In a Twin Otter plane, Robert Shantz and a team of armed Mounties sat cramped with a shackled Clifford Robert Olson.
It was a long flight from Kingston, Ont. to Abbotsford in November 1982 – a secret journey orchestrated in the hope the serial killer would guide police to two or four more bodies.
Out of prison, a grinning Olson could barely contain his glee. Well aware he was a master manipulator, the RCMP had a camera trained on him throughout the flight.
“We were setting up to go to Victoria to deal with a couple of unsolved murders that both the investigators and I were convinced he was responsible for,” says Shantz, the Maple Ridge lawyer who defended the man who described himself as “The Beast of B.C.” in Canada’s first serial killer case.
Olson and the police never made it to Victoria.
By the time the Twin Otter taxied on the run way in Abbotsford, Olson’s excursion had been leaked to the media. A car chase ensued as the cops tried to lose the journalists and their cameras.
Then B.C. attorney general Allan Williams panicked and ordered the Mounties to fly him back to Ontario.
“He did not care that the RCMP wanted to resolve these unsolved murders. Olson was such a hot political topic that they didn’t want the heat.”
The province of B.C. assured the public, still outraged by the cash-for-bodies deal negotiated the year before, there would be no more agreements with the killer.
When Olson died from cancer at the age of 71 last Friday, Shantz was the first to be notified.
“He died with secrets and these are some of the secrets he died with,” Shantz says, pausing as he puffs a Players cigarette in his office.
A talented student of law who was picked to prosecute a capital murder case just six years after being called to the bar, Shantz was a seasoned attorney, someone who had already logged 100 murder trials by the time the Olson came knocking.
Shantz first met Olson in 1976 as a key witness in the Gary Francis Marcoux trial, which involved the sexual slaying of nine-year-old Jeanne Doove.
At the time, Olson was locked up in the penthouse of the B.C. Penitentiary – a floor that housed sex offenders, informants and murderers.
Marcoux needed an alibi for the murder and Olson conned Marcoux into writing a confession, which he promptly supplied to police.
Olson acted like he had empathy for the slain nine-year-old and told investigators he wanted to help because: “We’ve got to keep the kooks off the street.”
Four years later, Olson would be nailed for a similar crimes.
In a span of nine months, between November 1980 and August 1981, Olson killed 11 times.
The first victim, 12-year-old Christine Weller, was abducted near her Surrey home while riding her bike in November of 1980. Her body was found on Christmas Day, strangled and stabbed.
Three others were also picked up in Surrey – 13-year-old Colleen Daignault, 16-year-old Sandra Lynn Wolfsteiner and nine-year-old Simon Partington.
Daryn Johnsrude, 16, Judy Kozma, 14, and Raymond King Jr., 15, all vanished from New Westminster. Ada Anita Court, 13, and Sigrun Arnd, 18, were picked up in Coquitlam.
Louise Chartrand, 17, was picked up walking in Maple Ridge and Terri Lyn Carson, 15, was found strangled in Chilliwack.
Olson lured most with the promise of a job, then plied them with alcohol and drugs. He tortured them, raped, killed them, then dumped their bodies.
Shantz had children who bracketed the ages of Olson’s victims, so deciding to represent him was difficult. But Shantz had been Olson’s lawyer for several years by then.
“What is very scary about these people is that they don’t have any appreciation about the horror of their conduct,” he says.
“When they are telling you about what they have done to a child and are talking with glee in their voices and accomplishment – that makes your hair stand on end.”
The effect defending Olson had on Shantz’s life was staggering. The heavy price was described years later during the Pickton pig farm trial as “the Shantz factor.”
As a lawyer, Shantz had always managed to keep the evidence of each case separate from his personal feelings, in airtight containers that never leaked their gruesome details into his personal life.
With Olson, that was hard. There were times when he wanted to throttle Olson, moments when he thought: “If these were my kids, I’d killed the SOB.”
The public, however, didn’t see Shantz as a lawyer just doing his job, they questioned whether he was human, equated him to the killer.
By the time the $100,000 “cash-for-bodies” deal became public, Shantz was receiving death threats and hate mail, including one smeared with faeces, and his children were targeted in school.
Seven families of Olson’s victims decided to sue, naming Olson and his wife Joan, Shantz, and Jim McNeney – the lawyer looking after the cash deal.
Though a judge initial ruled that the $100,000, plus interest and legal costs, had to be returned, the ruling was overturned on appeal. By then, Shantz had parted ways with his law firm partners.
At the Canadian Legal Conference in Montreal in 2003, Shantz presented a paper on his experience with the Olson case.
Shantz had been involved in many murder cases before Olson: defending or prosecuting people who killed because they were angry; for revenge; people who butchered with passion; or because they were insane.
None had killed for the sheer pleasure of it.
For Olson, each day he murdered was “a bright, sunny day.”
“One does not escape unscathed from an encounter with a sociopath,” Shantz said.
“I began having difficulty relating normally to other people. I shied away from people I didn’t know.”
Olson had been in custody for almost two weeks before RCMP made the offer to pay for information on the location of the bodies.
Desperate to find the children, the investigators had tried all their usual tricks in an effort to get Olson to talk. They interrogated him in tag-teams for days, moved him from cell to cell, all to no avail.
It was only the mention of money that piqued the killer’s interest.
“The only element that had any compulsion for him was to tickle his ego,” says Shantz.
“I am quite satisfied that he would not have divulged that information without having got, what his ego thought, was a win.”
Olson also did not want to wait for a trial, which would have likely stretched a year.
“Olson got antsy and decided he wanted to plead,” says Shantz.
“I think he was of the view that too much information would be revealed about the murders and that he wouldn’t be able to write his book. It’s typical of a sociopath with the ego the size of a bus.”
In exchange for $100,000, the Attorney General guaranteed 11 first-degree murder convictions, ended an expensive police investigation, brought some closure to the parents of the missing children and calmed the fear that ripped British Columbia for more than a year.
Shantz believes convicting Olson of the murders would have been a long shot.
“The evidence of death is abundant, but the evidence connecting the deaths to Olson was very sparse.”
It would have been easy for Shantz to slip into an abyss following his ordeal with Olson.
Oddly, the very source of his problem also led him on a path to recovery.
After he was sentenced, Olson authorized Shantz to work with RCMP to solve a number of murders.
Shantz spent years scouring police files, trying to work out a timeline to see whether crimes matched with Olson’s claims.
The Mounties were looking for evidence to link Olson to as many as 30 murders, including the killings of 12 young women since 1973 along the Trans-Canada and Yellowhead highways.
Much of the work proved futile.
“He was extremely good at weaving untruths in with truths, and making the determination of what actually is or is not true is very difficult to do,” says Shantz.
But his encounter with one of the world’s most callous sociopaths has yet to shake his faith in humanity.
After representing Olson, Shantz swore off criminal law. He focussed on civil and family law, and threw himself into volunteering within his community. He helped found the Ridge Meadows Hospital Foundation, spent years on the board of the Maple Ridge Community Foundation, remains a legal advisor to Ridge Meadows Minor Hockey and is a proud Rotarian.
Olson was a totally destructive creature, says Shantz.
“I recognized he was tearing the fabric of communities and didn’t have feelings for that at all. One of the things that I could do is help create fabric that maintains healthy communities, which care for all their members. That, to me, is a very worthwhile project, and what many members of society have to learn. The only way people are going to learn that is if they see others doing it. If you lead by example, you can do that.”
Besides defending Clifford Robert Olson, Maple Ridge lawyer Robert Shantz has been involved in several other high-profile trials:
• Regina v. Elry Steven Long – involved the shotgun murder of Sgt. Ed McKay. In 1962, the Parliament had placed a moratorium the death penalty, which had expired when Long killed McKay. When Long was convicted, the court imposed a death sentence on him, a decade after executions had been halted. His sentence was commuted to life imprisonment when the death penalty was finally abolished in 1976.
• Regina v. Ott John Horvath – involved the baseball bat murder of Horvath’s mother in Burnaby. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada because a confession was obtained through hypnosis.