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Killer should rest in obscurity

Posted by James Alan Fox, Crime and Punishment  October 12, 2011 11:30 AM

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I am aware of the often difficult determination about which individuals deserve, through good deed or bad, to be featured on the obituary page. Well, it must have been a really slow day (did death really take a holiday?) for the Globe to include a New York Times story about the passing of Canadian serial killer Clifford Olson.

Few Americans would have recognized Olson’s name or face from the picture that accompanied the story. Arguably, he is (and now was) Canada’s most infamous serial killer of all time -- if not in fact than at least in his own mind. Of course, most people on this side of the border pay very little attention to what goes on in Canada.

Suspected of killing 11 children in British Columbia during the early 1980s, Olson belived that the police “had the goods on him,” so he decided that he might as well turn his defeat into advantage. In a bizarre and controversial plea bargain, Olson confessed to murder and led the police to the bodies of his victims in exchange for a $100,000 “ransom.” He had struck a deal by which his wife and son would receive $10,000 in trust for each buried corpse he helped locate; he “graciously” threw the 11th in for free. Olson was later asked to reveal information about other missing children, not for a fee but for the sake of the worried parents. In true sociopathic style, he responded, “If I gave [expletive deleted] about the parents, I wouldn’t have killed their kids.”

Olson did not go quietly into cell-block obscurity. Rather, he routinely communicated with the outside world for the purpose of self-promotion. In fact, he used to call me (collect) from time to time on his cell phone, seeking out further attention. Not only did he reach out to journalists and authors, he wrote letters to the families of his victims describing in sickening detail what he did to and with their children.

Olson was so universally detested, even inside prison by other sex offenders, that the door to his prison cell had to be covered with a protective shield to protect him from the human excrement often flung his way. In true narcissistic style, he saw things differently, bragging that he was as feared, as fearsome and as famous as Hannibal Lecter from Silence of the Lambs whose shielded door protected visitors from him.

Ultimately, the most disgraceful aspect of the Olson situation was not the blood money offered by the Canadian government, but the celebrity that the killer sought and received. One would have hoped that his death would be a tiny footnote to history, not a feature on the obituary page.

Clifford Olson. May you rest in obscurity.

Note: Although Olson died on September 30,2011, the story of his death did not run in the Globe until today (October 12th).

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You can follow me on twitter at @jamesalanfox or Facebook at Professor James Alan Fox for notifications of new blog postings. Also, you can find me on the Web at or contact me by e-mail at

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

James Alan Fox is the Lipman Family Professor of Criminology, Law, and Public Policy at Northeastern University. He has written 18 books, including his newest, "Violence and Security on Campus: From Preschool through College." More »

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