To an outsider, Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka were a picture-perfect couple. They met in October 1987 and were caught up in a whirlwind romance. By December that year, the pair were engaged. Karla was a pretty high school student with a passion for animals. Paul was a college graduate working in sales. The Homolka family were quick to welcome Bernardo into their number, and the couple seemed set to share an idyllic life together.
Bernardo and Homolka presented a convincing facade. But their marriage came to a bloody end—with its very own body count. The rape-murders of Tammy Homolka, Leslie Mahaffy, and Kristen French are burned into Canadian history, but here are ten lesser-known facts surrounding the infamous case.
10 Paul Bernardo Was Almost Apprehended Years Before The Schoolgirl Murders
Between 1987 and 1990, Toronto’s Scarborough district was rocked by a series of vicious rapes. The mystery attacker was targeting women, most of whom traveled by bus late at night. As the attacks grew increasingly violent, a police task force was established as a priority. Plainclothes detectives began to stake out bus stations, and in May 1988, an officer spotted a suspect matching the attacker’s description lingering under a tree. The suspect escaped on foot but was later identified as Paul Bernardo.
Despite the close shave, Bernardo seemed incapable of slowing down. By 1990, police had received three separate tips leading directly to him. The first came from an ex-girlfriend, who shared her experience of Bernardo’s violent sexual behavior with a friend in law enforcement. The second came from a bank teller who recognized Bernardo after seeing a composite sketch of the rapist. The final tip came from Tina Smirnis, the wife of Bernardo’s lifelong friend. Smirnis also saw a likeness in the composite and had been witness to Bernardo’s expressions of sexual deviance.
In November that year, detectives interviewed Bernardo for a total of 35 minutes. They found Paul to be credible; he provided samples for forensic testing and joked about his resemblance to the composite sketch. Bernardo was released, and delays in forensic testing ensured his freedom.
9 The Murder Of Tammy Homolka May Not Have Been An Accident
By 1990, Bernardo had developed an interest in 15-year-old Tammy Homolka, Karla’s youngest sister. Together, the pair devised a plan to drug and rape the teenager over the Christmas holiday. On December 24, that’s exactly what they did. At some point during the attack, Tammy began to choke. Bernardo and Homolka called 911, but it was too late. Tammy passed away at the hospital later that night.
It has been largely accepted that Tammy’s death was an accident. Bernardo and Homolka had only intended to drug and rape their victim. However, journalist Trish Wood and numerous medical experts believe that Karla knew precisely what she was doing. She had stolen a bottle of halothane, a liquid form of anesthetic, from the veterinary clinic she worked at. As an animal health technician, Homolka had a working knowledge of halothane. She was aware that the anesthetic should be administered through a vaporizer and that animals under the drug should have a breathing tube inserted. During testimony, Karla admitted that she had done her research before drugging Tammy. She ultimately chose to use the sleeping tablet Halcion after studying the Compendium of Pharmaceuticals and Specialties and discovering that death was not listed as an outcome in the case of Halcion overdose. However, the same cannot be said of halothane.
The initial autopsy of Tammy Homolka concluded that she had died of natural causes. The significant burn across her cheek was identified as a chemical burn, as no facial hair had been singed. It was concluded that the burn was a result of “gastric juices” due to vomiting. Shortly after Bernardo and Homolka were arrested, Tammy’s body was exhumed. A second autopsy concluded that this was not the case. It also found that smothering could not be ruled out as a cause of death. A videotape taken during the rape shows that Karla had covered Tammy’s nose and mouth with the halothane cloth, leading many to speculate that Tammy’s death was not as accidental as Homolka would have you believe.
8 Jane Doe, The Wedding Present
Despite their upcoming nuptials, Bernardo and Homolka had begun to drift apart. On a bachelor trip to Florida, Bernardo had fallen for a nurse by the name of Alison Worthington, a self-proclaimed lover of anal sex. She appealed to Bernardo’s sexual sadism in ways that Karla could not. Bernardo even had his fiancee pretend to be his sister when Worthington called their shared home.
Homolka knew she had to act quickly to save her relationship. She befriended a teenager only identified as Jane Doe. In June 1991, Homolka invited Jane on a “girls’ night out.” The pair went shopping together before returning to Homolka and Bernardo’s house. It was here that Jane was offered alcohol laced with sedatives. Shortly after Jane lost consciousness, Homolka called Bernardo home with the promise of a surprise wedding present. Delighted with the surprise, Bernardo filmed the pair raping the unconscious teenager.
Jane Doe remained unaware of the assault. She became a close friend to the couple, even accompanying them on a trip to Toronto. On one occasion, Jane was invited back to Homolka and Bernardo’s place. She was drugged once more, with Halcion and halothane. In a chilling echo of Tammy’s death, Jane began to choke. Homolka dialed 911 as Bernardo successfully revived Jane. The ambulance was cancelled, and the call was never followed up on. Homolka’s twisted gift rekindled the relationship; Bernardo cut ties with Worthington, going on to marry Karla later in 1991. Jane Doe was reportedly a guest at the ceremony.
7 The Homolka Family Celebrated Father’s Day With The Body Of Leslie Mahaffy
On Sunday, June 16, 1991, Bernardo and Homolka hosted a Father’s Day meal in their home. Dorothy and Karel Homolka, along with their surviving daughter Lori, spent the evening celebrating with the couple. Karla is reported to have spent the night making an effort to keep her family upstairs—and for good reason. The body of 14-year-old Leslie Mahaffy was lying just meters below in the basement, having been moved from the bedroom shortly before the Homolkas’ arrival. Later that night, Bernardo dismembered the body of the teenager with a circular saw.
At some point during the evening of June 14, Leslie had disappeared after attending the viewing of a friend who had died in a car accident. It was nothing unusual; Leslie was a frequent runaway, but when she failed to attend the funeral the next day, her family began to panic. Leslie’s body was discovered encased in concrete on June 29, 1991—the same day Bernardo and Homolka married.
6 Kristen French Deliberately Left Behind Clues
Kristen French was the final victim in the infamous Schoolgirl Murders. She was kidnapped in a parking lot after being approached by Homolka, who was posing as a tourist in need of directions. Bernardo approached from behind and forced the 15-year-old into the couple’s car. By this point, Bernardo and Homolka had become brazen in their operation: Kristen was approached in broad daylight, and her abduction was witnessed by several people. Unfortunately, the vehicle used in her abduction was wrongly identified by witnesses.
Despite this, Kristen fought hard to leave a trail of clues in her wake. Her shoe was found at the scene of the abduction, along with a portion of a Toronto road map. The torn-off section of the map was later forensically tested, and many believe that Kristen left it behind in the struggle. Prosecutors commended French for her apparent bravery during her captivity, quoting the girl as having claimed that “some things are worth dying for”—much to the frustration of Bernardo. Kristen French was found dead on April 30, 1992, not far from the burial site of Leslie Mahaffy.
5 Bernardo Was A Failed Rap Artist
Bernardo harbored a surprising passion for music. He was particularly fond of rap, and many former friends describe him as quoting artist Vanilla Ice. Bernardo didn’t just consider himself a fan; he had aspirations of pursuing a music career, going so far as to purchase recording equipment with money he made smuggling tobacco across the US border. Bernardo indulged in grandiose fantasies, often assuring his friends that famous artists were interested in sponsorship deals.
His lyrics were a disturbing insight into his crimes, spurred on by Homolka. She often bragged to friends about Bernardo’s upcoming albums. Bernardo even took his final victim into his “music room” to show her his latest tracks—though Homolka would later testify that Kirsten French “just didn’t care.”
4 Homolka Sold Out Bernardo
Early in January 1993, Bernardo attacked his wife with a flashlight during an argument. The beating was severe, leaving Homolka admitted to the hospital with black eyes and broken ribs. It was the incident that encouraged her to leave Bernardo for good.
Around this time, Toronto police reached out to Homolka. Forensic experts working on the Scarborough rapes had finally run tests on Bernardo’s sample. He was identified as the Scarborough Rapist—and detectives suspected a connection to the murders of Mahaffy and French. Homolka agreed to an interview with police, assuming they wanted to discuss the assault with the flashlight. However, detectives from the Green Ribbon Task Force, established to investigate the Schoolgirl Murders, were present at the interview.
Homolka ultimately panicked and confessed everything to her family. She was quick to seek out an attorney and cut a deal with investigators to give them information on the murders. Homolka sold out Bernardo in exchange for a lesser sentence.
3 The Hidden Tapes
After Bernardo’s arrest, police began an extensive search at 57 Bayview Drive, the home Bernardo and Homolka had shared. The investigation hung on the word of Homolka; she insisted that her statements could be confirmed if detectives found a series of videotapes documenting the rape, torture, and murder of Tammy Homolka, Leslie Mahaffy, and Kristen French. Investigators searched the home for 71 days. Over 100 tapes were discovered—including those documenting the rapes of Jane Doe. The Schoolgirl tapes were not found.
Once the police search concluded, Bernardo’s defense team entered the property. They claimed they were clearing out personal items on behalf of Bernardo. On May 6, 1993, Ken Murray, Bernardo’s lawyer, said he found a letter in his briefcase from Bernardo. The letter instructed Murray to open it only when he was inside the home. The letter contained directions to a pot light, leading to a small attic space. It was here that Murray claimed to discover the tapes documenting the rape and torture of the schoolgirl victims.
Upon watching the tapes, Murray found that Karla was far more involved than her testimony suggested. He withheld the tapes from the prosecution in order to discredit their star witness. Despite his efforts, Homolka’s plea deal protected her. The tapes could not be used against Karla, and Murray was tried for obstructing justice. He was acquitted in 2000.
2 Two Men Were Wrongly Convicted Of Bernardo’s Crimes
In June 1990, Elizabeth Bain disappeared. Three days later, her car was discovered with a significant bloodstain across the back seat. Her body was missing and has never been found. After a lengthy investigation, Robert Baltovich, Bain’s boyfriend, was arrested and charged with her murder, based on no more than circumstantial evidence. Baltovich maintained his innocence throughout the trial; his defense team even suggested the possibility that the Scarborough Rapist may be responsible. Despite this, Baltovich was convicted of second-degree murder in March 1992.
After a drawn-out appeals process, Baltovich was released on bail in 2000. It took four years for his appeal to go through, with lawyers citing circumstantial evidence linking Bernardo to the murder. Baltovich was finally acquitted in 2008.
Baltovich wasn’t the only man to take the fall for Bernardo. Anthony Hanemaayer was convicted of assaulting a 15-year-old Scarborough girl in 1987. Despite maintaining his innocence, he pleaded guilty on the advice of a lawyer. In 2006, it emerged that Bernardo had made a confession in relation to the case. Hanemaayer was exonerated in 2007.
1 Homolka Was Briefly Linked To Canadian Killer Luke Magnotta
After serving 12 years in prison, Homolka was released in 2005. She went off the radar until 2007, when a journalist traced her to a small apartment in Guadeloupe. She was living with her husband and three children under the name Leanne Bordelais.
Homolka remained in the shadows until 2014. Her remaining sister Lori—now Logan Valentini—was called as a witness in the murder trial of Luke Magnotta. Magnotta was a Canadian murderer who had become obsessed with Homolka, going so far as to mail her body parts. During the trial, Lori confirmed that Homolka was now living in Quebec, having married Thierry Bordelais, the brother of her former lawyer. Homolka was quick to distance herself from Magnotta and was later found to have no connection to the murderer.