A St. Olaf grad went to meet someone in Savage about a job she saw posted on Craigslist. Her body was found in her car trunk.
Katherine Ann Olson had answered online ads for nanny jobs before without trouble. But one posted on the popular Craigslist.org website for a job in Savage may have cost the young woman her life.
Olson, 24, was found dead in the trunk of her car at a Burnsville park late Friday night. She was last seen by friends on Thursday morning, when she went to meet someone in Savage about the job, which authorities said she had found on Craigslist.
A 19-year-old Savage man who police believe placed the ad is being held in the Scott County jail pending charges. Authorities did not release his name but said charges could be filed as soon as today.
Olson graduated from Park High School of Cottage Grove in 2002, where she was co-valedictorian, and from St. Olaf College in 2006. She was a theater and Hispanic studies major whose family said had taken nanny jobs at least twice before, including a job in Turkey, after answering online ads.
Olson's family gathered in front of its Cottage Grove home Saturday afternoon to share stories of a vivacious young woman "who was a joy, who trusted people."
She had recently finished playing Maria in her church community theater's production of "The Sound of Music," and was searching for a career to match her interests and energies.
Family members said they'd had misgivings about her finding jobs online. But she never seemed to worry.
"She always assumed the best in other people," said her father. "She assumed the best of this appointment Thursday morning. And, if it didn't work out, she assumed she could turn around and go home."
Craigslist.org, an online bulletin board, has fallen under the watch of law enforcement in recent years because of prostitution ads and its use to set up robberies, but an Internet search revealed no other homicides connected to the site.
First purse, then bloody towel
Savage police Capt. David Muelken gave this account of Olson's death:
A resident told a Savage Public Works employee about a purse found in a garbage can at Pacer Park. That employee notified police, and an officer got the purse, which contained things belonging to Olson.
At first, it appeared to be a theft. Police called Olson's home and left a message telling her they had her purse.
About 5 p.m. Friday, Olson's roommate returned the call and told police she hadn't been seen since 8 a.m. Thursday.
Police went back to Pacer Park and found a garbage bag in the container. Inside the bag was a "significantly bloody towel."
An extensive search of the park area yielded no clues.
Savage police went through Olson's cell phone and credit card records to see if she had used either recently. They found nothing.
Then they got some information that "led them in a direction," Muelken said.
Meanwhile, a Minnesota State Patrol helicopter was called in to help. The pilot noticed a car in the parking lot of Rudy Kraemer Nature Preserve in Burnsville, which is a few blocks away from Pacer Park.
Police identified the car as Olson's and searched it. Her body was found in the trunk.
As the search proceeded Friday night, other investigators began to focus on the 19-year-old Savage man. He worked at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, and airport police arrested him there Friday night.
He was taken to the Savage Police Department, where he was interviewed, and then brought to the Scott County jail.
"We're confident we have the suspect in custody," Muelken said. He said he believed there is no public threat.
Citing the investigation, police were cautious about the details they released. They didn't say how Olson might have been killed or whether a weapon was used. They said they weren't sure of a motive.
Olson's body was taken to the Minnesota Regional Medical Examiner's Office in Hastings for an autopsy.
Muelken said it was an unusual homicide because often there's a relationship between the victim and suspect.
This is the first homicide in Savage since 2000, when Donald Robertson was believed to have killed his wife, Linda, before fatally shooting himself. Before that, the last homicide in the city was the shooting death of a Bloomington man in 1976.
Olson had graduated with honors from high school and college. She was fluent in Spanish and was taking night classes to become an interpreter, although her mother said she'd decided that might not be the career for her.
"She told me, 'I don't want to be invisible. I don't want to be behind the scenes. I'm an actress,'" said her father, Rolf Olson, pastor of Richfield Lutheran Church.
Her mother, Nancy Olson, said Katherine "just danced into people's lives." When Katherine joined the book club at church, she immediately charmed the other, much older members. They became, her father said, "her other moms."
She had helped coach high school speech and had been a receptionist for a local clinic that served Spanish-speaking families. But that job ended last week and she was searching for another -- including child care again, her sister said.
So she'd made the appointment to talk about the Savage job on Thursday. She went to the address, thinking it was a married couple who recently relocated to the Twin Cities, according to her father in an entry on Facebook.com. When Katherine didn't contact her family members that day, they became concerned. On Friday, her sister, Sarah, talked to Katherine's roommate, who mentioned that Olson had gone to Savage to interview for a babysitting job.
The next contact the family had, said Nancy Olson, was when police called saying they'd found her purse. On Saturday afternoon, family members said they are finding strength in the people who were touched by her life -- and the memories they hold.
"We grieve even more because of what the world has lost. Not just for us, but for all these other people she would have touched," said Nancy Olson, her face still speckled with glitter from holding a Mother's Day card Katherine made for her a few years ago.
"Parents get to raise a child and then release them to the world. And now she's gone to the next world," Nancy Olson said. "We've had her for the time we had her. And now we've given her away."