The Ken and Barbie killers: Here’s the story behind Canada’s most famous murder couple

canada karla homolka killer case prison fpd
Source: Paul Bernardo & Karla Homolka Archive Footage/YouTube

Karla Homolka and Paul Bernando

Apr. 6 2021, Published 1:17 p.m. ET

Link to FacebookShare to TwitterShare to Email

Canada’s most famous killer?

Karla Homolka and her partner murdered three innocent teenaged girls. Their grisly methods and sick enjoyment caught Canada’s attention, then the rest of the world took notice too. 

Article continues below advertisement

Together with her husband, Paul Bernardo, Homolka made six videotapes of the rapes and murders — one of which chronicled drugging and torturing her younger sister, 15-year-old Tammy Homolka.

The media dubbed them the “Ken and Barbie killers” for their clean-cut, wholesome good looks.

canada karla homolka killer case prison
Source: Paul Bernardo & Karla Homolka Archive Footage/YouTube

Karla Homolka

Article continues below advertisement

Explanations for “Killer Homolka’s” behavior ranged from being a victim of spousal abuse to a full-blown psychopath. Her diagnosis was difficult to understand, as female psychopaths are an unstudied breed, but one psychiatrist gave her the very specific label of hybristophilia — someone who is sexually aroused by the sadistic acts of their partner.

Others believe she may be a malignant narcissist. Whatever the case, she betrayed her husband the first chance she got. Her reduced prison sentence came after she pinned the murders on her partner-in-crime.

Article continues below advertisement

On July 4, 2005, at 35 years old, Homolka was released back into the free embrace of her home country, Canada, with eight conditions. Authorities had mixed opinions about whether she was still a menace to society and a threat to children, the majority of the public wanting nothing to do with her. 

She was forbidden to have any contact with Bernardo. Four months after her release, a Quebec judge lifted all eight restrictions, citing lack of evidence for their practicality or proven effectiveness. In 2006, she attempted to legally change her name but was denied by the courts. A few years later, she managed to become someone else when she married again.

Article continues below advertisement

BERNARDO AND HOMOLKA

The story of Homolka and Bernado is told through countless media reports in Canada and the U.S., newspaper articles, TV shows, blog posts, websites and even a movie

Homolka was 17 when she met an older man, Bernardo, at a hotel in Scarborough, Ontario, a suburb of Toronto. It was 1987, the height of big hair, cocaine and partying till dawn. 

canada karla homolka killer case prison
Source: Paul Bernardo & Karla Homolka Archive Footage/YouTube

Paul Bernando and Karla Homolka

Article continues below advertisement

 She was immediately smitten with the soft-spoken college graduate who was beginning a career as an accountant. Homolka couldn’t have known that underneath his charm and quiet exterior lay a man who truly hated women.

At 23, Bernardo had already developed a taste for rough sex. He couldn’t keep girlfriends because most didn’t want any part of being tied up. But Homolka was different.

From the beginning, she proved she was up for anything when it came to sex. She was also an attractive, slim blonde who seemed to encourage his more sadistic sexual fantasies. For her part, she was drawn to him for both the sex and the excitement.

Article continues below advertisement

Homolka was still a high school student, but she knew she was destined to spend the rest of her life with this man. When Bernardo asked her what she would think if he were a rapist, she didn’t skip a beat, she said it would only make him cooler in her eyes.

Within two years of confessing his secret desires, Bernardo had sexually assaulted 11 women. He chose his victims from the bus, following them as they exited to a secluded area, then raping them. Eventually, one woman got a good look at him in 1988 and police made a sketch, but authorities held the sketch back from the public. Bernardo’s total number of victims climbed to 13 and he was just getting started. 

Article continues below advertisement

At least one victim reported seeing a woman with Bernardo, but the police discounted the importance of this small fact. He became known as the “Scarborough rapist,” and authorities continued to track down leads on his identity. His list of rape victims would total at least 19 before he was stopped.

THE FIRST MURDERS

Homolka and Bernardo got engaged on Christmas Eve, 1989, planning their wedding for June two years later. The date was a meaningful one for them.

The evening before Christmas Eve, 1990, Homolka got Bernardo a special gift. It wasn’t the usual boring present packaged with a bow. This offering was to keep Bernardo happy because, despite their wild sex and Homolka’s attractiveness, she was always a little insecure he might leave her.

Article continues below advertisement

The one thing Bernardo was disappointed about was that Homolka wasn’t a virgin when they met, but she knew how to fix this. Her younger sister, Tammy, was only 15 and still unsullied. Homolka had figured out a way Bernardo could rape Tammy and get away with it, reports stated. They already had Tammy’s trust.

canada karla homolka killer case prison tammy homolka
Source: Paul Bernardo & Karla Homolka Archive Footage/YouTube

Tammy Homolka

Article continues below advertisement

At the age of 20, Homolka was working as a veterinary assistant. Her office used various drugs to put animals to sleep and this is where she first got the idea of knocking her sister unconscious so Bernardo could rape her. Since Homolka got off by watching, and Tammy would probably never know what happened to her, it seemed like a great plan.

Homolka got her hands on some powerful drugs. Once Tammy had them in her system, she’d be theirs to do with what they wanted. It wouldn’t be the first time. Five months earlier, Homolka had sprinkled crushed valium over her sister’s spaghetti dinner. After she passed out, Bernardo sexually abused the girl in their parent’s basement.

Bernardo was a family friend who Tammy adored—and Homolka’s parents felt the same about him.

Article continues below advertisement

Homolka gave her sister eggnog laced with the sleeping pill Halcion. Later that night, she used a cloth soaked in Halothane to make sure Tammy wouldn’t wake up. They videotaped Bernardo raping Tammy, but the teenager began to vomit. They called 911 and hid as much of the evidence as they could. Tammy was rushed to a nearby hospital, where she died after only a few hours. Her death was ruled accidental.

The Homolkas were devastated but believed Karla Homolka, Bernardo and the authorities — what happened was a terrible accident brought on by too much drinking.

Less than six months later, Bernardo was out and about after dark when he ran into a 14-year-old girl named Leslie Mahaffy. She was locked out of her house; he offered to help. Once she climbed into his car, he transported her to the apartment he shared with Homolka and they raped and abused her. As with Tammy, they videotaped their sick activities, media reports noted.

Article continues below advertisement

Later, Bernardo said Homolka fed her a deadly dose of Halcion. Homolka said it didn’t go down that way. In fact, Bernardo strangled Leslie. But they agreed to cut up her body and encase the pieces in blocks of cement. Bernardo went to the hardware store for bags of cement after locating his grandfather’s chain saw.

Two weeks later, two fishermen found one of the blocks, weighing 200 pounds, near the shore. It contained an orthodontic device that once belonged to Mahaffy.

THE MURDER OF KRISTEN FRENCH

Homolka and Bernardo now had a system: locate a victim, drug and rape her, murder her and hide the evidence. Covering up the crime was an integral part of their operation, and both lied naturally and easily to her parents and the authorities, who continued to suspect Bernardo of being a serial rapist.

Article continues below advertisement

On April 16, 1992, Homolka and Bernardo kidnapped their third victim. The two were out looking around the Holy Cross Secondary School campus in north Toronto, trying to locate a woman of the right age. They spotted a teenaged girl walking home and pulled over to ask for help reading a road map. Bernardo forced her into the car's front seat while Homolka pulled her head back by gripping the girl’s long hair.

This victim was 15-year-old Kristen French, who walked the same route every day and got home at the same time every afternoon to walk her dog. Her habits were so regular that her parents notified the police immediately when she didn’t show up. Within 24 hours, witnesses who had seen the teenager being abducted came forward.

Article continues below advertisement

For the next three days, they repeated their horrific pattern of rape, torture and videotaping. They forced Kristen to drink liquor and told her if she complied, they would let her go. They murdered her on April 19, then went to Easter dinner at Homolka’s parents’ house that night.

canada karla homolka killer case prison
Source: Paul Bernardo & Karla Homolka Archive Footage/YouTube

Karla Homolka and Paul Bernando

Article continues below advertisement

On April 30, French was found about a 45-minute drive from where she’d been abducted, nude and lying in a ditch, according to reports. 

After they were apprehended, they told two different stories about how French was murdered. Bernardo blamed Homolka and vice versa. 

SLOW JUSTICE

While Homolka was just another newly married 20-something, Bernardo was on the police’s radar. By the time French was found murdered, he’d been interviewed for stalking and was a suspect in the death of Tammy Homolka. In mid-May, the police re-interviewed Bernardo in connection with French’s death, and later that month, a friend of Bernardo’s gave police his name as a likely perpetrator.

In December 1992, two events occurred that would tighten the net around the killer lovebirds.

Article continues below advertisement

First, police finally submitted Bernardo’s 3-year-old DNA sample for testing. Second, Homolka filed charges against Bernardo for domestic battery. He beat her with a flashlight so badly she sought hospital treatment and took photos of her bruises and cuts. 

She moved in with her family and the two never lived together after this incident, which occurred around the anniversary of Tammy Homolka’s murder. Bernardo was questioned by authorities for domestic abuse and released.

DNA did its job, although slowly. Twenty-six months after it was first submitted, the DNA from the rape kits of the “Scarborough rapist” matched Bernardo’s DNA profile. On Feb. 17, 1993, he was arrested just after Homolka first confessed to her family on Feb. 9, then sought a lawyer to protect herself.

Article continues below advertisement

Homolka told her lawyer, George Walker, about the videotapes the pair had made. She didn’t hand them over but explained what and who was on them, hoping it would help her case. She was now linked to the murders, but police wouldn’t have as strong a case against Bernardo without actually seeing the tapes. 

On May 5, authorities offered Homolka a 12-year plea deal and she took it in exchange for ratting out her husband. So began the next phase: media obsession and cleaning up Homolka’s image enough to turn her into a credible witness against her psychopathic husband. 

Article continues below advertisement

TURNING TRAITOR

Over the next month, both Bernardo and Homolka cooperated with authorities in the hopes of reducing their sentence by blaming the other. He led police to six videotapes he’d kept in his house, while Homolka showed detectives where they could find DNA that would prove Mahaffy and French had been in their house.

Homolka was arraigned on two counts of manslaughter on May 18, 1993. Bernardo was charged with kidnapping, unlawful confinement, aggravated sexual assault and first-degree murder. He was also charged with dismemberment in Mahaffy’s case.

Article continues below advertisement

The videotape evidence proved to be damning to both perpetrators — but Homolka had already gotten a plea deal in writing. Even though the tapes showed she had helped rape and torture four women, she managed to place the blame mostly on Bernardo.

What the tapes actually showed was kept a state secret, and they were destroyed after the trial, as their horrific contents served no purpose once the pair had received their sentences. The disposition document, which includes Homolka watching the tapes and making comments, is still sealed by the court.

Article continues below advertisement

Homolka got what she wanted, a short jail term with the possibility of parole. She continued to assert she was a victim of domestic abuse, forced into the acts she performed. She was not forthcoming about the fourth victim, a Jane Doe, seen on the tapes who was never identified.

Bernardo received a life sentence without the possibility of parole. She divorced him in 1994 

canada karla homolka killer case prison
Source: Paul Bernardo & Karla Homolka Archive Footage/YouTube

Karla Homolka

Article continues below advertisement

KARLA HOMOLKA’S NEW NAME AND LIFE

As Homolka served her full term in a Federal Prison, psychiatrists speculated on her disorder but couldn’t reach a consensus. She engaged in various affairs while incarcerated, writing sappy love letters on the level of a 12-year-old. She was noted to be a master of presenting a different face to whoever she met.

Acquaintances and medical professionals speculated on the likelihood of psychopathy.

The conditions of her release on June 4, 2005, stipulated she should have no contact with anyone under the age of 16 and must report her whereabouts (home and work) to the police, along with any name change. She had travel restrictions and was required to submit DNA to the authorities. She was banned from contacting the victim’s families and had to continue doing counseling.

Article continues below advertisement

Homolka moved to the Island of Montreal and all restrictions were lifted by Canadian courts. She was now a completely free woman and sought to legally change her name, but this request was denied. In 2007, Homolka gave birth to a baby boy.

The Vancouver Sun ran a story in April 2010 indicating that Homolka would be eligible for a full pardon of all her crimes that summer. It was based entirely on the nature of her conviction, which was manslaughter as opposed to murder. The pardon would mean her record remained but would become unsearchable by the public, including potential employers. It would allow her to work with children and teens. The courts passed a special law to keep the pardon from happening.

Article continues below advertisement

In 2012, a reporter located Homolka, now named Leanne Bordelais, living on the Island of Guadeloupein the Caribbean. She had married her former lawyer’s brother and given birth to three children.

HOMOLKA’S CURRENT WHEREABOUTS

The public continues to want updates on Leanne “Homolka” Bordelais, as the majority of Canadians consider her not only a public figure, but potentially dangerous. She also goes by the name Leanne Teale. The debate about whether she deserves privacy rages on in the press and public opinion. A poll conducted among 9,500 Canadian voters indicated 63% think the public should be made aware of her location.

Article continues below advertisement

The opposing viewpoint argues she has served her time and all former offenders are due a certain degree of anonymity and a second chance. Because she was once a major celebrity, press outlets take the view that once in the public eye, individuals are fair game for updated media coverage.

Sex offenders are followed for life. This one got a sweet deal from the criminal justice system—one Canadians have never forgotten.

Since her release, Homolka has kept away from trouble and tried to avoid the spotlight. At 50 years old, she lives in Quebec with her three children, according to reports. 

Advertisement
More Stories

© Copyright 2021 Empire Media Group, Inc. Front Page Detectives is a registered trademark. All Rights Reserved. People may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website. Offers may be subject to change without notice.