Trigger warning: descriptions of rape, violence, murder, death.
In this article:
- Paul Bernardo appeared to most who knew him as an average guy. He was a salesman making a solid wage with a beautiful fiancee.
- Despite their charming outward appearance, he and his fiancee committed horrible crimes.
- With the help of his soon-to-be wife Karla Homolka, Bernardo raped over 18 young girls and murdered at least four.
- One of the murder victims was Karla Homolka’s own sister.
- The entire story of Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka shows that there is no mold for what a serial killer looks like. Sometimes the most normal-seeming people have the worst intentions.
Almost everyone has heard of Ted Bundy, the deranged serial killer who masqueraded as a law school student with a high IQ and a suave demeanor. The fact that Bundy was able to come across to the average layperson as a normal gentleman was one of the things that made him so terrifying.
The same could be said of Canadian serial killer Paul Bernardo, who was a well-to-do salesman, a well-mannered member of society, and a serial rapist and murderer.
To add to his cover, Paul Bernardo was aided in his crimes by his wife Karla Homolka. Who would suspect that a seemingly normal couple would be guilty of raping, kidnapping, and murdering several people?
The story of Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka is the stuff of nightmares.
They were the ultimate wolves in sheep’s clothing. It goes to show, possibly even more so than Ted Bundy, that there is no mold for what a serial killer looks like. They can be affluent, successful, and seemingly normal. You can never really know what sort of disturbing thoughts run through a person’s mind.
To the outside, Paul Bernardo had been the son that every mother wanted. He did well in school. He was cute and well-mannered. Paul was even a Boy Scout as a child. The entire Bernardo family appeared to their community as an ideal family. Kenneth Bernardo, his father, worked as an accountant and the family lived in a nice house in Scarborough.
Inside the home, however, things were tumultuous. Like other people who would grow up to become serial killers, Bernardo’s childhood and home life were tainted by physical, emotional, and sexual abuse.
Kenneth Bernardo was said to be abusive toward his wife and daughter. Paul’s mother Marilyn had an affair as a way to escape the abuse. In 1975, Kenneth Bernardo fondled a young girl and was convicted of child molestation. He is also believed to have sexually abused his own daughter.
In all likelihood, his father’s behavior may have been the source of Paul Bernardo’s violent sexual fantasies about women.
Paul enjoyed humiliating women in public and beating on the girls that he dated. This behavior was unwelcomed by his sexual partners until October 1987, the day he met Karla Homolka. Homolka encouraged Bernardo’s sadistic sexual behavior and it was this partnership that would lead Bernardo to become known as “The Scarborough Rapist.”
The Scarborough Rapist
Between the years 1987 and 1990, Paul Bernardo is believed to have raped around 18 women. Most often, Bernardo would stalk a woman late at night, follow her onto a public bus, and then grab her and rape her once she got off at her stop.
Once, in 1987, Bernardo was called into the police station for a rape investigation but was never interviewed.
Then, in 1990, Tina Smirnis, wife of one of Bernardo’s closest friends who had heard Bernardo talk about his sex life, notified law enforcement that Bernardo was the perpetrator they’d been looking for in connection with the string of recent rape cases.
Unfortunately, the police found Bernardo more credible than Smirnis and set him free. This was the power of Bernardo’s charm — and also the power of misogyny.
Not long after he was cleared in the investigation, he and Karla Homolka tied the knot. The two of them had a wedding ceremony with their families in attendance in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
That very same day, fishermen in the nearby Lake Gibson discovered concrete blocks containing human arms, legs, and a head. The day after that, another man found a human torso floating in the water.
The remains were identified as belonging to Leslie Mahaffy, a 14-year-old girl.
The Schoolgirl Killer
Paul Bernardo, who had originally been labeled “The Scarborough Rapist” graduated to another nickname: “The Schoolgirl Killer.” Between 1990 and 1992, Bernardo murdered at least three teenage girls with the help of his wife.
The two of them seemed to revel in the crimes. Bernardo read Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho incessantly and the couple applied to have their last name changed to Teale, an homage to the serial killer in the 1988 film Criminal Law.
Their first victim, in 1990, was Karla Homolka’s own sister.
At that time, Bernardo was spending a lot of time with the Homolka family and they liked him a lot. Bernardo soon grew obsessed with Karla’s sister Tammy, which he confessed to his fiancee. Karla broke her 15-year-old sister’s bedroom window so that Bernardo could sneak into her room and masturbate while Tammy was sleeping.
One evening, Karla laced her sister’s spaghetti with valium. Even though she woke up not long after, Bernardo raped her while Karla Homolka watched. After that, things escalated even more.
Karla stole the anesthetic agent halothane from a local animal clinic and administered it to her sister in a cocktail. The couple then took Tammy to the basement and began videotaping themselves raping her.
When Tammy started to vomit, the couple dressed her and brought her back to her bedroom to try to avoid blame. Tammy was pronounced dead hours later.
In 1991, Karla Homolka invited a 15-year-old girl whom she’d met at a pet shop (known during the trials as “Jane Doe”) into their home. Homolka and Bernardo drugged her and sexually assaulted her while videotaping their crime.
Two months later, they invited her back to the house again, drugged her again, and began raping her again. However, this time, similar to Tammy Homolka, the girl began to vomit and died.
In June of 1991, Bernardo saw 14-year-old Leslie Mahaffy standing outside of her house late at night. She had been locked out after attending her friend’s wake. Bernardo grabbed her, blindfolded her, and drove her back to his home.
Bernardo and Homolka videotaped themselves torturing and raping the young girl while listening to Bob Marley and David Bowie. Worried that her blindfold had slipped during the rape and that she’d be able to identify them, the couple resolved to kill her.
Bernardo claimed at trial that Homolka gave her a lethal dose of Halcion while Homolka maintains that Bernardo strangled her to death. Either way, they hid the body in the basement.
The next day, the Homolka family came over and had dinner at the house with the little girl’s body beneath their feet. Bernardo and Homolka then dismembered Mahaffy’s body, encased parts of it in cement, and dumped it in Lake Gibson.
In 1992, the couple abducted 15-year-old Kristen French as she was walking home from school. They fed her large amounts of alcohol and raped her before Bernardo strangled her to death. Her body was found in a ditch in Burlington several days later.
The next day, Bernardo and Homolka had Easter dinner with Homolka’s family.
The Arrest and Trial of Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka
Eventually, Bernardo’s greatest accomplice, Karla Homolka, is what undid him. In December of 1992, he beat Homolka severely with a flashlight, after which her parents took her to the hospital and she gave a statement to authorities that she was a battered spouse.
26 months after law enforcement originally took Bernardo’s DNA sample, they decided to test it and found that it matched a sample that they had connected to the “Scarborough Rapist” crimes.
At the same time, Homolka began confessing the couple’s crimes to her relatives and saying that they’d been caught on videotape. She contacted a lawyer and began negotiating a plea deal if she could provide information about Bernardo.
Homolka’s lawyer negotiated a plea deal that would keep her prison time down to 12 years and Bernardo was arrested and put on trial.
In the end, Bernardo was sentenced to life in prison on two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of aggravated sexual assault. Homolka served her 12 years in prison and was released in 2005, to the chagrin of the public.
A psychological assessment administered to him in prison diagnosed Paul Bernardo with clinical psychopathy. Homolka maintains that she was coerced unwillingly into committing all of her crimes by her husband Paul Bernardo. The evidence says otherwise.