I’m fascinated by Karla Homolka. I’m not alone. Many other Canadians are still obsessed with the infamous serial killer, especially now that she is a free woman hiding under the alias Leanne Teale and living in a small suburb outside of Montreal. There are Facebook pages dedicated to stalking her post-prison life. One in particular, “Watching Karla Homolka,” posts news articles, old photographs, and dedications to the three young female victims Karla and her then-husband, Paul Bernardo, raped, tortured, and murdered: Leslie Mahffy, Kristen French, and Karla’s youngest sister, Tammy Homolka.
Followers leave seething, angry comments on a regular basis:
She can not [sic] hide her internal ugliness, posts one user on an image of Karla in her puffy marshmallow wedding gown just two weeks after she and Bernardo murdered Leslie Mahffy. It shows in every photo. IMO she looks cheap and overly done/whorish in these wedding photos.
Did they not marry shortly after her sister, Tammy’s death? another commenter asks. Wow, she looks so distraught from her loss. Karla is a waste of skin.
Ugly, child raping whore. The first thing she did after police cornered her for her testimony against husband Paul Bernardo was run out to a bar in Brampton Ont and get laid. After all of the horrific rape, torture and murder of three children the thing on Leanne Teale Bordelais’ mind was ‘how do I pick up some random man to get laid.’ Sounds like mother material to me.
Although the sex crimes and killings the couple committed were brutal and disgusting, what enrages people most is that Karla mostly got away with them. After serving only 12 years for manslaughter in exchange for a testimony against her husband, Karla avoided having to stand trial for murder.
She played the victim, eventually going to her family with two big black eyes, the result of Bernardo smashing a flashlight into the back of her skull so hard that her brain surged forward. Karla did not want out until Paul began threatening her life. Before then she was a sidekick to his sexual deviance. She even drugged a younger friend of hers to be used as a sex toy for Bernardo, a little rape gift from wife to husband.
After Bernardo was arrested, Karla’s defense attorney struck a bargain with the Canadian Crown Council that the public dubbed “The Deal with the Devil.” Authorities obliged, believing Karla’s stories about being under Bernardo’s threatening control. Bernardo swore he never killed any of the victims and that Karla was the murderer. He admitted to chopping up the deceased bodies to be hidden into blocks of cement but said the murders were all her doing. Karla, of course, claimed the opposite and stuck with her battered-wife story. In May of 1993, Bernardo told his lawyer to go to the couple’s former residence and look behind a pot light in the bathroom. Behind it, he found six 8mm videotapes. The footage shattered Homolka’s victim mask with hard evidence that she was a willing participant in the couple’s violent sexual crimes. Bernardo’s lawyer called the tapes—which featured Karla sodomizing the couple’s victims with wine bottles, laughing and directing Bernardo’s cock into the victims’ orifices—the most disturbing things he had ever seen. Yet Bernardo’s lawyer kept this evidence away from the prosecution for 16 months, presumably to protect his own client while he worked on his defense. This was just enough time for Karla’s deal to be signed.
“I kept pounding her with questions,” bragged Homolka’s lawyer to The Fifth Estate years later. “And she got stronger, and stronger, and stronger.”
Homolka would serve 12 years. Bernardo (who was also charged for raping 43 women years earlier) was sent away for life and scored 35/40 on the Psychopathy Checklist.
Bernardo didn’t stand a chance from the minute he slithered out his mother’s vagina. When Paul was young, his father Kenneth was busted for molesting a neighborhood girl. Kenneth would creep through their suburb as a Peeping Tom (a behavior Bernardo would inherit) and soon began sexually abusing Bernardo’s eldest sister. Bernardo’s mother, destroyed by the news that her husband was a convicted pedophile, sunk into depression. She became morbidly obese and ignored her children. During a fight with Bernardo, she admitted that Kenneth was not his biological father. From that day on, Bernardo berated her, writing her off as a whore and lashing out. “Born a bastard, die a bastard,” he would tell Homolka.
Throughout his early twenties in Scarborough, Ontario, Bernardo reportedly stalked, sexually assaulted, and raped 43 women. He was never caught, nor did he try to kill any of his captors. Like his father, Bernardo peeped into girl’s windows and masturbated in the bushes. He hung around at bus stations and lured women toward him with cigarettes and his handsome, wholesome charm. Bernardo graduated college and was hired at a prestigious accounting firm. At 23, he attended a conference held at a hotel. That was when he met 17-year-old Homolka. She was eating a grilled cheese sandwich with her friend at the hotel restaurant. He teased her about the fact she was lazily dining in her pajamas. She flirted back. They went to his room. After that, he was her “Big Bad Businessman” and she was his “Princess.” This was 1987. They fell for one another hard and by 1989, he moved into the Homolka family home with Karla’s parents and her two younger sisters.
Being a virgin-hungry rapist, Bernardo soon became obsessed with Karla’s youngest sister Tammy, who was 15. He openly flirted with Tammy in front of Karla, hugging and snuggling the teenager, who mimicked his affections. Allegedly, it went far enough that Karla finally snapped, telling her sister to “Get the fuck out of here and leave Paul alone!” One night Bernardo drove Tammy to buy beer. They were gone for six hours and he admitted to Karla that they kissed. Instead of kicking Bernardo out of the house and dumping him, she gave Bernardo access to Tammy’s room so he could masturbate to her while she slept. Homolka stole Valium from the clinic where she worked and crushed them into Tammy’s spaghetti so Paul could rape her. The plan foiled when Tammy woke up before Paul had his pants down.
In her book When She Was Bad, author Patricia Pearson notes that Karla found a way to make her husband’s deviance and obsessions work in her favor. This is one of the most fascinating parts of her story. Fearing she may lose Paul and not wanting to become replaced by another woman, Karla cunningly worked her sister into the fantasy while remaining in control. “It is an effort at both ownership and objectification,” wrote Pearson. “Sharing Paul’s fantasies, instead of competing with them, returns her to the center.” Imagine the jealousy, the sibling rivalry bubbling in Karla’s blood. Truly intelligent and determined to keep the facade of her perfect romance, she manipulated herself and the situation to serve her ego.
I remember stumbling upon an episode of Intervention about a young Canadian girl in her mid-twenties who was so addicted to alcohol she would have seizures if she wasn’t constantly chugging beer down her throat. Her reason for the slip into full-blown alcoholic? While her fiancé was living in the family house, he started an affair with her younger sister. It tore the siblings apart. The affair eventually became an engagement. One sister was willing to crush her sibling for her own happiness. The other avoided personal responsibility for her alcoholism by clinging to betrayal.
Freud once wrote, “The elder child ill-treats the younger, maligns him and robs him of his toys; while the younger is consumed with impotent rage against the elder, envies and fears him, or meets his oppressor with the first stirrings of a love of liberty and a sense of justice.” Freud was obsessed with sibling rivalry.
The night before Christmas Eve, Karla slipped sedatives into her sister’s cocktail and the three stayed up drinking. Once Tammy had passed out, they turned on the video camera and Bernardo began his aggressive sexual assault. He urged Karla to join in, making her taste Tammy’s menstrual blood, to which she recoiled. But for most of the tape, Karla is holding a cloth soaked in the anesthetic halothane on Tammy’s face to keep her asleep, telling Bernardo to “hurry up.” The halothane burned Tammy’s skin, and once the assault was over, they realized Tammy had died. The couple scrambled, cleaning up the mess and dragging Tammy to her room before calling 911. Tammy’s death was ruled an accident. Drunken teenager chokes on her own vomit.
In one of the tapes uncovered by Bernardo’s lawyer, it shows Karla lying in front of the fireplace in her parents’ house, talking to her husband through the video camera. Karla is holding Tammy’s underwear, taunting Bernardo with it, talking about how much she loved it when Paul violated her younger sister and how she wanted to do it again. “You can take their virginity. They’ll be our children,” she says, imagining their future victims. When Bernardo asks Karla why she would want to do this, her answer is simple: “Because I love you.”
I’ve never seen these tapes. They were destroyed after the trial. But their contents have been documented in many books, special reports, articles, and forums. Karla’s depravity runs deep, dark, and demented. It’s so compelling. I’m fascinated by deviance, especially in the sexual realm and even more so when those crimes are committed by women. Having a vagina is a get-out-of-jail-free card, or at least a get-a-lighter-sentence card. Pearson’s whole book is a case study of this phenomenon: Why do we believe that women are incapable of inhumane acts such as assault, rape, or murder? And when they do commit these acts, why do we assume they were coerced?
“Sex crimes are always male, never female, because such crimes are conceptualizing assaults on the unreachable, omnipotence of woman and nature,” writes Camille Paglia in her 1994 book Sexual Personae. “Rape is the sexual expression of the will-to-power, which nature plants in all of us and which civilization rose to contain. Therefore, the rapist is a man with too little socialization rather than too much.”
Watch animals mate. My neighborhood is full of peacocks. Right now, it’s mating season. The men fan out their feathers like a deck of cards and screech. They aggressively back themselves up into pen hens, trapping the girls, hoping that one will be forced to take it. This is what Paglia means. The only difference between us and the animals is consciousness.
I don’t think Karla would have committed any of these deviant sex crimes had she not met Bernardo. This is hardly an excuse for her actions. Karla wanted to keep the delusion of her perfect marriage alive. She got caught up in it and morphed into a narcissistic robot whose wedding was much more important than the death of her own sister. She was a selfish, despicable criminal whose murderous capabilities were coaxed out by her husband’s needs. Anything to please him. She was not infantilized by his gross rape fantasies, as she claimed, but motivated by a need to satisfy his authority. “The old fabric of misogyny blends seamlessly with new threads of feminist essentialism to preserve the myth that women are more susceptible than men to being helpless, crazy and biddable,” wrote Pearson.
According to Karla, Bernardo would make her sit on the floor with her eyes closed while he circled her like a shark, kicking her unpredictably. Somehow, I believe this. He also cut off the head of her pet iguana, barbecued it in front of their friends, and devoured the whole thing like it was a hamburger. He even spread his own shit on a piece of bread and forced her to eat it. Karla was deranged, but whether her psychopathy laid dormant before her exposure to him will never be known. She was not a dumb woman. Even as a child, she scored abnormally high on standardized tests. During her short prison sentence, Karla was transferred to a facility in Quebec, which was luxurious by comparison to others in Canada. There she obtained a BA in psychology, taught herself fluent French, took a lesbian lover, and floated in and out of psychological evaluation.
I’ll never know why Karla did the things she did. No one will. That is infuriating and what keeps me digging for more clues. Bernardo was half-animal and half-sexual deviant. He’s paying the price for being who he is. His story is easy to figure out and leaves no holes. But Karla’s motive is a mystery, and now she is a free woman. She married her lawyer’s brother. They have three children together. What happens when those children figure out that their mother, Leanne Teale, is really the most hated female killer in Canada? It won’t be long until they find out.
I wonder if Karla has blocked out that time in her life. Like a child who suffered from sexual abuse, did she just erase the memories from her consciousness? Somehow I doubt it. She could have changed her name to anything, but she kept Teale for a reason. This was the name she and Bernardo rebranded themselves as after they got married. According to Pearson’s book, the newlyweds wanted a name that was “less ethnic” than Bernardo (or more likely, not linked to Paul’s family whom he despised). They chose Teale after the fictitious serial killer Martin Thiel from the 1987 B-movie, Criminal Law.
When nurses at the Montreal hospital refused to assist Karla as she gave birth to her son, did she protest? Was she pissed off or did she have a moral understanding? And last year when reporters showed up at her front door wanting to know why she was back in Canada with her family, was she secretly smiling at the attention, or did she sincerely want to be left alone?
One of the most telling interviews with Karla happened right after her arrest. Sitting with the police, her blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail, she’s emotionless and monotone as she talks about one of the murders. Suddenly, her voice flexes and she details the time she left Bernardo alone with one of their victims so she could walk their dog, Buddy.
“I was really mad,” she says. “When I took Buddy out there were two champagne glasses on the dining room table. And we had these really expensive champagne glasses from France, which we never used. He had those out. The two of them had been drinking champagne from those glasses. I was really mad. It was a stupid little thing.”
Homolka was selfish, possessive and in desperate need of control. She orchestrated Bernardo’s violent rape of her baby sister, yet if he so much as drank champagne with another female, out of her sight, that was cause for murder.