The Ken & Barbie Killers: Where Is Karla Homolka Today?
For the latest on this case, watch the four part special Ken and Barbie Killers: The Lost Murder Tapes on discovery+.
When a handsome man from Canada met an equally attractive, albeit younger teen girl in 1987, no one, including their closest friends, could have predicted they would one day be known worldwide as the “Ken and Barbie Killers.”
Paul Bernardo was an intelligent and popular 23-year-old from the Scarborough area of Toronto, and appeared to be on the path to success. After graduating from the Sir Wilfrid Laurier Collegiate Institute, he attended the University of Toronto Scarborough while working as an Amway consultant.
Yet behind his blonde locks, deep dimples, and charming personality, Bernardo was dabbling in dark fantasies of rape and torture. He began to indulge these sadistic urges by humiliating women in public and hitting his dates, but when his desires weren’t satiated, he began prowling at night, searching for girls walking alone. He would eventually rape at least 13 women, yet his thirst for dark perversion was never quenched.
Scarborough detectives began looking for someone who became known as the Scarborough Rapist, and although Paul was an almost identical match to the sketch police made from victims’s accounts of the assaults, he wasn’t arrested when initially questioned. He cleverly talked his way out of an interrogation, even voluntarily giving a DNA sample to police.
Meanwhile, Karla Homolka was a 17-year-old living in Châteauguay. As the eldest of her parent’s three children, Karla set a good example for her younger sisters by working part-time at an animal hospital, volunteering, and maintaining good grades. She came from a seemingly normal background that included pool parties, dances, and other typical suburban activities.
Everything in Homolka’s life changed when she spotted Bernardo at a restaurant in Scarborough. The two immediately hit it off. Friends said that the chemistry between Karla and Paul was so fierce that they couldn’t keep their hands off of each other, often making others in the room uncomfortable with their aggressive public displays of affection.
It wasn’t long before Bernardo began sharing his twisted fantasies with Homolka, and, to his surprise, not only did she permit him to indulge his sick obsessions, but she wholeheartedly encouraged them.
As the relationship progressed, Bernardo began teasing Homolka about being “used goods,” since he wasn’t her first sexual relationship. Frantic that she would lose him to someone more innocent, she offered him something he couldn’t refuse: her own little sister’s virginity as a Christmas present. Bernardo readily accepted Homolka’s “gift.”
In December 1990, the couple outlined plans to get 14-year-old Tammy Homolka so drunk that she wouldn’t realize what was happening to her. When nighttime arrived, Tammy was indeed drinking, but remained coherent. Knowing that she wouldn’t consent to sleeping with Bernardo, the couple slipped Valium into the young teen’s drink.
Eventually, Tammy wanted to lie down after complaining of dizziness, but when she failed to pass out, Bernardo and Homolka put Halothane – a chemical that Homolka stole from her job at the animal hospital – over her mouth and nose until she passed out. Once she was unconscious, Bernardo began filming Tammy and demanded that Homolka molest her younger sister. Bernardo then began to rape Tammy himself, but after a minute or so, the teen woke up.
Tammy began violently throwing up and choking. As she gasped for breath, the couple called 911 in a panic; they scrambled to cover their tracks, hiding evidence, dressing Tammy and putting the girl back in her bed before paramedics and police arrived. But it was too late for the teenager – Tammy died after choking on her vomit. No foul play was suspected.
Bernardo seemed to take Tammy’s death to heart, often playing a video of her for friends while crying. But at Bernardo’s insistence, Homolka later dressed up in her sister’s clothes, and they had sex on the dead girl’s bed.
Reeling from the fact that he got away with murder, Bernardo’s dark fantasies increased. Feeling the need for more stimulation, he kidnapped 14-year-old Leslie Mahaffy in June 1991, just days before he married Homolka. He forced the petrified, blindfolded young girl into his home, where Homolka waited.
Homolka watched while Bernardo raped the teen for hours on end, before she was choked to death, though who actually did the killing remains a mystery. Bernardo insists that Homolka killed Mahaffy out of jealousy, while Homolka said Bernardo squeezed the girl’s throat so tight that she eventually expired from lack of air. They eventually chopped the girl into pieces and buried her in cement.
Mahaffy’s remains were found a few weeks later in Ontario’s Lake Gibson, weighed down by concrete blocks. Bernardo realized that investigators didn’t suspect him, at least on the surface, which boosted his confidence and convinced him he was invincible.
His bizarre sense of bravado led to the kidnapping of 15-year-old Kristen French in April 1992. While Bernardo brought Mahaffy into his home by his own doing, it was Homolka that lured French into Bernardo’s car. Homolka asked the Catholic schoolgirl to come closer to give directions, and then Bernardo grabbed her from behind and forced into the vehicle. A series of rapes and beatings came next, and as she had with her sister Tammy, Homolka participated in sexually assaulting French before the girl was brutally killed.
Twelve days later, detectives found French’s naked body in a ditch in North Burlington, Ontario. This time, however, an acquaintance gave Bernardo’s name to detectives as a possible murder suspect. He was questioned in his home, but nothing came of it.
The couple’s killing spree came to an end on January 5, 1993, when Homolka, severely beaten by Bernardo, moved in with relatives. After confessing the crimes to her family, they turned to the police. When detectives interviewed Homolka, she was reluctant to open up until they offered her a plea deal that would have her out of prison within 12 years.
Bernardo was subsequently arrested, but during questioning, he insisted that he never killed anyone, though he did admit to a number of sexual assaults. Interestingly enough, though Bernardo had a long history of committing rape, he never killed any of the women he sexually assaulted in Scarborough. The first murder occurred after he took up with Homolka, when the pair killed her sister.
Bernardo was charged and convicted of numerous counts of rape (including the Scarborough assaults, for which DNA testing had finally implicated him) and two counts of murder. Homolka, on the other hand, was charged and convicted of manslaughter in exchange for testifying against Bernardo.
While some people agreed that Homolka deserved a lesser sentence, believing she was scared for her life and had been beaten into submission by Bernardo, the overwhelming majority of Canadians who followed the case were appalled that she got off so easy. Needless to say, when she was released from prison in 2005, the public erupted in protest.
The community’s outrage obviously didn’t escape Homolka. Shortly after release, she hid away in Guadaloupe, an island in the Caribbean, with her new husband, Thierry Bordelais (who happens to be her former lawyer’s brother). After spending more than a decade there and having three kids, she resurfaced in 2014.
Homolka’s been living in the Quebec area under an assumed name, but in 2016, her cover was blown when a reporter with La Presse spotted her husband, and subsequently revealed that Homolka and her new family had moved back to Châteauguay. Bordelais, clearly upset that he was confronted, said that anyone with issues concerning his wife could simply move.
“If they are worried, all they have to do is move. We’re free, we’re in a free country. Has anything happened over the past ten years? So why are they worried? I don’t see why they are worried,” Bordelais said.
The problem, however, is much bigger than Homolka simply being back in Canada. She transformed herself into a doting soccer mom and began participating in activities at Centennial Park Elementary School, where her children are students. Regardless of how long it’s been since her crimes, that didn’t sit well with other parents.
Although the local school board sent letters to parents, assuring them that their kids were safe, Homolka’s mere presence sparked an outrage that, sadly, will likely end up affecting her children. Montreal attorney Eric Sutton followed up by saying there is nothing that can be done to remove Homolka from a neighborhood where she isn’t wanted, as she’s done her time and is legally free.
“Like it or not, she has the right to live her life like any other person, without being subject to threats and harassment and being hounded to the point that she seeks refuge in her own home and is afraid to leave,” Sutton said.
Meanwhile, Bernardo is fighting for his own freedom. Last year, he applied for day parole, but was shut down as quickly as he requested it. He’s up for standard parole in three years, but Correctional Service Canada’s Tim Danson assured the public that even if he has the right to apply for parole, it’s only a standard procedure. Having been deemed a “dangerous offender,” Bernardo will probably never be released from prison.
Is it fair that Homolka, who stood by Bernardo and participated in their heinous crimes, is free to walk the streets? Apparently so, in the eyes of the law, although the memory of her crimes will likely never fade, no matter how many times she changes her name.
Read more: The Chive, Toronto Sun, National Post, CBC, Northumberland Today, Murderpedia