|“||Be a perfect girlfriend for Paul. Remember you're stupid; Remember you're ugly; Remember you're fat; I don't know why I tell you these things because you never change.||”|
— Karla Homolka's self-improvement list
Paul Kenneth Bernardo (a.k.a. "The Scarborough Rapist" and "The Schoolgirl Killer") and Karla Leanne Homolka (a.k.a. "The Witch of Ontario") were a formerly married Canadian couple who videotaped themselves as they raped a number of teenage girls, three of whom they also killed. They were nicknamed "The Ken and Barbie Killers" due to their good looks and wealthy background.
Bernardo was born in 1964 in Scarborough, a district of Ontario, Canada, as the legal youngest of Kenneth and Marilyn Bernardo's three children. His parents' marriage was an unhappy one that came as a result of Kenneth having the formation demanded by Bernardo's maternal grandfather, unlike Marilyn's favorite suitor. Kenneth, who would later in life face charges for peeping and pedophilia, was abusive to the other members of the family and molested Paul's sister. Marilyn was depressive and would leave her family unattended to visit other relatives during the weekend, and eventually retreated into the basement. Young Paul seemed oblivious to his broken home and was described as a happy child, but he also gained a compulsion to make fires during his time in the Boy Scouts, when he was ten years old.
In 1981, sixteen-year-old Bernardo suffered two major setbacks. First, he was told after an argument between his parents that Kenneth Bernardo wasn't his biological father, but that he had been conceived as a result of a sexual encounter between Marilyn and her once favorite suitor. Repulsed, Bernardo began to call his mother "slut" and "whore", and she reciprocated by calling him "bastard". Later, Bernardo's first girlfriend Nadine Brammer abandoned him for one of his friends, having become tired of Bernardo's controlling behavior, and Bernardo retaliated by incinerating all things that Brammer had given to him.
After graduating from Sir Wilfrid Laurier Collegiate Institute, Bernardo was employed by the American company Amway, whose polemic sales culture deeply influenced him. He bought books and tapes from famous motivational speakers and applied their lessons when he and his friends met young women in bars, seducing many successfully. By the time he began attending the University of Toronto at Scarborough, Bernardo had developed dark sexual fantasies, one of which was building a "virgin farm" where he would breed virgin girls to rape. He also enjoyed forceful anal sex and degrading his dates in public. Over time his relationships became shorter and Bernardo would frequently date more than one woman at the same time. In all cases, he was abusive and threatened to kill his girlfriends if they spoke to other people about the treatment he subjected them to. In 1986, two women were granted restraining orders against Bernardo for making obscene phone calls to them, and he might have begun his raping spree already.
Homolka was born in 1970 in Port Credit, Ontario to traveling salesman Karel Homolka, an alcoholic Czechoslovak immigrant, and his Ontarian wife Dorothy Seger, a geriatric clinic employee. She had two younger sisters, Lori and Tammy. Karla was a bright child and good student that was doted on by her father, but he would also insult her and her mother and sisters during his drunk episodes, and took refuge in the basement when he got in arguments with them. When the Homolkas marriage faltered and he took on a mistress, however, the wife's response was to propose her a threesome and keep on as normal.
From a young age, Karla was described as stubborn and domineering, being unable to compromise with other children and always willing to speak her mind to adults. She had a depressive episode after she began to attend Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School, during which she would dress in a nonconforming manner, cut herself and claim false suicide attempts as a way to seek attention. She later developed sadistic and masochistic fantasies. Homolka got a part-time job at a pet store while she was in high school, and after graduating in 1988, she was hired by Thorold Veterinary Clinic as a full-time veterinary technician.
Crimes, Capture, and Incarcerations
"He was the happy rapist."
-Homolka, about Bernardo
In 1987, Bernardo graduated from college and got a job as a junior accountant in Price Waterhouse. His dating slowed down after one of his last girlfriends, Jennifer Thompson, threatened to go to the police. On May of that year, Bernardo raped two women and attempted another rape in July. In October, Bernardo and Homolka met in a hotel's restaurant. He was twenty-three and she was seventeen years old. Homolka had come to Scarborough to attend a pet store conference. They were instantly attracted to each other and had sex that same night, with their friends present. From then on Bernardo would drive to see Homolka twice a week, and slowly came to control her whole life, deciding how she should dress, style, eat and believe. He often called her fat and ugly. Unlike his previous girlfriends, Homolka easily submitted to and encouraged his sexual behavior, writing his indications on a "self-improvement list". Though it didn't end their relationship, the reveal that Homolka wasn't a virgin when they first met upset Bernardo greatly.
Bernardo resumed the rapes in December. By March 1988, police had set a task force to apprehend the so-called "Scarborough Rapist", but the investigation went nowhere despite the amount of physical evidence and the existence of a composite sketch that wasn't shown to the public. Homolka was aware of what Bernardo was doing in this time period and there were allegations from one victim that Homolka was present when she was attacked, recording it on camera, but these allegations were ignored by the police. Finally, on May 1990, the police decided to show the composite sketch to the public, launching a massive number of tips. At the time, Bernardo had quit his job and got his money by smuggling cigarettes across the U.S.-Canadian border. Friends and previous girlfriends of Bernardo saw the released sketch and tried to contact the police, but the officers were overwhelmed by other tips and were unable to follow up on them. In November, two detectives visited Bernardo and took blood, saliva, and hair samples from him, but they wouldn't be tested for two years.
"[It was] an opportunity to minimize risk, take control, and keep it all in the family."
-Homolka, on her younger sister's rape-murder
As 1990 progressed, Bernardo became increasingly obsessed with Homolka's fifteen-year-old sister, Tammy Homolka. He spied on her and hatched a plan to rape her with Homolka's assistance, who would also make sure that Tammy remained a virgin until that moment. A first attempt during a summer trip, in July 24, involved Homolka lacing her sister's meal with Valium stolen from her workplace, but Tammy woke up after one minute, before Bernardo could rape her. The second attempt happened in December 23, following a Christmas dinner in the Homolka family home. Homolka described this as gifting her sister's virginity to Paul for Christmas. While the parents slept upstairs, the couple spiked Tammy's drink with sleeping pills, and once she was unconscious, they undressed her and Bernardo proceed to rape her while Homolka held a rag soaked with the anesthetic Halothane (also stolen from her workplace) over Tammy's nose and mouth. Tammy began to vomit and stopped breathing after Homolka held her down to clear her throat. After failing to revive Tammy, the couple dressed her, moved her into her room, and cleaned up the evidence before they called 911. Although Tammy had a visible chemical burn on her face, her death was ruled accidental. At the funeral, Bernardo was caught stroking Tammy's hair as she laid in an open casket, and a 1993 exhumation revealed that the couple had also placed a photo of theirs in the casket. Bernardo and Homolka then moved to Port Dalhousie, where they filmed themselves while roleplaying sexual encounters between Bernardo and Tammy. Homolka played the part of her sister and wore her clothes to reinforce the fantasy.
On June 7, 1991, Homolka invited a teenager that she had befriended at work (called "Jane Doe" during the trial) to their new home. After she passed out from having a drink laced with Halcion, Homolka told Bernardo that she had a surprise wedding gift for him and the two filmed themselves as they raped her. The victim woke up the next day with nausea but left without realizing that she had been raped. On June 15, Bernardo took a detour to Burlington to steal license plates to use in his smuggling business when he met 14-year-old Leslie Mahaffy, who had been locked outside her home in punishment for missing her curfew. After Mahaffy was offered and accepted a cigarette, Bernardo led her to his car, where he pulled a knife on her, blindfolded her, and drove her to Port Dalhousie, telling Homolka that they had "a playmate". Karla’s initial response was to go back to sleep instead of checking on Leslie. The two filmed themselves as they raped and tortured their new victim, and after Mahaffy said her blindfold slipped, they murdered her. They kept the body in the basement while they dined with the Homolka family upstairs, and later dismembered her, encased her remains in 8 concrete blocks, and threw the blocks into Lake Gibson. They were found on June 29, the same day that Bernardo and Homolka were married. In August, "Jane" was invited over again. Mirroring what had happened when Tammy died, "Jane" also stopped breathing while she was raped, but she was revived successfully. Homolka, who had called 911, phoned back to say that the crisis had been solved and the ambulance en route was recalled without further inquiry.
On April 16, 1992, Bernardo and Homolka abducted fifteen-year-old Kristen French as she exited the Holy Cross Catholic Secondary School, leaving a number of witnesses. They raped and tortured her for three days before supposedly strangling her with the same cord used to kill Mahaffy (though Bernardo, to this day, claims Karla murdered Kristin with the rubber mallet she was equipped with to guard their victim while he was out getting food). During her captivity, French was never blindfolded and was forced to ingest large amounts of alcohol, watch the recording of Mahaffy's rape and act in a submissive manner to Bernardo, though she became confrontational by the end, calling him a bastard (just like his mother had) and told him “I don’t know how your wife can stand being around you”. She was severely beaten before her death. Once again, the couple left the body in their home while they dined with the Homolkas. They later washed it and cut her hair before they threw the remains into a ditch in Burlington, close to the cemetery where Mahaffy was buried. Bernardo was interviewed by two police officers a month after French's murder, but they considered him an unlikely suspect even after he admitted to have been interviewed previously in connection to the Scarborough rapes. Soon after, Bernardo and Homolka solicited to change their legal name to Teale, the surname of a serial killer in the 1988 film Criminal Law.
Arrests and Incarcerations
On December 27, Bernardo savagely beat Homolka with a flashlight, leaving her with bruises on her limbs, a broken rib, and two black eyes. Nonetheless, she returned to work on January 4, 1993 and tried to pass her injuries as the result of a traffic accident. Her coworkers did not believe her and alerted her parents, who insisted on taking her to a hospital. Once there, Homolka claimed to be a battered spouse and filed charges against Bernardo, who was briefly arrested. By sheer coincidence, the samples that Bernardo had given two years earlier were tested right around this time, positively identifying him as the Scarborough Rapist.
Homolka moved to Brampton with her aunt and uncle and told them that Bernardo was both the Scarborough Rapist and the killer of Mahaffy and French. In February she sought full immunity from prosecution in exchange for her cooperation, but this was denied. Instead, Homolka was given a week to accept a twelve years prison term for manslaughter or face charges for three murders (one of them Tammy Homolka's, whose case had just been reopened), as well as other crimes. Homolka took the deal and testified against Bernardo in his trial, which took place in 1995. On September 1, Bernardo was sentenced to life in prison without parole for at least twenty-five years. He is kept segregated from other inmates because of threats made to him, and in one occasion in 1999 a group of five prisoners tried to storm the segregated area and had to be dispersed by riot police. Because of his official status as a "Dangerous Offender", it is considered unlikely that he will ever be granted parole.
Homolka's plea deal was severely criticized in Canadian society, especially after the tapes depicting the couple's rapes were shown at Bernardo's trial. Some prosecutors declared that, had they known what was in the tapes, they would never have proposed it. Bernardo's first lawyer purposefully hid most of the tapes for seventeen months and was later charged with obstruction of justice, but he was acquitted. Homolka was released from prison in 2005, having been denied the possibility of parole. She moved to the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe in an attempt to avoid media scrutiny in 2007, where she married Thierry Bordelais, the brother of her lawyer, and had three children. The family later returned to Canada and settled in Montreal.
Bernardo targeted petite white women between 14 and 22 years of age, 5' 11" to 5' 3" and 95 to 135 pounds, that he saw walking alone, at night, in the vicinity of his home of the time. He would follow, stalk and sometimes videotape them for a while before threatening them with a knife, raping them anally and fleeing on foot. Tammy Homolka and "Jane Doe" were anesthetized by Homolka using chemicals stolen from her workplace and raped by Bernardo in a controlled environment, while Homolka recorded it on video, with no intention to kill them. Both stopped breathing during their ordeal and the couple tried to revive them, but were unsuccessful in Tammy's case. "Jane" was also raped by Homolka under Bernardo's instructions. Leslie Mahaffy and Kristen French, finally, were abducted by Bernardo at knife point, during the day and using Homolka as a lure in the second case, and videotaped as they were forced to drink alcohol, raped, and psychologically tortured by both before they were strangled with the same electric cord. In both cases, the bodies were kept in the basement while the couple dined with Homolka's family, and abandoned outdoors later.
The FBI made profiles on the Scarborough Rapist and the Schoolgirl Killer in 1988 and 1992, respectively. The second report stated:
- "Typically, this type of offender starts his attacks in an area with which he is familiar. Anger is the primary behaviour exhibited by the offender during his attacks and his intent is to punish and degrade the victims, as he is angry with all women. His anger is unmistakable when observing the excessive physical force he used against the victims. The escalation in violence is observable in this series of attacks as he was using far more physical force against the victims than was necessary to control them. Based upon our research and experience, that if confronted by a victim who vigorously resisted his attack, the offender was the type who would likely become so enraged, he could lose control and thereby become capable of unintentionally murdering the victim. [...] The sadist achieves gratification by the victim’s response to his attempts to dominate and control her, either physically or psychologically, by posing a question that would make the victim beg for her life."
- "[The first rape in St. Catharines] clearly demonstrated the same modus operandi used by the Scarborough Rapist as described elsewhere in this document. This pattern is predictable in the case of the sexual sadist. Abduction of a victim virtually guarantees that murder will result. If the sexual sadist has held a victim, he feels in his own mind that he can’t possibly let them go. As his fantasy escalates, he needs more control and gains that control through abduction and forcible confinement of his victims. The ultimate fantasy of a sexual sadist is to totally possess his victims, both physically and psychologically. He seeks to achieve control over their life and ultimately over their death as well. [...] Rapists identified as sexual sadists are statistically less than 2% of all of these types of offenders. There is a high probability that the Scarborough Rapist and the sexual sadistic murderer of Mahaffy and French is the same offender."
Experts found Homolka more enigmatic than Bernardo following the couple's arrest. According to Graham Glancy, a forensic psychiatrist hired by Bernardo's defense, Homolka "appears to be a classic example of hybristophilia, an individual who is sexually aroused by a partner's violent sexual behaviour." Bernardo scored 35/40 on the Psychopathy Checklist, making him a "Dangerous Offender" and likely psychopath; Homolka, on the other hand, scored only 5/40.
On Criminal Minds
- Season Two
- "The Perfect Storm" - While not directly mentioned or referenced in this episode, its commentary revealed that the Ken and Barbie Killers were the inspiration for the episode's unsubs, The Canardos - Both teams consisted of serial killers, rapists, abductors who bare resemblances to each other, have similar names, targeted women, lured them in with the ruse of asking for directions, raped them while recording the acts, strangled them, then dumped their naked bodies in convenient locations.
- Season Nine
- "Mr. & Mrs. Anderson" - Bernardo and Homolka were mentioned by Reid as an example of two-person killing team whose members were married and only started killing after meeting each other. Reid claimed that Bernardo and Homolka "tortured, raped, and killed at least 19 people", although most of these victims were actually attacked by Bernardo only. They also appear to have been a basis for the episode's unsubs, The Andersons - Both teams consisted of serial killers and rapists in which the male was dominant, killed women by strangling them, and committed crimes without their wives (both being killers and prolific serial rapists).
- The Walrus memoir detailing Bernardo and Homolka
- CBC News timeline of the Bernardo-Homolka case
- Summary about Bernardo's life by Radford University's Department of Psychology
- Article about Bernardo by James Ryan
- All Things Crime blog article about Homolka