Karla Homolka and Paul Bernardo committed horrifying crimes that shocked Canadian families in the late 1980s and early 90s
Karla Homolka was one half of the infamous "Ken and Barbie Killers" that terrorized Canadian teenage girls in the early 90s. Along with her husband Paul Bernardo, she kidnapped and tortured multiple teenage girls and even murdered three of them – including her own sister.
Today she lives under a different name and volunteers at her children's elementary school, but the question remains – was she a complicit sociopath who enjoyed torturing innocent teenage girls? Or were these the actions of an abused, brainwashed woman who had nowhere to turn?
Karla Homolka's Early Life
Born on May 4, 1970, Karla Leanne Homolka was the eldest daughter of Karel and Dorothy Homolka. She was a straight-A student with a bright future, and people who knew her described her as "pretty, popular and clever."
Karla Homolka was stubborn and overbearing from childhood, refusing to compromise with other children or submit to authority. In her teenage years, she went through a depressive phase after changing high schools and began self-harm as a means to get attention from friends and family.
After graduating high school in 1988, Homolka took a part-time job at Thorold Veterinary clinic working as a Veterinary assistant and often talked about how she wanted to go to college to study veterinary science. Later, she took a similar job working at the Martindale Animal Hospital, which is where she would steal the drugs to begin her murder spree.
Karla Homolka and Paul Bernardo
Karla Homolka met Paul Bernardo on October 17, 1987, at a conference in Toronto. Friends of the couple described the immediate chemistry as "palpable," Within hours, the two were having sex in Paul's hotel room. The couple were picture-perfect, both classically good-looking with blonde hair and blue eyes, and from the outside, were wholeheartedly in love.
Paul Bernardo proposed to Karla Homolka in December of the same year; she was only 17, while he was 23.
Karla's parents were thrilled that she was engaged to Paul; he was witty, charming, and working as an accountant, and the age difference was a minor factor for a man who had so much going for him.
The Murder of Tammy Homolka
By 1990, Bernardo had lost his job as an accountant and had taken to smuggling cigarettes across the US-Canadian border. He and Karla spent much of their time at her parents' house, where he became close to her younger sisters Lori and Tammy. This relationship quickly turned to obsession, and Bernardo would often sneak into Tammy's room to masturbate while she slept.
While this is shocking in itself, what is even more alarming is that Karla helped him by breaking the blinds in her sister's room to allow him access.
In July 1990, Bernardo expressed regret to Homolka that the one thing he wanted from her was the one thing she couldn't give him: her virginity. He suggested that they use Tammy as a proxy, and she readily agreed.
On December 23, 1990, Karla Homolka grabbed animal tranquilizers from her job at the Martindale Animal Clinic and crushed them into a rum and eggnog cocktail to serve to her 15-year-old sister.
Tammy quickly lost consciousness, and the pair carried her down to the basement, where Bernardo began to rape her while Homolka watched. Bernardo then said that he wanted Homolka to assault her unconscious sister; she did so willingly.
Tammy soon began to vomit as the effects of the massive overdose of Halothane rocked her system. Homolka and Bernardo tried to revive her, then called 911. On December 24, 1990, Tammy Homolka was pronounced dead without having regained consciousness.
Despite the behavior of Homolka and Bernardo and a suspicious burn on Tammy's face from the Halothane rag used to sedate her, the official cause of death was listed as accidental choking on vomit after excessive consumption of alcohol.
Videotapes later showed Karla wearing Tammy's clothes and pretending to be her younger sister while Bernardo said and did obscene things to her.
Karla Homolka's Other Crimes
The death of Tammy Homolka seemed to spark a fire in Paul Bernardo, whose sexual sadism could only be satisfied by the domination and submission of women. Over the course of four years, Bernardo and Homolka lured multiple teenage girls to their home, where they drugged and raped them, filming the entire intercourse for sexual gratification later.
Many of their victims were friends of Homolka's sister Tammy and didn't realize what had happened to them until much later during the investigation when they were shown the footage.
The Murder of Leslie Mahaffy
On June 15, 1991, Bernardo came across his second victim. Leslie Mahaffy was a 14-year-old girl from Burlington who had the misfortune of being locked out of her parents' house for missing her curfew. Bernardo approached her and told her that he was looking to break into a neighboring house. This didn't bother Mahaffy, who asked if he had any cigarettes.
Bernardo overpowered Mahaffy and led her to his car, blindfolded and gagged. He drove her to the rental that he and Homolka shared in Port Dalhousie, where he informed Homolka that "we have a new playmate." Just like Tammy Homolka, the pair filmed themselves torturing and raping Mahaffy for hours; at one point, Bernardo said, "You're doing a good job, Leslie, a damn good job." Loud recordings of Bob Marley and David Bowie muffled Leslie's cries for help.
The following day, Homolka fed Leslie Mahaffy a lethal dose of Halcion. After moving her body to the basement, Bernardo and Homolka had dinner with Karla's parents, acting as though everything was completely normal.
Using his neighbor's buzzsaw, Bernardo and Homolka cut Mahaffy's body into pieces, encased the remains inside concrete blocks, and then dumped them into Lake Gibson.
On June 29, 1991, as Leslie Mahaffy's body was discovered by a father and son canoeing on Lake Gibson, Homolka and Bernardo were getting married in a lavish ceremony at Niagara Falls.
The Murder of Kristen French
On April 16, 1992, Bernardo and Homolka lured 15-year-old Kristen French into their car on the pretense of getting directions.
French was sedated using Halothane, and the couple tortured and raped her for three days before finally murdering her. Unlike Mahaffy, French was never blindfolded during her time in captivity and was forced to watch the footage of Mahaffy and Tammy Homolka's rapes repeatedly.
Though she was initially forced to be submissive towards Bernardo, by the end, French was wild and confrontational, calling him a "bastard" and saying, "I don't understand how your wife can stand to be around you."
Kristen French's cause of death is still undetermined; Bernardo claimed that Homolka beat her to death with a rubber mallet for trying to escape, whereas Homolka testified that Bernardo strangled her with the same cord used to kill Leslie Mahaffy.
One thing is for sure; like Leslie Mahaffy, Bernardo and Homolka dined with the Homolka family while Kristen French's body lay bloodied and beaten in the basement. Karla Homolka later went and cut French's hair and washed her body, and the pair disposed of the remains in a ditch outside Burlington.
Arrest and Confession
At the beginning of their relationship, Karla Homolka gushed to friends about how perfect her new handsome boyfriend was; by 1990, she confessed that he was beating her regularly. The picture-perfect façade was beginning to show cracks, and their entire world was about to come tumbling down.
Homolka and Bernardo had been questioned by police multiple times regarding the crimes committed by the Scarborough Rapist, Tammy Homolka's death, and Bernardo's stalking of Sydney Kershen and the Patrich sisters. While Bernardo had willingly supplied police with DNA samples in 1990, they had remained untested in the station backlog for over two years.
On December 27, 1992, Karla Homolka went to the emergency room at St Catharine's General with two black eyes and a suspected broken wrist. Paul Bernardo had beaten her with a flashlight around the head and limbs so severely. She could not walk straight and was having difficulty recognizing her surroundings.
When her parents came to "rescue" her, Homolka ran back inside the house frantically searching for something; she came out empty-handed and reluctantly left with her parents.
Homolka moved into her aunt's house in Brampton, where she confessed to her uncle that Bernardo was both the Scarborough Rapist and responsible for the murders of Leslie Mahaffy and Kristen French.
Her uncle advised her to get a lawyer immediately. In February 1993, Karla Homolka sought full immunity from prosecution for her cooperation with the Green Ribbon Task Force investigation into the murders of Mahaffy and French. This request was denied, and instead, she was offered reduced culpability for the crimes, with a 12-year prison term for manslaughter.
Homolka took the deal, and on July 24, 1995, she testified against her former husband during his trial.
Where is Karla Homolka Today?
Karla Homolka was released from prison in 2005, having served her entire 12-year sentence for two counts of manslaughter. Facing intense public scrutiny and backlash, she moved to the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe in 2007. She married Thierry Bordelais, her lawyer's brother, and had three children.
In 2012, the family moved back to Canada and settled in Montreal, where Homolka was discovered volunteering at her children's elementary school under the name Leanne Teale. A subsequent investigation into her past led the school to issue a press statement saying that no person with a criminal record would be allowed on school grounds.
Karla Homolka now lives in attempted anonymity in an attempt to give her children a normal life. The discussion about Karla Homolka's participation in these crimes is a hotly debated one, with some people believing that she was just another of Paul Bernardo's victims.
However, the evidence on the videotapes is fairly damning; Homolka is not only complicit but a willing participant in these horrific crimes, including the rape and murder of her own sister Tammy. This speaks to sociopathy may be even greater than Paul Bernardo, as she was not only a participant in violent crimes against strangers but also acted as a lure for unsuspecting teenage girls.