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Riverfront Times Press Club. April 29, News » Feature. Craigslist murders: A timeline. Remembering Katherine Olson: Slideshow memorial. In October Katherine Olson was looking for work. Since graduating summa cum laude from St. Olaf College with a dual degree in theater and Hispanic studies, she'd mostly cobbled together part-time jobs — waitressing, teaching Spanish, coaching high school speech. Olson was looking at nanny listings on Craigslist.

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Olson sent an e-mail saying she was interested, and the mother, Amy, agreed to hire her for a. Amy sent along her address in nearby Savage, about eighteen miles southwest of Minneapolis.


A pretty year-old with freckles and tight red curls, Olson wore a pink fleece jacket and spandex stretch pants on the day of the babysitting job. She parked her gold Hyundai Elantra outside the light teal home and walked up the paved driveway. But when the front door opened, it wasn't Amy who answered.

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It was a paunchy young man with acne, armed with a Ruger. When Craig Newmark began sending out e-mails to his buddies during the winter ofhe had no intention of starting a multimillion-dollar business. A recent transplant to San Francisco whose counterculture streak belied a disarming shyness, Newmark simply wanted to keep fellow computer geeks abreast of events throughout the Bay Area.

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Word spread quickly. During the ensuing months, droves of new members subscribed and began posting their own .

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Newmark made no attempt to moderate and let the list grow organically. Within a year Craigslist had come to resemble more of a digital classifieds section than a mere e-mail list. When Newmark began organizing posts bythe transition was complete.

In he incorporated the site, making it a for-profit outfit, but nonetheless sticking with the dot-org domain name, to reflect its self-described "noncommercial nature. The site experienced exponential growth during the mids, thanks to its intuitive, no-frills layout and great word of mouth.

Although Newmark and Co. Users post more than 40 million new per month, according to the site's fact sheet, making it by far the world's largest source of classified advertising in any medium. The site that once catered exclusively to Newmark's Bay Area pals has established itself in cities in 50 different countries and produces upward of 22 billion views per month.

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Newmark attributes his site's success to its DIY format. Unencumbered by registration fees or requirements, commerce flourishes. But it's precisely this anything-goes ethic that has politicians and law enforcement officials around the country gunning for Newmark's brainchild. They point to the popular Erotic Services category — intended for legal trades such as phone sex and escorts — as a cesspool of prostitution. He's referring, of course, to the recent spate of headline-grabbing murders that have given us "Craigslist Killer" as a top Google search term.

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In February a Dallas man was found guilty of capital murder for killing a year-old woman who responded to his Craigslist ad for a Chevrolet Caprice. Three weeks later, Boston University medical student Philip Markoff was arrested and accused of murdering a prostitute he'd solicited through Craigslist. And in late April, authorities nabbed a man in Kent, Washington, after he allegedly posted a Craigslist ad titled, "A strange desire," with the intent to solicit a woman to have sex with and then kill.

I was on CNN last night. Both men were greeted with considerable skepticism. Newmark's April 24 appearance on Nightline came across as less an interview and more of an ambush, with the balding computer programmer cornered at his desk by interviewer Martin Bashir. Buckmaster's interview on CNN that same week was more cordial and nuanced, but he was nonetheless on the defensive.

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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 on May 3, he spoke at a memorial concert in Katherine Olson's honor. 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 Nancy and daughter, Sarah Richter. It was the day after they received news of Katherine's death. Their he looked heavy as they took questions from the press. We will miss her terribly. She was a bright light and free spirit.

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Early the following week, Rolf went into his office at Richfield Lutheran Church, where he serves as a pastor. Among the mail was a Fed-Ex envelope from San Francisco.

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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. Here's my e-mail, here's my phoneI'm available anytime. Surrounding them were 1, friends, family and classmates of Katherine, along with the police officers who investigated the case.

A few days later, Rolf found himself once again at his church office.

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He remembered the letter from Craig and decided to contact 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.

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Throughout the ordeal, the family members took walks around their neighborhood to think. It was during these walks that they came up with the idea for a memorial concert in Katherine's honor. 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. Buckmaster wrote back a message in all lowercase letters: "sure. It's like a brief text you would send to your friend. 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.

But they were upfront right away to say, 'Nope.

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This is important to us. This is an important statement.

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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. Upset by salacious language she had read on MySpace. Any other attorney general might have relegated the missive to the recycling bin, or perhaps gotten back with a canned response.

But Richard Blumenthal is not your run-of-the-mill attorney general.

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A gritty, ambitious fixture of the Connecticut Democratic Party for decades, Blumenthal was the youngest U. He made his name prosecuting drug traffickers and organized crime, and in was elected Connecticut's state attorney general, a position he would hold through four re-elections. In when Sen. 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. As it turned out, fate had other plans, and Blumenthal's ascension would have to wait.

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In the meantime, the man took 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.

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His enthusiasm for courting the national spotlight brought the occasional criticism of attention-seeking — "The most dangerous place in Connecticut is between Dick Blumenthal and a TV camera," quipped Slate. Currently, the tanned year-old is laying the groundwork for a Senate run. Rather than disregard the unassuming two- letter on his desk that fall day, Blumenthal found a new cause at which to throw himself with characteristic vigor.

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The first thing he did was fax Craigslist a short missive on Connecticut attorney general letterhead, appended with a copy of the mother's original complaint. Twenty-four days after Blumenthal's first fax, an attorney for Craigslist replied with a four- letter that effectively said, "Thanks, but no thanks.

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He suggested that she install a web content filter, which, he pointed out, is "freely available, easy to use and effective. The law-and-order East Coast prosecutor and the Left Coast live-and-let-sin entrepreneurs couldn't have been cut from more different cloths.

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Blumenthal was a sergeant in the Marine Corps; Newmark adopted a purple peace as the logo of his company. Blumenthal, a Brooklyn native, hails from a well-to-do family and holds degrees from both Harvard and Yale; Newmark, a Jersey boy, is more humble in stature as well as pedigree, having earned his computer-science degree from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

During the course of the next several months, both factions bantered back and forth over conference calls, with Craigslist executives gradually growing more receptive to making some concessions.

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In early Newmark and Buckmaster agreed to amp up their enforcement of the site's terms of use and introduced a telephone verification requirement. As a result, the of posts for erotic services in Hartford, Connecticut, dropped from about per day to 50, according to Craigslist's Web metrics.

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But when a Connecticut woman was arrested on March 19,for prostituting herself on Craigslist, Blumenthal jumped back on the case, livid that sex-worker were still polluting the site.

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