In full damage-control mode, Newmark has become considerably harder to reach, rebuffing the New York Times and the Boston Globe and insisting on seeing interview questions ahead of time.

Which makes it all the more remarkable that this past Sunday, he spoke in public at a memorial concert in Katherine Olson’s honor.

Katherine Olson was killed after responding to a babysitting ad on Craigslist.
The Olson Family
Katherine Olson was killed after responding to a babysitting ad on Craigslist.
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.


Click on the photos below to view slideshows related to this story:

Craigslist Murders: A Timeline

Remembering Katherine Olson

Before a throng of cameras, the Olson family stood shoulder to shoulder in front of their home in Cottage Grove, Minnesota, to address the world. Rolf and his son, Karl, bookended mother 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 media.

“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 next week, a Fed-Ex envelope from San Francisco arrived at Rolf’s office at Richfield Lutheran Church, where he serves as a pastor. It was 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 recalls. “And he said, ‘Please contact me if you want to talk further. Here’s my email, here’s my phone number; I’m available anytime.’ ”

A few days later, after Katherine’s memorial, Rolf sent Newmark an email thanking him for the letter. “And while I was still sitting in the office, I got an email 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, 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 spent hours crafting his next message to Newmark’s company. “So I sent an email 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 the Today Show. On camera, 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 would sour things. Michael John Anderson’s attorney claimed that his client lured Katherine to the home in Savage for sex and not, as prosecutors put forth, with the intention to kill.

Before the trial, Craigslist had helped law enforcement by assembling a 127-page dossier on Anderson’s use of the website. The company also dispatched customer-service manager Clint Powell to take the stand. Powell told the courtroom how Anderson first used Craigslist as a way to find ice-fishing gear, truck parts, and collectible plates with misspelled words like “Star Terk.” This pattern changed in October, as Anderson started trolling for women. Powell read various postings made by Anderson. One said, “looks and size don’t mean a lot to me. I’m not little man, but I’m not huge either.” Another read, “Looking for fresh faces for a new video and Web site… new talent only. Also need 18 plus virgin willing to be in a video.”

It took five hours for the jury to return its verdict: Anderson was guilty of first- and second-degree murder as well as second-degree manslaughter, charges that carry a mandatory term of life in prison without parole.

Back in Cottage Grove, Rolf and Nancy say they hold no blame for Craigslist. “There are evil people out there,” says Sarah. “And unfortunately, Craigslist is built for everyday people. And so someone that has ill will, someone psychotic, like Michael Anderson or this medical student, they are going to take it for what it is worth. It’s a free tool, and evil people will take advantage of whatever they can.”

In early November 2007, a month after Katherine Olson’s murder, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal received a letter from an irate mother. The mother of two teenagers demanded that something be done to help her censor sites like MySpace and Craigslist. Those sites, she wrote, “do not only make this task difficult, but virtually impossible.”

Most attorneys general might have relegated the missive to the recycling bin. But Blumenthal has been a gritty, ambitious fixture of the Connecticut Democratic Party for decades. He has taken on various crusades with a zeal that ingratiated him to law-and-order types and progressives alike. He banned ATM fees, sued Microsoft and Big Tobacco, and orchestrated a national campaign against misleading sweepstakes mailings. His enthusiasm for courting the national spotlight has brought occasional criticism for attention-seeking, but the tanned 63-year-old is laying the groundwork for a 2012 Senate run.

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