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 scores of national news stories. Articles about him appeared in newspapers as well as on radio and television. He was, as they say, big news.
Now, the old man is dying …
[EXCLUSIVE: on Saturday, 28 April 2018, Karl Toft died at an Edmonton hospice, the General Hospital downtown. The hospital confirmed that Toft died alone at 06:22. He was 81.]
The private get-together took place in late January 2018 at the Misericordia Hospital in Edmonton 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 — doesn’t have long to go. Three months maybe, who knows. He likely won’t make it to his 82nd birthday in June.
There was a quiet, commanding presence about the visitor, Pastor Wayne Land. The pastor reached over and shook hands with Karl who seemed pleasantly surprised he had visitors.
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 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 more than 10 years as a federal prisoner, mainly in Alberta.
In the view of many, Karl’s rap sheet was 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, N.B.
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 a predator, especially one who was out of control.Court records indicate that the victims of Kart Toft number 200, but the actual figure may be much higher. No matter. The number of damaged lives is way, 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 too 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 one 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 that 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, especially in prison. A child 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 to him 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 Karl 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 large 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. Their programs were working, the officer said, and Toft was walking the talk.
Karl 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.”
Toft’s long-time friend, Charles Ingles, agrees. “Christ did a complete cleansing of him,” he says.
Pastor Wayne Land feels the same way, but you already know that.
Land was sitting alongside Detective Tonowski when 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 electronic buzz of a car window coming down stopped me in my tracks. What do you know? Here 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 the con. I could be wrong … but I have a feeling he wasn’t there on official police business.
Karl Toft’s sins 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 prisoner sought moral cover while applying for parole.
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. He never called for a get-together. 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.”
Something Detective 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.
The man remained a prisoner of sorts.
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. He couldn’t take public transportation, go to a movie, etc.
Police continued to keep an eye on the pedophile. As well, any member of the public could report him anytime. One did.
Quoting a shrink at a psychiatric hospital in Edmonton, 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. “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 …”
A SPLIT LIFE
Since his days as a young man and right up until his final days, Karl Toft was a pedophile. Toft says he couldn’t stop his urges — but that thanks to police programs, support from religious people and friends, he was able to keep his urges ‘in check.’
Police who monitored the pedophile maintain that’s true. I can’t verify that because I didn’t keep an eye on Toft. I can’t verify that he reoffended either, although my suspicion is that he did not.
When a link to this story was posted on my Facebook page, readers reacted with extreme anger towards Toft. That’s understandable. One doesn’t have to be a victim to be pissed off at his egregious behaviour.
Given Toft’s track record for the last half of his life, the lack of forgiveness by the public was puzzling — until a Christian pointed out that while people may go to church, it doesn’t mean they’re ‘believers.’ He went on to say that Christians forgive, pointing out that scores of passages throughout the Bible refer to forgiveness.
I’ve never been the victim of a sexual assault. But I can relate … somewhat.
A relative of mine — a teen — once raped his pre-teen cousin. But he was never charged. That’s because the victim’s mother and a guardian of the rapist decided it was best that police not get involved. It was all hushed up. Somebody got away with something.
Responsible parenting, I know.
I only discovered this dirty family secret much later in life … and it made me wonder: how much of this goes on that the public doesn’t know about?
The rapist went on to spend time behind bars for other sexual crimes, some against children.
So much for sweeping dirt under the rug. The offender received zero treatment and … surprise, surprise … went on to wreck more lives.
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 wasn’t holding back on telling me that I 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.
[Toft’s wish is alive and well … and it shows in all the things I do for others.]
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 guarded, 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 kill themselves. It happens frequently.
On Thursday afternoon, 3 May 2018, about two dozen people — church-goers, former sex offenders, police, and preachers — showed up at a memorial service for Toft at the Christian Life Center, a non-denominational church in the inner city.
The hymns sung: ‘Redeemed,’ ‘Amazing Grace,’ and ‘Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus.’
About half a dozen people spoke.
No one mentioned the word ‘pedophile’ — but nearly all mentioned ‘redemption’ and how Toft had become a new man because he’d fessed up to his sins and turned over his life to Christ.One parishioner said she knew Karl Toft as a kind man who regularly went to church. She shared that she was shocked to see on the TV news that her friend “had a past.”
Another recalled that when Toft first started going to her church he kept his head down because of shame but later walked straight and tall, looking straight ahead because “he had found the Lord.”
DEAD IN THE WATER
Karl Toft always wanted to return home to New Brunswick.
He got his wish. Charles Ingles made the trip to the Maritimes in September 2018 and sprinkled Toft’s ashes in the Saint John River, near Woodstock.
Ingles — who says he was a victim of sexual abuse himself — met Toft through a church in downtown Edmonton.
He reveals he was guided to help the former prisoner. I said, “By whom?” I thought perhaps he was working on behalf of the Edmonton Police, the Parole Board, or Corrections Canada. But no. Ingles says he was guided by the Lord.
Thanks for this story… incredible, but as a Christian, I understand.
Interesting article, Byron, but I feel you are painting a rather sympathetic article on a man who damaged many children’s lives and who is manipulating you and others for sympathy when he has nothing to lose.
I love your unbiased reporting usually, but wish you would take a second look at this sorry piece of humanity, Bible or not!
I didn’t find it sympathetic at all.
If fact, I was struck by the continual repetition of the word ‘pedophile.’ It seemed to me that the author wanted to be quite sure that the article was completely unbiased.
I would really like to read more. I’m curious …
Interesting! This is the first that I’ve heard of this man in I don’t know how many years. I’m surprised that he’s still alive!
Byron, you always have these cutting edge articles … was pretty interesting article where I thought rot in hell Karl? or maybe he changed?
Doesn’t change the fact he was a monster and ruined so many lives. The Lord forgave him so it’s all good now. I have a hard time with that; nevertheless always enjoy your articles.
I am the caretaker at the apartment building where Karl lived. I met him in 2009.
It’s too bad people don’t know the Karl Toft I know. He is a kind person. Very polite and, yes, likes to crack jokes. He always gave me a hard time, but in fun.
Other tenants also like Karl. They helped him carry things up to his apartment and swept snow off his car.
Karl is now a great Christian, in my view. He is always reading his Bible and going to church. People can change — and Karl did. People don’t like what he did (understandably) but they should see him for what he is today.
Now that I am in Karl’s circle of friends, I realize that many know him as a good person.
The man doesn’t have much time left on earth as God is calling him — and I feel he will be accepted with open arms. Karl is only human. I believe that no matter what a person has done, there is forgiveness.
I think of Karl often. I have come to love the guy because he is a good person and, believe me, I will miss him.
Would be interesting to hear from the ‘boys’ whose lives were so severely impacted by this person; boys who were struggling with life as it was!!
Am not a subscriber to the ‘God forgave him’ stance.
Unfortunately I do not have any sympathy for this man, but I do have it for the young boys who have had their lives changed forever by this predator!
I enjoy your writing and stories. The subject of this one, however, can rot in hell and I hope he does. He has destroyed more lives, one of which most of us older Campbelltonians know, than any amount of forgiveness can erase.
Karl Toft can find God all he wants, he deserves nothing from anyone but condemnation, if that.
He’s evil, pure and simple.
Forgiveness is letting go, not condoning. He raped hundreds of children, ruining lives present and future.
He knew it was wrong as does even the most primitive people’s on earth. He leveraged a whole system to perpetrate it. My heart is with the children.
Terrible man. Poor kids, sad for kids. They should have castrated him and let him bleed to death — never mind jail.
No problem with your writing Byron … as usual … but disagree with the thought process.
I see a lot of “me, my and I” from Toft … “I lived there … no peace. Good thing I got caught … not only protected children, it saved my life.” (read it to yourself … the first half is dismissive, the last part carries the impact.)
“I hope they are well. I hope they forgive me (how can they be well or at least completely whole) why is he hopeful of their forgiveness — for himself or their well being? Again, that sounds dismissive … empty words.
After his arrest … “It took a load off my mind.” Why does he not understand if he can’t make it right — and he can’t — his own penance should not be to have a load off HIS mind. I doubt even after his arrest his victims did not have a load off their minds.
He thinks after suicide attempts God saved him … I think God kept him alive to live with and bear witness to his deeds
and his destructive behaviour.
Not out to tar and feather … just thinking he sounds self-serving to me.
This article is a triumph … so well done. I think he will leave you his Bible when he goes ‘home.’
I am actually a bit offended by this and the fact that he is getting this attention when he ruined so many lives is pondering, to say the least.
He may think God has forgiven him but does that really matter as God will see the damage he has done and he will have burdens to pay.
Sorry but I have a hard time with this and maybe it’s because I don’t understand why or how someone can do this once — never mind repeatedly.
Interesting comments, almost as interesting as the article.
I’m not a true “God” person but something kept the pedophile alive in prison and for many years after. He won’t harm anyone now so let him read his Bible. He’ll find out soon enough …
I don’t know if it’s just my computer but I cannot play the audio clips. More importantly, I don’t want to play them and have his voice in my house.
I think this man is inherently evil.
Playing this ‘thumping the Bible’ thing is fucking weird. His only redemption, as far as I am concerned, is that he actually should kill himself. For sure, God would forgive him then, understanding that this bad seed was soulful enough to recognize that he brought no good to the rest of humanity.
I know of one inmate that had never been around Toft, yet received about $11,000 for just writing a letter and lying he was abused by Toft.
How many have done this?
Maybe God can forgive him … but I can’t see how his victims could!!!
That’s quite a story and I do believe some people turn their lives around but at the same time, the victims go on suffering.
I have a problem with the last line and that is that they will scatter the ashes in the river. Is that still allowed? I think that could be unhealthy and should not be allowed. Ashes should be buried. That’s my opinion.
Many criminals use, “Oh I found God” as an excuse to get outta jail. I don’t buy it.
Do the crime — do the time.
Your last story is an interesting one, again.
Must say it was hard to read, harder to understand … it’s a kind of funny thing to try to understand since I do not understand even my own life!
God, Jesus Christ, Holy Spirit, angels … (who exactly, no idea) have been helping me all the way. Hard work. Deeply thankful for that all.
There have been many times I didn’t understand what was going on, but I got to know (and sometimes also felt) what was happening to me.
It’s still going on, still happening. No understanding. Just knowing. To be forgiven and loved.
1 JOHN 1:9 “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
ACTS 3:19 “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord,”
ISAIAH 1:18 “Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”
COLOSSIANS 3:13 “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
COLOSSIANS 1:13-14 “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
LUKE 17:3-4 “So watch yourselves. If your brother or sisters sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.”
EPHESIANS 4:32 “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
NUMBERS 14:19-20 “In accordance with your great love, forgive the sin of these people, just as you have pardoned them from the time they left Egypt until now. The LORD replied, “I have forgiven them, as you asked.”
MATTHEW 6:14-15 “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
As always Byron a provocative essay trying to make sense and introspection into the realm of evil.
Karl Toft’s punishment and remorse accompanies him to the grave.
I guess there are those who would forgive Hitler if he had lived and professed similar post criminal behavior … not I.
Your writing and ability to see what others miss astonishes me.
Interesting read. He sure is a diminished man from his heyday.
Quite the read, and I very much enjoy your writing style.
I remember Karl Toft being paroled to a halfway house in Edmonton. I didn’t think he would survive long because one of his victims would put an end to his life.
Am astounded that the number of young victims is higher than 200.
Very compelling story. You excel at stories like this.
Not sure if there is an appropriately named section of the Saint John River for the spreading of Toft’s ashes … however, the Restigouche River has a stretch called “Devil’s Half Acre.”
His ashes would lend itself to the river’s folklore.
People find it hard to forgive, especially when there are victims of sexual assaults and other brutal acts of violence. I can see that happening.
I can also see that given the many references to the spiritual need for forgiveness contained in the Holy Scriptures (thank you Gerald), it is not easy being a Christian. That is why some “Christians” are non-believers. They are fakes.
May the Good Lord forgive and bless them also. Glory to God!
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