Craigslist Founder Helps Memorialize Murder Victim

By: Elizabeth Dunbar AP
By: Elizabeth Dunbar AP

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) - The founder of the popular online advertising site Craigslist on Sunday joined the effort to honor a 24-year-old Minnesota woman who died in 2007 after responding to a phony ad for a baby sitter.

Craig Newmark made a personal contribution to the Katherine Ann Olson fund on Sunday at a concert organized to raise money for a scholarship in her name.

"Despite the billions of times well-meaning people have helped each other through Craigslist, it's been devastating to see that it can also be used by bad people to take cruel advantage of others," Newmark said as he stood with Olson's family on stage at a church in a Minneapolis suburb.

Newmark reminded the crowd of more than 1,200 people to take precautions when using the Internet, and he praised the family's efforts to help their daughter and sister's legacy live on.

"I'm saddened that we met in these circumstances, but I am truly inspired by the Olson family," Newmark said.

Newmark wasn't available for interviews, and a spokeswoman said he wanted to keep the amount of his donation private. Olson's father Rolf described the donation as "substantial," though he declined to specify the amount.

Craigslist made headlines in October 2007 when Olson was found dead after responding to the ad. The Web site received negative attention again last month, when a Boston University medical student was arrested and charged in the death of a 25-year-old masseuse he had allegedly contacted through Craigslist.

Both deaths are reminders that "truly evil intentions do exist," Newmark said.

Authorities in Boston continue to investigate that case, while medical student Philip Markoff has pleaded not guilty to the death of Julissa Brisman at a hotel. Through his lawyer, Markoff has said he's innocent.

In the year and a half since Olson's death, support for her family poured in. At her funeral, there were more offers to provide music than the family could fit in, and thousands of dollars of memorial donations flooded in.

The family decided to create a scholarship at her alma mater, St. Olaf College in Northfield. Preference for the scholarship will go to Hispanic and Latino students, in memory of Olson's passion for working with Hispanic children in her community.

The memorial concert, which featured musicians Olson liked along with a local Latino theater troupe with which she once performed, has been in the works for a long time. But it wasn't until last month - after a 20-year-old man was convicted in Olson's death - that planning for Sunday's concert could begin in earnest.

"Legally we could not be doing publicity because of pretrial publicity and possibly tainting the jury pool," said Nancy Olson, Katherine's mother. "We were very careful about that."

Olson said the family also wanted to focus on one thing at a time. "Who would want to have a celebration concert if we still had the trial to go?" she said.

For sister Sarah Richter, who took the lead in organizing the event, the concert was a "positive finale" to a long, arduous process.

"It got us to a place in our grief journey where we're ready to move on," said Richter, 28. "Evil will not have the last word."

Michael John Anderson has been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for killing Olson, whose body was found in the trunk of her car abandoned in a park about five blocks from Anderson's house.

While Nancy Olson said the conviction "doesn't bring Katherine back," she says the family's new passion is keeping Katherine's memory alive through the scholarship.

"She would be amazed if she knew how many lives she had touched," Olson said.

Katherine Olson's family has never blamed Craigslist for her death, but Nancy Olson said they're grateful for Newmark's support. The Web site was one of many organizations that had previously donated money to the memorial fund, and Newmark had lunch with the family on Sunday before the concert.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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