Whitehorse Daily Star

Late victim’s sister glad killer has died

A central figure in one of the most notorious cases of spousal violence in modern Yukon history has died.

By Whitehorse Star on July 19, 2021

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.

Comments (12)

Up 3 Down 2

still angry on Jul 24, 2021 at 8:01 pm

Good riddance. He called someone I know from jail and told her he wanted to be a men's counsellor, 'So what happened to ME never happens to another MAN.'
Ralph ate up the jury's rationelle that Susan caused him to kill her, and then poor Ralph had to go to court and got a 5 year sentence.

All of them are a bunch of sickos. If I had been Susan, I'd be telling him he was a scum and a worm too. He chased her from one end of the country to another, feeling it was his right to torment and pursue her to the end, and then his right ultimately to kill her when she continued to insist on her independence from him.

FAIL! Judge, jury, police, and everyone who allowed this situation to perpetuate until this POS finally killed a wonderful human being. The fact that he is dead does nothing to bring Susan back. Whackos like Klassen need to be taken seriously. We need to look around and say, 'Who is the Ralph K. circulating in our community TODAY?', and stop them.

Up 10 Down 1

A friend on Jul 23, 2021 at 6:44 am

They were both loved by many people and both are still loved by many people in the Yukon. Susan filled a room with a kindness and peace like no other. As a teenager close to them both, this rocked my, at the time, small understanding of how the world worked and still confuses me to this day. Unhealthy relationships are not to be taken lightly, mental health is not to be taken lightly and spousal abuse is not to be taken lightly. And in this case, it was.

Up 18 Down 16

DA on Jul 22, 2021 at 9:00 am

I am truly sorry for Susan and her family, but I won't celebrate Ralph's death. We really shouldn't be celebrating anyone's death, regardless of who they are. There are better ways to live than giving into hateful bitterness.

Up 36 Down 0

yukongirl on Jul 21, 2021 at 11:37 am

I remember this so well. Susan Klassen, Krystal Senek, Maranda Peter ... I was questioning my judgement in returning home to the Yukon to stay post university.
There was no justice given in the deaths of any of these women.

Up 21 Down 8

Juniper Jackson on Jul 20, 2021 at 4:52 pm

Whatever is left of Ralph, that two ounces of energy that leaves the body... I hope is seeing justice on another level. For us here, it's not justice that someone can take my life, my daughters life, and get a minimum fine/incarceration because I am so irritating..just had to kill me. The family carried the burden of grief, and the anger of no justice for Susan. They will never fully recover. I too am pretty happy he has breathed his last.

Up 66 Down 6

CJ2 on Jul 20, 2021 at 2:45 pm

With all due respect, it's not the length of the sentence in itself that was so disturbing, it was the rationale, which amounted to saying Klassen was driven to it by the victim's "negative comments".

The prosecutors really dropped the ball, somehow. Even 30 years ago, there was a more enlightened view of spousal abuse that never was reflected in that courtroom. I still feel unsettled at the fact that he wasn't also charged for deliberately crashing into the propane truck. The whole handling of the case was positively Victorian.

Up 53 Down 3

Nathan Living on Jul 20, 2021 at 2:27 pm

Yes, an incredibly light sentence which insults the family, women and our community.
Seems like the man's rage was somehow supported by the judicial system which is beyond being messed up.

Up 60 Down 3

DShaw on Jul 20, 2021 at 11:09 am

5 years for taking a human life is unbelievably pathetic. Glad this dirtbag is dead too, although wish it would have been much earlier. Sympathies go out to Susan's family who had to deal with that light slap on the wrist for the brutal murder of their loved one. That sentence shows how the justice system treats violence against women. Although it's improved, it hasn't by much. Time for a change!!!!!

Up 45 Down 2

Justice Denied on Jul 20, 2021 at 2:12 am

A fracture of this heinous story had to do with the 5 year manslaughter sentence.
How a strangling can get reduced to manslaughter is past my ability to understand justice. That's one thing then there is the five year max sentence for manslaughter because of 'case law'.
If this is the case with case law then it's min/max need to be reset every 5 years to avoid bogus sentencing such as in this case or go on being bogus. It's justice's consciousness.

Up 6 Down 21

bonanzajoe on Jul 19, 2021 at 9:09 pm

Matthew 7:23 "...I never knew you, depart from me, ye that work iniquity".

Up 78 Down 5

Heather on Jul 19, 2021 at 4:34 pm

To Barbara; I have memories of your sister at the storytelling festival, telling tales of Silkies. I think of her whenever I drive out past her old house, she is not forgotten. I am so sorry you lost her at the hands of a loser like Ralph, may he burn for eternity, while your sister remains an angel.

Up 64 Down 4

I remember this well on Jul 19, 2021 at 3:45 pm

I knew both Ralph and Susan slightly and remember being absolutely shocked by both the killing and the sentence (and his attempt at suicide). 25 years ago and it was a realization that domestic violence often goes unseen, and that the abuser can literally get away with murder. As Susan's sister says, he may not have been judged harshly here, but hopefully there's a harsher judgment in his afterlife.

Note: For anyone who is not familiar with the Klassen tragedy, go to the Whitehorse Star menu, click on 'History'.
Stories start in Nov. 1995 including 1996 and 1997. This is a free zone.

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