Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Clifford Olson

A Momentous Day

August 6, 1981

The 6th was a momentous day, Northorp declared. It was the beginning of the events that have probably taken Olson off the streets of Canada for the rest of his life. It was also the beginning of several days of methodical police work. The surveillance team went into high gear.

August 7 to 11, 1981

Solving a murder usually boils down to a lucky break. Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, was arrested by two vice cops concerned about license plates. He was driving a car with stolen plates, was arrested, and later confessed to 13 murders this after some 250 detectives had been deployed and almost $8 million dollars had been spent on the investigation. There was also evidence that Sutcliffe had been questioned nine times by the English police and was even arrested once with his hammer, his favorite weapon, but somehow happened to escape detection.

The extensive national coverage of the missing children was likened by some members of the media to the Yorkshire Ripper case in Great Britain and the Atlanta child killings. U.S. Human Resources Minister Grace McCarthy claimed: We have our own little Atlanta going on.

I feel the police, in total, did a tremendous job, Northrop concluded. All you have to do is compare the length of time it took the police in other jurisdictions to solve their serial killings. Twenty-nine blacks, twenty-seven male and two female, ranging in age from seven to twenty-eight years, were murdered in Atlanta, Georgia, from July 1979 until May 1981. In 1981 only two of the cases were close to being cleared when Wayne Williams was indicted for the two latest murders, both of adults.

Also in both jurisdictions all of the victims bodies had been found. Not so in the Olson case, eliminating the chance of securing leads or even knowing if one person was responsible. The fact that known and suspected victims were both male and female, said Northorp, was in itself most unusual and further complicated matters, ignoring the fact that the Atlanta child murders also involved victims of both sexes and a wide range of ages, including young adults.

We didnt interview Olson until his arrest on the 12th of August, said Maile, because we didnt have anything.

August 12, 1981

I had no idea this would be the day when the big break would come, declared Northorp, nor did Olson have any idea this would be his last day as a free man. The decision was made to arrest Olson on Vancouver Island, then commence intensive interrogation.

August 18, 1981

Olson was charged with the first-degree murder of Judy Kozma, which ultimately resulted in a full confession.

August 21, 1981

Supt. Bruce Northorp had been heading the task force for three weeks with no real guidelines to follow. He had to assemble some 150 officers who were at that time working the case, digest all the information accumulated before he took the assignment, plan strategy, deal with the media, and a myriad of other details. He was shocked at the turn of events. At 8:35 a.m. I got a real jolt, said Northorp. I learned for the first time of the $100,000 deal put forward by Olson.

The Cash-for-bodies Deal

Ill give you eleven bodies for $100,000. The first one will be a freebie, Olson offered the police.

 I felt the intense pressure over the ensuing hours, said Northorp. We were so close [to breaking the case]. But could Olson really be so stupid as to enter into an agreement that would likely result in his spending the balance of his days in prison? Still, there was no concrete evidence that the missing children and the murders were related.

The bodies of Weller, Johnsrude, King, and Kozma had been recovered. Olson proposed a schedule to recover the missing bodies of the dead children, one at a time, in a specific order and then money would be placed in an account:

1.                  Chartrand at Whistler

2.                  Daignault at Surrey

3.                  Carson at Chilliwack

4.                  Four locations where evidence would be found

5.                  Court at Agassiz

6.                  Wolfsteiner at Chilliwack

7.                  Partington at Richmond

8.                  German girl at an unspecified location Youll get statements with the bodies, said Olson. Ill give you all the evidence, the things only the killer would know.

 As Olson led police to further bodies, Northop said in his co-authored book Where Shadows Linger, I was convinced Olsons admission to two more murders was merely a ploy, bearing in mind his many escapes from custody, tight security was laid on. Olson was to be taken in a car with three unarmed police officers, with one handcuffed to him. The car was to be escorted by two other cars, with two officers in each, armed with revolvers, rifles, and shotguns. District Two was alerted that Olson might be taken their way, and I arranged for the use of a police aircraft. If escape was on his mind, he would not succeed.

In the year 2000, in a Vancouver Sun article called Ex-Mounties Deny Olson Case was Botched, two retired RCMP officers, Fred Maile and Ed Drozda, among other disclaimers, said there is no truth to allegations in Where Shadows Linger: The Untold Story of the RCMPs Olson Murders Investigation, that flaws in the investigation may have allowed Olson to claim seven more victims before he was finally caught. Drozda said, Hindsight plays such a large part. It is so wonderful with all the information before you to say, `Oh wow, look at this. At the time you are putting together a puzzle and these pieces somewhere along the way have to fit. Its not only surfacing someone who is a suspect but also in putting the evidence together to take it to court and get a conviction.

 Mailes boss, Staff Sergeant Arnie Nylund, commented in Where Shadows Linger, Fred seemed to know what he was doing, and I had never seen anything to indicate otherwise. It is easy to view these things in hindsight and draw conclusions. We had other suspects that looked better than Olson. Dont forget, it was not apparent a serial killer was on the loose. Up until then the guys were busy working on a number of other homicides not related to these cases at all. After Olson was in jail we had all kinds of second-guessers. We did the best we could with what we had. I have nothing but respect for the guys and how they did it. It was terrible, just terrible for those members who accompanied Olson when they were recovering those bodies. It was so bad I had to send one man home. He just couldnt take it anymore.

Its not an investigation you like to talk about too much because of the nature of what he was doing. I mean he was killing children, Maile told the Vancouver Sun. To me, if there was ever an image of the devil, it was Clifford Olson.

The Deal Exposed

The secret deal had been cut in 1981, but was exposed to the media a year later.

Olson Was Paid to Locate Bodies was just one of the bold front-page headlines on January 14, 1982 in the Vancouver Sun. On January 15th the Sun headline read: Olson Deal Greeted by Disgust. The police had not disclosed the cash deal for fear of prejudicing Olsons right to a fair trial. At some point the Attorney General of British Columbia, the federal Solicitor General, the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner of the RCMP in Ottawa, as well as the Prime Minister of Canada would be drawn into the controversy.

Many thought it repugnant that Olson was profiting from his crimes. I found it unthinkable he should be paid to provide evidence, said Supt. Bruce Northorp, the head of the task force. The proposition to pay Olsons wife was simply splitting hairs. She was not separated from him, and Olson stood to gain even if monies were paid to his wife. The situation may have been different if she were separated and were supplying information as to past criminal activity. That was not the case.

Northorp had to admit though that he felt a tremendous sense of relief that the killings were solved and no more children would die. When asked what evidence had been found, Northorp replied, I wont go into detail. Essentially, they were items, which could be established as belonging to each of the four victims, whose bodies had been found without Olsons assistance, thus establishing he was the killer. Only the killer would have knowledge of where these articles had been hidden.

The Attorney General of British Columbia, Allan Williams, also wondered how such an appalling deal had been made. Yet the good news was, in exchange for $100,000, the Attorney General could guarantee a first-degree murder conviction, ease the anxiety of the parents of the missing children, subdue the terror in British Columbia, and end an expensive police investigation. There was no hard evidence and Olson, an experienced criminal, was unlikely to talk without it. The day before Clifford Olson was charged with the death of Judy Kozma, he had a two-hour visit with his wife Joan and their infant son. I could not stop crying during those two hours, wrote Olson in a letter February 5th, 1982, to Genevieve Westcott, a CBC television reporter in Vancouver, as to why he pleaded guilty.

I told my wife that I was responsible for the deaths of the children and that I could not live with myself nor have any peace of mind until I confess to what I had done and give back the bodies to their families for a proper Christian burial.

My wife told me that if I told police (R.C.M.P.) what I did, they would lock me up in jail for the rest of my life and I would in all probability be killed in jail. She said what would she tell our son when he grew up and everyone was teasing him at school for what his father had done. I told her it will be up to me to tell my son what has happened. I knew in my heart that I must give up my wife and son for the rest of my life. . My son will have to [sic] father to call Daddy and he will grow up knowing his father for the sins he has done. And my wife will always bear my mistake for the rest of her life. She told me that I must do what is right and that she will always love me and that someday we would be n [sic] heaven together praising the Lord together.

Olson may have been trying to bolster his own image because he also was heard to say: If I gave a shit about the parents I wouldnt have killed the kid.


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