by Yalonda Laugh and Patrick H. Moore
The question of who Karla Homolka really is has baffled people all across Canada and the United States (and the rest of the world) ever since the trial of Paul Bernardo in February 1993 , when the ex-accountant from Price Waterhouse and soon to be ex-husband of Homolka was arrested for the rapes and murders of Canadian schoolgirls Leslie Mahaffy and Kristen French. Followers of this compelling case are universally aware that in return for testifying at trial against Bernardo, Homolka received what many consider to be a “sweetheart” plea deal, a mere 12 years in prison. Bernardo, on the other hand, received the maximum term allowable by Canadian law — life imprisonment. Karla Homolka currently resides in Guadeloupe in the West Indies with her husband and three young children. She has for all intents and purposes reinvented herself. Is she happy? No one really knows except perhaps those closest to her. Does she sleep well at night? Again, no one knows.
What is known, however, is that Karla Homolka is despised by a great numbers of followers of this case, detested with an almost visceral hatred. The cause of this virulent hatred appears to be the fact that Karla is perceived as having been a “normal child” who enjoyed a “normal upbringing” in “normal circumstances.” Therefore, according to this line of thought, she had absolutely no reason or excuse for turning into a conscienceless rapist and murderess. It’s as if your next door neighbor for purely gratuitous reasons decided to rape and murder for the sheer sport of it. Is this view of Karla as a “normal” person who engaged in truly horrific conduct out of sheer self-indulgence accurate? This is the question we will explore in this inquiry. Or as researcher and co-author Yalonda Laugh expresses so pithily:
How could a smart, head-strong young woman from St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada align herself with school-girl killer and Scarborough Rapist Paul Bernardo? That has been the key question informing this frustrating case since Homolka’s plea deal was first made public on May 14, 1993 . Who was Karla Leanne Homolka? Were there clues in her childhood and early years that signaled what she was to become and why she would ultimately be considered “the most hated woman in North America?”
Let us take a journey toward this destination so that each reader can decide for themselves:
Karla Leanne Homolka was born on May 4, 1970 to Czechoslovakian immigrant Karel Homolka and Dorothy Seger of Ontario. Karel made a living as a traveling salesman, selling black velvet paintings and lighting fixtures from the sidewalks of shopping centers and malls.
Karla Homolka was asthmatic which resulted in frequent hospitalization during her childhood. Her attacks seemed to be triggered by any type of situation where she felt excited or frightened, such as birthdays, holidays or the first day of school.
According to Karla’s mother Dorothy, this obstacle didn’t stop little Karla from blossoming. She walked and talked at an early age. In the 3rd grade, Karla was given an IQ test in which she scored a quotient of 131, which demonstrated conclusively that she was indeed a very bright girl. (For the sake of reference, an IQ score of 135 is associated with the 98th percentile.) Karla’s teachers described her as “eager” and “a good student.”
One of Karla’s friends from the second grade at Parnell Public School notes that at this early age she was constantly drawing houses. She was always the first one to be seated at her desk, the first one back from recess and the first one to start her work. She seemed almost fanatical when drawing her little houses and was preoccupied with, even unnaturally intent, on staying within the lines.
Thus, this early snapshot of Karla seems to reveal that at a tender age she was already obsessive, but not in a bad way — a hard worker and a perfectionist, more focused perhaps on pleasing the authority figures than on conforming to the expectations of her peers.
Karla showed a soft spot for animals, even at this young age. Once when some boys on the playground were tormenting a beetle with a stick, Karla rushed to the aid of the insect and screamed: “You shouldn’t kill it. It’s wrong to kill anything.”
As she got to know her better, Karla’s new friend started to see that she was a bit bossy and wanted things to be done her way. She wanted to be pushed on the swings, she wanted to go down the slide first, and she demanded that her new friend come spend time with her at her home on Linwell Road. The friend couldn’t help wondering how much the two girls really had in common. At that stage, Karla dressed only in pink frilly dresses and was downright prissy, while the friend was a tomboy — a hockey fan in the best Canadian tradition. The friend wasn’t surprised when she arrived at the Homolka residence and found Karla waiting for her with with over a dozen Barbie and Ken dolls. Karla told her friend that everything about her Barbies was, and had to be, perfect: their clothes, their hair, even their undergarments. The friend recalls Karla fantasizing that one day she would have the perfect life which would include a handsome husband not unlike Ken. In retrospect, it wasn’t much of a play-date for the friend. Karla insisted on rigidly controlling the game. She decided what the Barbies did, where they went, what they wore and what words came out of their little Barbie mouths. When her friend suggested new or different story lines, Karla reacted huffily and immediately put the Barbies away .
Based on this evidence, it is clear that at the age of 7 or 8, Karla was bossy, controlling and obsessive. This early pattern of selfishness was, of course, her bete noire which would ultimately lead herto the take part in committing the awful crimes that shocked the world.
The friend’s dog Buster hated everyone on the planet except for little Karla, who seemed to have a way with animals. Karla claimed that she had a dog named Lester, an obvious falsehood, which drew stares from the family. Strangely, around this time, animal lover Karla decided it would be fun to make a pillowcase parachute and toss her friend’s hamster out of an upper story bedroom window. The parachute malfunctioned and the hamster hit the ground hard and died two weeks later. After the hamster had been interred for a while, Karla decided it would be fun to dig up the little pet’s corpse and see what the decomposed body looked like. She stared at it for a long time and then exclaimed: “GROSS”.
This behavior is, of course, somewhat reminiscent of Jeffrey Dahmer and his well-known obsession with dead and decomposing bodies. The killing of the hamster could be termed an accidental homicide, or perhaps an involuntary manslaughter. In any event, it appears to be the first time Karla killed a living creature and is an early example of her rapidly-evolving penchant for cruelty.
When she was 10, Karla accompanied a friend, whom she later gifted with a booked called Brainchild, by noted behaviorist B.F. Skinner, to the park to play baseball one afternoon. While the friend played, Karla became fascinated with a small girl playing in the outfield. The girl arms were deformed, half the normal length. Karla walked up to the girl’s brother and shouted: “Your sister’s a freak. She’s creepy looking. She’s got seal arms and belongs in a zoo.” This made the boy and the small girl cry. Karla clearly got satisfaction out of making the two cry. This incident also reveals her growing pleasure in hurting others.
At around the age of 12, Karla became obsessed with the Hardy Boys and the Nancy Drew mysteries. She bought a crime fighting kit and vowed that she would grow up to be a policeman(woman).
Karla and her friend met again when they were approximately 13. Karla had asked if she could bring her Barbie dolls over, but her friend had stated they were getting too old to be playing with dolls. They met up at Grace Lutheran Church and to her surprise, the friend noticed that Karla was hardly dressed in Barbie-like fashion:
On the contrary, she was dressed in black from head-to-toe, and was wearing black Doc Marten boots. Also noticeable was Karla’s new hairstyle. Gone was her beautiful naturally golden hair replaced by a multi-colored look. Her teeth seemed defective which Karla blamed on her asthma medication. The friend recalls that Karla seemed distant and moody and barely smiled. She wore dark eye makeup and black nail polish and seemed to be affecting a Goth look.
Friends at Ferndale Public School have noted that Karla loved shocking people by screaming obscenities for no reason. She was the only one of her peers to talk back to her parents and slam doors during arguments. Sometimes it was hard to tell who was the parent and who was the child. Friend Lisa Stanton described Karla as loud and stubborn and willful. She refused to ever admit that she could possibly be wrong and never backed down on anything for any reason:
“You couldn’t push her into anything. It didn’t matter if you were a parent, teacher, friend or stranger, Karla always spoke her mind. If she was mad about something she would let you know about it.”
Some sources have remarked that Karla was a daddy’s girl most of the time. If her mother Dorothy refused to give her what she wanted, she would simply ask dear old daddy Karel. However, when Karel drank he had the bad habit of calling Karla a whore or a slut. This, however, was only after Karla had begun dating Paul. Karel was the only man in a house full of strong-willed women and he would often retreat to the basement when he felt outnumbered. Karla and her younger sister Lori were known to scream “Fuck off” at Karel and they would call him “a dumb Czech” when they didn’t get their way. Karla, however, was kind and attentive to Lori. When Lori was sick with the flu and Karla’s parents were gone for the day, Karla gave Lori a little bell to ring whenever she needed something or merely wanted attention.
The summer before high school Karla began cruising around town with her friends. Karla had the audacity to would wave at boys in cars whom she felt were attractive. She had no compunction about striking up conversations with complete strangers.
Once Karla entered high school, she exhibited all the usual symptoms of a typical depressed adolescent, albeit a boy-crazy depressed adolescent. She anguished over the opposite sex. She told her friends that boys were her main concern and that school was a drag. Her style of dress grew increasingly non-conforming. She wore long johns and boxer shorts complete with ballet slippers to Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School, which made her stand out like a sore thumb. The school was considered to be mainly a preppy school and the majority of the students were well-off. Karla didn’t try to hide the fact that she disliked the preps and the diehard preps hated her. Karla gave the impression that she really didn’t care what anyone thought of her. She was bound and determined to be her own person.
Friend Kevin Jacoby remembers Karla as open and honest. She was seen as someone weird or different who didn’t hold back and always said whatever was on her mind.
Once in high school, Karla seemed to live in two worlds and certainly exhibited mood swings. Her friends recall that at times she seemed elated and would speak enthusiastically about going to university, becoming a veterinarian or an undercover police officer. At other times, she would hardly speak at all for weeks at a time. Karla often spoke about killing herself and once revealed a small slit moving horizontally across her wrist. If it was a suicide attempt, it was a feeble attempt and her friends remarked that they were sure that it was just to get attention. Karla also claimed that she had tried to overdose on sleeping pills. Her peers struggled to understand how someone as vain as Karla, who was constantly looking at herself in the mirror and fixing their hair, could apparently have such contempt for their own life.
Karla talked frequently about her favorite movies which were mostly horror flicks. “Friday the 13th” made a big impression on her and she loved the story line about young virgins being slashed and hacked up by a psychopath.
Karla got a part-time job at the Number One Pet Center, feeding and watering the animals.
Kevin Jacoby remembers Karla phoning frequently, crying and depressed. She complained of her volatile relationship at home with her father who was frequently drunk. She described fights between her parents and her fights with her mother. “Everything she did or said was taken in the worst possible way when Karel was drinking.”
In contrast to this picture of a depressed, negative and brooding Karla, her mother Dorothy described Karla as smart, sweet ,active, fun-loving, outgoing, a leader, an instigator, academically and socially successful, and always surrounded by friends. She liked quiet time to recharge her batteries and loved to read and think. Dorothy did admit, however:
“Mind you, something did change when Karla got to high school.”
During this period, Karel Homolka told Lynda Wollis that he was in love with her and wanted to leave Dorothy. Lynda told him to go home and keep his mouth shut. Apparently, Karel failed to do so. In any event, Dorothy went to Lynda the next day and told her:
“You could save my marriage if you sleep with both of us.” Nobody knows exactly how this might have affected Karla or if she even knew, but it was well-known that Karel was called “The Pervert” at the Shaver faith-based geriatric clinic where Dorothy worked.
Karla developed an interest in the occult when she entered high school. Her friend Amanda said they would burn candles and incense and talk about spirits and the “Screaming Tunnels” which were near the railroad tracks outside of town. Karla placed ads in the papers to buy a Ouija Board.
Friend Debbie Purdie stated: “When we were in high school she was a little rebel. Nobody ever told Karla what to do (or what to think). She was her own person and her own boss.”
Karla studied music and took voice lessons but she would not sing in front of the class. Friends noticed strange circles carved into Larla’s arms and filled in with nail polish. Karla inscribed in a book, Michelle Remembers, which is about satanism, sexual abuse and the repressed memory syndrome:
“There is always something more left to say.”
Karla admitted that in Grade 10, she smoked dope and experimented with white crosses, an upper of mild to moderate strength..
Karla once told her friend Tracy Collins, “You know what I’d like to do…..? I’d like to put dots all over somebody’s body and take a knife and then play connect the dots and then pour vinegar all over them.” Tracy dutifully reported that to her parents who, logically enough, would no longer let her associate with Karla. They said she was strange and domineering and that Tracy’s grades had slipped during the period of their friendship.
Karla dated a boy named Doug in Grade 12. He found her to be moody and consumed with the thought of death. She was constantly threatening suicide. When Doug moved to — of all places Kansas — Karla, against her parents’ wishes, flew there to visit him. Karla admitted to drinking “Purple Jesus” grain alcohol and snorting cocaine. Karla told her friends she that she had lost her virginity with Doug and described a shocking — and unlikely scene — that involved bondage, dog collars, extremely dirty talk (at least for middle-class teenagers), and strangulation. According to the more conventionally-minded Doug, they had only had normal sex. As Karla related the story to her friends, they noticed that she was detached and displayed no emotion. They wondered who she would get involved with next time. It was clear by this point that unless something or someone stopped her, Karla was heading toward a place that very few of us would like to visit.
At the end of senior year Karla inscribed a friend’s yearbook: “Remember: Suicide kicks and fasting is awesome. Bones rule ! Death Rules ! Death Kicks ! I love death ! Kill the fucking world! “
Oddly, while all of this was going on, Karla and her friends Debbie Purdie, Kathy Wilson and Lisa Stanton formed the Exclusive Diamond Club. Their goal was to recruit rich, good-looking older men, obtain the coveted diamond, marry and live happily ever after.
Friend Kathy Wilson remarked on the fact that Karla was “the tough one of the group.” She kept a pair of handcuffs hanging on her bedroom wall and told friends she was going to become a police officer.
Analysis by Patrick H. Moore:
It is my understanding that many followers of Karla seem to believe that she was the product of a normal upbringing and seem to hold that fact against her as if the products of middle-class homes are given less latitude for aberrant behavior than individuals who are reared in less-privileged environments. It is certainly true that Karla’s family was economically comfortable. Both parents worked and she lived in a decent house in a good neighborhood. However, there are clear signs that her family was at least somewhat dysfunctional. Her father was a heavy drinker, probably an alcoholic, and was reportedly abusive when drunk. There appears to have been an ongoing power struggle within the family as Karla’s father Karel wrestled with the demands of the four strong females with whom he lived. It is also perhaps strange that Karla’s mother Dorothy, when confronted with her husband’s infidelity, suggested they have a threesome as a way to salvage their marriage.
The vast majority of children, however, who grow up in problematic households, do not become rapists and murderers, or even criminals for that matter. Karla’s choice of Paul Bernardo as a partner in crime cannot be explained by her upbringing.
As a child, however, Karla exhibited definite signs that she was not entirely “normal.” The fact that she killed her friend’s hamster by “parachuting” it out of a second story window is not in itself that damning. After all, kids frequently do odd things and she was for the most part an animal lover. However, the fact she dug the hamster’s corpse up after a few weeks in the ground to examine the ongoing decomposition is very unusual and reminds this commentator of Jeffrey Dahmer’s penchant for observing bodies in various decayed states.
By the time Karla had entered the Canadian equivalent of middle school, she had begun exhibiting anti-social tendencies. Her choice of the Goth look and various other non-conforming modes of dress suggest an insecure individual desperate for attention. From the time she entered high school, Karla was clearly depressed, perhaps dangerously so. Her suicide attempt(s) was a red flag that something was seriously wrong, as was her habit of carving peculiar decorations into her arms. The fact that she expressed her desire to play “connect the dots” with a knife on other people’s bodies should have been a warning that she was harboring dangerous fantasies, as was her choice of highly unconventional reading material. Her crowning indication of “strangeness” was her claim that when she lost her virginity with Doug, they engaged in “bondage, dog collars, extremely dirty talk (at least for middle-class teenagers), and strangulation.”
Based on my ten years of experience in working with criminals, there is no doubt in my mind that by the time Karla had completed high school, she was was a soul teetering on the edge of the abyss. Could it have been predicted with any certainty that she would turn into a rapist and serial killer? Of course not. Based on her domineering personality and penchant for darkness, however, it does not seem at all surprising that she was drawn to Paul Bernardo who appears to have shared many of these same qualities. I would posit that once Karla and Paul were together, they brought out the worst in each other with the result being that Leslie Mahaffy, Kristen French and Karla’s sister Tammi suffered horrible and entirely unnecessary fates.
Was Karla a normal child? The answer is a resounding “NO!”
Note: The quotations in the factual basis of this analysis of Karla Homolka’s childhood are derived from Stephen Williams’ “Invisible Darkness,” Nick Pron’s “Lethal Marriage,” and Alan Cairns and Scott Burnside’s “Deadly Innocence,” all of which have been widely disseminated and serve as valuable research tools for Karla followers.
Clicks on the following links to read previous Karla posts:
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