Paul Bernardo's childhood was strange by most standards. He was the product of an adulterous affair by his mother. Nonetheless, he was accepted by his mother's husband and included in the family as if he was his adopted father's child. The man who accepted Paul was a pedophile who abused little girls, including his own daughter, Paul's sister. Mrs. Bernardo became aware of this somehow and reacted by becoming grossly overweight and depressed. Despite all of this, Paul Bernardo is said to have been a bright, handsome and well adjusted young man–at least until his mother told him the truth.
At the age of 16, Paul Bernardo learned that the pedophile who had been raising him was not his father. Instead of being relieved, he was furious with his mother. He hated his adoptive father, but hated even more the fact that he was illegitimate. He thought of his mother as a whore and began to hate women. When he went to college at the University of Toronto, he had a string of relationships that were marred by his love of forceful sodomy. He would beat and rape his girlfriends, but always managed to stay out of trouble. Paul Bernardo went to work as a junior accountant following his graduation. He had a respectful job and was reasonably attractive. The problem was that he was a rapist with an ever-increasing appetite for sadism.
Paul met Karla Homolka in October of 1987. Karla was the product of a seemingly happy home. She was attractive, bright (she worked in a veterinarian's office) and loved being submissive for Paul. The problem for Paul was that Karla was not a virgin, and she did not fulfill his need to rape and humiliate women. He engaged in sado-masochism with Karla, but she liked it. Lucky for him, and unlucky for society, Karla seemed to lack a conscience. She had no problem being Paul's aide de camp. Even more, she enjoyed involving herself in his sick pleasures (as video evidence would later show).
The very year they met, Paul Bernardo became the Scarborough Rapist. He attacked and raped fourteen women. Some, if not all, of these rapes came about with Karla Homolka's help. She was fully aware of Paul's behavior. She even encouraged it.
Police had a picture of Paul Bernardo sketched from his victims' recollections. However, they did not release it to the public until May of 1990. After some time, several people had come forward to say that the man in the picture was Paul Bernardo. Police went to his home and took samples from Paul to be tested against samples taken from his victims. They were a close match. Another round of tests was ordered in 1992, but they were ordered two years too late and conducted three years too late.
Karla Homolka had a lovely younger sister named Tammy. Tammy was a virgin and Karla was not, so Paul Bernardo became obsessed with Tammy and berated Karla for not being like her. Instead of leaving Paul, Karla catered to his obsession with her sister. She helped him see into Tammy Homolka's room so he could masturbate. Karla even began planning Tammy's rape by Paul for him. She arranged to have sedatives that she was familiar with from the veterinary clinic and carefully planned the drugging of her little sister. Tammy was just 15 years old.
On December 23, 1990, Paul Bernardo went to the Homolka's and videotaped the family in their festively decorated home. Tammy and Karla Homolka's parents had no idea that their older daughter's nice fiancé was about to use his video camera to film the rape of their younger daughter. What was worse, their oldest daughter was going to play a key role in that rape.
That night, when the elder Homolkas were in bed, Karla and Paul gave Tammy alcohol laced with sedatives. When the poor girl passed out, Paul began raping her and videotaping it. Karla Homolka held a sedative soaked cloth over her sister's mouth while her fiancé carried out the assault. They made one mistake that would prove both lucky and unlucky for young Tammy. Karla had given her too much sedative. This means that she slept through her attack, but also that she became very ill. Tammy began vomiting and Karla Homolka tried to keep her alive to no avail. Tammy died.
Paul and Karla simply cleaned up their mess, dressed Tammy and called for an ambulance. Officials believed Karla and Paul when they said that Tammy had too much to drink and choked on her own vomit, despite the chemical burns on the girl's face. Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka remained free to marry, rape and kill again.
Later, it was discovered that Karla Homolka had no regret about her sister's death. She even paraded around in Tammy's clothes and pretended she was her dead sister for Paul's pleasure. Sure, Paul was controlling, but Karla Homolka had every opportunity to prevent Tammy's death and the indignities heaped upon her memory. It was clear that Karla Homolka enjoyed the role she was playing. She and Paul bought a house and lured an untold number of girls there to participate in consensual and nonconsensual sex. Karla was as much a rapist as her twisted soon-to-be husband.
Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka had an extravagant wedding on June 29, 1991. They were a handsome couple. No one attending the wedding could have suspected what the couple was up to. None of them could have known that the bride's sister was dead for their pleasure or that just 15 days before, Paul had kidnapped a 14-year-old girl and brought her home to his wife. Both of them raped the poor little girl and videotaped it. They had her for several days before she died from Paul's rough treatment of her. Leslie Mahaffy's body was found in pieces in Lake Gibson right around the time Paul and Karla got married.
On April 16, 1992, Karla summoned 15-year-old Kristen French to her car saying that she was in need of directions. Kristen kindly attempted to assist, at which point Paul Bernardo kidnapped her at knifepoint. The couple raped and tortured Kristen for three days before they killed her. Her body was thrown unceremoniously into a ditch by the heartless couple.
In January of the following year, Karla Homolka left Paul Bernardo because he had beaten her badly. Apparently, she could stomach raping, torturing and killing girls with her husband, including her own sister, but she would not put up with being abused. A more cowardly and self-centered person would be difficult to find.
Police finally made the connection between Paul Bernardo and the rapes in Scarborough in February of 1993. Paul was arrested and Karla Homolka was brought in for questioning. On February 19, police searched their home and found a litany of sadist pornography and a video of Karla engaging in lesbian activity with two other women. It was enough to put the pressure on Karla, who eventually agreed to tell all, in exchange for a 12-year sentence with parole eligibility in less than four years. She was tried for the murders of Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy in June of 1993. She was found guilty and given the sentence she bargained for. As of this writing, she's been free for more than a decade.
Paul Bernardo was brought to trial in May of 1995. It took two years because of drama surrounding certain videotapes that were revealed after Karla's trial. These videotapes would have eliminated the need to bargain with Karla Homolka. They were the tapes of the rape tortures of teenage girls and videotapes of both of the killers referencing the crimes in scenarios that need not be repeated. Those present in court were subjected to these tapes. Paul was eventually found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.
Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka are a rare sort, but not rare enough. Too often bad people get away with the sadistic sexual torture of children for years. In this case, and in many others, the killers could have been stopped if a little more due diligence had been applied when police and medical personnel became involved. Ken and Barbie could have been stopped after their first murder if Tammy Homolka's body had been autopsied properly and the burns on her face had been given any consideration. Sadly, no one did consider the handsome couple to be sexual deviants until it was too late. It probably seemed unimaginable to those involved.
Smith, Charlotte, Karla Homolka and Paul Bernardo-Barbie and Ken, retrieved 12/30/10, agoracosmopolitan.com/home/New1/2006/03/06/01148.html Bardsley, Marilyn, Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka, retrieved 12/30/10, trutv.com/library/crime/serial_killers/notorious/bernardo/14.html