(Karl Toft and his Bible: the New King James version. [Photo by Author])
by Byron Christopher
February 4, 2018
It was a meeting — and an odd one — between old friends.
The two men involved were unusual as well. One was a ‘no-holds-barred’ lay preacher; the other a church-goer, originally from New Brunswick.
Decades ago, the Maritimer had been the focus of many national news stories. In his day, articles about him appeared frequently in newspapers and on radio and TV newscasts. He was big news.
The hospital meeting took place in late January 2018 [‘somewhere in Alberta’] where the man was being treated for an aggressive form of lung cancer. We’re talking death sentence here.
Mr. Newsmaker — who’d smoked like a chimney for more than 30 years — does not have long to go. Three, four months maybe. Chances are he won’t make it to his 82nd birthday in June.
The lay preacher — Wayne Land — reached over and shook hands with the patient, Karl. The old man seemed pleasantly surprised he had visitors.
Karl is a shell of his former self. His weight has plummeted to 125 pounds, half what it was when he was a muscular correctional officer.
Land cut right to the chase. “Are you ready to meet the Lord …?” The pastor has never been accused of mincing his words.
Looking somewhat distinguished with his new glasses and a short beard, Karl looked straight ahead and nodded in the affirmative. “Yes, I am …”
The subject changed. “When did you find out you had cancer? …”
“Just before Christmas,” the patient replied, looking away for a moment as if he couldn’t quite believe it himself. “One night,” he explained, gesturing with his hands, “I coughed up some blood — chunks of it about the size of caterpillars. I called for an ambulance … and here I am.”
After a brief talk about the gloomy prognosis and a sole treatment option, the patient concluded, “From here I go to a hospice … then I meet my Maker.”
I sat quietly off to the side, taking this all in.
“What’s with the mask?” Karl asked about the pastor’s disposable face mask, the type hospital visitors don during flu and cold seasons. “I have a cold,” he explained.
“That’s bullshit!,” I interjected, “Once we leave this hospital, we’re doing a bank job …”
The line brought a soft chuckle from Karl who spent 13 years as a federal prisoner, mostly in Alberta. Karl had a rap sheet that — in the view of many — was just as despicable as that of killers, drug dealers, and bank robbers.
Karl Toft was/is a notorious pedophile, one of the worst. The man had anal sex with victims in their early teens. And not just a few teens. There were a few hundred.
Now that killer/pedophile Clifford Olsen has died, it’s fair to say that Mr. Toft rates as Canada’s worst sexual predator. The man raped many boys in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s when he was a correctional officer/counselor at a boys’ reform school in Kingsclear, near Fredericton.
The boys were ‘young offenders’ — break-in artists, car thieves, etc — who after being dealt with by the courts were about to be punished even further by people whose job it was to help rehabilitate these kids … but who took advantage of their position and trust and became predators.
Court records indicate that Toft’s victims number 200, but the actual figure may be double that. No matter. The number of damaged and wrecked lives is way, way over the top. We can only wonder about the victims who lived tormented lives — or who ended up suiciding — because their heads were so messed up.
Karl Toft’s crimes were a terrible human tragedy on a scale that’s impossible to fathom.
But that’s half the story …
The other half — the latter half — is positive.
Pastor Land points out the Karl Toft story isn’t just about hundreds of sexual assaults, it’s about a man’s redemption as well. I agree. I’m not a religious sort so perhaps that’s remarkable in itself.
For more than three decades, Toft has been on the straight and narrow. In that time, he has harmed no children.
But the man is still a pedophile … he’s just not active. He still wants to have sex with boys and he’ll always feel that way. The difference is that today Toft is keeping his urges in check — thanks to programs, support from friends — and God.
Toft shares that he was converted to Christianity by his brother, Gerald, who visited him in jail in Fredericton shortly after he was arrested.
Is Karl Toft telling the truth when he talks about God and how being a Christian has saved him? He claims he would likely have been murdered by one of his victims if he didn’t have God’s protection.
While in the joint, he sure had somebody’s protection. It’s nothing short of a miracle that no one did Toft in because the infamous pedophile was in general population, not in segregation where most pedophiles are safely housed.
A pedophile is the most despised inmate. Many have left prison — not as free men — but in body bags.
Toft once asked what I thought would happen to him if he ever returned to New Brunswick, his home. I said they’d kill you — and there wouldn’t be much of an investigation. Such is the anger people have towards Karl Toft … even now, so many years after his last offence.
He pointed that most of his victims still live in New Brunswick and conceded “they’d like to get their hands on me …” For sure.
I’m not alone in thinking Karl Toft is the real deal. Here’s why:
Edmonton Police Detective Wil Tonowski shared that Toft showed remarkable willpower and conviction by not re-offending. The veteran officer revealed police once ‘set up’ Toft in a grocery store to see how he would react when a lad approached him.
Toft placed his shopping basket on the floor and walked out. That’s usually not how pedophiles behave. The cops were impressed. Tonowski was instrumental in organizing police surveillance of sexual offenders and setting up a sex offender registry program.
Toft’s landlady of a decade describes him as a kind man who has been looked after by herself and other tenants. “They carry his groceries up the stairs to his top-floor apartment,” says Leona, “and because he lives alone they keep an eye on him.”
I’ve read about his past,” she adds, “but I’m convinced the man I’ve come to know — and love — is no longer the evil man he used to be.”
Wayne Land feels the same way, but you already know that.
The pastor sat alongside Detective Tonowski when Karl Toft showed up at police headquarters in downtown Edmonton, not long after he was released from prison. Toft took one look at the officer and walked out. He wanted nothing to do with him.
Toft also had his doubts about the pastor who had confronted him about his salvation.
And for Wayne Land, so began Toft’s ‘redemption’ story.
Back to the hospital visit … I was walking through the hospital parking lot when the electronic sound of a car window coming down grabbed my attention. Behind the wheel of an SUV was Detective Tonowski, now retired and puffing on a fat cigar. “You here to see Toft?” I asked. “Yes …”
I slipped Tonowski my business card, we shook hands and I went on my way. He went inside to spend time with Toft.
Karl Toft’s crimes were so massive that most people — including me — were skeptical when the pedophile claimed he had turned his life over to Christ.
It wouldn’t be the first time a con sought moral cover while applying for parole or to be seen in a better light by the public.
Toft then took it upon himself to show the world he had changed. However, few listened to what he had to say and those who did … simply didn’t believe him. After all, he had committed some monstrous acts.
Ten years ago I interviewed Karl Toft for a 3-part series that ran in the Sun chain of newspapers. At the time, the pedophile shared, “I look in the mirror and I see a normal man. But I know I’m not normal.”
Toft and I continued to meet every now and then, always at my request. I wanted to know what he was up to and how he was doing. Most important … was he keeping his nose clean? had he been charged? — and why he asked for restrictions on him to be extended when the courts had ruled he was free to go.
The restrictions meant that Toft was still a prisoner of sorts. He couldn’t go near a playground or a school, couldn’t walk in a shopping centre during the day. And if Toft was having a Burger at Harvey’s and a child walked in, he’d have to pick up his meal and walk out.
Quoting a shrink at a psychiatric hospital in Edmonton, Karl Toft explained that he was ‘wired differently.’ My response to him was that he sure was, that I could not get my head around pedophilia, couldn’t understand it at all. A frustrated Toft stared for a good five seconds before responding: “No, I don’t suppose you can …”
The closest we got to an understanding of pedophilia was that if Karl Toft had lived in Greece 2,000 years ago, his behaviour would not have been terribly unusual.
“I’M SORRY …”
In the ten years I’ve known Karl Toft he hasn’t stopped apologizing to his victims — and to the people of New Brunswick.
“I pray for my victims all the time,” he says. “I hope they are well.” “I also hope they forgive me.”
“I got away with too much … so it was a good thing I got caught. It not only protected the children, it saved my life.”
I asked Toft if he anything to say — as in an apology — to the people of New Brunswick. “I’m sorry,” he says, “there are no words I can put to it. I’m sorry. What else can I say?”
Karl Toft has never held back that I, too, should accept Jesus into my life. I hear that from time to time. I tend to dismiss personal stuff like that. My retort is that I’m an atheist, thank God.
The pedophile did reveal that when we first met — more than a dozen years ago in the lobby of the Law Courts Building in Edmonton … he wanted NOTHING to do with me because I was a ‘nosy’ newsman.
Toft believes God brought Pastor Land, Detective Tonowski and others — all positive influences in his life — for a reason. “Why I don’t know,” he says. “God has his reasons for doing things and he doesn’t always explain what his reasons are … because God is God.”
“God has given me a peace I never knew. For years and years and years, I looked behind me every time I took a turn. Does somebody know who I am and what I’m doing? Should I be afraid because I went around this corner and didn’t see somebody looking for revenge? I lived that … and there’s no peace there.”
“I’m glad somebody spoke up at the right place, at the right time … and I was arrested. It took a big load off my mind.”
During our interview, Toft brought up something I’d wondered about for years. “When I was in prison,” he said, “I tried suicide three times … but every time God saved me.” I’d heard from a guard about one suicide attempt, but three was news to me. Although to put things in perspective, in the joint one doesn’t have to be a pedophile to want to kill themselves.
On Toft’s bedside table was what you’d expect to see in a hospital room … a plastic food tray, a glass of water with a straw poking out, a box of tissues, the usual. But I didn’t see something I thought should be on the table …
“Where’s your Bible?” I asked.
“It’s packed away somewhere in my belongings,” Toft responded. “My Bible is small … it’s a bit hard to read now anyway.”
We shook hands, said our goodbyes and I was soon on my way to the elevator.
In 30 minutes or so I returned to Toft’s room holding a new, modern King James version of the Bible [with large print]. I handed it to Toft. “My, my,” he said, fighting back the tears. “My, my …”
“God works in mysterious ways …”
I said, “Karl, one word to anyone about me giving you a Bible … and I’m going to have to kill you.”
“Are you coming back?” he asked. “Likely,” I said, “you’re an interesting guy.”
“And oh,” I added before I left his room, “when I was 4 or 5 years old my mother asked me what I wanted to be in life. I told her I wanted to be a priest to help people.”
Karl Toft wants to be cremated.
He says a friend from British Columbia will travel to Fredericton, New Brunswick with his ashes and sprinkle them in the Saint John River.