By Stephen Young
By Stephen Young
By Stephen Young
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
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 Richter. It was the day after they received news of Katherine's death. Their heads looked heavy as they took questions from the press.
"We know where Katherine is," Nancy said. "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, along with the police officers who investigated the case.
"We may never know why there had to be such a violent and senseless death," 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?'" Nancy recalls.
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," Rolf says.
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. 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 upfront 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 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 thirteen-year-old daughter and a fifteen-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."
Another attorney general might have relegated this missive to the recycling bin or perhaps answered 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 youngest U.S. attorney in history when Jimmy Carter tapped him for the post in 1977. He made his name prosecuting drug traffickers and organized crime and in 1990 was elected state attorney general, a position he would hold through four re-elections. In 2000, when 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.