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May 22, 2007

When Mom Has A Secret

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Did Olson's daughter know about her mother's past?

"There would be no reason for her to tell us," Emily says. Her mother, she adds, was a private person — most of the things Emily knows about her family history come from her father. "I don't even know if I ever asked Mom anything. I always asked Dad."

What her mother lacked in a past, she made up for in face time with her kids — driving them to soccer games, helping with homework. Still, Emily admits, some things were hard to explain — like the fact that she and her sisters never saw their maternal grandparents. (As a fugitive, Olson kept her distance from anyone the police might be watching.)

"She was just kind of estranged from her family," says Emily. "I figured she had issues with them as a young adult, and her family had some problems with her views. We'd say, 'Do I have another grandma?' And she'd say, 'Oh, we don't talk to them.' We were like, 'Okay, whatever.'"

So Mom had a secret, I say.

"It's not like it was that bad a secret," Emily bristles, sliding back in the booth.

And what about Fred? After all, he was a bright, curious young doctor when he met his wife. Did he suspect anything?

When I pose the question, Emily watches her father closely. At 57, he looks like the kind of guy you could tell your troubles to — maybe even those involving an outstanding federal warrant for your arrest.

"I knew there was something," he says finally. "But I didn't know any details." He speaks carefully. One wrong word and he could be prosecuted for harboring a fugitive. "Twenty years in prison," he explains.

As Fred sees it, his wife's story has been mythologized by the press. "Crime novels from the 1930s have this theme — 'living on the lam,'" he says. "You know, The Fugitive Becomes a Soccer Mom. They're all stereotypical images of deceit. None of that applies when you're just living a life and raising kids. People would say to me, 'How could you accommodate such a depraved criminal mind? How can you live with the knowledge of what happened in the past?' It captures the American psychodrama. But it was not real."


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