Paul Bernardo and Karla HomolkaSerial killer couple Karla Homolka and Paul Bernardo were an attractive, seemingly normal Canadian couple living in the suburbs of Toronto in the early 1990’s.  No one likes serial killers but in this case it was their normal facade, masking darkly brutal crimes, that inflamed the Canadian national consciousness with a sense of shock and outrage that is difficult for crime-jaded Americans to comprehend.  Adding fuel to the outrage, Karla Homolka only served a twelve year sentence for her part in the crimes, going free in 2005, after she struck a plea deal which would become widely referred to in Canada as the “deal with the devil”.  The case received coverage in Canada that would rival the O.J. Simpson trial in the U.S. in terms of national impact — yet the case is not widely known in the United States and the rest of the world.

The Crimes

In May of 1987, a young woman was raped in Scarborough, Ontario.   This was the first in a series of rapes which the media would begin referring to as “The Scarborough Rapist”.  The rapist was, in fact, Paul Bernardo, then 23 years old.  He would eventually admit to fourteen rapes; he was implicated in as many as 50.

Five months later Bernardo met Karla Homolka, then 17, in a hotel restaurant in Scarborough.  Prior to meeting Bernardo, Homolka had shown no signs of criminal or other abnormal or deviant behavior.  She quickly fell in love with Bernardo and the two became a couple.  There is no indication that Homolka was aware of Bernardo’s actions as the Scarborough Rapist.  The two did, however, engage in aggressive sexual play, with Bernardo showing great interest in having sex with a virgin — something Karla Homolka could not provide.

Karla’s younger sister Tammy, then 15, became a target of Paul’s attentions and Karla, demonstrating her willingness to “do anything” for Paul, participated in planning a strategy in which the two would drug Tammy and, while she was asleep, rape her.  The couple first tried to implement the plan in July 1990, giving Tammy a spaghetti dinner laced with Valium — but Tammy woke up shortly after the rape began and the couple had to abandon their plan.

On December 23 of that same year, Bernardo and Homolka drugged Tammy Homolka using the animal tranquilizer halothane which Karla had stolen from her job at a local veterinary clinic.   With Karla videotaping, Paul raped Tammy in the family room of the Homolka house; however during the rape Tammy choked on her own vomit and died.  Karla and Paul successfully covered up the evidence and Tammy’s death was ruled accidental.

Homolka and Bernardo would then go on to entrap and rape and release a young fifteen year old girl, who would become known  as “Jane Doe”.   Then in June of 1991 Bernardo kidnapped 14 year old Leslie Mahaffey.  With Homolka, he raped and murdered her, disposing of the body in concrete.

Next in April 1992, with Homolka assisting in all phases, the couple kidnapped Kristen French, 15, from a church parking lot.  They raped, tortured and killed her, leaving her body naked in a ditch.

Homolka’s relationship with Bernardo, always tempestuous, became increasingly violent and in January 1993 after he beat her with a flashlight, leaving her with two black eyes, she left their home and filed charges against him.

The Investigation and Trial

Bernardo was arrested on February 17, 1993.  Police bungling, which would become a hallmark of the case, resulted in Bernardo’s self-incriminating statements becoming inadmissible because the police refused to allow him to contact an attorney in spite of his repeated requests.  Two days later the police executed a search warrant in the Bernardo home, but failed to find videotapes of the rapes of victims Mahaffy, French, Tammy Homolka, and Jane Doe.  Had these recordings been found, they would have demonstrated that Karla’s participation in the crimes was substantially greater than she was admitting to the police.

Seventy-one days later Ken Murray, Bernardo’s lawyer, acting on instructions from Bernardo, gained access to the Bernardo home and retrieved the videotapes from the place where Bernardo had hidden them above a ceiling light fixture in the upstairs bathroom.  Murray would secretly keep the videos in his possession for the next 16 months.

In July 1993, in accordance with the terms of a plea deal, Homolka pled guilty to two counts of manslaughter and received a 12 year jail sentence.

More than one year later, in September 1994, the videotapes were finally turned over to law enforcement and Homolka’s full participation in the crimes was revealed to the media during Paul Bernardo’s trial.

Bernardo was given Canada’s most extreme sentence — life in prison with no hope of parole.

Public outrage against Karla’s “deal with the devil” grew and continues to be a source of debate and outrage in Canada until today.

Further Reading and Viewing

There have been more than a dozen books written about Homolka and Bernardo.  The following books are probably the the most substantive:

Invisible Darkness by Stephen Williams

Deadly Innocence by Scott Burnside

Lethal Marriage by Nick Patten

In 2005, a Hollywood film entitled Karla, starring Laura Prepon of “That 70’s Show” as Karla Homolka, and Misha Collins as Paul Bernardo was released amidst substantial protest in Canada and even led to  members of Parliament seeking to have the film banned.

There have been several documentaries, including this one, viewable here:

Click on the following links to read other posts in All Things Crime Blog’s “Karla” series:

The Karla Homolka Files: A U.S. Perspective on Karla Homolka’s Plea Bargain

Is Karla Homolka the Most Hated Woman in North America?

Was Karla Homolka a Normal Child? The Answer Is a Resounding No

Posted by Michael Sellers on March 7, 2013


26 Responses to Karla Homolka and Paul Bernardo: Canada’s Most Notorious Serial Killer Case

  1. This is a great story and so inexplicable in the sense of why did Ms. Homolka goes against everything she’d ever been taught about ethics and morality? Or is there a backstory here; something from her childhood that we know nothing about, something that scarred or deranged her? Yet, if there is nothing, that makes it all the stranger. Who was Karla Homolka?

    • No, one of the things that adds to the intrigue of this whole case is the fact that there really wasn’t anything in Homolka’s background prior to meeting Bernardo that would suggest her to be capable of any of this. That was part of what added to the prosecution’s willingness to accept her Stockholm syndrome explanations for her participation . . . she was eventually analyzed to be extremely narcissistic with zero empathy . . . but that didn’t change the fact that at the outset he was a “typical” 17 year old working at a vet clinic with no priors and no history of criminality or deviant behavior.

      • Patrick H. Moore says:

        Totally strange. Too bad my firm couldn’t have represented her. All kidding aside, it’s easy to see why this deadly duo’s crime spree shocked and horrified our well-meaning neighbors to the north.

  2. BJW Nashe says:

    A truly disturbing case I was not even aware of. Nice job of capturing the whole twisted saga.

    Karla Homolka. Jodi Arias. Whenever attractive women get caught up in commiting lurid crimes it’s like a bomb going off in our collective unconscious.

  3. Oh, and by the way, here is the trailer for our film about this.

  4. Bob Couttie says:

    Interesting piece. They remind me much of Myra Hindley and Ian Brady, the Moors murderers which was, and remains, similarly contentious.

    • Patrick H. Moore says:

      You’re right. I did a litte surfing to refresh my memory on the Hindley/Brady cases and the similarities are uncanny. It’s easy to imagine a geographically small nation like Great Britain being absolutely terrified by such malevolence. Should you be interested, we would love to have you contribute a post on the Hindley/Brady csee. I suspect you know it far better than we do.
      Myra Hindley: Inside the Mind of a Murderess: Jean Ritchie …

      • Bob Couttie says:

        I’d be happy to do so. It does seem to be a case of folie a deux. Alhough my favourite serial murderer was a French lady who married corpulent wealth men and killed them by feeding them so well that their hearts gave out.

        • Patrick H. Moore says:

          Tremendous! I was talking with Michael and he mentioned that you and he have collaborated on some writing projects. So please knock out your Post and email it to me at “ I look forward to receiving it.

  5. SB says:

    Beneath the facade of a pleasant and tranquil homeland, Canada has its own series of murders and atrocious acts taking place. Reading about these serial killers reminded me of the 2008 murder committed by Vince Li, who while traveling through Canada on a Greyhound bus, decided to stab, kill, and then dismember and eat his fellow passenger, a 22-year old carnival worker, for no apparent reason. He did this with three dozen passengers aboard and then, according to witnesses, decapitated the individual’s head and displayed it to passengers outside the bus. When Vince Li entered court, he plead not guilty while his lawyers and psychologists argued he was not criminally responsible due to mental illness and that he was acting on God’s orders.

  6. Yalonda Laugh says:

    The Karla Homolka/ Jodi Arias cases strike so many similar parallels. Homolka claimed to have been beaten by Bernardo while taking pictures of him in the shower, after she dropped the camera. She claimed to be sexually abused throughout their entire life together, although , shown in multiple videos, that Homolka was into kinky sex as much as Bernardo was.Both women have used the PTSD excuse for their behavior after atrosious crimes were committed. I swear, Jodi’s lawyer has read up on Karla’s case.

    • Patrick H. Moore says:

      Yes, the parallels are striking with one important difference. Bernardo was responsible for at least two dozen rapes and he and Homolka were responsible for three murders, although it’s unclear to what extent Homolka was a perpetrator in the slayings. We would be very pleased if you were to write a post for the blog in which you discuss the parallels. We are looking for writers/contributors and with your knowledge of this deadly duo (and I imagine many other killers) you would be an ideal candidate.

      • Just saying... says:

        “although it’s unclear to what extent Homolka was a perpetrator in the slayings”

        Unclear, yes. But not in the way your comment (or this article) seems to be implying. There was forensic evidence available, which was mentioned in a presention in the Canadian Senate but not presented at Paul’s trial, that it was Karla, and not Paul, that killed the three girls.

        There is more than enough evidence over at the WKH blog to show that Karla was in no way a minor player here (having kidnapped on her own accord more than one of the rape victims who she was video-taped raping – one of whom she worked with and who Paul didn’t know).

        The ‘prosecution’ was overly intent on convicting Paul and – for the usual biased reasons we always see attractive females skate on these kinds of charges, if they ever get charged at all that is – completely minimized Karla’s role. Her ‘trial’ was completely secret (no prelim for either her or Paul mainly to keep her role and deal unexamined and unexaminable), and her sentencing had far more to do with not-so-hidden ideological agendas in the AG’s office than it did with anything resembling “justice”. That was how this whole travesty occured, and why there was so much ‘tension’ created around this case – at least in regards to Karla – that it remains both a national wound and a subject of constant interest all these years later.

        The following article is from a very right-wing Conservative Christian fundamentalist blog (which I am decidedly not). However, I tend to agree with most of what’s described there, and think they’ve captured an important element that rarely gets discussed.

        • Michael D. Sellers says:

          There was forensic evidence available, which was mentioned in a presentation in the Canadian Senate but not presented at Paul’s trial, that it was Karla, and not Paul, that killed the three girls.

          I’m sure our readers would be interested in a link to the forensic evidence presented in Canadian senate that points to Karla as the killer. Can you help us with that? Thanks.

    • Michael D. Sellers says:

      In watching Jody Arias I couldn’t help be feel that there’s a parallel up to a point . . . . where I feel like it begins to break down is that there is a real evidence that Karla was abused — the physical evidence at the end (ER report, photos, etc), but also the fact that Bernardo abused his girlfriend prior to Karla, and of course the rapes . . . . . so much so that even when it comes to the abuse testimony which only comes from Karla, you still have to give it a good bit of credibility because of the collateral information about Paul suggesting that in all probability it’s true. In the case or Arias — it seems like she’s probably just making it up, no? Is there any hard evidence he abused her? I recall she said there were never any trips to the ER, and that she never said anything to anyone about him abusing her — and he had not history of abuse?

      None of that excuses Karla’s actions, I’m just talking about how the parallel seems to me to start breaking down. But still, on a gut level, you can’t help but feel it and maybe there are more parallels I’m not seeing. Would be great to see a post about it. 😉

  7. Patrick H. Moore says:

    Strange… I didn’t write the above response. Whoever wrote it knows more about the case than I do. Was it Michael D?

  8. B. Kiley says:

    She has children of her own now.. God help them – a woman who would participate in the rape and murder of her own sister – apparently performing oral sex on her for the camera… there is no excuse, no diagnoses, just evil – sick twisted evil.

    • Patrick H. Moore says:

      I can’t argue too strenuously against your opinion. Although apparently nothing questionable has been revealed to this point about Karla’s “mothering skills”, I know from professional experience that family dysfunction and crime go together like fingers in a mitten.

      Karla was (and perhaps is) what in the old days we would have called “a real sick puppy.

  9. Brenda Kelly says:

    As Paul said,,, nobody died in my presence – well with the exception of Karla’s little sister. He raped a dozen women or more – none were murdered. I believe Karla did the killings – God Bless her little babies – she must be fabulous mother…

    • Patrick H. Moore says:

      I don’t understand why you would believe Paul. His statements are unreliable just as Karla’s are. They are both psychopathic individuals whose pathological state includes a penchant for violence. These are a couple of very scary people. To pretend that one of them is trustworthy and the other is not is probably not realistic

  10. […] Karla Homolka and Paul Bernardo: Canada’s Most Notorious Serial Killer Case […]

  11. GLC says:

    Patrick, Leslie Mahaffy had two subcutaneous symmetrical bruises on either side of her spine, at chest level, that were considered too small to be caused by P Bernardo’s knees. Homolka “Burked” Leslie Mahaffy.

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