How could we have known?



May 29, 2005. 10:02 AM

More than anything, Karla Homolka yearned to turn back the clock

She longed for the time when life was carefree, back to those lazy summer days by the lake with her family, or meeting after school with friends and listening to Michael Jackson, or dancing like Olivia Newton-John.

But for the first born of three girls, the one who always wanted to be a "perfect daughter," nothing would ever be normal again after meeting a Scarborough accountant when she was just 17.

On Thursday, a court hearing in Montreal will determine if any further restrictions should be put on the 35-year-old woman once she gains her freedom. She is due to be released from Joliette prison on - or about - July 5 after srving the full 12-year sentence for her role in the murders of Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy and the death of her sister, Tammy. Ask most people about Karla Leanne Homolka and the anaswer is usually the same -s he should rot in jail for the rest of her life.

It wasn't always like this.

Once upon a time, life was pleasant for the small-town girl with the big hair and the bigger smile who grew up in a loving home in the south end of St. Catharines.


It was those memories that filled Homolka's thoughts a decade ago when she wrote her "abuse diary" on the eve of the double-murder trial that would horrify the nation. She desperately wanted people to believe her, and love her, just like it used to be.


"I miss my old world," she wrote. "I want so badly to go back home and live with mom and dad. ... I hope one day to have a wonderful husband ... and children. I need to live a normal life."


But she knew she could never regain what she had lost. "I guess what I really want is something I just can't have," she wrote.


While the pregnancy was normal, there were complications at birth.


Because the baby girl was breeched, doctors had to perform a Caesarean delivery on May 4, 1970. The infant was healthy, a robust 7 pounds 11 ounces. The happy couple named her Karla.


They had married in late 1965 after a three-year courtship that began in Brampton when Dorothy Seger was just 16. The older man from Czechoslavakia, the immigrant with the thick accent and easy, laid-back manner, Karel Homolka, was 20 at the time. Four years after their wedding day, Dorothy was pregnant with the first of what would be three daughters.


Karla's first home was in a trailer park, before the family settled into a modest house on Dundonald St. in St. Catharines. Lori was born a year after Karla, and Tammy, the baby in the family, four years later.


Even as a young child, the couple knew there was something special about their first born. Karla's IQ of 134 put her in the top 2 per cent of the population for intelligence.


She was blessed with an excellent memory and had a thirst for knowledge. In her first week of school, she rushed home from kindergarten class, sobbing uncontrollably.


"What's wrong?" asked her worried mother.


It was her teacher, she cried. She complained she wasn't being taught to read. The upset little girl was taken back to school where she was placated by being allowed to stand up and read to the class herself. By Grade 1, the teachers praised Karla as probably the most advanced reader in the school for her age. She loved fairy tales, The Three Little Pigs a favourite.


When the girls were still pre-teens, the family spent summer vacations at Oastler Lake, near Parry Sound, camping out, swimming, roasting marshmallows by the fire.


Karla was fun to be around. She was always cheerful, blessed with an easy laugh, just like her father. On the beach she loved to build sandcastles with her friends, or inside the camper trailer she would play house with her dolls.


With a childish naïveté that made her parents smile, she planted peach pits in the sand, ever hopeful that trees bearing the fruit would sprout by the end of the summer.


The 10-year-old Karla would never dream of harming another living creature. While the sight of bugs made her girlfriends squirm, Karla would stop whatever game they were playing, carefully scoop up the insect in the palm of her hand, then carry it out of harm's way.


She was especially close to her father back then. Often, the two would sneak away to go fishing for northern pike.


Her mother would stay behind at the campsite, fussing about, making sure everything was set up for meals, cleaning, getting the girls ready for bed. Karla always thought of her as "the supermom who could do anything."


Ever the avid reader, Karla moved on from children's fairy tales to romance novels. Later, it was Nancy Drew mystery books.


Around the age of 14, Karla began writing her own novelettes. The theme of those short stories was always the same: A young girl searching for love finds romance and lives happily ever after. Sometimes the plot would vary. The heroine would find her Prince Charming but he wouldn't be that interested in settling down with her. Then she would have to win him over. In the end, she always did. That was the young Karla. She always got her way. Even in her stories.


Her family and friends saw Karla as a leader, not a follower, a trait that accelerated as she entered her teen years. Some school chums thought she could be a bit too bossy — but never in a mean way. As a child, she was always protective of her friends, standing up for them in schoolyard scraps.


Perhaps it was that looking out for others that helped Karla decide on a possible career — she wanted to become a police officer. In junior high school, she talked about joining the Ontario Provincial Police after completing her education.


Watching out for those you love was a trait she had picked up from her father. She always saw her dad as "a great person" who carefully watched over his daughters, but at times could be overprotective. Once, he stopped her from getting on a small plane during a school field trip to the airport because he worried about her safety.


Later, when she started dating, her father would always "screen" her potential boyfriends, not letting her go alone on "car dates" when she first started going out with older boys.


Karla's career plans would evolve. Her love of books led her in another direction. The girl with the golden locks now wanted to become a librarian.


Her interest in photography started when she was 10. One of her favourite models was her cat, Mishka. Karla snapped so many pictures of Mishka that her parents finally had to ration the film because the hobby was too expensive for the family's modest income — her mother was a hospital secretary, her father made and sold lamps.


That was pure Karla. When she got onto something, she was consumed by it. In 1984 when Michael Jackson's Thriller video was released, Karla watched it not a few times like most kids, but several hundred times. Friends saw her as obsessive.


She idolized Olivia Newton-John. Dressing like her. Dancing like her. Right down to the pink outfits and the headband. She had the usual girlish teenage crush for a rock star, in this case, John Taylor of Duran Duran.


Along the way Karla would develop yet another passion — animals.


When the family's white and brown tabby was run over by a car, Karla refused to believe her favourite pet was dead. She was so upset that her mother rolled the cat on its side so her daughter wouldn't see the injuries.


Early on, Karla's parents knew there was something special about their first born. Karla's IQ of 134 put her in the top 2 per cent of the population for intelligence. She was blessed with an excellent memory and thirst for knowledge.


Her passion for animals was so strong she once refused to dissect a worm at school because, as she told her teacher, 'It wasn't right'


Later, at Karla's insistence, she and a friend sneaked out late at night and dug up the tiny grave where Mishka was buried, just to see what the corpse looked like. Her friend was nervous about digging up the dead, but Karla insisted. And what Karla wanted, Karla got.


The family got a second cat and named it Mishka 2. But this pet ran away about four months later, again leaving Karla heartbroken.


Her passion for animals was so strong that Karla once refused to dissect a worm at school because, as she told the teacher, "it wasn't right" to do that to a living creature.


Her early plans of becoming a cop or a librarian were gone. Karla now had a new career choice. She wanted to become a veterinarian.


Karla's love for animals was never more apparent than when she once got too close to a German shepherd that bit her on the lip. Karla was rushed to the hospital for stitches. But she refused to get mad at the dog for her injury, blaming herself for agitating the animal.


As a psychiatrist would say years later, that was Karla, shifting the blame back to herself to avoid confronting others. If she could run away from a brewing conflict, so much the better.


Being a close-knit family, Christmas was a special time for the Homolkas. The family album is crammed with photos of the three girls kneeling by the Christmas tree each year, shoulder-to-shoulder, beaming for the camera, the picture of togetherness.


The Homolka house was the place to be on Christmas Day. Everyone gathered there to celebrate. All were welcome. Relatives. Friends of the girls. Neighbours. It didn't matter. Karel and Dorothy were there to greet them at the door, hand them a drink.


The three Homolka girls had their own unique personalities. Karla was seen as "the smart one," the brains in the family, one who was going places. Tammy was "the athletic one," involved in sports such as soccer. Lori was "the social one," a friend to all.


In her pre-teens, Tammy worshipped Karla, even though Karla was merely tolerant of her youngest sibling she called "Tamsikins." At times, Karla would get annoyed with Tammy, especially when she tried to hang out with Karla and her friends. Or get into her room and mess with her things. But those spats were just minor squabblings between sisters. It never went further than the odd stern look or curt remark.


Yet it was Tammy who was always at Karla's bedside, nursing her back to health whenever Karla was laid out with one of her regular asthma attacks.


As the girls got older, the outings to the lake ended when the family installed an in-ground pool in their backyard. The Homolka house quickly became the place to go for backyard barbecues and leisurely summer swims. Life was idyllic.


While she enjoyed the company, Karla also valued her quiet time, alone reading books. Or working on her latest romance novel, her cat Ariel close by, playing with the paper dangling from the Underwood typewriter as the carriage moved back and forth.


In time, boys started dropping by more often as the three attractive sisters hit their teenage years. But aside from the normal teenage crush on rock stars, Karla was never really "boy crazy."


Friends came to see her as strong-willed. She was always confident, outgoing, firm in her opinion, and never lacking in self-esteem. Such traits were absent from psychiatric reports in years to come.


Karla was around 13 when she began talking of one day leaving St. Catharines. She and a few friends would later form the Exclusive Diamond Club, a group of girls who viewed a rich man's engagement ring as a ticket out of the quiet city by the lake. The girls often talked of moving to California.


Karla was never part of the "in-group" during her high school years and was proud of her independence. She took confidence from her high level of intelligence, as if she knew that she was destined for far greater things than her classmates could ever achieve.


She began seriously dating when she was about 14 years old. But it was never one-on-one with boys, usually in a group. She tended to date older boys. But like some others in her school, she thought that the boys in St. Catharines generally treated girls badly.


While she dated local boys nonetheless, her early relationships lasted but a few weeks. In her words: "Although I always wanted to get married and have kids, I became bored so easily with guys. I figured I'd never get married."


Around the same time, her teenage rebellious period started in earnest and that close relationship with her father began to wane. She saw him as weak and unpolished.


One boy in particular caught her eye, a long-time school chum. When he and his family moved to Kansas, she kept writing to him.


Karla's first real break from her family came at 17 when she announced she was going to Kansas to visit him. Against the wishes of her parents, Karla went anyway, and it was while visiting him that she lost her virginity. Also emerging around that time was her appetite for kinky sex, such as the use of handcuffs.


In 1987 at the age of 17, she landed her first job, working at a pet store in the Pen Centre mall. Until then, she had earned pocket money babysitting. In her resume, she had described herself as a "responsible person."


One day at work she heard about a pet store convention in Scarborough. Karla told her parents she was going and would spend the night at the Howard Johnson hotel with co-workers.


That first evening at the conference, Karla and her friends went bar-hopping. Several men tried to hit on them at one pub and followed them back to the hotel.


The young women eventually called security guards to shoo them away. Later, Karla and her friends went to the hotel's restaurant for a midnight snack.


While they were waiting in line, two young men approached them.


One of the men caught Homolka's eye. He was cute, charming, energetic. He seemed kind, gentle, romantic. And he had a sort of "animal magnetism" that excited her.


It was like, she later told a friend, he "cast a spell over me."


"What's your name?" she asked him.


"Paul Bernardo," he answered.