Due to the graphic nature of these killer's crimes, listener discretion is advised this episode includes discussions of assault, rape, torture and murder that some people may find offensive. We advise extreme caution for children under 13.
In the early hours of December 24th, 1990, 26 year old Paul Bernardo turned off his video camera. He was frustrated and suddenly didn't want to record what was happening. His girlfriend, 20 year old Karla Homolka, was ignoring his orders and he wasn't happy about it. He didn't know why she was being so difficult. Oral sex was no big deal.
To be fair, he wanted her to perform the act on her 15 year old sister, Tammy, which is probably what held Karla back. However, any protective instincts for her sister stopped there earlier.
She'd happily fed Tammy a cocktail laced with strong sedatives. Now she passed out on a blanket between Paul and Karla. Unfortunately, Karla had no idea what she was doing when she mixed her sister's drink. Suddenly, vomit spilled from the teen's mouth. She let loose a horrible gurgling noise.
She was choking, panicked. Paul and Karla made a frantic attempt to clear Tammy's airways, but it was no use.
They couldn't get her to wake up. As they sat there in the quiet basement, Paul fumed. This wasn't how the night was supposed to go. And it was all Karla’s fault.
Hi, I'm Greg Polson. This is Serial Killers, a podcast original. Every episode we dive into the minds and madness of serial killers. Today, we're exploring the crimes of Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka, also known as the Ken and Barbie killers. I'm here with my co-host, Vanessa Richardson. Hi, everyone.
You can find episodes of serial killers and all other cast originals for free on Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts to stream serial killers for free on Spotify. Just open the app and type serial killers in the search bar.
Last time we explored Paul and Karla’s childhoods, their dark sexual compatibility and their passionate but abusive relationship that led to the unplanned death of Karla’s own sister.
Today, we'll take a look at the couple's escalating crimes as they go from accidental murderers to cold blooded killers. We've got all that and more coming up. Stay with us.
In the early hours of Christmas Eve, 1990, 26 year old Paul Bernardo and 20 year old Karla Homolka were in a state of panic.
Karla’s younger sister Tammy lay between them unconscious.
Her body was full of sedatives, anesthetic and alcohol, causing her to choke on her own vomit when CPR didn't revive her.
The couple moved Tammy into Karla's bedroom, then phoned nine one one. It was around one two a.m. when a police cruiser and an ambulance arrived at the Homolka residence. The commotion woke Karla's family, who watched in horror as Tammy was carried out on a stretcher when her parents asked what had happened. Simply said that her sister wasn't breathing while Tammy was rushed to the hospital.
Detective David Weeks held Karla and Paul back for questioning, repeating what they'd already told Karla's parents. The couple explained they were watching a movie and drinking when Tammy just stopped breathing.
As they spoke, a call came through from the hospital. Tammy was dead, devastated. Karla’s sister, Lori, ran upstairs. Investigator weeks followed after to check on her, giving Karla an opportunity to dispose of evidence. She rushed to the laundry and hid the halothane anesthetic in a cupboard, then stuffed the incriminating linens into the washing machine.
Vanessa is going to take over and the psychology here and throughout the episode. Please note, Vanessa is not a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist, but she has done a lot of research for this show.
Thanks, Greg. Karla’s immediate rush to clean up seems like an obvious attempt at destroying evidence, but it was likely also associated with Karla's need to absolve herself of the guilt she was feeling for killing her sister. Some psychologists refer to this as moral cleansing. According to researchers Philip Tetlock, Ori Cristel, Beth Ellson and Melanie Green, one of the three ways people practice moral cleansing is through acts of physical cleaning, like bathing or washing hands. Perhaps the most famous example of moral cleansing is when Shakespeare's murderous Lady Macbeth can't shake the feeling of blood on her hands.
In other words, Karla sought to erase traces of her guilt not just from investigators but also from her own conscience.
When Detective Weeks notice Karla doing laundry, he thought Karla's behavior odd but hardly criminal. Perhaps he chalked it up to a coping mechanism in the wake of her sister's sudden death. At any rate, no one suspected foul play. Tammy’s death was an unpredictable tragedy.
That said, the coroner did notice something odd about Tammy’s body. The skin around her mouth was tinged pink. It looked curiously like a chemical burn, ultimately because Timi died choking on her own bile, the coroner determined that the burn was likely just gastrointestinal acid from her vomit.
Paul and Karla breathed a sigh of relief when the investigation came to a close. They'd gotten away with their accidental murder. Thanks to Karla's quick thinking, there was no remaining evidence that anything out of the ordinary happened. Well, except for the video they made.
Despite the incriminating footage, Paul couldn't bring himself to destroy the tape. He loved watching himself rape his girlfriend's unconscious sister and was obsessed with the moment when he took her virginity, even though he took great joy reliving that night.
Paul was still angry with Karla. He blamed her for Tammy's death, entirely furious. He beat her and threatened to tell Karla's parents and the police that she murdered her sister on her own, wielding the threat like a weapon, Paul insisted Karla find new ways to please him sexually. And he had one particularly Twisted Fantasy in mind. Paul wanted Karla to role play as her younger sister.
So in January of 1991, just weeks after Tammy's death, Paul recorded two videos of Karla dressed in her sister's clothing, sprawled on Tammy's bed.
At one point in these tapes, Karla suggested that if Paul wanted more virgins like Tammy, they should abduct young girls in the summer, since it's, quote, easier to find virgins when it's warmer.
It's unclear whether Karla genuinely wanted to watch Paul raped virginal teens, but it seems she was committed to satisfying his sexual perversions no matter the cost, instead of interpreting his disturbing violent behavior as a red flag. She thought it better to make him happy.
So when Paul proposed, she gave an unequivocal yes. And in January of 1991, when he suggested they move in together, she didn't hesitate. Until then, they'd only been able to spend weekends together. But living under the same roof would change everything.
Karla told friends she wanted to give her parents more space to grieve the loss of their youngest daughter. But it's likely Paul's reasoning was more sinister. Away from the Homolka family home, he would have far more power over his young bride.
He wasted no time exerting his authority. He forced Karla to sleep on the floor and frequently beat her. The sex was violent, just as he wanted, but he found Karla was too submissive. Paul wanted to violate Karla against her will, but she just wanted to please him.
It wasn't enough, and Paul's violent urges wouldn't be denied much longer.
In a moment, the couple goes hunting for their next victim. Hi, it's Greg, if you're looking to add some more fun to your feed, subscribe to Podcast Network's new show, Incredible Feats. Every weekday, comedian Dan Cummins, who you might recognize from the hit podcast Time Sock, explores an unbelievable account of physical strength, mental focus or bizarre behavior. Don't miss the story of the man who broke the sound barrier while skydiving from the edge of space, or the harrowing tale of a 17 year old girl who survived alone in a rainforest for 11 days after her plane broke apart midair.
Or the ultra marathoner whose rare genetic condition lets him run for days without stopping. Incredible feat spotlights mind blowing achievements of everyone from world class athletes and record breakers to scientists, architects, artists and more such incredible feats and follow free on Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. Now back to the story. By the summer of 1991, 26 year old Paul Bernardo was coiled and ready to strike. The memory of the rape and accidental murder of his fiancee's teenage sister wasn't enough to satisfy his violent desires.
Nor was 20 year old Karla willing participation in his recreated sexual fantasies. Paul wanted to take what he desired by force on June 7th, hoping to satisfy her husband's appetite for a young, virginal teens, Karla invited a friend over to spend time with them.
We don't know the girl's name, so we'll call her Natasha. When she visited Paul and Karla, they'd relax her with food and wine, then manipulate her into playing their sexual games. More than once, Karla ordered Natasha to perform oral sex on Paul. On one occasion, Karla drugged Natasha's drink and Paul raped her.
After she passed out the next morning, Natasha woke up feeling sick but didn't realize why, thinking she'd had too much to drink. She headed home, embarrassed with no one knocking on his door. Paul felt cocky and was ready for his next attack.
Just a short week later, on June 15th, 1991, Paul cruised through the streets looking for prey. Sometime after one a.m., he noticed fourteen year old Leslie Mahaffey alone on the doorstep of her family home. Leslie missed curfew that night and was dreading waking her parents to be let in.
When Paul spotted her, he decided she was perfect, playing up his charms and good looks, he lured the teenage girl to his car, offering her a cigarette. She came close enough to chat with the 26 year old, and when she was within striking distance, he pulled out a knife.
Using the weapon, Paul maneuvered the teen into the car.
He then forced her to put on a blindfold and sped off into the dark before anyone saw them.
When he arrived home, Paul forced Leslie inside. He let her into the guestroom, where he undressed and raped her, all while Karla slept upstairs.
It wasn't until hours later that he woke his fiancee to tell her what he'd done.
It's difficult to imagine what might have gone through Karla's mind when she heard Paul's shocking news, but it seems she was content to leave him to it. She kept to herself, waiting patiently upstairs while he spent the rest of the day torturing Leslie.
After a long day of sustained abuse, Paul brought his still blindfolded victim upstairs to Karla. He instructed his fiancee to prepare drinks for them to enjoy over a friendly chat. Karla noticed that even before she had any alcohol, Leslie seemed out of touch with reality.
This was likely a result of the trauma Leslie endured for hours on end. Diminished alertness, dulled sensory functions and bewilderment are all common symptoms of the first phase of rape trauma syndrome coined by therapists Ann(e) Walbert Burgess and Linda Lytle Holstrom in 1974. The term refers to the group of reactions emotional, physical and behavioral reported by victims of attempted or completed rape. Unable to fully process the horrific experience, Leslie's body likely shut down some cognitive functions, resulting in her trancelike days.
Still, when Paul asked her about herself, Leslie spoke with clarity. She told her captor that she wanted to go home to see her little brother, Ryan. But Paul ignored her request.
He had something else in mind, Don asking questions. Paul produced his video camera and set it up to record. Just like with Tammy, he wanted to remember every moment. For the next several hours, he and Karla raped the teenager together. Almost 24 hours since Leslie's abduction, Paul showed no signs of exhaustion.
On the contrary, he seemed to relish the experience. While Karla recorded with a video camera, he ordered Leslie to praise him, feeding her lines to pare it back. He loved the control, but he also wanted validation and worship from his victim.
Paul's twisted desires support the theory that he lives with malignant narcissistic personality disorder, though he's never been formally diagnosed. According to Dr. Eve Gallagher, Dr. Kenneth Levy and Frank Yeomen's, malignant narcissism is the most severe form of narcissistic personality disorders.
It causes people to take pleasure in their aggression and sadism toward others. It's clear that this sadistic pleasure was a strong driving factor in Paul's life. He even wanted sex with Karla to be violent and forced. So with a helpless young victim under his roof, he enjoyed his free reign.
When at last, Paul was done taking pleasure in Leslie's pain, he left the poor girl bloodied and bruised on the floor. Leslie called out to Karla, perhaps hoping the 21 year old would come to her rescue. But Karla ignored her cries.
Paul explained to his fiancee that Leslie knew too much to be allowed to live. She might have seen his face, he said, or remember his car. So they had no choice. Karla didn't argue with him, but she did suggest they at least sedate Leslie with sleeping pills so she wouldn't know what was happening during their trial.
Paul claimed that Karla then gave the young girl a lethal dose. Karla alternatively testified that Paul strangled Leslie with an electrical cord the next day on their way home from a Father's Day dinner with Karla's parents.
The couple stopped at a hardware store to pick up some concrete mix. When they got home, Paul dismembered Leslie's body, hoping to make it easier to dispose of and more difficult to identify.
That night, he case Leslie's body parts in eight blocks of cement and then dumped them into a nearby lake.
And while Leslie's parents worried over their missing daughter, Paul and Karla, prepared for their wedding on June 29th, the eve of the happy couple's big day, a man and his wife went canoeing in Lake Gibson. They came across the concrete blocks, have submerged in mud at the lake's edge. When the couple looked closer and saw that there were body parts in the cement, they raised the alarm.
Hours later, as the sun set a dozen local police officers around the scene, they fished out the heavy concrete slabs and waited until morning to retrieve what they'd missed.
When they returned, they found Leslie McCarthy's severed torso floating in the middle of the lake, though they wouldn't confirm the body was Leslie until later. News of the gruesome discovery made a splash around Ontario, but the discovery of their victim did nothing to derail Paul and Karla's nuptials.
They were in the middle of getting married when the news broke, despite her parents fears that it was too soon after Tammy's death to celebrate. Karla's wedding was extravagant, just as she demanded. The only mention of Tammy she allowed was a brief reference in her father's toast, otherwise all eyes were on Karla and her dashing groom while the murderous newlyweds honeymooned in Hawaii.
Investigators finally identified Leslie's remains and determined the cause of her death. But there was little else for them to go on. And the investigation went cold.
Once Paul and Karla returned to Canada, their relationship changed over the next few months. Karla lost faith in the man of her dreams. She later recalled. I either wanted to be totally away from him or I wanted him to love me.
Still, the 21 year old was determined to make the marriage work. She wrote letters to Paul telling him, quote, I want our love back. People think we're the perfect couple. We are. We've just gotten sidetracked even though we have our problems. I am still so much in love with you.
But it seems her letters did little to win back Paul's affection. Apparently, Paul didn't care if Karla knew he stepped out on her. In fact, if a woman called their house, Paul expected Karla to pretend to be his sister rather than his wife.
According to Karla, this repeated psychological torment changed her, where once she felt willing to give Paul everything he wanted, now she felt a growing resentment toward him. But still, she was scared of his verbal and physical abuse and did what she could to stay safe in the marriage.
So late in the spring of 1992, when Paul ordered that Karla help him hunt Virgin girls, she felt compelled to comply.
On Thursday, April 16th, 1992, 27 year old Paul and 21 year old Karla headed out in search of their next victim. Shortly into their drive, they spotted 15 year old Kristen French walking near Grace Lutheran Church.
Paul slowed the car to a stop as Karla rolled down her window. She leaned out to ask the girl for directions.
Kristen was happy to help, but when Karla called her closer to examine a map, Paul snuck up behind the teen brandishing a knife. He forced Kristen toward the car and ordered her to get in.
Kristen fought back, but Paul was taller than her and much stronger. He overpowered the slight teen and shoved her into the back seat. With their prey secured, the couple drove home. Paul was eager to play with his new toy.
Back at their house, Paul subjected Kristen to the same treatment he'd shown Leslie. He raped the fifteen year old for hours and forced her to drink alcohol during the ordeal. At one stage, he invited Karla into the room, eager for a threesome. The couple told their captive that if she wanted to go home, she had to do as she was told. But unlike Leslie, Kristen wasn't made to wear a blindfold, so it seems unlikely that they ever really intended to let her leave.
But that didn't stop them from toying with her, though. When Kristen's abduction was covered on the nightly news, Paul and Karla sat her down in front of the television to watch. Kristen's father looked into the camera and promised his daughter they would find her.
It was a promise he couldn't keep. Paul and Karla kept the young girl in their home for days, raping her repeatedly. At one stage, when Kristen attempted to escape, Karla beat her with a rubber mallet.
It's important to note that Karla and Paul's account of this and their other crimes diverge at certain points. So while it's true they acted together, it's possible Karla felt trapped in her abusive marriage and that she feared Paul would kill her if she didn't follow his orders.
That said, it's clear that Karla made no efforts to stop Paul from killing their victims. In fact, while Kristen was their prisoner, Paul left the house to run an errand alone with the young girl.
Karla made no move to free her. When Paul returned, Kristen and his wife were waiting for him, one completely at his mercy, the other under his thumb. But even with two women at his disposal, 27 year old Paul grew bored. Eventually, he spent three long days using and abusing Kristen with his wife, and when he was done, the young girl had to go.
So in the afternoon of April 19th, Paul raped an electrical cord around Kristen's neck and strangled her to death. When he'd rung the life of her, Paul and Karla roughly shaved Kristen's hair, then bathed her body to wash their DNA from her skin.
This time they opted not to dismember the corpse, perhaps reasoning that doing so hadn't prevented the discovery of their previous victim's remains. Instead, they loaded Kristen's naked body into their car and drove it to the town of Burlington, around 20 miles away. They tossed Kristen in a ditch, not making any effort to hide their handiwork, according to Karla.
Paul was proud of this murder and wanted Kristen's body found. Having gotten away with two slayings so far, it's possible Paul felt invincible. He thought he could outsmart everyone with his good looks and charming personality. There was nothing that could stop him now except for perhaps his wife. Coming up, Karla takes a stab now back to the story. In April of 1992, 27 year old Paul Bernardo and his wife, 21 year old Karla Homolka, abducted, raped and murdered 15 year old Kristen French.
When the girl was dead. They dumped her naked body in a ditch about 20 miles away, then returned home on April 30th.
Two weeks after Kristen's abduction, a man searching for scrap metal found the teen's body.
The discovery made the evening news as anchors eagerly reported on the case of the missing schoolgirl Paul and Karla's earlier murder that a 14 year old, Leslie Mahaffey, attracted extensive media coverage. But Kristen's death was a source of public outrage. Leslie was a girl with a troubled home life and a habit of sneaking out. As such, she received perhaps less sympathy from the community. But the fate of Kristen, a regular churchgoer with a stable family, was unthinkable. Despite the increased media attention,
Paul didn't seem worried about getting caught for years. He'd enjoyed a career as the Scarborough rapist without detection. Years earlier, he'd been interviewed by police about the rapes, but easily charmed his way through the questions.
Now, with three murders under his belt, there was no chance police would connect him to Kristen French.
It might have come as a shock. Then, when police rang Paul's doorbell on May 12th, 1992, with few leads in Kristen's murder. They turned to their suspect list from the Scarborough rapist investigation, correctly guessing that the culprit might be the same person once they were inside his house, Paul noticed the detectives looking at photos from his and Karla's wedding.
The couple was so happy, so attractive, so normal looking that there was nothing to suggest ill intent from either of them. They looked just like Barbie and Ken. His charm and good looks offered a protection Paul relied on for much of his adult life, and it helped him escape detection as a violent, sadistic predator. There was no one Paul couldn't fool.
It was often just small details that helped Paul seem completely normal. At the beginning of their relationship, Karla was blinded by Paul's charm and romantic gestures. His Fun-Loving personality and respectable accounting job put Karla's parents at ease. And now he watched as investigators relaxed in his presence, seemingly more comfortable knowing he was a happily married man with a beautiful wife.
There is a psychological element at play in this perception. Psychologist Tarsia R. How conducted a study assessing public discrimination faced by single people versus married couples. Her results showed that across all conditions, married couples were judged more positively than all of the types of single people. Those intriguing results could be attributed to something called the halo effect in a 1920 paper entitled The Constant Error in Psychological Ratings. Psychologist Edward Thorndyke described this as a cognitive bias under which people gauge a person's character by a single positive quality.
Thorndyke found that when military officers were asked to rank qualities of their subordinates, those with higher ratings of one characteristic typically had higher ratings of other ones. This implies that when people have one good personality trait, we assume they have other good features too.. That day with detectives in his living room,
Paul watched the halo effect soften his questioners. Still, he didn't leave everything in the hands of fate. Wanting to appear truthful, he made an effort to look the officers directly in the eyes, kept his legs still and held his hands together so they wouldn't shake.
After answering questions for an hour, Paul saw the detectives out with a smile. Sure, he'd fooled them again. Later, he told Karla that he would never get caught. According to Karla, his confidence made her feel hopeless. She almost wanted Paul to be caught so she could be free of him. Around this time, Karla started to pull away from Paul, she finally had enough of his abuse and spent as much time apart from him as possible.
It was hard to decide which was worse when he ignored her with cold indifference or when he berated her for the slightest infraction. Eventually, she took this sleeping in the guest bedroom, but it still wasn't enough space for Karla.
So one night she worked up the strength to call her father, Carl. She asked him to come and pick her up. She was ready to leave her husband.
When Paul found out he flew into a rage, he screamed, telling her that he would bolt the doors so she could never come back.
Despite Paul's crazed, childish behavior. Karla was determined to leave. She rushed out as soon as her father arrived, leaving all her things behind, relieved to escape.
But when Karla later returned to pick up her clothes, Paul was waiting for her. Calmly, he laid out his threat. If she left again, he would tell her parents the truth about what happened to Tammy.
Backed into a corner, Karla felt forced to stay. She lied to her parents, telling them that she and Paul resolved their issues. But in reality, things were worse than ever. The beatings were more brutal following her return, and it was only a matter of time before things erupted.
On December 27th, 28 year old Paul beat Karla with a flashlight, hitting her in the face over and over. Then he tied an electrical cord around her neck and choked her, nearly killing her. Karla was shaken by the assault. She realized how close she had come to becoming another one of Paul's murder victims. Next time he might not stop. She was terrified but ashamed of people knowing the truth about what she'd done. So she stayed.
But when she showed up at her work a week later, Karla's boss noticed terrible bruises on her face. Looking closer, it was clear that the 22 year old had wounds all over her body.
Karla tried to pass her injuries off as the result of a car accident, but no one bought the flimsy story. So one of her colleagues made a call to Karla's parents. Alarmed Karla's mother, Dorothy insisted on taking her daughter to the hospital after three days of medical attention.
Karla moved in with her aunt and uncle away from Paul. She had time to consider what they had done and made a decision. A month later, on February 9th, 1993, Karla reached out to police to turn Paul in for murdering Leslie Mahaffey and Kristen French.
While Karla has always presented this act as a watershed moment that she was finally able to admit her guilt to herself and authorities, it's possible it was a desperate act of self-preservation. Knowing Paul's volatile nature, Karla might have worried her husband would try to pin the murders on her unless she beat him to it.
On February 13th, she agreed to a plea bargain in exchange for her testimony against Paul, she would accept a 10 year prison sentence for manslaughter.
Four days later, Paul was arrested. Unsurprisingly, he immediately foisted the blame onto his wife. He admitted to his role in kidnapping and raping the two girls, but said that it was Karla who killed them. He insisted that he always planned on letting them go, but that Karla objected, saying that it was too dangerous to let them live.
But Paul's credibility was shaky when police tested his DNA against samples pulled from the Scarbro rapist cases they matched conclusively tying him to the crimes. With Paul unmasked as a serial rapist and killer, the public demanded justice. They were out for blood and were horrified that Karla was given such a light punishment for her role in the murders.
Around this time, Karla spent several months at a psychiatric hospital to undergo evaluation. It was there that she finally came clean about the death of her sister Tammy, and the role she played.
It's possible Karla told the truth about Tammy's death because she worried that if she didn't, Paul would be the first person to tell the truth, was sure to be treated more favorably. If that was her intention, it paid off. Karla's sentence was extended by just two years. It's also possible that after receiving psychiatric care, Karla was finally able to confront the horrors of her past. Having lived in an abusive relationship since she was 17, she finally stepped out of the shadows of the shame and guilt she felt.
For his part, Paul seemed to feel no guilt. He was set to plead not guilty to all charges against him, but was foiled when his lawyer turned in the videotapes of.
The assaults, the tapes revealed that Paul was every bit as evil as Karla insisted, though they also showed that she enjoyed her part in the acts, too. But it was too late.
Karla had immunity and was untouchable with no deal to protect him.
Paul was found guilty of numerous charges, including the murders of Leslie Mahaffey and Kristen French. He was sentenced to life behind bars and was eligible for parole starting in 2018 to the relief of his victims families. His first request was denied.
It's often said that for evil to triumph, the good must watch on and do nothing. If Paul is the evil in this story, then Karla cannot conceivably be called good because she did much more than nothing. But how much of Karla's involvement can be traced back to the abuse she suffered at Paul's hands? It's difficult to say. Ultimately, it's a moot point. Karla served her time and was released in 2005.
Thanks again for tuning into serial killers.
We'll be back soon with a new episode for more information on Paul and Karla. Amongst the many sources we used, we found the book Deadly Innocence by Scott Burnside. And Alan Caren's extremely helpful to our research.
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Serial killers was created by Max Cuddler and is a podcast studio's original executive producers include Max and Ron Cutler, Sound Design by Mike Ramos with production assistants by Ron Shapiro, Carly Madden and Aaron Larson. This episode of Serial Killers was written by Lauren Dalil with writing assistants by Abigail Canon and stars Greg Poulsen and Vanessa Richardson.
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