NICK PRON AND DALE ANNE FREED
May 31, 2005. 08:03 AM
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 her 12-year sentence for her part in the murders of Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy, and the death of her sister, Tammy. In the third of a three-part series, we follow Karla from the time she left Paul Bernardo until her last weeks in prison.
The door opened slowly, just enough for the shadowy figure holding the scalpel to peer inside before creeping toward the bed in the darkened room.
Too late, Karla Homolka, saw the intruder, and screamed for help, desperately trying to protect herself as Paul Bernardo plunged the blade deep into her chest.
Homolka awoke, terrified. The nightmare just wouldn't go away.
She was less than a month from signing what would become the infamous "deal with the devil" in May 1993, an agreement with prosecutors that in exchange for testifying against Bernardo at his trial for the sex slayings of Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy, she would get 12 years in jail, a sentence that would include punishment for the drugging death and rape of her younger sister, Tammy Lynn.
Three months after fleeing from Bernardo, the 22-year-old, 104-pound woman still had the bruises from almost five years of physical abuse from her husband, a doctor noted in his initial assessment of the new patient.
Homolka, at Toronto's Northwestern General hospital to be analyzed by psychiatrists as part of the pending deal, was keen to move on with her life. Since fleeing Bernardo, she had already had a one-night fling with one man she met at a Brampton bar, and was seeing a second man, not knowing he already had a girlfriend.
"I want to forget," she would later confide to a psychiatrist. "Pretend it never happened. I don't blame myself for anything."
The nursing notes during her stay at the hospital describe a depressed and agitated woman going through wild mood swings, suffering apparent memory problems. But medical reports also described her as cheery, alert, very aware of what was going on around her.
Homolka was regaining that trademark assertiveness. That ready smile had returned. She passed her time listening to Guns `n Roses on her Walkman, and her favourite song, `Patience.'
And she would need plenty of patience to get her through what lay ahead.
As her lawyer, George Walker, hammered out the deal with the authorities, Homolka knew that she would soon have to do one awful task — tell her parents that Tammy's death wasn't an accident. She would have to admit she and Bernardo had drugged her beloved "Tamsikins," then videotaped the sexual assault.
The "horror" of what was going on in her life was overwhelming her, she would tell the nursing staff. She was having trouble sleeping. The nightmares of Bernardo killing her had returned.
Although her parents visited her regularly, Homolka couldn't muster the courage to tell them about her sister's death. So she turned to her favourite mode of communication — a letter.
"I can't lie to you anymore," she wrote on April 13, 1993 about her involvement in Tammy's death. "I don't expect you to ever forgive me for I will never forgive myself."
To help her sleep, her psychiatrist, the late Dr. Hans Arndt, doubled her dosage of Valium from 10 milligrams — considered an upper safety limit — to 20 milligrams.
Then came a huge shock. One that could have great ramifications on her freedom.
Just three days after sending her parents the "hardest letter I've ever had to write," she was at the nursing station demanding more Valium.
"I'm very depressed," she said. "I would like an I.V. (intra-venous) push of Valium."
The nurse wanted to know why. Homolka said she was upset after reading a story in the morning newspaper.
A story in the Toronto Star said police had found unspecified incriminating tapes in the Port Dalhousie house where she had helped Bernardo in videotaping the rapes of the two teens, who were later murdered by him.
Homolka was in a panic. That morning, she had no way of knowing which tapes police had found. If they found the tapes of the rapes of the two teens, there would be no need for the authorities to strike a sweetheart deal with her.
The nursing staff put in an emergency call to Arndt, who would later be criticized by some colleagues for becoming Homolka's personal advocate, not an objective examiner. The two would keep up a personal correspondence after she left hospital. He even offered to treat her troubled parents.
Once again, Arndt rushed to the hospital to care for his star patient. Homolka got her needle with 20 milligrams of Valium. It knocked her right out.
But over the next 24 hours, a depressed, at times angry Homolka would be wandering around the hospital corridor demanding more and more medication. One nursing note described her as feeling "guilty" about something.
By 8:30 the next evening, Homolka was back at the nursing station, demanding Demerol because the Valium was no longer effective.
`The only thing we get when we
educate a psychopath is an educated psychopath'
Retired FBI profiler Greg McCray
on Homolka's university degree
Outside the tight circle of authorities and her lawyer, George Walker, few knew of her deal and the pending arrest of Bernardo, secretly being followed around by the police.
"Do you want me to have a nervous breakdown? I feel as though I am going to have a nervous breakdown," shrieked a distraught Homolka.
At that point, the stakes for Homolka appeared extraordinarily high. If the police found the rape tapes, it meant a longer sentence, not the deal Walker wanted, 10 years.
Her parents rushed to the hospital. They brought along a special friend, Buddy, her Rottweiler. Hugging the dog was just what the doctor ordered. She calmed right down. She was back to her cheery self, making plans to buy a hat, perhaps a souvenir of her hospital visit.
Homolka had fretted for nothing.
The "thorough" search of the death house in Port Dalhousie failed to find the incriminating tapes that would have sunk her. The Star story had referred to the discovery of another tape, the one Homolka had already talked about with the police.
Bernardo had hidden the rape tapes in a pot light in the bathroom. Amazingly, the police never found them. In a frank admission, one person close to the case said later: "We knew he wouldn't destroy the tapes. But what can I say, we just didn't find them."
After the police finished their search, Bernardo's then-lawyer, Ken Murray, went into the house, found the incriminating tapes while acting under orders from Bernardo, but didn't turn them over to the police until well after the deal with Homolka had been signed.
There would be another bump in the road for Homolka when she suddenly remembered her involvement in the sexual assault of a teenager who can only be identified as Jane Doe.
But with the many references to her apparent "memory lapses" — in her words, from the beatings she got from Bernardo — in the psychiatric reports, she was never charged for apparently forgetting about that assault, even though she broke the terms of the deal by not telling authorities about it.
Homolka left Northwestern General just before noon on April 23, 1993, less than three weeks before her deal was struck.
There was one final notation in the nursing ledger.
"Pt (patient) left in good condition. Smiling."
Homolka could hardly wait to take the stand and testify against the man she had once thought of as her Prince Charming.
As she wrote to a friend while in her jail cell awaiting his trial in 1995: "I am trying to change myself back into a newer, better version of the person I was before I met Paul."
She went on to add that Paul was "going to be surprised" at how strong she would be when she took the stand.
Back then, early in her 12-year sentence she hated her new home in the Prison for Women in Kingston, but she consoled herself by thinking how difficult it was for her now-despised former spouse.
"It could be worse," she wrote. "Hey, I could be in Paul's situation and have no family or friends."
Later, as the realization set in that her friends were also abandoning her, Homolka was almost begging for them to stand by her side.
"If you don't want to continue our friendship, ever, please at least write to me and let me know," she wrote to one, who later sold the letters to the tabloid press.
Eventually, prison became a sanctuary for Homolka. Her days at Joliette Institution, where she was transferred in 1997, were regimented, the guards telling her when to eat and when to sleep. It was like her school days all over again. She also exercised her intellect, taking university courses by correspondence and becoming fully bilingual.
On the range of the maximum-security wing at Joliette, Homolka was know as "Queen Bee." In fact, one inmate fell so passionately in love with Homolka that she offered to plead guilty to an unsolved crime, just so she could stay in prison a few more years to be with her.
About a year ago, a prisoner introduced as "Karla" met with a group of 10 McGill University law students who were visiting the Joliette prison for women, about 75 kilometres northeast of Montreal.
During the 45-minute session it quickly became apparent to the law students that there was something special — and familiar — about the short blonde whose intelligence clearly shone through. By the end of the talk, most had figured out she was the country's most despised woman.
"She didn't look like that horrible picture," said one, referring to the familiar shot of Homolka doing that wicked sideways glance with her eyes.
`I want to forget. Pretend it
never happened. I don't blame myself for anything'
Karla Homolka to a psychiatrist
And whether it was talking about the type of toilets in the cells or the differences in the prison systems between Ontario and Quebec, Homolka kept the students spellbound with her opinions, just like back in her days in junior high school. Said one: "It was surreal."
The Ontario prison system "simply doesn't compare" to the Quebec system, said one, recalling Homolka's words. By now, she was a veteran of both systems after first being sent to the Prison for Women in Kingston.
She lashed out against Ontario jails, saying in her diatribe, one student recalled:
"The Ontario prison system simply doesn't compare to Quebec because in Ontario the guards have the attitude `you're bad people and we're here to punish you, and remind you that you're horrible people.' Whereas in Quebec, the attitude is `yes, you've all done something pretty horrible to be here, but we're not going to rub your faces in it because eventually you're going to get out.'"
What impressed Homolka about the Quebec prison was the "nice ceramic toilets," just like in regular homes, not the "ugly, stainless steel things" that are in most prisons.
The attitude of the guards in Joliette, Homolka explained, was better than in Kingston, more laissez-faire.
Like the other inmates, Homolka was dressed in casual clothes for the meeting that was held in the common room area, complete with a kitchen, a classroom area with a computer, all overlooking an atrium. The only sign it was a prison was the uniformed guard sitting by the door.
Before the visitors left, Homolka and two other prisoners explained how they were being prepared for life after prison. For instance, they were being taught to manage their money by ordering their own groceries, and preparing food, "like in the real world."
Each inmate was trusted with a key to their own small cell, used to lock their cell door whenever they left.
Through it all Homolka's longing for freedom was clear as she talked about the "huge punishment" of being locked away from the rest of society.
Homolka also left a deep impression on another person she met: Roy Hazelwood, a retired criminal profiler with the Federal Bureau of Investigations.
She was a potent mixture of brains and beauty, said the former agent who was a consultant on the serial killer movie, Silence of the Lambs.
He described her as being "very, very intelligent ... one of the most beautiful killers I've dealt with."
While acknowledging that Homolka had been victimized by Bernardo, the man who has studied the mindsets of some of the continent's most sadistic killers said she still had free choice, and didn't have to participate in the drugging and assault of her younger sister, or the sex killings of Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy.
Said Hazelwood: "(Being Bernardo's victim) does not excuse any criminal behaviour on her part."
Retired FBI profiler Greg McCray said that Bernardo supplied "the spark" to bring out the killer in Homolka.
He described Homolka as a psychopath, and doubts that the university degree she earned behind bars will change her.
"The only thing we get when we educate a psychopath is an educated psychopath," he said.
Tim Danson, lawyer for the Mahaffy and French families, has examined Homolka's psychiatric records.
He is convinced she suffers from serious mental disorders and still poses a threat should she hook up with another Bernardo.
"It's always been my position that Karla Homolka is dangerous in and of herself. But if she meets a particular type of personality like Paul Bernardo ... it's like playing with nuclear fuel. And I believe we are at serious risk."
Danson is preparing his arguments while Homolka steels herself for Thursday's hearing at a Joliette courthouse, which will determine whether restrictions can be imposed on her upon her release.
At Homolka's request, the hearing will be held in French, forcing Danson to bring an interpreter.
"This is all part of Karla Homolka's playing the system again, getting the last laugh," said Danson.
And finally, what about the woman herself?
Those who have spoken to her say she is anxious to start her new life, but is concerned about her safety.
Recently, she spoke to an official in the Quebec prison system about her pending release.
Said Homolka: "Je suis nerveuse ( I am nervous)."