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Serial child killer Clifford Olson, who pleaded guilty to the murders of 11 children in 1982 and then spent his time behind bars persistently applying for parole despite his mandatory life sentence, has died of cancer at the age of 71.

Mr. Olson never showed any remorse for his heinous murders. But the criminal justice system itself changed in response to his diabolical behaviour on both sides of prison walls. His crimes gave rise to the victims of violence movement, their representation at trials and parole hearings, and the establishment of a missing children's registry.

Behind bars, Mr. Olson appealed for a new trial and early parole under faint-hope clauses, petitioned for parole on all but one opportunity after he had served 25 years behind bars and used the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to mount dozens of frivolous and vexatious challenges.

His incessant demands for parole led to an amendment of the Criminal Code barring multiple murderers from applying for early parole under the "faint-hope clause," and his ability to collect pension and old age income supplements resulted in the passage of Bill C-31 denying such payments to prisoners while they are incarcerated.

"What a manipulative megalomaniac he was. Every time he opened his mouth, it created a backlash," Ontario lawyer John Hill, who acted as Mr. Olson's legal consultant from 1985 to 1990, said Friday. "Anything Olson did, the government would pass legislation for it."

The families of victims were relieved Friday to learn of Mr. Olson's death, acknowledging their fight over the years for victims' rights and harsher treatment of murderers.

"Little by little, we are making progress, and I think that's a good thing," said Raymond King, father of one of Mr. Olson's 11 victims, 15-year-old Raymond Jr.

"It's helped [us cope] We've fought long and hard for any advances we've made. You have to do something."

Clifford Robert Olson was born in Vancouver on Jan. 1, 1940, one of four children of a milkman, but grew up in nearby Richmond. Even as a schoolboy, he was a bully and a petty thief, one who tormented cats and dogs.

He frequently played hooky and dropped out of school after completing Grade 8. He lived with his parents until he was sent to jail for break and enter when he was 17.

Over the next quarter century, he spent all but four years behind bars, racking up more than 90 convictions and seven escapes from custody. A con artist with a charming but manipulative manner, Mr. Olson sometimes was given early release for good behaviour, and other times had his sentence extended after escape attempts. Few trusted him for long, and eventually he antagonized both guards and fellow prisoners.

He married his wife, Joan Hale, on May 15, 1981, a month after their son Stephen was born.

Unbeknownst to his bride, Mr. Olson had already murdered three children: Christine Weller and Colleen Marian Daignault, both 13 and from Surrey, and Daryn Todd Johnsrude, 16, from Coquitlam. Within days of his wedding, Mr. Olson had abducted and killed Sandra Wolfsteiner, 16, of Langley.

A month later he struck again, murdering 13-year old Ada Anita Court of Burnaby. His sadistic appetite whetted, he increased the speed with which he sought new victims. In July, 1981, he killed no fewer than six children: Simon Partington, 9, and Terri Lyn Carson, 15, both from Surrey; Judy Kozma, 14, and Raymond King, 15, from New Westminster; Sigrun Arnd, 18, a German tourist, and Marie Louise Chartrand, 17, from Maple Ridge.

He was finally arrested on Aug. 12, 1981, near Port Alberni on Vancouver Island on suspicion of trying to abduct two female hitchhikers in his car.

Finding the bodies of the victims and extracting a confession out of Mr. Olson became the urgent preoccupation for police caught between trying to bring a murderer to justice without any concrete evidence and assuaging the horror of families desperate to know what had happened to their children and to reclaim what remained of their brutalized bodies.

That was the rationale behind the "cash for bodies" deal that was only revealed after Mr. Olson was sentenced in January, 1982. The police had agreed to pay Mr. Olson $30,000 for evidence on the four bodies they had recovered before his arrest in August, 1981, with an additional $10,000 for each subsequent murder site he identified or body he helped locate.

The victims' families sued in the Supreme Court of B.C. in October, 1984, to have the $100,000 "cash for bodies" trust fund declared fraudulent and the remaining money given to them as compensation for the murder of their children.

The B.C. Court of Appeal unanimously ruled against the families in March, 1986, arguing that the RCMP payment "was not made as compensation for the deaths of the children." Rather, it "was authorized … to obtain evidence to convict Olson of the murders." The Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear the case on appeal later the same year.