From 17 and in love to murder and hate
Question is why didn't she stop?
Now 35, Homolka to be free in July



May 30, 2005. 12:13 PM

On Thursday, a judge will be asked to restrict Karla Homolka's movements after her release in early July. The 35-year-old woman is one month shy of serving a 12-year sentence for her part in the murders of Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy, and the death of her younger sister, Tammy. In the second of a three-part series, we follow Karla from the time she met Paul Bernardo until she left him five years later.



Karla Homolka was in love. She had just met the man of her dreams and the 17-year-old high school student wanted everyone to know it was the most exciting event in her life.


She would go on to tell friends that Paul Bernardo was a terrific guy, in her words: "Nice and perfect."


Not only was he handsome, charismatic and athletic with his training as a lifeguard, but the man six years her senior was university educated, and he had a solid job as a junior accountant with a major Toronto business firm, Price Waterhouse. He was going places and she wanted to go along for the ride.


He was a gentleman, so mature, unlike "the boring losers" she knew back home, she would tell her girlfriends. He had all the qualifications she was looking for in a husband. Right from the start, the Grade 11 teenager knew she would marry him and be there at his side as the ambitious Bernardo moved up in the world.


She would, of course, be quietly directing their partnership, pulling the strings as was the nature of her "take charge" personality. Just like she did in all her previous relationships.


But on that October night in the restaurant of the Howard Johnson hotel in Scarborough in 1987 when she first met Bernardo, one emotion was taking charge of Homolka lust.


After bar-hopping with co-workers while attending a pet store convention, she found herself getting drawn in by the allure of Bernardo's sex appeal, his "animal passion."


Several hours after that chance encounter, Karla and Paul were in bed having wild sex, Homolka not caring that a co-worker from the St. Catharines pet store where she worked, and Bernardo's friend, were in the hotel room at the time.


"That was so unlike me," the teen, who had had only one previous lover, would say later, as if trying to excuse her attack of raging hormones, blaming it on "the spell" that Bernardo had cast over her that night.


Five years later, her life would be in ruins. The woman whose love for animals, down to the tiniest of insects, was so profound that she wouldn't even dream of stepping on a bug, would be known as a monster, just as evil as the man she had met that night in Scarborough.


According to Homolka's comments to friends and police, her descent into hell began slowly. Still, there were plenty of chances to escape from a relationship that would lead to murder. And everyone who knows her name has wondered for years how she could have helped kill her sister one night and not have awakened sober the next morning so consumed by grief that she would have turned herself in to police immediately and confessed her crime.


To this day, friends are still shocked by what happened the death of sister Tammy and the kidnap, rape and murder of Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy.


"Had she met an average, normal guy she would probably be like the rest of us, taking care of her children, living a quiet life, getting fat and settling nicely into middle age," said one.


But Homolka didn't want average. Her girlfriends could have average. She wanted more, a mate who stood out from the crowd. And the handsome six-footer easily fit the bill, her apparent intellectual equal.


Growing up in the community known as Garden City, Homolka was the model student, always earning high grades. Her teachers sought her opinions in class, no matter the topic. "What she had to say about something mattered," said a fellow student.


`At first (Paul) was very loving, very caring, and then, just like everything else, it turned.'


Karla Homolka


What friends remembered most about Homolka was her obsessiveness. She became enthralled with singer Olivia Newton-John, for instance, carefully studying all her dance steps, memorizing the words to all her songs, dressing like her, becoming the singer to the point of ordering school chums to address her as "Olivia 1."


Those same friends weren't surprised that after meeting Bernardo, Homolka became obsessed with the newest love in her life. She just had to see him all the time. And whatever Karla wanted, Karla got. Bernardo, ever the smooth talker, easily won the hearts of the Homolka family. For instance, he always sided with her parents in minor squabbles with their eldest daughter, still a rebellious teenager.


He loved to drink, laughing over beers around the backyard pool with Karel, the protective father who had always been a vigilant watchdog when it came to his three lovely daughters.


Bernardo not only charmed the Homolkas, but the neighbours as well. "Now why can't my daughter find someone nice like him?" said one, eyeing Bernardo's buffed, tanned physique as he frolicked in the Homolka's pool.


So with everyone enchanted by the friendly suitor from Toronto, Karel let his guard down. He so liked the accountant with the big plans that he even dropped Karla's strict curfew.


For the first few months of their relationship, Bernardo regularly made the trip to St. Catharines. But all that driving worried Homolka, who kept bugging her mother that he might get into an accident. So Dorothy allowed Bernardo to have weekend sleepovers in the basement rumpus room. Her parents began calling him their "weekend son."


Bernardo was generous. He lavished his younger lover with gifts, such as $300 bracelets. He stocked the Homolka cupboard with liquor.


Homolka would come to view Bernardo as everything her father wasn't. The teenager who had once been very close to her dad, now saw Karel as lacking, with none of the polish of her beloved accountant from Scarborough.


Blinded by love, Homolka never saw what others would see when they first met Bernardo. He was all surface charm with a limp handshake. He had trouble looking people in the eye. He was a glad hander with an easy laugh, making friends quickly and losing them just as fast.


All Homolka saw was Prince Charming. As she was fond of saying, he was "her ticket" out of St. Catharines. Someone exciting, who was going places. Not like the dunderhead boys in her hometown who bored her to tears within a few days. All they wanted to do was get drunk and smoke dope.


There were plenty of early warning signs that Mr. Right was Mr. Sick, but Homolka chose to ignore them.


"What if I was a rapist?" Bernardo asked her once, a line that failed to arouse her suspicions.


Later, she would blame her lack of foresight on "being under his spell." Said Homolka: "I feel like he planned it from the beginning. ... eased me into it."


A signal of what was to come happened early in the relationship. Bernardo slapped her face while they were out driving. But she quickly forgave him after he made a teary apology. She brushed it off, as people in love often do.


Almost from the start, Bernardo was extremely possessive and controlling. She couldn't go out with her friends to dances unless he was with her. He didn't want her talking to other boys. She had to wait around the house for his nightly calls from Toronto and got mad if she wasn't there when he phoned.


He told her what to wear. Short skirts were out. For the woman who revelled in being independent, who once dressed like singer Michael Jackson, right down to the lone glitter glove, she was surprisingly compliant. Bernardo rewarded her with praise on how great she now looked because of him.


Her parents noticed the changes. The hair streaking ended, she dressed more like a young lady, she was less rebellious. They believed Bernardo was having a positive influence. Friends noticed the change in her. "She was becoming soft spoken, almost demure. That wasn't Karla," said one.


Psychiatrists and criminal profilers would later say Bernardo was in fact grooming the young Homolka, taking over her life completely. He was older. He had an important job. He had power and status over her. True, she had a strong personality, but his was more powerful.


`Now why can't my daughter find someone nice like him?'


Neighbour of the Homolkas


watching Paul Bernardo in pool


In the clash of two dominant psyches, Bernardo was the easy victor. It was hardly a fair contest: the up and coming junior executive from the big city versus the impressionable, small town teenager.


Homolka grew to like her new role, at least in the early part of their relationship. With other boyfriends, she felt she could easily control them. That bored her. Hardly an intellectual challenge.


Being the submissive partner wasn't so bad, she would say later. She was really an "old-fashioned girl" at heart, someone who would be happy staying at home, taking the kids to Girl Guides or Cubs, having her husband open the door for her.


Step by step, Bernardo took control of her life. He was a boozer, mostly beer, rye whiskey and Coke, and he wanted her to drink more. Later, he would insist on tasting her drinks to make sure she was pouring herself enough alcohol.


In time, he became verbally abusive, often calling her "bitch" or "slut." He started humiliating her in front of her friends. Once in a bar, he grabbed her head and forced her mouth down to his crotch as if wanting her to perform oral sex. She said nothing, but was clearly embarrassed.


She knew that Bernardo had a difficult home life, and felt, initially, that she might be able to change him. "I wanted to share my family with him to make up for what he didn't have," she would say.


But she knew something was off about the Bernardo family. The first time she met Bernardo's mother, Marilyn, at their Sir Raymond Dr. house, she called her son's new girlfriend a slut. Her own son was the "bastard from hell."


Bernardo was 14 when he learned that Kenneth was his stepfather, not his real dad, and that his mother had had an affair with a man in Kitchener, which produced Bernardo. His stepfather would later be convicted of sexual assault.


Bernardo was obsessed that she wasn't a virgin, and began demanding anal sex because it would be something they could share for the first time. She found it painful, but complied. His reaction was typical: "That wasn't so bad, was it?"


Bernardo's treatment of Homolka, the world learned later, was similar to how he had treated his previous girlfriends. He had hit one girlfriend with a belt, ordering her to say: "I'm sorry I slept with (a previous boyfriend)." Another described how he punched her in the head when she was slow giving him oral sex. During sex he would punch her or threaten her with a knife. A third girlfriend told how he would tie a rope around her neck and tighten it until she gagged while he had anal intercourse. On another occasion, a clearly disturbed Bernardo punched himself in the face and pulled his hair as he screamed: "I don't know what I am doing. I love (her name)." While he was busy hitting himself she fled, but, at age 15, was too scared to tell her parents.


Bernardo had already raped two women earlier in 1987 prior to their meeting at the Scarborough hotel that year. His reign of terror lasted until 1990.


He had surprised both women from behind after they got off buses. In one attack, he tied a cord around the victim's neck, tightening it until she could barely breath, then demanded that she tell him she loved him.


The rapes in Scarborough would continue during the first three years of Bernardo's relationship with Homolka. He was eventually convicted of 13 rapes.


Soon, Bernardo was hitting Homolka more often, her upper arms a favourite spot because the bruises could be hidden under a blouse. And still she didn't leave him.


Even though he would go on to quit his accounting job to spend more time smuggling cigarettes to sell to a biker gang, it was Homolka whom he called the "fat and lazy" one, even though she was regularly working. She began writing notes to herself, chastizing herself for being "so stupid."


The arguments between the two got worse, typically that she wasn't a virgin when they met. Their once-passionate sex gradually centred on Bernardo's needs.


"At first he was very loving, very caring, and then, just like everything else, it turned," she would say later. "It wasn't us. It was him. Everything was for him. He didn't care about my sexual satisfaction."


`I wanted to share my family with (Paul) to make up for what he didn't have.'



Karla Homolka


But she stayed with him, even when he ordered her not to enrol at the University of Toronto after she was accepted for a Bachelor of Arts program.


Later he insisted on taking nude photos of her. She didn't want to but agreed because it made him happy. Then he wanted her to wear a dog collar during sex.


He started talking about wanting sex with other women. Even after the Toronto police questioned him as a possible suspect in the Scarborough rapes, she stayed by his side.


In the summer of 1990, he talked about getting sex slaves, but it never set off warning bells. And then he began talking about raping her youngest sister. Homolka was living at home. She could have easily pulled the plug on their relationship, confided in her supportive parents, called the police. But she didn't.


On Christmas Eve 1990, Homolka used the drug halothane to knock her sister unconscious, "Tamsikins" choking to death on her vomit while the pair sexually assaulted the comatose teen who had always idolized her older sister.


When asked why she went along with him in setting up her sister to be raped, Homolka explained he had threatened to kill her and her family if she didn't. Few believed that explanation.


After Tammy's death, there was no turning back for Homolka. Psychiatrists would later say she went into a kind of protective shell, only worrying about herself first.


Two weeks before their wedding, Bernardo abducted, assaulted and strangled Leslie Mahaffy, 14.


With that murder still fresh in her mind, Homolka fretted about the wedding menu, angry with her parents who said they couldn't afford to pay for the lavish affair, with its horse-drawn carriage, and the dinner with roasted breast of pheasant stuffed with veal.


Homolka told her friends how excited she was about her nuptials, but several suspected otherwise. As one bridesmaid said on the way to the church: "It was like going to a funeral, not a wedding."


Their wedding song was "Patience" by Guns `n Roses. One line was telling: "You and I've got what it takes to make it, We won't fake it."


But all Homolka was doing was faking it in the last half of her relationship with Bernardo. Perhaps the worst incident was when her parents came over for dinner to their Port Dalhousie house, and Homolka graciously played the perfect host with Leslie's body hidden in the root cellar.


Her fairytale romance was a sham. Friends suspected something was wrong. But Karla kept lying. It would get worse. In April 1992, she helped Bernardo kidnap Kristen French, 15, who was held for two days and repeatedly raped in front of a video camera. During that time, Homolka had one last chance for redemption when she was alone with Kristen after Bernardo went out for food. One call to the police and cruisers would have been there within minutes, but she didn't. Three days after Kristen was abducted, her body was dumped at the side of a road near Burlington.


Bernardo's violent rages escalated after the killing. He turned Homolka into his favourite punching bag, hitting her for everything, even when she turned down the wrong aisle at the supermarket.


One acquaintance asked her about an apparent shiner. "Oh that," she replied cheerily. "I got that in a car accident."


Early in 1993, Homolka could no longer lie her way out. After she reported to work at the Martindale Animal clinic with two horrific shiners, later described as "the raccoon eyes," the police were called. The end was near.


After Bernardo's arrest, detectives found a card in the death house from one of Homolka's childhood friends. It read:


"I tell ya hun, Paul is one great guy for one sweet lady. You make a wonderful couple."