A central figure in one of the most notorious cases of spousal violence in modern Yukon history has died.
Ralph Klassen passed away May 5 after a lengthy battle with Parkinson’s disease and dementia. The eldest of seven children, Kassen had turned 70 on June 1.
He was convicted of manslaughter for the November 1995 killing of his then-wife Susan Klassen, a beloved Whitehorse storyteller, in their Lake Laberge home.
Then 45, he strangled his 36-year-old wife with his own two hands and a ligature.
Ralph Klassen then tried to commit suicide by deliberately colliding head-on with a propane truck on the North Klondike Highway. The truck driver also survived.
The five-year sentence Klassen received triggered both an unsuccessful appeal and a major street protest in Whitehorse by irate Yukon residents.
“It is with absolute glee that I report that Ralph Jake Klassen has finally died,” one of Susan Klassen’s sisters, Barbara (Burke) Klaczek, said over the weekend from Alberta.
“He killed my sister in Whitehorse nearly 26 years ago ... he has finally met his maker and will be judged.
“His Earthly judgment, which took place in Whitehorse, was pathetic, and a detriment for all who are abused by their spouse,” Klaczek said.
“We have no justice in this country. Anyway … he cannot lie his way out of his eternal judgment.
“I think there are still folks around Whitehorse that knew and loved Susan,” her sister added.
“She worked at the (Whitehorse) hospital and they put up a memorial and planted a tree in her memory. I am so at peace now that he is gone! Brighter days ahead for all of us.”
Ralph Klassen did not return to the Yukon after serving his sentence in Victoria.
He had originally been on trial on a charge of second-degree murder.
The jury concluded that negative comments made by his wife had caused her estranged husband to fall into a deep, blind rage.
Reaction to the case’s outcome was fierce, with a glass door of the Andrew Philipsen Law Centre being smashed.
Family members spoke of being shocked by the verdict.
One of Susan Klassen’s five sisters fainted inside the courtroom, and was later taken to the hospital by ambulance. Brenda McDonald explained the next day that she thought she’d been having a heart attack.
Upon sentencing, Justice Ralph Hutchinson, of Nanaimo, B.C., extended his sympathy to the Klassens for their loss.
Judging from the victim impact statements and the outbursts in court, Hutchinson said, “I doubt the punishment will satisfy those family members.”
But, he said, the courts must impose sentences that are fair and appropriate when measured against the other sentences that are imposed by other courts.
Then-Crown prosecutor Sue Bogle had argued during the sentencing hearing that Ralph Klassen should receive a sentence that fell in the high end of the range. The Crown had sought a punishment of eight to 12 years’ incarcaration.