by Yalonda Laugh and Patrick H. Moore
The Karla Homolka and Paul Bernardo rape-and-school-girl serial murder case has drawn great attention both in Canada and the United States since the young husband and wife team shocked Canada by the brutal and callous manner in which they systematically raped and murdered Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy. The horrified followers of these heinous crimes were particularly incensed for two reasons:
First, Homolka and Bernardo were attractive and seemingly intelligent young married people. The thought of them raping and murdering schoolgirls — apparently just for kicks — seemed both gratuitous and despicable. Yet, they clearly committed these awful crimes. (There is, of course, controversy regarding the degree to which Homolka took part in the actual murders. At the least, she was obviously complicit.) In early 1993, after enduring a brutal beating at the hands of Bernardo, Karla Homolka — at the urging of her family — escaped from the shadow of his bizarrely domineering personality, went to the Canadian authorities, and gradually “came clean.” In return for her agreeing to testify against Bernardo at trial (and keep in mind that without Homolka the Crown had no case against Bernardo), Karla received the infamous “Sweetheart Plea Deal,” a mere 12 years in prison on each of two counts of manslaughter to be run concurrently.
While recovering from the abuse she’d endured at Bernardo’s hands, Karla — at the advice of her attorney George Walker — was hospitalized at Northwestern General Hospital for seven weeks beginning in March of 1993. During this period she’d underwent a series of psychiatric examinations conducted by a team of Canadian doctors.
In this, Part One of our Psychological Evaluation of Karla Homolka, we will revisit Karla’s peculiar seven weeks at Northwestern General Hospital and the even more peculiar evaluations provided by her three doctors. (Note: Part Two of our Evaluation will address the subsequent, and far less forgiving, Psychological Assessments Homolka received from other doctors while imprisoned at Kingston Prison for Women.)
Seven Weeks at Northwestern General Hospital
According to Stephen Williams, author of Invisible Darkness: The Horrifying Case of Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka, Karla’s mother, Dorothy, dropped her off at Northwestern General Hospital on March 4 at 11:30 a.m. On the admission form Karla was described as a “twenty-two-year-old female patient with diagnosis of depression.”
Dr. Hans Arndt was the senior staff psychiatrist at Northwestern General and the leader of Karla’s battery of doctors. He was a firm believer in electro-convulsive therapy (shock treatment), also known as “buzzing,” and “he was also one of those modern, pharmaceutical alchemists who concocted drug-induced “sleep therapies” that put patients out for at least three days at a stretch.” Dr. Arndt treated Karla with plenty of electro-convulsive therapy and at least some sleep therapy.
Karla’s roommate was a nun named Sister Josephine, who served as a source of information to Stephen Williams. According to Sister Josephine, while at Northwestern General, Karla seemed to employ various personas, some of which were outrageous and all of which seemed more or less strange.
Stephen Williams describes Karla as: “Wandering the halls in thigh-high baby dolls, wearing push-up bras, clutching Bunky as if it were the Christ child – pleasant when stoned, obstreperous when straight.” Bunky was Karla’s stuffed bear, the same stuffed bear that she had given to Leslie Mahaffy shortly before she was killed.
In an earlier post, we noted that while in the hospital, Karla was supplied with copious amounts of alcohol smuggled in by her family and friends. According to Stephen Williams, she was also supplied with copious amounts of Demerol, a second cousin to heroin and a powerful opiate-like drug in its own right. Although this seems counterintuitive (Why in the world would Karla’s doctors prescribe a powerful narcotic?), if Williams is to be trusted, Karla quickly developed a Demerol habit and was soon demanding the she receive it in injectable form rather than orally.
Stephen Williams writes:
“Do you want me to have a nervous breakdown?” Karla once yelled. “I feel like I’m going to have a nervous breakdown.” Then she had demanded more Demerol. Not only that, she insisted the drug be administered i.v. push. Up until then, all of her medication had been taken orally. Where did this patient get the idea of the needle? How did she know the medical lingo? The nurses were nervous, to say the least. At one point Karla fixed a night nurse with her strangely ambivalent eyes and demanded, “If I don’t get the drugs I want, the way I want them, you and Dr. Arndt will regret it. I’m telling you – you’ll all regret it!” The nurse was so angry she called Dr. Arndt in the middle of the night to complain – to no avail. The next day he came in and increased her medication and negotiated a compromise – instead of an i.v. push he would concede to administer certain drugs intermuscularly. “All right,” Karla said petulantly. “i.m. – better than nothing.”
Thus, it appears that Karla was simultaneously receiving powerful doses of electro-convulsive therapy, plenty of wine, and regular doses of Demoral delivered intra-muscularly. While all of this was transpiring, she also was given a battery of psychological tests designed to help her doctors unpack her marvelously convoluted psyche.
* * * * * * *
Karla Homolka’s Doctors and Their Diagnoses
During her stay in hospital, in addition to being under the care under the care of her supervising physician Dr. Hans Arndt, Karla was seen by Dr. Andrew Malcolm, a psychiatrist with extensive forensic experience, and a clinical psychologist, Dr. Andrew Long, who administered the time-honored MMPI exam along with other psychological tests. The three doctors were reportedly unanimous in their diagnosis.
When admitted to Northwest General, Karla Homolka was suffering from dysthymia, also known as reactive depression, and a serious post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as defined in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic Manual, D.S.M. 111-R.
Near the end of his report, Dr. Arndt made the following observation in rather convoluted English:
“Indeed Karla’s experience since her age 17, could be to some degree, compared to the experiences of concentration camp survivors who as well experience horrendous tragedies and had to go through and perform actions in order to survive that under normal circumstances they would clearly have stayed away from, but in the interest of self-preservation or in the interest of preserving other people’s lives, did see themselves helpless and went through the actions as had been required of them.”
Thus, Dr. Arndt – the master of modern electro-convulsive therapy, not to mention sleep therapy, seems to view Karla primarily as a victim of years of severe abuse at the hands of Paul Bernardo.
Dr. Andrew Long’s Diagnosis
Dr. Long also viewed Karla as more of a victim than a victimizer. He writes in his report:
“Personality testing indicates a very depressed and emotionally withdrawn person suffering severe remorse for her participation in the illegal acts referred to. Furthermore, this woman suffers from and requires treatment for the effects of extremely severe prolonged exposure to her husband’s sadistic acts and the ominous atmosphere he created. The latter culminating in a deep belief that she too would someday become the victim of his murderous behaviour.
Her submissiveness results from deep psychological conflicts with hostile wishes which she had learned early in life to counter through the adoption of submissive and rather passive behaviour and coping techniques. This is not to indicate that she would give form to these aggressive impulses through aggressive behaviour.
Neither was there evidence of masochistic tendencies in terms of finding pleasure by being hurt herself nor her observing the suffering of others.”
Now this is not very convincing. In our post, “Was Karla Homolka a Normal Child? The Answer Is A Resounding No,” based on numerous interviews with those that knew her best throughout her formative years, we established that Karla was hardly a “submissive and passive” child. Rather, although she certainly showed some signs of conformity, for example, her early love affair with Barbie dolls, she was for the most part a strikingly assertive and often rebellious child who seemed to delight in bucking the admonitions of standard middle-class morality and “going against the flow” much of the time. Furthermore, she appears to have had at least some masochistic tendencies, as is evidenced by her insistence on anal sex.
Although Dr. Long doesn’t go so far as to excuse Karla her heinous actions during her years with Bernardo, he sees her as being:
“Sufficiently hoodwinked and intimidated by Paul Bernardo that she found herself in a compromising position as a result of a sequence of experiences with him that escalated in the intensity of their deviousness and severity. This reached a climax with the death of her sister and, from that point on, she believed that she was trapped in the same manner that an abused wife considers herself to be trapped and then having to fend for her life.”
So, in effect, Dr. Long views Karla as an extreme example of the “abused spouse syndrome” and as someone “in serious need of continued psychiatric care.”
Dr. Andrew Malcolm’s Diagnosis:
Dr. Malcolm also views Karla as an extreme example of the “abused spouse syndrome.” He writes in an interesting passage:
“In addition there are all of the factors that constitute psychological torture as defined by Amnesty International. There was social isolation, exhaustion stemming from deprivation of sleep, monopolization of perception through the exhibition of intensely possessive behaviour, threats of death against the person or the person’s relatives, humiliation and denial of power, and the administration of drugs or alcohol to diminish self- control. Karla was systematically subjected to all of these things.”
Dr. Malcolm continued:
“Karla was subjected to repeated sadistic sexual attacks. She was humiliated, beaten, tied up and raped over a period of years. She was manipulated into being a participant in what eventuated in the death of a much loved sister. She was advised on her wedding night that her new husband was a rapist. She was told that if she ever tried to leave her husband he would track her down and kill her. Or else he would kill her remaining sister and her parents. She was living with a sexual sadist and she was convinced that from this bewildering fate there was no escape.”
Brief Commentary on the Three Evaluations
Thus, like Dr. Arndt and Dr. Long, Dr. Malcolm appears to view Karla largely as a victim of Paul Bernardo’s abuse. This is the attitude that makes the Karla “haters” see red. It may be convincing as far as it goes, but it largely ignores the great and obvious evil that Karla perpetrated. We must ask ourselves, how could these intelligent and well-meaning doctors be so wrong? Did Karla simply manipulate and fool them? Did she use her considerable feminine charms to wrap them around her little finger, metaphorically speaking?
I believe that it was partly this but I believe there was a second important factor. At the time of Karla’s admission to Northwestern General Hospital, she was in extremely bad shape. She was suffering from PTSD and Dysthymia. She had been through an incredibly harrowing experience living with Paul Bernardo, a nightmare that lasted for years. I think the doctors felt pity for her. She had just escaped ultimate doom by the skin of her teeth and she was very shaken by the experience. The doctors were somehow unable to “hit her when she was down.” Plus, it was discovered several years later that Dr. Long had used an outmoded scoring mechanism when he analyzed the results of Karla’s MMPI. As University of Toronto psychiatrist, Dr. Nathan Pollock, was to discover a few years later, he basically got it all wrong. The doctors’ view of Karla as passive, inhibited and withdrawn seems so far from the truth that one want’s to scratch one’s head in wonder, even though she may have superficially seemed that way while at Northwestern General Hospital.
In any event, Karla still faced several Psych Evaluations further down the road while serving time at Kingston Prison for Women, and this time the doctors would not be nearly so kind, and Karla was certainly less successful in manipulating them. But that’s a topic for Part Two of our Evaluation as we try to determine whether Karla Homolka was primarily an abuse victim or primarily a cruel and despicable woman, or somewhere in between. Stay tuned!
Click on the following links to read previous Karla posts:
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