Fans of Lemony Snicket have long known shuddered at the atrocities committed by Count Olaf, but thanks to Netflix, now even more people know just how evil the frequent not-so-legal guardian of the Baudelaire children really is. While readers and viewers know they should have heeded warnings to “look away,” the tragic tale is now etched in their memories. But there is good news -should Count Olaf ever be captured and prosecuted, he will be securely locked up in prison for a long, long time. Here are some of the crimes he committed in the early tales of the Baudelaires, as well as the legal penalties for each crime.
Note: While the books have been out for years now, we absolutely adore the Netflix series (especially Neil Patrick Harris’ portrayal of Olaf), so for the sake of avoiding spoilers for fans of the show, we will be limiting his crimes only to those that take place in the first four books -and the first season of the series. Besides, Olaf commits more than enough crimes in these first stories to go to prison for life, so going through all of his crimes in all of the stories would be superfluous, a word which in this case means “unnecessary and more than enough.”
In The Bad Beginning, Olaf starts out mean and ends up downright evil. First he presents the children with a home that is in no way safe for them to live in, making him arguably guilty of child endangerment the same way the Addams Family might be. Only whereas the Addams clan at least provide their children with ample love and support, Olaf is cold and after he doesn’t get his way, he goes from being uncaring to downright abusive, even slapping Klaus in front of a table of guests. Of course, child abuse and endangerment charges are nothing compared to some of the other terrible crimes he commits.
After hitting Klaus, he develops a plan to force Violet to marry him, thus enabling him to take control of the Baudelaire fortune. To do so, he locks sunny up in a cage dangling from his home’s tower window, extorts Violet and Klaus to go along with the wedding and tricks Justice Strauss to officiate the legal ceremony under the guise of a play. These actions could amount to assault with a deadly weapon, blackmail, fraud -even possibly attempted murder.
Most decent criminal attorneys could defend their client from child endangerment charges for simply having a home unsuitable for children after unexpectedly becoming the legal guardian of children of deceased friends or family members, and a lawyer could possibly even defend his slapping Klaus as a new parent trying to learn how to properly discipline a child (noting that the slap did not cause any actual injuries). But trying to defend Olaf from all the charges related to the mock wedding would be difficult, if not impossible. Child endangerment and abuse charges carry up to two years, but the other charges could result in a sentence of at least 15 years imprisonment so even if he beat those two more defensible actions, his other behaviors would still leave him behind bars for a long period of time.
His acts in the second book, The Repile Room, are even more reprehensible than those he committed in the first. It’s worth noting that here the word “reprehensible” means despicable or inexcusable. Olaf uses fraud to worm his way into the lives of the children a second time by fooling Montgomery Montgomery (aka Uncle Monty) into believing he was sent as the replacement to Montgomery’s original research assistant -who we later learn Olaf drowned. When the children recognize him despite his disguise, the Count threatens them, committing assault. But the most terrible offense occurs when Olaf murders Uncle Monty, framing the deceptively named incredible deadly viper for the death. While fraud and assault could carry penalties of a few years in prison each, murder can result in life imprisonment and since Count Olaf committed two separate murders, he would be facing a very long sentence indeed.
In The Wide Window, Olaf uses fraud to fool not only Aunt Josephine into loving Captain Sham, but also Mr. Poe into letting Sham adopt the children after Josephine’s apparent suicide. You might notice that the use of fraud is a pretty common theme with all of the Count’s crimes, which only makes sense given that the only thing he truly seems to care about is acting, but we digress, which in this case means “to get sidetracked.”
Aside from fraud, Olaf also commits assault in order to convince Aunt Josephine to write her suicide note and flee for her safety. But worse than that, when he comes upon the children and Aunt Josephine in the lake as their boat is being torn apart by the bloodthirsty Lachrymose leeches, he throws Josephine to the leeches, which would be considered murder, even if he did not actually kill her himself. A defense attorney could try to argue that Olaf did not know the leeches were actually dangerous, but given that the leeches were literally tearing the children’s boat into pieces when he found them, this defense would likely be unsuccessful.
Finally, in The Miserable Mill, Olaf and his associates hypnotize Klaus, force him to commit battery on an unsuspecting mill worker with a potentially deadly machine, and use fraud to convince the mill owner, Sir, to give up custody of the children if another accident occurs. They then try to force hypnotized Klaus actually kill Sir’s partner. Now, just because Klaus was doing the actions doesn’t mean that he was guilty -as he was completely under the control of Count Olaf and his co-conspirators, those controlling him would be the ones at fault for both the battery with a deadly weapon and attempted murder charge. In this case though, a lawyer could fight the charges without too much difficulty as there is no scientific proof that hypnosis actually works -especially on the level to make someone commit a murder. The attorney could even argue that this whole “plot” was actually a trick played by the Baudelaire children to get revenge on Count Olaf and that the only reason he disguised himself as Shirley was because the children had already ruined his reputation to the point where he could not go in public or get a job without fearing what the orphans or those who believed their libelous (which in this example means “discrediting”) statements about the Count.
On the downside, if the charges from all of the books were brought against Olaf all at once, which is most likely what would happen, it would be pretty difficult to defend him against all of the evidence. In fact, while Count Olaf can come off as surprisingly charming (when he chooses to play such a character), it would be hard for him to fool a jury with both ample physical evidence indicating his guilt and numerous character witnesses describing both his despicable acts and his convincing disguises as likable people. To make matters worse, because he can be so easily irritated to the point where he explodes into an angry, threatening rant, his attorney would probably want to avoid putting him on the witness stand, which would drastically reduce his ability to charm the jury. All in all, it would be very unlikely that a murderer of at least three people and someone who has committed numerous other crimes all in an attempt to defraud three orphans of their fortune would win much sway with the prosecution, judge or jury. It’s pretty certain that if Count Olaf was charged with his crimes, he would end up serving a sentence of life in prison with no parole.
Fortunately, few real people are as entirely evil as Count Olaf in real life, which means it is much easier for the average person to fight criminal charges than it would be for old Olaf. If you have been accused of any type of criminal activity, Peter M. Liss can help. Please call (760) 643-4050 or (858) 486-3024 to schedule a free initial consultation as soon as possible.
Creative Commons Image by Tony Hisgett