Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Clifford Olson

Clifford Olson Jr.

Clifford Robert Olson Jr. made it into the newspapers the day he was born, January 1st, 1940. He was one of the celebrated New Years babies at St. Pauls Hospital, Vancouver, B.C. Born at 10:10 p.m. to Clifford and Leona Olson, they missed out on the big New Year baby prizes, a silver spoon and a case of canned milk, receiving instead the consolation prizes, a baby book and a dainty gift from Cunningham Drug Store.

An ordinary couple, Leona grew up in the Prairies before moving to Vancouver, getting work at a local fish cannery while Clifford Sr. delivered milk in one of the last of the areas horse-drawn wagons. They lived in a small house near the Pacific National Exhibition grounds on the East Side when Clifford was born.

The Olson family moved to Edmonton, Alberta, returning to the West Coast after the war when Clifford Jr. was five years old. Olson Sr. settled the family in a modest one-story house on Gilmore Crescent in the sprouting suburb of Richmond in an 80-home community built by the government for its servicemen after World War II. Little Clifford started school at Bridgeport Elementary.

Early on, Olson earned a reputation as a show-off. When I taught him, declared a former teacher, he deliberately misbehaved to be the center of attention. Sometimes it was almost as if he wanted to be caught. He was also skipping classes by the time he was 10 years old and by age 15 had failed his grade several times. He was jailed for the first time just after finishing Grade 8.

It was hard for anyone to get a word in edgewise when Olson was around. His compulsive talking was just one of the ways in which he controlled people. Forever the smart-alec, a loner, and a bully at heart, he never did have any close friends. Always in trouble, it was a lark for him to sell out-of-date lottery tickets door to door, steal milk money left on porches, and torment the local dogs and cats. It was rumored that he had smothered two local pet rabbits.

In 1956, he left Cambie Junior High School to work at the Landsdown Racetrack and by age 17, Olsons criminal career went into high gear. Over the next 24 years, he chalked up 83 convictions: obstructing justice; possession of stolen property; possession of firearms; forgery; false pretenses; fraud; parole violation; impaired driving; theft; break, enter and theft; armed robbery; escape from lawful custody.

Mugshot of Clifford Olson as a young criminal
Mugshot of Clifford
Olson as a young

He was sentenced to the New Haven Borstal Correctional Center in Burnaby in July, 1957, for B&E and theft. He escaped just long enough to go back to Richmond and steal a power boat, get caught, and be sent to Haney Correctional Centre. In fact, while continually involved in burglary, fraud, and theft during his youth and into his adulthood, he managed to stay out of prison only a few months at a stretch.

By the time Olson was 41 years old, he had spent only four years of his adult life as a free man. A petty but chronic offender, prison became a revolving door for him. The Lower Mainland Regional Correctional Institute in Burnaby, known locally as Oakalla, was just one of the many prisons in which Olson spent a lot of time.

He escaped seven times between 1957 and 1968. When granted parole in 1959 and 1972, it would be continually revoked due to Olsons incessant criminal conduct.

Olson was stabbed seven times by a gang of prisoners while in Prince Albert Penitentiary for informing on two convicts planning to smuggle drugs, and managed to persuade the Saskatchewan Criminal Compensation Board to award him $3,500 because of his unusual degree of moral and physical courage.

Olsons siblings, two younger brothers and a sister, grew up to be law biding, middle-class citizens, but Clifford was always in some type of trouble with the law. No one could explain why Olson was the way he was, explains Ian Mulgrew in Final Payoff. Like many psychopaths, there was virtually no traumatic event in his childhood that could be identified as the trigger of his homicidal rage. His parents had simply become inured to the regular visits from police officers, the shame of the newspaper reports and the continued disruptions their sons behavior caused in their lives. They tried to help him out when they could, but they had long since given up hope of rehabilitating him. They aimed only to limit the damage he did to their lives.



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