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Thriller Thursday: Barbie–A Murderer Set Free.

Due to this post from Roni Loren (thank you for the warning, Roni) I’ve decided to remove most photos from Thriller Thursday. I hope you’re still able to enjoy them!

A Canadian woman only served twelve years for participating in countless rapes and three murders–including that of her own sister. This is the story of Karla Homolka and Paul Bernado, known as the Ken and Barbie Killers.

Born on May 4, 1970 in Port Credit, Ontario, Karla Homolka was the oldest of three children. Pretty, smart, and popular, she worked as an assistant at a veterinary clinic. Not a single thing about Karla seemed sinister.

She met 23-year-old Paul Bernardo in 1987, and their sado-masochistic sexual relationship developed quickly. Karla was happy to be a slave to Bernardo’s demands and even encouraged his sadistic needs, including rape. Paul started raping women and soon became known as the Scarborough Rapist. Karla knew about and encouraged Paul’s activities.

As time went on, Paul focused on the fact that Karla wasn’t a virgin when they met. He told Karla it was her responsibility to assist Paul in taking the virginity of her younger sister Tammy–without the girl’s consent. Through skilled manipulation, he convinced Karla to accept his logic and to videotape the rape.

In his book, INVISIBLE DARKNESS, Stephen Williams says Karla thought the rape of her sister Tammy through. “She just wanted to knock her out and give her to Paul for Christmas. They sedated animals before they put them to sleep for surgery, so it should be all right to do it to her sister. There was some risk without the proper equipment — she would have to put the halothane on a cloth and hold it over Tammy’s face — but she would make sure Tammy had plenty of air and check her breathing regularly.”

On December 23, 1990, after the rest of the family went to bed, Karla and Paul put their plan into action. He gave young Tammy drinks laced with alcohol, and a powerful animal sedative she’d acquired from work. The teenager quickly succumbed to the cocktail’s effects. Paul held the camera while he raped Tammy. Karla kept the sedative-soaked rag over her sister’s face.

That’s when everything went horribly wrong. Tammy threw up, so Karla held her sister upside down to clear her airways. The effort was futile. Tammy choked to death. The couple quickly hid the evidence and called an ambulance. Although the couple was questioned, her parents believed Tammy simply choked to death on her own vomit.

Now Paul needed a virginal replacement. He played into Karla’s obsession with him, knowing she feared he would grow bored with her sexual attributes. She took it upon herself to find Tammy’s replacement. She chose a young teenager who resembled her dead sister and gave her as a wedding gift to Paul. This girl has only been referred to as Jane Doe.

Meanwhile, the Scarborough Rapist continued to terrorize the city. A composite sketch was finally released and several of Paul’s acquaintances contacted police. Detective Steve Irwin, the officer in charge of the rape cases, had gathered enough forensic evidence from victims to narrow the suspect to a small percentage of the population. He interviewed Paul and took blood, saliva, and hair samples. Bernado’s samples, along with 230 others, were given to forensics. Only 5 of those samples fit the blood factors of the rapist, and Paul Bernardo was one of them. However, the rapes had mysteriously ended by the time the results came back, and the Scarborough Rapist was backlogged.

Now engaged, Paul and Karla upped the ante. In June, 1991, Paul met Leslie Mehaffy while stealing license plates in the dark of night. He convinced her to go to his car for a cigarette, forced her inside, and drove her to the home he shared with Karla. The two of them held Leslie hostage for twenty-four hours, recording their sexual assaults. Karla would later say Paul strangled the drugged girl with an electrical cord, while he insisted Leslie died at Karla’s hands. They cut up the girl’s body and disposed of it in cement blocks. It was found two weeks later, during Karla and Paul’s lavish wedding ceremony.

Paul and Karla went through more than one young girl to satisfy his needs. Always ready to please her husband, Karla went along with his demands. On April 16, 1992, they abducted Kristen French from a church parking lot.

Paul and Karla spent three days sexually assaulting, abusing, and torturing Kristen in Port Dalhousie. Paul said Karla beat Kristen with a mallet, and she was strangled on a noose secured to a hope chest. He claimed Karla left right after the murder to blow dry her hair.

After being questioning the couple several times in connection with the Scarborough Rapist investigation, Tammy Homolka’s death, and various incidents of stalking by Paul, police focused on Paul and Karla. In 1992, DNA samples given by Bernardo three years earlier were tested.

When the samples finally came back, the results were conclusive: Paul was the Scarborough Rapist. He was immediately placed under twenty-four hour surveillance.

By now, Paul had been accused of beating Karla and charges were pending. She finally confessed to her family that Paul was not only the rapist, but that they were involved in the rape and murders of Leslie Mahaffy and Kristen French. Because of her cooperation, Karla was granted partial immunity.

Search warrants were executed. Police had to keep damage to the house to a minimum, and in 71 days, they only found one tape–a short reel of footage of Karla performing oral sex on “Jane Doe,” the first girl she’d replaced her dead sister with.

In exchange for her testimony, Karla Homolka received a 12-year-sentence. Paul Bernardo was convicted of two first degree murders along with two aggravated assaults. He was sentenced to life without parole.

Homolka thrived in prison and several psychiatrists said she showed symptoms of spousal abuse. Others claimed she was merely acting. Forensic psychiatrist Dr. Graham Glancy said Karla was a classic example of hybristophilia, a person who is sexually aroused by a partner’s sexual behavior.

After Karla’s plea bargain was sealed, more videotapes surfaced showing her involvement in the rape and torture, including a particularly shocking video of Karla performing oral sex on her own sister before the young girl choked and died. Despite public outrage, the plea bargain had to be honored. Karla was released in July 2005 with restrictions. In November, after a series of appeals, the restrictions were lifted. She left Canada, changed her name to Leann Teale, and had a son.

I’ve only barely touched the surface of this case, and this post has ran way long. For more information on both Paul and Karla, including the controversy surrounding the search warrants and video tapes, and Karla’s time in prison, click here and here.

What do you think? Did Karla get off too lightly with 12 years? Or was she a victim herself?

*Sources to this post linked above.

30 comments on… “Thriller Thursday: Barbie–A Murderer Set Free.”

  1. Karla was as guilty as Paul as far as I’m concerned. I know others will disagree with me, saying she was a victim, too, but I believe we make our own choices, and she made hers.

    • It’s a tough decision, but I tend to agree with yours. There is a ton more information about this case, and he may have manipulated her, but she did make her choice. What she did to her sister, the fact she could be convinced to allow her to be raped, is just mind blowing.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  2. I agree with Lauralynn! I think she was just as involved and culpable as Paul. I think she deserved to get life sentences because she was as responsible for those murders and tortures as Paul was.

    • I agree. What saved her is the fact that the police wanted Paul for the rapes, and, if you have the time to read the extra links, the video tape fiasco. Most of the damning stuff for Karla was found AFTER her plea was sealed, so the prosecutors were stuck. I don’t know how different your justice system is than ours, but that’s an issue that needs a caveat.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  3. This is one of the most gruesome cases I’ve read about in a long time, in so many ways. I agree that she’s just as culpable, regardless of whether or not she was “following” him, or was turned on by his actions. She still directly contributed to rape, torture, and murder. The interview with her was chilling. She claims she has a completely healthy, loving relationship with her family, and that she is much older and past the “following” she did with Paul. But then the reporter says she had a relationship with a man who killed his wife while she was in prison. I don’t see this going anywhere good. Her poor son.

    • It is very gruesome, and it was hard to write about, because there is so much information. I agree, she’s culpable. She would, however, be a really interesting study. WHY did she follow him? Self-esteem? Did she like it? It’s hard to say.

      Yes, the interview is very chilling, and it’s hard to believe her after all she’s done, including what happened in prison. Yes, I feel sorry for the child. Hopefully he’s got a good, watchful father.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  4. beverlydiehl

    This is sickening. Seems like okay, perhaps they HAD to let her out of jail, but she needed to go straight into a mental facility for the criminally insane? Or that because she didn’t disclose all n the please bargain, it became null?

    I do know that sometimes there is so much abuse/manipulation the recipient does fail to protect her loved ones, like the common law wife of that attorney (Joel something?) in New York who murdered their adopted daughter, Lisa. People all demanded WHY she didn’t protect the girl, and then saw pictures of the woman’s face…. But once she’d raped and killed her own little sister, what moral bounds could hold Karla back?

    • I know. I think it had to do with the plea bargain, and I’m not sure on the specifics of Canadian law, but I don’t think a mental facility was even an option. She really lucked out with those tapes being MIA for so long.

      Yes, I agree, sometimes there is so much abuse a person snaps and will do anything, but it’s hard to tell if that’s the case with Karla. It seems like she got into his scene very quickly, so how did he manage to snowball her if she had no interest beforehand? I just don’t know.

      And I agree. Raping and killing her little sister makes the rest seem simple. Awful.

      Thanks, Beverly.

  5. Thanks for writing about this hideous case, Stacy. It can’t have been an easy topic. IMO, this case is an example of how the rights of criminals can be valued over those of people preyed on by criminals. I also have to wonder if she’d gotten off so lightly if she didn’t have that “Barbie” nickname! If you call disgusting criminals “Barbie and Ken,” it trivializes the crimes. Everybody thinks of Barbie as a ditz…. the initial reaction is almost a giggle. The stupid nicknames would have made the crimes seem less heinous.

    • You’re welcome. Thank you for reading. No, it wasn’t an easy topic. That’s a good point about the nickname. It’s interesting to note that one of the officers originally investigating the Scarborough Rapist interview Paul early on and felt he didn’t “look” the type. He did take samples from him anyway, but yes, looks DO play into our preconceived notions about someone’s character.

  6. Great post, Stacy! I remember seeing a show on these two. It is one of the true life stories that sticks with you as so troubling, especially the fact that she got off. I think her hands are as dirty as his and what a travesty that they didn’t do a better search for evidence. She went along with it, got off on it, and encouraged him to do more. Ugh. Prayers for her son.

    • Thank you, Barbara. That’s where I first saw them, too. The rape of her sister is what really stuck with me. How could she? I’ll never understand. The evidence search is really interesting-the search warrants were very specific and caused a lot of trouble.
      Thanks for commenting.

    • I agree, Annie. Whatever caused her to go along with it is still there. I don’t believed people can be cured of such a thing. Thanks for stopping by.

  7. Anyone involved with rape and torture deserves far more than 12 years, regardless of the other charges. Do we know what’s happened with her since? Do you think her being a demure-looking female led to the charges being dropped? This post is the stuff of “Criminal Minds” for sure.

    • I agree. Yes, she’s moved out of Canada and is now a mother and wife. One account said she had three children, but I couldn’t confirm that.

      I’m not sure, but it’s entirely possible. I think she really lucked out with the tapes coming to light much later. I wouldn’t be surprised if her looks played into it. That’s a fact of life, unfortunately.

  8. Wow. I think Karla was definitely a victim, but I also think she got off too easy. And she had a son? I wonder how he’ll be raised and if he’ll ever know anything about her past. My question is, did Paul create Karla’s strange behavior through manipulation, or was it always inside her, just waiting to be let out? I’d lean more toward the latter, but she kept up a good facade in her early years. Usually people like that tend to be a little more “weird” and outcast than what Karla seemed to be.

    • She was a victim. I’ve no doubt there was some serious brainwashing going on. But still, she had opportunity to get out, and she ultimately made the decision to participate.

      That’s a great question! Everything I read made it sound like they were almost magnets for each other. For whatever reason, she quickly became obsessed with him and allowed him to dominate. To me, that says there was something inherent inside her waiting to be let out. It’s really hard to know.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  9. This post was especially difficult to read. How can anyone do those things to another human being?! I was particularly perplexed by Karla offering up her own sister and by the police not pursuing the case after the test results came in linking Paul to the crimes. Wouldn’t the fact that the crimes ceased tell them know they were close? If my daughter had been one of the victims, I can’t imagine thinking that 12 years was enough. I even read that interview with Karla, and it did not impress me as someone who fully understood and grieved her part in these rapes and murders.

    Once again, you did such a thorough, respectful job of outlining this case. Thanks, Stacy.

    • I was surprised by the cops not pursuing them in Tammy’s case as well. Evidently there was no drug test done. They knew she’d been drinking, she vomited, etc. However, there is a really interesting photo of her post-mortem with skin burns on her cheek. That doesn’t happen when you vomit.

      No, I don’t think Karla paid her time or grieved. She struck me as cold.

      Thank you so much for the compliment.

  10. With the benefit of hindsight both Bernardo and Homulka were the classic sociopath couple, bound together by a shared desire and destined to become infamous. She should have been convicted of murder and sentenced to life without parole. A clever sociopath can convince a psychologist that she was a victim.

    • Good point. Both sociopathic and yes, I think she should have served a lot more time. Will be interesting to see if she gets into trouble again. Hope not, for her child’s sake.

      Thanks, Tom.

  11. I feel she was as guilty as Paul. What a completely twisted couple! Scary to know people like these are let out on an unsuspecting public.

    • It is very scary. I feel bad for her family, especially her son. It would be really hard to ever trust her again.

      Thanks, Cynthia.

  12. I think I remember this case from the ID channel. Your version was much more entertaining and informative. What a weird deal.

    I can’t believe they couldn’t revoke the plea bargain when the truth of her involvement came out. Is that just Canadian law or would US law be the same way? To answer your question, I think she got a very light sentence.

    I wonder if her family still speaks to her.

    • Thanks. It was really hard to do, because there is a ton of info. I honestly don’t know about the legal issue. I’m thinking it’s probably the same. I don’t think plea bargains have caveats, and they should.

      I wouldn’t! But who knows. It’s amazing what some people can forgive.

  13. Wow, what a shocking case. It is so hard for me to imagine people this utterly evil, but there you have it. Her own sister? How can her mother even look at her now? That must tear her up inside and that’s who I feel bad for, the families of the victims. Not the murderers. Yes, I think she is just as guilty as her husband and yes, she was probably brainwashed/manipulated by him, but at some point you have to know it’s wrong. It’s at that point when you continue that you take full responsibility for your actions. I hope her son has a very strong father who can look out for him.

    • I can’t imagine. My mother always says even Charlie Manson’s mother loved him but…I just don’t know. What she did to her sister is deplorable, and from what I’ve seen, there’s been very little remorse. I agree – she knew what was wrong, or she wouldn’t have finally admitted the truth. She did so to save her skin, and it worked.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  14. Karla was not and abused spouse, I’m not saying there wasn’t abuse in the r/ship but it was all part of the sex and a big turn on for her. She reminds me of my sister, plays the abuse card but was good at instigating things and sometimes even being the abuser herself to her partners, every partner she has had is the abusive type. My mother was an abused spouse, she was battered all the time from my abusive father and she never ever hit or spoke back, just accepted everything, she would even do things different so as not to annoy my father, whereas my sister would know what her partner at the time disliked and she would go out her way to do them things, like i said at the start, she even sometimes was the one to start a fight. after 25 years with an alcoholic abusive Peadophile my mother never went near another man, my sister on the other hand also cheated on every partner she was with,….

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