By Stephen Young
By Stephen Young
By Stephen Young
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
A far more imposing threat to Craigslist is Blumenthal, who resurfaced in an April 22 open letter with additional, more sweeping demands. Blumenthal implored Craigslist to, among other things, disallow salacious prostitution-themed search terms, hire staff to monitor for pornographic images and ads, and eliminate the Erotic Services category altogether.
"We felt the first agreement was a good first step, but insufficient," Blumenthal says. "The prostitution ads have continued; the pornography is still there. It has failed to accomplish all that we'd hoped."
Buckmaster says Craigslist welcomes the "constructive criticism" and confirms that the two sides are in the midst of hashing out a voluntary agreement. But don't expect Craigslist's most popular and controversial category to go away anytime soon.
"We added the Erotic Services category some years ago at the request of users who had been seeing those ads posted throughout our personals and services categories and wanted to see them collected in one space and put behind a warning screen," Buckmaster says. "And having them in one place has allowed them to be monitored more closely, by both our staff and law enforcement."
Others in the online classified trade back Buckmaster's assessment. Carl Ferrer, co-founder of Backpage.com, Village Voice Media's online classified partner, points out that even if Blumenthal's demands were met, it wouldn't safeguard against people posting it elsewhere.
"If you eliminate Erotic Services, the content will just migrate to Miscellaneous Services and other categories," Ferrer says. "Then it becomes a whack-a-mole strategy."
There's also no evidence that overall rates of prostitution or murder have increased in correlation with Craigslist's ascension, says Zollman, of the AIM Group. "There have always been hookers. There have always been people who sell drugs and other illegal things. But to call these 'Craigslist-related crimes' is no fairer than calling car accidents 'GM-related deaths.'"
In Cottage Grove, the Olson family home shows signs of the spring thaw. The front lawn is returning to a deep green shade, and a carton of unplanted pansies sits on the front porch. Inside, the voices of the St. Olaf choir sing through a set of Bose speakers atop matching bookshelves.
Rolf and Nancy just returned from a trip to the Grand Canyon. The two hiked partway down the majestic gorge, and their legs are still feeling it. "You get no rest," says Rolf, stretching his foot. The couple took the vacation as a brief respite before their week ahead. The Concert for Katherine is finally upon them.
"Hopefully," says Rolf, "this will be our last week with media for some time. Then we can return to somewhat normalcy."
Rolf offers a Pepsi, then coffee and a Pepsi one more time before sitting down on a cream-colored couch with his wife and Sarah. Near the couch is the kitchen table where Katherine used to sit, reading a book and munching away on a bag of Honey Nut Cheerios. Nancy laughs at how much the "crunch-crunch" sound annoyed her. While happy, each memory ends with the fight to hold back tears.
As the conversation moves back to Craigslist, the family members talk about their disgust with the 48 Hours Mystery episode they watched the night before. The show, "Craigslist: Classified for Murder?" nags at Sarah. It hurt her to see a full hour dedicated to bashing a company that's helped her family so much.
"There are evil people out there," Sarah says. "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 they will take advantage of it. And evil people will take advantage of whatever they can."
The family is most worried that the lurid events in Boston will eclipse their memorial. Splash News, a British gossip Web site, and Geraldo Rivera are pursuing Nancy and Rolf for interviews. The 48 Hours Mystery crew even tried to get Sarah on film while she was away in Milwaukee at a funeral.
"We have been through hell. This is our celebration," Nancy says. "We don't want evil to have the last word."
On a cloudless May 3, about 700 of Katherine Olson's friends and family met at Grace Church, a colossal house of worship in Eden Prairie, about 15 miles southwest of Minneapolis. The last time this group had been together was at Katherine's funeral, but those gathered on this day eschewed black clothing in favor of pastel-colored spring attire. There were no tears among the congregants, no Kleenexes hastily passed. This was to be a day of celebration.
When it came time to begin, five members of the Olson family took the stage to subdued applause. Trailing behind in a black suit worn over a tie-less maroon dress shirt was Craig Newmark. After a brief introduction by Sarah, Newmark approached the podium, grabbed the microphone and leaned over his prepared remarks.
"I am really, really humbled and really honored to have been invited here today to speak at this tribute to Katherine, extended by the whole Olson family," Newmark told the crowd. "I was personally sickened and horrified when I heard about this tragedy. I started Craigslist around 14 years ago as a way to give back to the community."