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Crime News

She Joined Forces With A Serial Rapist And Went On A Killing Spree. One Of Their Victims? Her Younger Sister

A secret stash of gruesome home videos showed Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka's lack of empathy and voracious appetite for torture. 

By Jax Miller
Karl Homolka Paul Bernardo

Beginning in 1987, the Scarborough Rapist spent five years stalking teen girls on the Ontario streets. At the local bus stop, his composite photo warned female passengers of the perils of walking home alone. But the artist's depiction of his feathered blond hair, soft features and heavy eyelids didn’t quite match the depravity of a serial rapist who stalked young women and raped them at knife-point, mostly outdoors.

Despite the formation of a task force in 1988 within the Toronto Metro Police, the unknown man – thought to be between 18 and 22 years old – would go on to rape at least 14 women. For half a decade, the sexual predator stoked fear and paranoia in the Toronto suburb, all while evading detection.

Sometimes he filmed his victims with a camcorder before attacking them. Other times he grabbed them from behind and dragged them into the bushes. On one notable occasion, he broke into a 15-year-old’s bedroom and attempted to rape her before the victim’s mother entered and scared him off, leading to the wrongful conviction of a local man.

“The boy is better than we might give him credit for,” one Metro investigator said. “Or he’s fallen through the cracks.”

In 1990, three years after the attacks began, tips led investigators to Paul Bernardo. He allowed authorities to collect his DNA and submit it to the Centre of Forensic Sciences, according to a 1996 formal review of the investigation by the Superior Court of Ontario. Tipsters remarked on how much Bernardo, a 25-year-old who still lived with his parents, resembled the sketch depicting the criminal. Indeed, it was an uncanny resemblance, but his DNA sample “went into a black hole” for more than two years.

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No arrests were made for the Scarborough rapes and the violence escalated.

“The tragic converse of this fact is that Bernardo, during the 25 and a half months his DNA was waiting to be tested, raped four young women and raped, tortured, and murdered two others,” wrote the Attorney General's Office in the 1996 report. “In hindsight, it is clear that these rapes and murders could have been prevented if Bernardo’s DNA sample had been tested by the CFS within 30 or even 90 days of [the] test.”

By the time Bernardo – a former accountant-turned-cigarette smuggler – was caught, he and his future wife would be connected to the ”raw evil” behind the prolonged and violent deaths that became known as “The Schoolgirl Murders.” Later, Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka would be known as the “Ken and Barbie Killers” as a nod to their blonde and wholesome good looks. 

“The alleged perpetrators were attractive, well-dressed professionals who lived in a high-rent neighborhood and had lots of friends,” the Washington Post wrote in 1993. “Yet the murders and other crimes they allegedly committed were particularly sadistic. The schoolgirl victims were abducted as they went about their daily routines, then were held prisoner while a variety of sexual tortures were performed on them.”

Paul Bernardo met Karla Homolka at a hotel restaurant on Oct. 17, 1987, according to CBC News. Homolka was 17, slim with teased, platinum blonde hair, and she worked as a volunteer at an animal hospital. He was 23. According to Psychology Today, the pair found that they shared a lust for the sadistic and the deviant. According to the Washington Post, Homolka was soon helping Bernardo lure young girls.

While the two, who got engaged in 1989, had shared an instant sexual chemistry, Bernardo grew bored of his sexual relationship with Homolka. He teased her about being “used goods” because she wasn’t a virgin. To remedy this, Homolka offered Bernardo something he'd want: the virginity of her younger sister, 15-year-old Tammy Homolka. The couple made plans to get the girl drunk and rape her as a Christmas gift for Bernardo, reported the Canadian Press.

On Dec. 23, 1990, the couple lured Tammy to the Homolka basement, as Tammy and Karla’s parents slept upstairs. Their goal was give her enough alcohol to make her pass out, but when that didn't work, they administered animal tranquilizers taken from Homolka’s job and rendered the younger Homolka unconscious. Bernardo instructed his girlfriend to sexually assault her younger sister before he himself began raping her. They filmed the horrifying events using a camcorder.

Tammy began vomiting and choking and ultimately died. Instead of helping her, the called authorities, dressed her, and, once she was dead, put her back into her own bed. The pair claimed Tammy choked on her own vomit as a result of drinking too much.

Her death was initially ruled as an accident and wouldn’t be investigated as a homicide until after the deaths of two more teenage girls. The initial ruling would be criticized by the Attorney General's Office when it was discovered that Tammy Homolka sustained chemical burns on her face due to the killers covering her mouth and nose with a halothane-soaked cloth, reported the Buffalo News. Justice Archie Campbell of the Superior Court of Ontario further criticized investigators in this report, claiming it was “inappropriate” for the medical examiner to list asthma as the cause of Tammy’s death “when there was a dramatic and unexplained second-degree burn over much of Tammy’s face.” Campbell stated authorities lacked communication and too easily ignored Bernardo “without readily checking available sources of highly credible information that would have starkly contradicted Bernardo.”

By 1991, Bernardo and Homolka had moved into their own bungalow and were married in a lavish June ceremony near Niagara Falls before the couple was whisked away in a horse-drawn carriage. That very day, boaters on Lake Gibson in Ontario discovered blocks of cement that contained dismembered limbs. As the couple honeymooned in Hawaii, the victim was identified as 14-year-old Leslie Mahaffy, who had disappeared two weeks earlier when she'd been locked out of her house for missing curfew.

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Like Tammy Homolka, the couple brutally raped and tortured Mahaffy and filmed their exploits as she pleaded for her life. Homolka would later claim Bernardo strangled her to death so the teen wouldn't identify them. 

Finally, in April of 1992, Bernardo and Homolka abducted 15-year-old Kristen French from a church parking lot as she walked home from school. They kept her as a “sex slave” for days. French's body was found naked in a ditch, face battered and head shaved.

Still, no arrests were made.

Although the married couple built their life upon the cruel and unusual (Brett Easton Ellis’s “American Psycho” was reportedly a fixture on their reading list), things between the pair started to unravel. In January 1993, Bernardo beat Karla Homolka with a flashlight so brutally that she had to go to the hospital, according to the Canadian Encyclopedia.

Bernardo was arrested and charged with assault with a weapon and released on bail. He was charged in February 1993, according to the Buffalo News. This incident would later help Homolka's defense at trial.

On Feb. 1, 1993, the Centre of Forensic Sciences finally obtained the results of Bernardo’s DNA test, according to the Attorney General's office. It was a match to the Scarborough Rapist.

Between the domestic assault and the DNA results, Homolka decided to come forward and confess to the couple’s crimes. She claimed Bernardo forced her to commit the gruesome acts and subsequently used the battered woman syndrome as her defense. She agreed to testify against Bernardo in exchange for a fixed 12-year-sentence, but much of her trial was kept sealed per the judge’s orders, so it wouldn't taint a potential jury for Bernardo’s later trial.

The videotapes that captured the murders were never presented in Homolka’s case. As listed in the attorney general’s findings, “the crucial 8 mm videotapes were recovered from the ceiling area above a potlight [sic] in the upstairs bathroom at [the couple’s home]” by Bernardo’s lawyer, Ken Murray, who authorities say never turned them over. 

“I felt … guilty and ashamed, and I just wanted to die,” Homolka testified at Bernardo’s trial about the rapes and murders. 

Homolka pleaded guilty to two counts of manslaughter for the murders of Mahaffy and French and served 12 years behind bars, a short sentence that caused outrage among the public.

Shortly after Homolka’s conviction, authorities exhumed the body of Tammy Homolka and concluded she'd been murdered. For her homicide, Bernardo was charged with manslaughter and sexual assault.

The incriminating tapes weren't handed over to authorities until Sept. 22, 1994,  and only after Murray withdrew himself from Bernardo's case and John Rosen stepped in as Bernardo’s defense attorney.

The tapes were used against Bernardo, who had confessed to being the Scarborough Rapist. But as they were examined, Homolka’s willing participation in the murders became clear in the hours of footage. Her depravity was highlighted in a particular video labeled “Karla, Tammy, and Me,” where Karla – dressed as her dead sister – has sex on Tammy’s bed while praising Bernardo for taking her virginity. Another segment showed the pair engaged in sexual activity while Bernardo held Tammy’s photo.

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By the time the videotapes became known to the court, the deal had already been struck with Homolka. And, since she had fulfilled her end of the bargain by providing information and testifying against Bernardo, the courts declined to reopen her case.

Prosecutors at Bernardo’s trial said Homolka was a “cold-blooded participant” in the killings and would have been tried for murder had the tapes been provided before she cut a deal. Prosecutor Ray Houlahan told the courts Homolka “implicated herself in first-degree murder” and was “definitely, definitely not a victim.”

Paul Bernardo was found guilty of raping and murdering Mahaffy and French. His former lawyer, Ken Murray, was charged with obstruction of justice for withholding the tapes but acquitted three years later.

After serving 12 years, Karla Homolka was released from prison in 2005 at age 35, despite public protests and furor, according to The Guardian.

“What I did was terrible,” said Homolka. “I was in a situation where I couldn’t see clearly, and where I couldn’t get help. I was completely bowled over by [Bernardo]. I regret it enormously because now I know I had the power to stop it.”

Bernardo confessed to at least 10 additional rapes as the Scarborough Rapist the following year, according to CBC News.

Homolka’s attempts to live a quiet life were quashed when a reporter revealed Homolka’s identity as a remarried mother of three in Guadeloupe. She returned to Canada, where community members protested her presence as a volunteer at her children's school, as reported by Global News. Although the school never mentioned Homolka or her alias by name, they announced it would not permit anyone with a criminal record to work on school grounds.

“I don’t want people to think I am dangerous and I’m going to do something to their children,” Homolka said following her release from prison. “I think of what I have done, and I don’t think I deserve to be happy because of it.”

As of 2019, she lived under an assumed name in Quebec, according to CTV News.

Paul Bernardo remains in prison and was denied parole in 2021.