Due to the graphic nature of these killer's crimes, listener discretion is advised this episode includes discussions of assault, rape and murder that some people may find offensive. We advise extreme caution for children under 13. The holidays were usually a happy time in the Homolka household, but something was bothering 20 year old Carla on the night of December 23, 1990, her boyfriend, 26 year old Paul Bernardo, was over for dinner, which was usually enough to cheer her up.
But it was clear that something was on her mind.
After dinner, Carla's parents, as well as her younger sister Laurie, all went to bed. But Carla and Paul announced they were going to stay up and watch a movie. And they invited Carlos other sister, 15 year old Tami, to join them.
Carla was sure that Tami had a crush on Paul, and Paul made no secret of his desire for Tammy. He'd always liked his women young and virginal. But he'd been going on and on about wanting Tammy for so long that Carla was fed up. She'd put an end to his pestering tonight, once and for all.
While Paul took Tammy downstairs to the basement to get the movie going, Carla prepared drinks for the three of them. A little rum in the eggnog was perfect for such a festive occasion and into one of the glasses she tips some Halcion, an animal tranquilizer, enough to kill a person.
As she walked into the basement, Carla smiled to herself. After this evening, Paul wouldn't complain ever again. She carefully set the tray of drinks down, making sure to hand the drugged glass to her sister. This was going to be a Christmas to remember.
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 murderous relationship between 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.
This week, we'll take a look at how Paul and Carla's childhoods informed their dark fantasies. We'll also examine the way their relationship devolved into a twisted game of lust and domination, eventually leading them to murder.
Next week will cover the gruesome deaths of their three teenage victims and follow the downfall of the sadistic duo. We've got all that and more coming up.
Stay with us. From his earliest moments, Paul Bernardo struggled to express himself. Born in 1964, Paul grew up in Scarborough, a suburb of Toronto, Canada, and he spent a good deal of his young life in silence.
Merrilyn Bernado later recalled that of her three children, her youngest son, Paul, was the least work. It seems this had less to do with the boy's temperament and more to do with an unusual abnormality. He was born with Paul's tongue, was attached to the floor of his mouth, and remained so until he had corrective surgery when he was five before the procedure.
Young Paul was forced to communicate through grants and gestures. But when those didn't work, the frustrated boy simply withdrew.
This learned behavior persisted for a number of years, and Paul had difficulty communicating even when his tongue healed for the next several years of his life. Paul underwent speech therapy to learn to speak, but struggled with a stutter. It was yet another setback that likely had a significant impact on Paul's social development. But perhaps even more jarring than his speech impediment was his family dynamic raised in an abusive household himself.
Paul's father, Kenneth, perpetuated the cycle with a particular focus on Paul's mother, Marilyn Kenis.
Abuse wasn't just physical, though that was definitely part of his routine. Kenneth regularly berated his wife, treating her with a resentment and disrespect that Paul may have regarded as a normal part of life. The prevalence of domestic abuse in his home likely meant that Paul never felt totally safe there. It also may have informed Paul's own proclivity for violence.
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.
Given his father's abusive behavior, Paul was more likely to grow into a violent adult, according to psychologist Albert Bandura. Children are highly likely to imitate the actions of their primary adult influences.
In the 1960s, Bandura conducted a series of experiments on observational learning, which he called the Bubba Doll experiments. In the study, a child would be allowed to watch an adult researcher behaving violently towards a doll named Bubba when the researcher left the room. Children were observed mimicking the aggressive behavior. Bandura explained this outcome using social cognitive theory, a phenomena that suggests learning occurs in a social context with a dynamic and reciprocal interaction of the person, environment and behavior.
In other words, children pick up actions by mirroring the adults in their lives.
So according to this theory, children who observe a parent behaving violently like Paul are more inclined to act out combatively in the future.
Notably, Bandera's experiment showed that boys engaged in more than twice as many acts of physical aggression as girls.
Paul Bernardo was certainly no exception to this. As he grew, so too did his affinity for violence, even to the point of alarming his classmates. Sometimes friends needed to tell him to chill out because he took playful roughhousing too far.
Unfortunately, his father's abuse of his mother wasn't the only domestic violence Paul was exposed to. His father, Kenneth allegedly regularly molested his older sister, Debbie, from the time she was nine years old.
According to those close to the family, Marilyn knew about the abuse, but made little effort to stop it. Instead, she seemed to resent her daughter for stealing Kenneth's attention away with his mother openly acknowledging the abuse.
It seems unlikely that Paul didn't know about it, too. So from a young age, he learned that violence, verbal abuse and sexual assault were perfectly acceptable behavior in the home. As he got older, he patterned himself after his father, berating his mother at every turn.
Still, aside from a troubling relationship with his mother, Paul's formative years were somewhat uneventful, and in high school, he was finally able to focus on something other than his troubled home life. His blond hair, blue eyes and broad shoulders turned heads, and the girls were liable to develop crushes on him wherever he went.
In 1980, when Paul was 15 years old, one admirer in particular caught his eye. Nadine Brammer, the petite blonde, was already into Paul. So when he asked her to be his girlfriend, Nadine said yes. But while his burgeoning romance took off, Paul's home, life deteriorated.
His mom completely withdrew from day to day life, and her fights with both Kenneth and Paul escalated during a particularly vicious argument with Paul, Merryland revealed that Kenneth wasn't his real father while his siblings were Kenneth's. Paul was the product of an affair. The revelation shook Paul.
Unsurprisingly, he grew even more resentful of his mother than ever before when he wasn't ignoring her requests for help around the house, he took to calling her the same names his dad had used for years slob and fat cow.
As Paul's relationship with his mother became more contentious, he grew increasingly controlling of his girlfriend, Nadine, and she wasn't having it fed up. Nadine dumped Paul and revealed she'd made out with his best friend.
It's possible that these two jarring betrayals from the strongest women in his life had a great and immediate impact on Paul's relationships with females. As far as we can tell, he didn't have an active dating life for the rest of high school. Perhaps as he came to terms with his feelings about women, he did seem to spend the next few years ruminating on perverse sexual fantasies, though, but he didn't act on them. Not yet.
In the fall of 1983, when 19 year old Paul went off to college, he revealed these fantasies to his new friends. He spoke often about his twisted dream of a virgin farm where a stable of underage girls would be Paul's for the taking.
It's hardly surprising, then, that the girls Paul pursued were usually younger and that his intentions were far more predatory than romantic. During this time, at the University of Toronto Scarborough, he forced several minors to have brutal sex with him, including a 16 year old girlfriend, Dale Colton. Sometimes he'd even pull out a knife during the act.
It seems violence thrilled Paul, as did humiliation. He seduced teen girls and young women only to degrade them once they were in bed. He was aggressive and fed his victims lines to pare it back to him about how much they enjoyed what was happening.
Whenever any of his victims warned that they would report him, Paul threatened to kill them. Most were frightened into silence, though two girls filed restraining orders against him.
It's possible that this pushed Paul to change his act, but instead of becoming a better person, he opted to sink lower. He didn't want consensual sex anyway. That didn't excite him. So investing effort and casual girlfriends and one night stands seemed a waste of time. If he wanted to truly rob teenage girls of their innocence, he knew there was only one way to do that, and he was willing to do whatever it took. In the early hours of May 4th, 1987, 22 year old Paul watched from the shadows as Chelsea Hagan got off the bus in her Scarborough neighborhood.
The 21 year old was on her way home from a fun evening with friends in Toronto.
As Chelsea started walking the three blocks to her parents home, Paul Bernardo fell into step behind her for some 10 minutes. He stalked his prey until she was just steps from her front door. Perhaps sensing she was about to slip through his clutches, Paul lunged at Chelsea, forcing her onto her back on the sidewalk. He choked her into silence and brutally raped her.
He loosened his grip on her throat, only enough to demand that she declare he was the only man she wanted. After almost half an hour, Chelsea's father turned on the porch light, probably expecting his daughter home. Soon, the light spooked Paul and he scrambled up, slipping away into the night. In the aftermath of the horrific attack, Paul found his appetite for violence, sex only growing. He knew then that it was something he wanted to experience.
Again, he wasn't done yet, not by a long shot.
Up next, Paul meets his perfect match. 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. In 1987, 22 year old Paul Bernardo attacked 21 year old Chelsea Hagen in the early morning darkness outside her family home. It was the culmination of his growing violent sexual fantasies likely borne out of his traumatic childhood.
Many serial killers like Paul come from abusive or neglectful homes. However, that's not true of them all.
Carla homologous family was, for all intents and purposes, fairly average. Carlo was born in Port Credit, Ontario, in 1970 to Dorothy and Carol. Eventually, the family welcomed two more girls, Laurie and Tammi.
All three sisters were striking with blond hair and blue eyes as the artist, Carla displayed a natural take charge attitude that she applied to her siblings, academics and her social life. Never wanting to be perceived as weak or flawed, she strived for success in everything she did and hated to lose control of any situation.
While Carla's mother was proud of her daughter's bright mind and her teachers described her as an eager student, her friends thought of her as bossy.
She loved sharing her toys, but only if her friends played exactly as she told them when she didn't get her way. Young Carla pouted and took her dolls back.
In her younger years, this obsessive need to control others was one of Carla's few trouble spots. But as she entered her teenage years, her ordered life seemed to pour her.
Sometime around the ninth grade, she developed an unprompted fascination with death. She also started dressing differently and drinking alcohol with her friends.
It was a stark contrast to the girl she'd once been wanting to shed her more traditionally feminine clothes. She filled her wardrobe with dark colors and dyed her hair and punk shades of red and black.
Carla's closet wasn't the only dark aspect of her personality shift. Friends at school worried when they noticed Carla's new habit of cutting. When they tried to confront her about it, Carla shrugged them off, saying she was, quote, just depressed.
Carla never elaborated on what exactly prompted her to self-harm. But her actions do reveal a proclivity for risk taking. And this desire for danger didn't stop at her body. She told one friend that she would like to draw spots on someone and then play connect the dots with a knife.
While it seems like Carla left much of her old self in the past, it's possible her aggressive new personality was just another example of Carla exerting her need for complete control. Being the rebellious teen was a role she could purrfect and one that offered extra perks. It won her some much needed attention.
Carla's actions around this time likely stemmed from a desire for outside validation, something she might have felt deprived of at home. Her father, Carroll, was a traveling salesman, and Carla resented his frequent absence.
Perhaps in retaliation, Carla often broke her parents rules just to get a rise out of her father.
She wanted him to care and knew how to push her father's buttons. As a result, the two had a contentious relationship. When he drank, Carol would scream at his eldest daughter, berating her for her behavior.
While this may have satisfied her desire for Carol's attention, the repeated verbal assaults might have also traumatized Carla. It may have felt like the only time her father wasn't away from home, he was condemning the things about her that made him finally pay attention.
This cyclical pattern might have had far reaching effects on Carla's psyche. Experimental psychologist Richard L.. Salomon's opponent Process Theory of Acquired Motivation asserts that the initial response to an emotional event will be followed by a secondary and opposite one. For instance, something that evokes fear will in the next moment deliver relief. Over time, the secondary feeling becomes a key part of an experience. After repeated exposure, the initial emotional response weakens while the second intensifies.
Following this theory, it's easy to see that an experience that initially causes the negative emotional response could eventually evolve over time. It could even turn into a positive experience.
For Carla, repeated exposure to her father's verbal assaults was likely upsetting at first. But over time, the secondary feeling of pleasure dominated the way she understood those encounters. It's possible it also changed the way she felt about other new experiences.
When 17 year old Carla felt ready to have sex for the first time, it seems she wanted to replicate the feeling of pleasure she got from being degraded.
So when she bragged to her school friends about losing her virginity to a boy named Doug, it was a tale full of bondage and sadism. She told her friends that Doug was high on cocaine while they had violent sex. He hit Carla with a belt, she said, and. She loved it, but it seems unlikely Carla's version of a story held much truth, though she did lose her virginity to a friend named Doug. He denied Kahless accusations of drug use and violence.
It seemed Carla desired a masochistic lover, one who would treat her with less respect than Doug had. Luckily for her, she wouldn't have to wait long to find him.
In October 1987, not long after her night with Doug, Kalila was invited to attend a convention in nearby Scarborough. The 17 year old jumped at the opportunity for an overnight trip, even if it was only a couple of hours away.
The night of the convention, Carla opted to stay up and ordered herself a drink at the hotel bar. It was there that she was spotted by 23 year old Paul Bernardo. He was immediately drawn to her youthful looks and blond hair. He walked right up and introduced himself.
Carla was taken by the handsome older man and his charming smile, and after a drink in the bar, she invited him up to her room. Paul didn't need to be asked twice.
He wasted no time wrapping his hands around Carla's waist before they even left the elevator, a predator grasping his prey. And for her part, Carla didn't mind that he was coming on strong. In fact, she submitted to Paul's aggressive tendencies.
They tumbled into bed and they had sex closer to the way she'd wanted her first time to go. Swept up in The Passion, Carla professed her love for Paul, a man she'd known for only a few hours before she left.
The next morning, Carla wrote down her phone number for Paul. Neither of them could wait to reunite each. Sure, they'd found their soulmate. Carla was happy to find someone aggressive to satisfy her sexual curiosities, while Paul thought only of bending Carla to his will and the things he could make her do. Coming up, Karla and Paul's passion turns deadly. Now back to the story. In October of 1987, a chance encounter between 17 year old Karla Homolka and 23 year old Paul Bernardo led to a passionate one night stand, but the pair were too perfect to fit to forget their brief connection.
And both were eager to pursue a relationship, despite Paul's clear proclivity for aggressive, even violent, sex.
Carla didn't suspect that her new beau was a seasoned rapist. Whether this knowledge would have changed her feelings is pure speculation.
But given what we know about Carla, it seems unlikely things moved so quickly that the two were in a committed relationship before they knew what hit them. The weekend after their first meeting, Paul made the drive to Carla's hometown of St. Catherine's to spend time with her and meet her parents.
Carol and Dorothy Homolka welcomed Paul into their home with open arms. They were delighted that their sometimes rebellious daughter was dating a handsome accountant. Perhaps they thought he would be a good influence on their daughter. Maybe it was his goofy jokes, or it could have been that they made such an attractive couple with their blond hair and good looks. They looked like the Barbie and Ken dolls Carla played with as a little girl. For the next month, Paul showered Carla with affection.
He sent flowers, called daily and took her to expensive restaurants. And while Carla's friends were skeptical of exactly what Paul wanted with their best friend, Carla was sure Paul was the one. She was so confident in her feelings that, like any besotted teenager she took to writing Carla Bernardo in all her notebooks, Paul's visits were soon so frequent that Dorothy and Carol agreed to let him spend the night on the couch.
It didn't make sense for this busy young man to make the two hour trek back to Scarborough every time he came to dote on their daughter.
They never suspected that charming, upstanding Paul snuck into Carla's room once the rest of the family was asleep. They barely known him for a few weeks, but the harmonica's already trusted Paul. Then again, what choice did they have? He already had Carla's heart.
It wasn't long before Paul abused Carla's feelings for him. When she got a perm he didn't like, she let her hair grow long and natural. She traded in her punk clothes for the preppy ones he preferred and gave up her fast food habits in exchange for salads and carrots.
Paul had an idea of who he wanted Carla to be, and she was only too eager to make him happy. She molded herself to fit his demands, and she was rewarded for her devotion when she ate well, dressed nicely and behaved as Paul wanted, he'd bring her gifts and make grand gestures to show his affection. It was a troubling cycle.
Paul's behavior is a classic manipulation tactic known as love bombing, a narcissistic power play in which a person overwhelms their romantic partner with an excessive amount of affection, gifts and praise in order to win their attention and maintain control. According to clinical psychiatrist Dale Archer.
Love bombing differs from regular affection in a romantic relationship because of the devaluation phase that often follows love bombing, Archer explains.
If there's an abrupt shift in the type of attention from affectionate and loving to controlling and angry with the pursuing partner making unreasonable demands, that's a red flag.
But 17 year old Carla wasn't paying attention to the warning signs. She was too distracted by Paul's fluctuating affection. Keeping him happy meant bending to his every whim, especially in the bedroom.
Paul didn't like that Carla wasn't a virgin when they'd first met.
To make up for that, he insisted she perform specific acts on him. Even if they made her uncomfortable, she'd already given up parts of herself to keep Paul happy. So what was a few more?
But though Carla seemed content to change herself to suit her boyfriend, her friends from school were worried. They felt vindicated in their concern when they found a troubling note in Carla's room.
The letter was in Carla's handwriting, though it's possible Paul dictated it to her. It read, Never let anyone know our relationship is anything but perfect. Don't talk back to Paul. Always smile when you're with Paul. Be a perfect girlfriend for Paul. If Paul asks for a drink, bring him one quickly and happily. Remember, you're stupid. Remember, you're ugly. Remember, you're fat. I don't know why I tell you these things because you never change.
Her friends hated knowing that this was the way Paul had made Carla feel about herself. But it's likely Paul's criticisms of Carla only made her want him more. She was desperately in love and nothing anyone would say would change her mind about that. And while Carla wrote herself reminders of how to be the perfect partner for Paul, he made no effort to be anything other than what he'd always been. Though Karl attended to a great many of his needs, she couldn't satisfy his every desire, she was too submissive, giving whatever was asked.
But sometimes Paul just wanted to take after meeting Carla. Paul stopped raping women around Scarbro, but only briefly. As Winter approached in 1987, he recalled the details from his earlier assaults and felt his violent urges bubbling to the surface in December of that year, just a couple of months into his relationship with Carla.
Paul took his next victim, like Chelsea Hagan, 15 year old figure skater Cherie Sykes was walking home from the bus when Paul grabbed her under the cover of darkness. He violently raped the teen. Following the brutal attack, Sherry gave Scarbro police a description of Paul, allowing them to issue a warning to women in the area. One of Paul's former girlfriends told police that Paul might be their culprit. Unfortunately, no one followed up on the report allowing the Scarbro rapist to terrorize the area.
Over the next two years, Paul raped at least six more women, all while Karla remained in the dark about his twisted double life. In all fairness, she had her hands full catering to Paul's sadistic desires.
But no matter what she did, it was never enough to keep Paul completely happy. And by 1990, 26 year old Paul developed a troubling fixation on someone else. Kala's 15 year old sister, Tammy Paul made no secret of his crush.
He flirted with Tammy when they were alone, which didn't escape Kala's notice. But rather than jealous, Karla felt eager to enable Paul. She even broke the blinds in her sister's room so Paul could watch her changing at night.
But Paul was dissatisfied with the role of Peeping Tom. He wanted more, so he pressured Karla to give it to him because Karla wasn't a virgin. When they met, he told her she owed him Tammy's virginity.
Instead, Carla needed little convincing and the devious couple made a plan. On the evening of July 24th, 1990, Carla crushed up Valium tablets, a sedative she stole from her job at an animal clinic as her family sat down to dinner.
She slipped the drug into Tammy's bowl of spaghetti.
After dinner, a sleepy Tamme went to bed early and passed out as planned. Paul and Karla snuck into her room while Carlos stood guard at the door. Paul raped Tammy, but after just a few moments, Tammy stirred, panicked. Paul stopped and they hurried out of the room. Paul was furious at Karla for not sedating Tammy more, and he was determined to get it right the next time. For the rest of the year, he pestered Karla, insisting that they try again.
By December of 1990, Karla decided to reward his persistence. She would give him her sister's virginity for Christmas.
So on December twenty third, Paul enjoyed dinner with the Homolka family, as usual, after when Carla's parents and sister Laurie went upstairs to bed, Tammy decided to stay up late to watch a movie with Paul and Carla.
While Tammy and Paul got comfortable in the basement, Carla prepared drinks in the kitchen. She mixed rum into their eggnog. But to Tammi's, she also added Halcion, another animal tranquilizer. She didn't want to be to blame if something went wrong. This time, her concoction worked like a charm. Not long into the movie, Tammy passed out and Paul seized his chance. He pulled Tammy's clothes off. While Karla aimed a video camera at the action, they decided to memorialize the occasion to make sure her sister remained asleep.
Karla held an anesthetic drenched washcloth to Tammy's face. They took turns sexually assaulting the sedated, dangerously drunk girl. In hushed tones, Paul gave Karla instructions that continued to escalate.
Although she didn't like disobeying Paul, some of his requests were too much for a 20 year old Karla to take. She attempted to say no, but ultimately gave into her role in her sister's rape.
At some point, Paul stopped. Suddenly, almost in anticipation of what was about to happen, Tammy started to vomit and choke. The two lovers panicked and attempted to clear her throat to revive her.
But it was too late. Tammy was dead. Thanks again for tuning into serial killers at our next episode, we'll follow Paul and Karla as they evolve from sadistic rapists to bloodthirsty murderers.
For more information on the Ken and Barbie killers, 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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Have a killer week. 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 Polson and Vanessa Richardson.
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