Which makes it all the more remarkable that on May 3, he will be speaking in public, at a memorial concert in Katherine Olson's honor.


Before a throng of cameras, the Olson family stood shoulder to shoulder in front of their home in Cottage Grove to address the world. Rolf and his son, Karl, bookended Nancy and daughter Sarah. It was the day after they received news of Katherine's death. Their heads looked heavy as they took questions from the press.

Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart sued Craigslist, saying it facilitates prostitution.
courtesy Cook County Sheriff's Office
Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart sued Craigslist, saying it facilitates prostitution.
The Olson family has organized a memorial concert in honor of Katherine.
Nick Vlcek
The Olson family has organized a memorial concert in honor of Katherine.

"We know where Katherine is," said Nancy. "So we are not afraid for Katherine. We will miss her terribly. She was a bright light and free spirit."

Early the following week, Rolf went into his office at Richfield Lutheran Church, where he serves as a pastor. Among the mail was a FedEx envelope from San Francisco. He looked at the name, but couldn't make it out. He opened it up and found a letter from Craig Newmark. It took him a moment to realize it was the "Craig" from Craigslist.

"Nothing fancy, just a sheet of paper with his handwritten message with his sincere condolence," Rolf says. "And he said, 'Please contact me if you want to talk further. Here's my e-mail, here's my phone number, I'm available anytime.'"

That Wednesday, October 31, Rolf took a seat with his family in the first pew of Christ Presbyterian Church in Edina. Surrounding them were 1,600 friends, family, and classmates of Katherine's, along with the police officers who investigated the case.

"We may never know why there had to be such a violent and senseless death," the Reverend Tom Koelln told the mourners. "But we know that the darkness will not overcome the light."

A few days later, Rolf found himself once again at his church office. He remembered the letter from Craig and decided to contact him. "I did e-mail him and said, 'Thank you for your condolence,'" Rolf recalls. "And while I was still sitting in the office I got an e-mail back from him. I mean it was like ping-ping. Again, he said, 'If there is anything we can do to support your efforts, don't hesitate to contact me.'"

Throughout the ordeal, the family members took walks around their neighborhood to think. It was during these talks that they came up with the idea for a memorial concert in Katherine's honor. "We thought, 'Wouldn't it be a cool idea?'" recalls Nancy

Rolf thought back to his contact with Newmark, but he wasn't sure how to approach the company. He spent hours crafting a concise message. "So I sent an e-mail off to Jim Buckmaster, their CEO, and was hoping I was very clear with purposes for the concert and what my costs were and asked would they care to donate," says Rolf.

Buckmaster wrote back a message in all lowercase letters: "sure. sounds great . . . let us know what you need."

"It was so informal," remembers Sarah, Katherine's older sister. "And that's how they are. It's like a brief text you would send to your friend."

One year after Katherine's death, the Olson family flew to New York to appear on Today. It was their first return to the national media spotlight. Moments before the taping, Sarah was on the phone with a representative from Craigslist asking if she could announce their partnership in the concert.

"They didn't hesitate," she says. "And I think a company, sometimes they would be leery about putting their names on the line. But they were up front right away to say, 'Nope. This is important to us. This is an important statement.' And that was surprising to us. It took no more than, what, 30 minutes?"

As the camera focused, the Olson family appeared with smiles. When host Meredith Vieira asked Rolf why they chose to finally talk to the media, he answered, "One of our philosophies that we've operated with since Katherine died is we want to leverage as much good as we can out of this wretched experience. So today, we're here to talk about Katherine, to let her legacy live and have her be defined by her life, and not by her death."

It was a day of joy, but the trial of Katherine's killer still loomed ahead.


In early November 2007, a month after Katherine Olson's murder, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal received a letter from an irate mother. Upset by salacious language she had read on MySpace.com and Craigslist, the mother of two demanded something be done.

"Due to the fact I have a 13-year-old daughter and a 15-year-old son, it is my duty to sensor [sic] the material they are exposed to," she wrote. "MySpase [sic] and Craigslist do not only make this task difficult, but virtually impossible."

Any other state attorney general might have relegated the missive to the recycling bin or, perhaps, gotten back with a canned response. But Richard Blumenthal is not your run-of-the-mill attorney general.

A gritty, ambitious fixture of the Connecticut Democratic Party for decades, Blumenthal was the U.S. attorney in history when Jimmy Carter tapped him for the Connecticut post in 1977. He was elected to succeed Joe Lieberman as state AG in 1990. In 2000, when U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman opted to continue his senatorial campaign during his vice presidential bid, it hampered Blumenthal's career trajectory—had Lieberman bowed out, Blumenthal was a shoo-in to become his successor in the Senate.

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1 comments
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Jane
Jane

What a great, thought-provoking article on Craigslist! And polarizing, to boot!

I have some things to say and forgive me for speaking disrespectfully about the dead. Let me preface this by saying that I don't mean to be disrespectful, but I believe that the folks at Craigslist are being blamed for things that aren't their fault. In our world today, people need to remember "Caveat Emptor." If you answer an ad on Craigslist for rough sex, you might get rough sex, and you might get killed.If you're a prostitute, oh whoops, I mean massage therapist, and you advertise your services on Craigslist, you might get killed.

And, if you answer an ad for a babysitter, you might get killed. (And this is where I feel badly for speaking disrespectfully about Katherine Olson...)

Are you freakin' kiddin' me??!! What kind of a mother would run an ad on Craigslist for a babysitter for their 5 year old??!! And then hire someone sight-unseen??!! NO DECENT MOTHER. And that should have been a red-flag for Katherine. She should have seen red-flags everywhere all over that ad!

"Hi, I don't know you, I've never met you, but please come to my home where I'm going to leave my 5 year old alone with a TOTAL AND COMPLETE stranger." Totally unrealistic scenario.

Wouldn't you want to meet such an awful parent first to see what the deal was? What kind of environment the home is? Every cop in the world tells you that you don't go to a total stranger's home! You meet in a Starbucks first, or something like that...you don't just answer an ad & show up at a person's home. If you do, you might get killed.

I have no problem with organized religion...but here is where it failed Katherine Olson...the daughter of a Pastor, God is good, and God will save you, and people are good, and rainbows and butterflies are beautiful, and always believe the best in people...BLAH, BLAH, BLAH...how about, not all people are good, some are pyschos, and God didn't save the Pastor's daughter from a brutal death, because she was silly enough to beleive that it's all good...but it's not.

People need to take responsibility for their own actions and stop putting the blame on everyone else.

Caveat emptor...let the buyer beware.

 
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