It was an unusual meeting between two men … and they were unusual too. One was a lay preacher; the other an elderly church-goer, originally from New Brunswick.
Decades ago, the Maritimer had been the focus of some national news stories. Articles about him appeared in newspapers as well as on radio and television. He was, as they say, big news in the day.
Now the old man is gravely ill and confined to a hospital bed …
The private get-together took place in late January 2018 in a hospital [‘somewhere in Alberta’] where the patient — Karl — was being treated for an aggressive form of lung cancer.
Mr. Newsmaker — who’d smoked like a chimney for more than 30 years — likely doesn’t have long to go. Three, four months, who knows. He probably won’t make it to his 82nd birthday coming up at the end of June.
There was a quiet, commanding presence about the visitor, Pastor Wayne Land. He reached over and shook hands with Karl who seemed pleasantly surprised that someone was there to see him.
Cancer has reduced Karl to a shell of his former self. His weight has plummeted to 125 pounds, half what it was when he was a strapping correctional officer.
Pastor Land cut right to the chase. “Are you ready to meet the Lord, Karl …?” No one ever accused Land — who does doctrinal work for professional sports teams — of mincing his words.
Looking somewhat distinguished with his new glasses and a short beard, the patient looked straight ahead and nodded in the affirmative. Hands trembling from the effects of Parkinson’s disease, he responded, “Yes, I am …”
“When did you find out you had cancer …?”
“Just before Christmas,” the bed-ridden patient replied, looking away for a moment as if he couldn’t quite believe it himself. “One night,” he explained in a low, raspy voice as he gestured with his hands, “I coughed up some blood — chunks the size of caterpillars. I called for an ambulance … and here I am.”
After a brief discussion about a gloomy prognosis and the limited treatment options, Karl concluded, “From here I go to a hospice where I will meet my Maker.”
I sat quietly off to the side, taking this all in.
“What’s with that?” Karl asked about the disposable mask that hid much of the pastor’s face, the type hospital visitors don during flu and cold seasons. “I have a cold,” he explained in a voice slightly muffled.
“That’s bullshit!,” I interjected, freezing both the pastor and patient. “Once we leave the hospital, we’re doing a bank job …” The line brought a muted chuckle from Karl who’d spent 13 years as a prisoner in federal penitentiaries, mostly in Alberta.
In the view of many, Karl’s rap sheet was just as despicable as that of killers, drug dealers, and bank robbers. Perhaps more so …
Karl Toft was/is a notorious pedophile — one of the worst. The man violated lads in their early teens. And we’re not talking a few here … try a few hundred.
The assaults took place in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s while Toft was a correctional officer/counselor at a reform school in Kingsclear, just outside Fredericton.
The victims were ‘young offenders’ — juvenile delinquents, punks — [thieves, break-in artists, bullies] — who, after being dealt with by the courts were about to be punished further by tax-payer funded counselors whose job it was to help rehabilitate them.
The troubled kids were easy prey for an out-of-control predator.Court records indicate that Kart Toft’s victims number 200, but the actual figure may be much higher than that. No matter. The number of damaged lives is way, way over the top.
It was a human tragedy on a scale that’s impossible to fathom. I have no idea how one accurately measures stuff like that.
We can only guess at the number of teens who went on to live tormented lives — or those who ended up suiciding because their heads were messed up. All had screwed up lives before they arrived at Kingsclear, but some left in even worse shape. That’s not the way it’s supposed to be.
The egregious criminal acts, however, are only half the story. The other half — the latter half — is seen by some as positive …
Pastor Land points out the Karl Toft story isn’t just about all those sexual assaults, it’s also about a man’s redemption.
Based on what I’ve seen for the past 10 years, the pastor and others who know Toft well may be on to something. I’m not a religious sort so perhaps that’s remarkable in itself.
But you decide …
Edmonton Police say Toft has been on the straight and narrow for more than three decades … that he has harmed no children in that time, nor has he tried to.
But the man remains a pedophile … he’s just not active. Karl Toft will always want to have sex with boys. The difference is that today he keeps his urges in check — thanks to rehabilitation programs, support from friends, willpower and — according to Land and Toft himself — God.
Toft shares he was converted to Christianity [‘shown the light’] by his brother, Gerald, who visited him in jail in Fredericton shortly after police arrested him.
Is Karl Toft being truthful when he says becoming a Christian saved him? He claims that without God’s protection any one of the boys he raped may have taken him out.
Somebody saved him, that’s for sure. A child molester/rapist is a despised inmate and often the most vulnerable. A good number of sexual predators have left prison — not as free men — but in body bags.
It’s nothing short of a miracle that no one killed Toft during his time in the joint because he was housed in general population, not in segregation.
Toft is well aware that many of his victims still live in New Brunswick, conceding “they’d like to get their hands on me …” Yup.
He once asked what I thought would happen if he returned to New Brunswick. I replied that somebody would likely do him in, and there wouldn’t be much of an investigation into his murder. Such is the anger people still have towards Toft — even now, more than three decades after his last offence.Edmonton Police Detective Wil Tonowski shared that Toft has shown remarkable willpower by not re-offending for a third of a century. The senior officer was instrumental in organizing police surveillance of sexual offenders and setting up a sex offender registry program.
Tonowski shared they once set Toft up in a grocery store to see how he’d react when a lad approached him. But nothing happened. Toft laid down his basket of groceries on the floor and walked out.
Tonowski and his crew were impressed. The pedophile had passed with flying colours.
Toft’s landlady of a decade describes the former prisoner as a ‘kind man’ who has been cared for by other tenants in her three-story walkup. “They carry his groceries up the stairs to his apartment,” says Leona, adding, “and because he lives alone, they keep an eye on him.”
I’ve read all about his past,” she says, “I don’t condone that of course but I’m convinced the person I’ve come to know — and love — is no longer the evil man he once was.”
Pastor Wayne Land feels the same way, but you already know that.
Land was sitting alongside Detective Tonowski when Karl Toft showed up at police headquarters in downtown Edmonton, not long after he was released from the joint. Toft took one look at the cop and walked out. He wanted nothing to do with him.
Toft also had his doubts about the pastor after he confronted him about his salvation. And for Land, so began the story of Toft’s ‘redemption.’
Back to my visit with Toft … I left the hospital and was walking through the parking lot when the buzz of a car window coming down stopped me in my tracks. What do you know? Behind the wheel was Detective Tonowski, now retired and puffing on a fat cigar.
I asked, “You here to see Toft?” “Yes …”
We shook hands, I slipped Tonowski my business card and went on my way.
The officer then went inside to visit with Toft. I could be wrong … but I have a feeling he wasn’t there on official police business.
Karl Toft’s crimes were so massive that most people were skeptical when the man 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 by the public in a better light.
Toft took it upon himself to show his behaviour had changed. However, few listened to what he had to say and those who did … simply didn’t believe him. He was a liar and that was that.
I had interviewed Karl Toft about a decade ago for an exclusive 3-part series that ran in the Sun chain of newspapers.
I continued to meet with Toft once or twice a year, always at my request. I wanted to know what he was up to and if he was keeping his nose clean.
The pedophile once shared, “I look in the mirror and I see a normal man. But I know I’m not normal.”
Another thing Tonowski pointed out was that Toft had asked for the court-ordered restrictions on him to be extended. That had to be a first. The limitations meant that Toft could not go near a playground or school, couldn’t walk in a shopping centre during the day, that sort of thing.
If Karl Toft was having a Burger at Harvey’s and a child suddenly walked in, he’d have to pick up his food and walk out. The man remained a prisoner of sorts.
Police continued to keep an eye on the pedophile. As well, any member of the public could report him anytime.
Quoting a shrink at a psychiatric hospital in Edmonton, Karl Toft explained that he was ‘wired differently.’ My response was that I could not get my head around pedophilia, couldn’t understand it at all. A frustrated Toft stared at me for a good five seconds before responding: “No, I don’t suppose you can …”
“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 had anything to say — as in an apology — to the people in his home province. “I’m sorry,” he says, “there are no words I can put to it. I’m sorry. What else can I say?”
I added, “They’d still like to kill you.” “I understand that,” he responded, “and I know why they feel that way …”
HEAR TOFT SPEAK
Here are two short audio clips of Karl Toft. In the first clip, he says he knows he’s dying and that it’s up to the Lord to decide if he’s a changed man.
The second clip is more introspective. I pointed out to Toft that he feels God has given him salvation — but what about the youngsters [now adults] he raped and because of their nightmares, some have turned away from God. What do you say to them?
His response is that they shouldn’t blame God, they should blame Karl Toft.
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 in the lobby of the Law Courts Building in Edmonton … he wanted nothing to do with me because I was a ‘nosy’ newsman. Toft is still somewhat guarded around me, though not as much as before. I feel he shares much more with the pastor and close friends, but no one should be surprised.
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. “I tried suicide three times … but every time God saved me.”
I’d heard 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 take their own life.
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 there …
“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 said our goodbyes and I was soon standing by the elevators.
In 30 minutes or so I returned 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.”
Karl Toft wants to return home.
Looks like he’ll get his wish. A friend from British Columbia is planning to make the trip to Fredericton and sprinkle his ashes in the Saint John River.