson made bizarre statements. He told the three-member panel he intended to leave the country because he had reached a deal with the U.S. attorney general in exchange for information related to 9/11. 

Journalist Peter Worthington, who had periodic contact with Olson since about 1989, said the convicted killer could be lucid and introspective about his crimes, then would switch to unrelated topics.

But, he said, Olson was usually in control of the conversation. 

"He knows right from wrong; he just doesn't care," Worthington told CBC News in 2006. "Everything is a kind of learned behaviour. He's a good con man and he manipulates." 

According to National Parole Board member Jacques Letendre, "Olson presents a high risk and a psychopathic risk. He is a sexual sadist and a narcissist. If released, he will kill again." 

As expected, Olson was denied parole. 

Outrage over Olson's pension 

 In 2010 Olson boasted to Worthington that he had been receiving Old Age Security payments since he turned 65, five years earlier. He was also entitled to the Guaranteed Income Supplement.

The news angered the government, which introduced legislation to end pension payments to some federal prisoners. The act became law at the beginning of 2011. 

In November 2010, Olson had another parole hearing and was turned down. Family members of Olson's victims had been complaining that killers like Olson could have a hearing every two years, each time requiring them to relive the original ordeal. 

They had been calling for changes to the law, "so that the families don't have to go through this grief and aggravation every two years," Michael Massing, whose daughter was murdered by Olson, said at the time. 

The federal government agreed and once again had legislation before parliament to change the law. In March, legislation that increases the time between parole hearings for multiple murderers like Olson received royal assent. 

For Sharon Rosenfeldt the changes to the law have "been the emotional healing that we have been able to derive from this nightmare."

However, she then told the CBC's Mark Kelley, "There is no closure. There is a different way of living but there is no closure, it's an open wound that goes on and on." 

With files from The Canadian Press