They were young, attractive and in love. But this was a fatal attraction and before they'd even married, two girls were already dead
In the late 1980s, in Scarborough, Ontario, police were hunting a serial rapist. As the attacks escalated in their brutality, officers took DNA from many local men. Amongst them was a handsome accountant named Paul Bernardo. Police didn’t know it then, but they had their man.
Another person who didn’t know the truth about Paul Bernardo was his new girlfriend, Karla Homolka. She was besotted with her attractive, older boyfriend. Her parents were also happy with the match and Bernando moved into the family home in St Catharine’s.
It was there he’d commit his first murder. The victim? Karla Homolka’s younger sister Tammy.
Karla soon learned that Paul Bernardo had a deviant sexual appetite. Annoyed that she was not a virgin when they met, he asked her to give him Tammy’s virginity instead, as a Christmas present. Already under his spell, Karla agreed.
On 23 December 1990, the couple invited 15-year-old Tammy to drink cocktails with them. She’d no idea they’d been laced with drugs. When Tammy passed out, Karla held a rag soaked in sedatives over her sister’s mouth while Bernardo raped her. He then ordered Karla to sexually abuse her sister. The whole thing was videotaped. The girls’ parents were asleep upstairs.
Then, Tammy started to choke after vomiting. Bernardo and Homolka tried to revive her but she couldn’t be saved. So they dressed her, hid the camera and called for an ambulance. Tammy’s death was declared natural, with doctors and the Homolka family believing this to be a tragedy but a very ordinary one – where a teen experimenting with drink had lost her life.
Only Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka knew differently. And Tammy wasn’t the couple’s last victim. In June 1991, Bernardo kidnapped Leslie Mahaffy, 14, and took her back to the new home he shared with Homolka. There Leslie endured 24 hours of rape and abuse, which again was all filmed. After she was murdered, the teenager’s body was dismembered, encased in concrete and dumped in nearby Lake Gibson. Her remains were discovered on 29 June 1991 – the very day that her killers Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka were married in a lavish wedding ceremony.
In April 1992, the couple killed their final victim. Kristen French, 15, spent three days being tortured, humiliated and raped before she too was murdered. Her naked body was found in a ditch.
Police linked the deaths of Leslie Mahaffy and Kristen French and a manhunt for the killer began. Meanwhile the search was still on for the identity of the Scarborough Rapist. No-one yet knew that they were looking for the same man.
No-one except Karla Homolka. She could no longer keep her man happy and he’d began to beat her and taunt her about the sex assaults he’d committed before they met.
The major breakthrough came when that DNA sample, given by Paul Bernardo more than two years earlier, was finally tested. It was a match. Bernardo was placed under surveillance, and Karla Homolka was questioned by police. This lead her to turn on the man she’d raped and killed for.
Believing the police were closing in, Homolka confessed to family that her husband was the Scarborough Rapist, and that they’d been responsible for the rapes and murders of Leslie Mahaffy and Kristen French. The investigation into Tammy’s death was reopened. Homolka told police she’d testify against Bernardo in exchange for a lenient sentence. It was an offer they accepted.
At her trial, Homolka’s lawyer told the court she’d played a lesser role in the crimes, and was suffering from battered spouse syndrome. She was given 12 years for manslaughter.
But by the time Paul Bernando stood trial there was new evidence. The police had discovered the video tapes that Bernando had made of the crimes, with Karla Homolka playing a more active part in the attacks than she’d admitted to. The Canadian public were outraged that she’d received such a light sentence. Paul Bernardo was found guilty of numerous sex assault charges and two charges of first degree murder. He was handed a life sentence. It’s unlikely he’ll ever be released.
Karla Homolka was freed in 2005. She’d divorced Bernardo while in prison and later remarried and became a mother. Despite her past and notoriety, she’s able to live a relatively normal life. Something she and her ex-husband denied her own family, and the families of Leslie Mahaffy and Kristen French.