Good Riddance

There are times that I wish that I was religious, rare, but times nonetheless. To have a sense that there’s justice in the universe, a reckoning at the end of our day, instead of just the relief of closure. But there being no evidence to support any supernatural claims, closure will have to do.

Clifford Olsen, the stealer of childhood and convicted child murderer, is dying of cancer and reportedly, hasn’t long to live.

Calling himself the “Beast of BC”, Olsen kidnapped, raped, tortured and murdered children and teens. He was convicted for far fewer deaths than he claims to have committed, and he confessed to police in 1981 and brokered a payment deal in exchange for the locations of the bodies. His wife accepted the money, saying that her son was losing his father and deserved the money as compensation.

Unlike the wife and son, Olsen continued to assert himself into the media, seeking every parole opportunity to grab for headlines and to continue to torture the families. In 1989, he was quoted as saying: “There’s nothing I can say to the parents of those children, I’m a Christian and they’re my brothers and sisters … As far as I’m concerned, they’re before God today. I’ve asked for forgiveness, I’ve been forgiven, and that’s the end of it.”

So it’s fitting that this man’s death make the headlines, he is reviled and every day that he draws breath is an affront, a continued assault on the remaining families of his victims. But even if there’s no final justice, at least, there can be closure, he’s going to die and apparently, he’s getting the level of media attention he finally deserves, less notice than a ridiculous nuisance lawsuit:

I was 12 when Olsen was hunting children. My cousins went to school with one of his victims and my future spouse’s family moved into the home vacated by one victim family. Many British Columbians in the lower mainland had brushes with Olsen.

I grew up in New Westminster and I had a paper route in the Sapperton area. It was there that I encountered Olsen and lived to tell. It’s not a story that I share often, it raises complicated emotions for me. But, I think of the Gavin de Becker book – The Gift of Fear, and I realize that these stories need to be told, so others can learn and apply the lessons.

But, it was a pleasant day and I had gone to the hobby store. I left the store with my model car and headed home.

A man, pleasant appearing enough, asked me what I had in the paper bag.

I hesitated to talk to him. I was aware from the newspapers, school, parents that there was a dangerous predator about.

He seemed to know that argument and he reassured me that he was known to my parents, that he had met me and my mom in the ice cream shop, right beside the hobby store, the week before.

Now, I knew that I had not been in the ice cream shop with my Mom the week before, but my younger sister had. So I thought that he had simply confused us.

The inclination of people is to get along, be nice, not treat people as suspect – and predators know this.

Any person who wasn’t seeking to harm me, simply would have continued down the sidewalk – that this man took interest in me alone is a hindsight clue that there was something untoward.

And predators know how to stalk their prey – women and children are especially are vulnerable because of the socializing about being deferential.

So, I explained that it was a model car, that I liked to build models. He asked how many I had done. The exchange was pleasant enough. He kept his physical distance and there were other people on the street. Nothing untoward at all.

I relaxed, even though I knew I was supposed to be returning directly home and not stopping to talk to other people. My parents had been nervous about letting me out alone.

When Olsen saw that I had become comfortable, he stepped closer and asked if I would be interested in a model ship, that he had one and wasn’t any good at building.

This made me uncomfortable, but not enough to break away. I agreed, vaguely, that it would be interesting. I had done a model of the Santa Maria the year before. I asked what kind of ship model it was.

He put his hand on my arm, just above the elbow and said “Let’s go to my place now and I’ll show you.”

The discomfort in my brain turned into alarm bells. When he raised the stakes from a conversation on the street to touching me, all deference and courtesy was gone. The stakes became too high and he had not lulled and assured me sufficiently to go anywhere alone with him.

I said that I was expected home and was in fact, already late and that my dad would be coming to look for me.

He let me go right away. We were on the street and all I had to do was scream.

We parted and I ran home, ashamed, humiliated, embarrassed. I didn’t want to tell anyone, I didn’t want to beleive that I had been that stupid to talk to him, when I knew, I knew that the ice cream shop story wasn’t true.

Olsen was arrested shortly after and I convinced myself that the person in the encounter wasn’t him. I put all thoughts of him out of my mind and I purposely didn’t follow the news stories about him.

When I was in my mid 20’s, Olsen applied for parole under the faint hope clause. I was still adverse to any news about him, but a lawyer that I worked for, did work for the John Howard Society and he had been interviewed for the news program to talk about the faint hope clause – not Olsen. So I watched my boss on the news.

Then, they showed the file footage of Olsen’s arrest.

I went into shock. My body shook, I emotionally numbed and I started crying.

I couldn’t deny it – it had been him on the street. I had come a conversation closeness to being a name on a list of victims.

For a while, I read everything and learned what a nightmare Olsen had been and that he hadn’t been charged with anything because the police don’t like to help criminals set records – it only encourages other criminals to set a new one.

The book, The Gift of Fear, explains that we already have the skill and ability to recognize danger. It’s what our primal brains do best – alert us to dangers – and there’s little downside to reacting fearfully and leaving an area or encounter.

But, we socialize ourselves to not trust ourselves. We’re taught to respect and obey our elders, to be deferential to authority – and authority continues to be assumed to be male.

Doing that, would have resulted in a terrible death.

Paying attention to surroundings and the conversation – to not gloss over inconsistencies and outright wrongness – I had not met Olsen with my mom, since I hadn’t been in the ice cream shop at all.

He just guessed that since I had been in the hobby store that I would likely have been in the ice cream shop too. It’s not that different than cold readings done by those scammers who claim to be able to communicate with the dead. We ignore the misses and fill in the information needed to make their claims seem true enough to go along with – sometimes just with the risk to our wallets, but sometimes, like that time, to our very life.

Knowing how predators operate is the best way to safeguard against them.

If I had been operating with safety as a more mindful thing – rather than going about my day assuming that nothing untoward would happen – I would not have stopped to talk to him at all. I would have said, sorry, I’m expected home and continued on my way.

There were too many people around to be witnesses, there was no danger of being snatched – Olsen’s tactics was to lure kids under their own power – help me find my lost puppy type of tactic.

In any case, I got over the bout of survivor guilt – maybe if I’d screamed and raised a fuss, Olsen would have been caught sooner – but I was 12 and frankly, getting away unscathed, was pretty much my capacity and best case scenario.