Barbie on Ken's shoulders, representing the ken and barbie killers
Image by Sandra Gabriel from Pixabay
Barbie on Ken's shoulders, representing the ken and barbie killers
Image by Sandra Gabriel from Pixabay

Karla Homolka and Paul Bernardo: The Ken and Barbie Killers

The Ken and Barbie Killers, Karla Homolka and Paul Bernardo, earned their moniker through their deception and charisma. No one who met them knew they hid terrible, sadistic secrets behind their personable outer personas. On the surface, they seemed absolutely normal – a married couple who was very much in love – but this twisted couple was something much darker.

Bernardo was a salesman with a charming smile. Homolka was a popular young woman who worked at a veterinary clinic. Together, they were involved in the rape of thirteen women and the killing of three, and the way they went about these crimes was beyond demented. One could argue they’re the most deranged killer couple on the planet. They’re certainly the most famous criminal couple in Canada, the home country of their crimes. Here’s what you should know about these killers…

Content Warning: Sexual assault and domestic violence. If you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault, you can find help at the National Sexual Assault Hotline – 1-800-656-4673. If you or someone you know has experienced domestic violence, you can find help at the National Domestic Violence Hotline – 1-800-799-7233.

Paul Bernardo - Ken of the Ken and Barbie Killers - mugshot
Image from Kingston Penitentiary

Paul Bernardo used his charisma as a weapon

Many of the worst members of humankind have been able to pull off their crimes with the help of charisma. Osama bin Laden, Charles Manson, and Jim Jones were armed with this quality, according to ABC. Charisma is how evil people gain followers and convince others to carry out their malicious plans. In the case of Paul Bernardo, he used his charm lure in young victims. Charisma is nearly a superpower in some cases, which as a research paper in the Journal of Research in Personality explains, can help killers and criminals get away with their crimes. This explains how Bernardo and others like him could commit multiple atrocities over years-long spans.

This killer’s life required charisma and manipulation. He needed to sway others so he could talk them out of their hard-earned money. Bernardo took his work seriously. He studied his craft, and he used the social skills learned through his career on unsuspecting young ladies, often teenagers.

During Bernardo’s trial, the prosecution argued that this killer studied Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho as often as he studied social engineering. The Toronto Sun reported he “read it like his bible.” It’s possible Bernardo idolized the novel’s main character, Partick Bateman, an axe-wielding murderer. The reported parallels are uncanny and include things like their “yuppie” taste in clothing, white-collar jobs, Rolexes, Sun tans, and even their initials. But at the end of the day, the only parallels shared by Bateman and Bernardo that matter in the real world are the sadistic natures that drove them to kill.

Man choking woman as Paul Bernardo was known to do
Image by Diana Cibotari from Pixabay

Paul Bernardo showed signs of sadism early in his life

The term “sadism” and its derivatives are used often when talking about Bernardo. This isn’t hyperbole. Paul Bernardo was a legitimate sadist. He experienced pleasure by causing harm to others. It’s clear in his crimes and the video footage he used to document them. Bernardo did, however, claim he wasn’t a sadist during his trial. According to the killer, he only tortured his victims to raise his low self-esteem. It made him feel better emotionally to commit these acts of abuse, but they didn’t sexually satisfy him. So, “emotional sadist” might be the correct term, but to argue that Bernardo wasn’t a sadist at all is ludicrous.

Bernardo’s childhood details in Scarborough, Ontario, remain a bit of a mystery. Possible signs of sadism could have been present throughout his youth, but unless his family cares to dive deep into their memories, we’ll probably never know one way or another. We do know that Bernardo didn’t outwardly seem upset when his father was caught molesting children or that one of those children was Bernardo’s sister (via The Walrus). He also didn’t complain when his father beat his mother. He did, however, care deeply that his mother lied about the identity of his biological father. When she finally told Bernardo a different man had sired him, he adopted the same habits towards her his abusive father showed, mainly angry outbursts and abusive language.

The book Lethal Marriage: The Unspeakable Crimes of Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka describes the sadistic behavior Bernardo presented during his college years. For instance, he’d publicly embarrass women when out on dates. He’d also harm them under the guise of “rough” intercourse when he got them in bed. To seal the deal, he’d threaten their lives should they open their mouths about these incidents. And Bernardo’s degenerate behavior became more prominent as time went on.

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Person wearing hoodie in the dark, mimicking Paul Bernardo as the Scarborough Rapist
Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Bernardo as “The Scarborough Rapist”

From as late as May 4, 1987, The Scarborough Rapist plagued the Toronto suburb of Scarborough. The criminal attacked women in their teens or young adult years while they walked from bus stops at night. For roughly five years, the deviant sexually and physically assaulted women in the Toronto area. The estimates show he battered at least 19 individuals. The attacker? You guessed it, Paul Bernardo.

Multiple victims described the perpetrator to authorities, and Bernardo fit the bill. He was even questioned by detectives on multiple occasions, but this is where Bernardo’s charisma showed just how powerful it could be. Each time they brought the rapist in, the police set him back loose on the streets. They simply couldn’t believe this well-put-together guy was their man.

In truth, it would be unfair to say no one suspected Bernardo of The Scarborough Rapist crimes. A report surfaced after Bernardo’s arrest in the suspected killings of three teenagers that showed at least one officer had been on the right track. Seargent Kevin McNiff had his eyes on the real rapist after receiving a tip from an anonymous informant in 1988. The informant went so far as to detail Bernardo’s violent character faults and sadistic impulses. But as a 1996 article from The Ottawa Citizen points out, no one bothered reaching out to McNiff about his hunch, so the informant’s statement sat in a file collecting dust. Had the local authorities looked into the Seargent’s report earlier, they could’ve stopped at least three murders and dozens of rapes before Bernardo would have had the chance to commit them.

Wedding dress on mannequin, covered in blood. Representing Karla Homolka.
Image by Obscurix

Karla Homolka was an enabler who encouraged Bernardo’s behavior

Karla Homolka and Paul Bernardo became an item in 1987 during a time when Bernardo was actively haunting Toronto as The Scarborough Rapist. This, for some reason, didn’t deter Homolka. The future wife was just as twisted as her future husband. Instead, they fell madly in love, and the pair went on to live happily ever after. And by that, we mean “rape and kill innocent teenagers as a couple.”

Bernardo and Homolka married in 1991. Though marriage didn’t start their crime spree, it may have intensified it. See, Homolka wasn’t just okay with her husband’s sexually violent extracurricular activities. She seemed to enjoy them. On multiple occasions, she took part and/or set them up herself. Homolka lured several victims into her husband’s clutches, and as the videotapes played at the trial showed, she assisted in the assaults. They were a vile match made in heaven.

In 1991, Homolka lured home a teenage pet store worker she’d formed a relationship with through her work in the veterinary industry. Homolka proceeded to drug the victim with sleeping pills to make her an easy target. The rapists recorded this night of torture and sexual assault as they did with several others. This victim was referred to as Jane Doe at trial to preserve anonymity because, luckily, she survived the assault. The drugs had taken her memory of the night before, and since she couldn’t finger the Ken and Barbie Killers, they let her go. Not all of their victims had that luxury.

Pills representing the sedatives given to Tammy Homolka
Image by Andrea from Pixabay

The couple killed Homolka’s little sister

Nothing but the sick imagination of serial killers seems to limit their crimes. Given that Homolka and Bernardo found bliss in Bernardo’s serial rapings, murder wasn’t a far leap. And the details of their first killing is testimony to how deranged this couple was.

The first known murder victim on this couple’s killing list was Tammy Homolka, Karla’s little sister. Now, evidence suggests the couple hadn’t planned to kill Tammy, but the end result was the same. As Invisible Darkness explains, Homolka offered up her sister’s virginity as a Christmas present to Bernardo to make up for not being a virgin when they’d met. Bernardo had been obsessed with Karla’s teen sister for a while. This was a welcomed sacrifice. Karla had drugged Tammy once already, but she’d woken up before Bernardo could do his disgusting deed. She had to make up for her mistake.

On the second attempt, Homolka was better prepared. Working in a vet’s office had armed her with a superficial knowledge of animal anesthetics as well as an easy place to score the necessary drugs. Two nights before Christmas, during the Homolka family holiday party, she slipped sedatives into Tammy’s drink. The drugs did their dark magic, and soon, Tammy was out for the count, but Karla needed to be sure she’d remain unconscious this time around. So, she covered a cloth in halothane and held it over Tammy’s mouth while the couple took turns sexually abusing the 15-year-old. They recorded this crime on video as well, adding to the catalog of evidence at Bernardo’s trial.

The unfortunate death of Tammy Homolka

Like all drugs, halothane has side effects when used in improper dosages or over long periods of time, as Bernardo and Homolka learned firsthand. Tammy had begun vomiting, and due to her sedated state, she aspirated that vomit. The Ken and Barbie Killers panicked at sight of Tammy’s gasping and convulsing. Allegedly, they tried to revive the teen, but when they failed, they moved to cover up the evidence instead. They dressed Tammy and put her back in her bed before taking the time to call emergency services. All the while, Karla and Tammy’s parents were sleeping in a room upstairs. No one seemed to find it odd that the couple was awake and cleaning all hours of the night while Tammy drowned on her excreta.

The teenager died in the hospital that night. Homolka and Bernardo were now officially killers, and beginner’s luck was on their side. Though the couple had used sedatives in this assault and the halothane left burns on Tammy’s face, the coroner overlooked the drugs during the autopsy. The family and the authorities simply believed the young girl had choked after indulging in too much drink. The couple was free to kill again.

Karla Homolka and Paul Bernardo cake topper, both armed with knives
Image credit: Obscurix

Victim Leslie Mahaffy was found on the killers’ wedding night

On the day of Karla Homolka and Paul Bernardo’s wedding, murderous coincidence was afoot. A fisherman and his son discovered the body of their second murder victim while the killer couple was riding into a stylistic wedding in a white carriage. The victim’s name was Leslie Mahaffy, and she was only 14 years old when she went missing.

On the night of June 14, 1991, Mahaffy had been out partying with her friends, as teenagers are apt to do. She was worried about her parents slapping her with a grounding for showing up after curfew. The doors were locked anyway, so she left in hopes of finding a friend’s house to crash at for the night. Unfortunately, the only person she found was the Scarborough Rapist. He’d been waiting for her in her own backyard.

Mahaffy, likely dreading the idea of waking her parents to unlock the door, asked Bernardo for a cigarette. He gladly took her to his car to get one. Leslie must’ve felt something uncomfortable about this situation since she only agreed to join Bernardo if he left his car doors open. Bernardo agreed, and they got in the vehicle. Going back on his word, Bernardo produced a knife and forced Mahaffy to shut the door. Their next stop was Bernardo and Homolka’s residence, where Mahaffy was beaten, sexually assaulted, and degraded by the couple.

The tragic murder of Leslie Mahaffy

Bernardo blindfolded the young teen and threatened to end her life if said blindfold slipped off her face. He was a liar with no intentions of letting the 14-year-old live. Before strangling her twice with an electrical cord – she regained consciousness after the first attempt – he had pulled Homolka aside to explain that Mahaffy had already seen his face. She needed to die or they’d both be in trouble. Homolka claimed, at trial, that she did her best to help Mahaffy die peacefully. If she were truly an unwilling benevolent angel, wouldn’t she have tried, even once, to convince Bernardo to let the girl go? We’re not buying it.

The killer couple wasn’t quite finished with Mahaffy’s now-lifeless body, which they dragged to the basement wrapped in a blanket, but there was nothing they could about it with a full house of relatives. Her body lay in the dank cold cellar while the Homolka family had yet another holiday dinner. This time for Father’s Day.

The family had left by the next morning, and Homolka was out of the house for work. Bernardo took this time to dismember Mahaffy’s corpse and encase her butchered remains in concrete. He dumped the concrete in Lake Gibson, assuming they’d never be found, and called it a day. But due to the shallow water of the lake and, likely, the gas expansion from the girl’s decaying remains, the concrete floated to the surface where it bobbed in front of a father-son fishing team. It would still be four years from this point before Bernardo was convicted of her murder.

Woman tied up as Karla Homolka and Paul Bernardo tied their victims
Image by andrearoncone1967 from Pixabay

Homolka and Bernardo Murder Kristen French

Bernardo, like most serial killers, had a type. He preferred girls between 14 and 15 years old. Kristen French, like Tammy Homolka and Leslie Mahaffy, fit into this box. The killer couple abducted French, a 15-year-old from St. Catharines, Ontario, in April of 1992 while she walked home from school. She hadn’t even had time to change out of her uniform.

It’s unclear which of the two tied French up before beginning their torture session, but they seemed more prepared this time than they had been in the past. They bound her wrists with handcuffs and tied her ankles together with a cord. Then they beat and abused her much like they had their previous victims, but this one quickly became personal for Bernardo.

Prosecutors showed the video of this assault at Bernardo’s trial. French shattered the killer’s narcissistic need for dominance by calling him a “bastard” early in his assault, and he didn’t take it lightly. He wanted French to bend to his will, and he punished her as painfully as he could for opposing him. He coaxed his wife to sexually abuse the teen while she cried out in pain as well. The video documents Bernardo’s egomania, as he forces the young girl to call him “master” and tell him he’s powerful during the recording.

Bernardo murdered French with an electrical cord like he’d done with Mahaffy. Though, unlike the Mahaffy killing, the couple didn’t put effort into disposing of French’s remains. Maybe the effort was too much to recreate or maybe they were getting more careless. Regardless, Bernardo and Homolka dumped French’s body in a ditch along a country road. You’d think this would provide easy evidence that could point authorities to the killer couple, but it didn’t. It would take a turncoat to bring them to justice. If “justice” can even be found in cases of unjustified torture and murder.

Beautiful statue of lady justice
Image by smuldur on Pixabay

Pitted against each other at trial

Karla Homolka and Paul Bernardo weren’t exactly caught by the police. It was Homolka who ended their streak when she reported her husband to the authorities. Barbie had turned on Ken. But, looking from the outside, it appears she only stopped her husband’s deranged fun because he’d turned on her first, and she now feared for her life.

Bernardo had finally taken things too far for Homolka in January 1993 when he beat her with a flashlight. She was the victim this time, and though she could let others be brutally savaged, she wouldn’t allow it to happen to herself. She went to the police, but she did so with manipulative intent that set the groundwork for a light sentence.

Before the authorities could obtain the couples’ video collection, Homolka cut a plea deal with the prosecution that ensured she’d only be sentenced to 12 years in prison for her part in the Ken and Barbie crimes. All she had to do was put the blame on Bernardo. Homolka pled guilty to a simple manslaughter charge, though video evidence made it abundantly clear she’d been more involved than initially suspected. Unfortunately, due to Bernardo’s lawyer hiding these videos from the courts until after she’d been sentenced, the prosecution couldn’t use them as evidence in Homolka’s trial.

In court, she claimed to have been a victim herself. Her husband had forced her to take part in these heinous crimes. She was required to bring him new sacrifices under threat of bodily harm. He made her abuse these teens and look on with enjoyment while he raped them. At least, those were the sorts of things Homolka alleged under oath. When the new video evidence surfaced during Bernardo’s trial, the prosecution refused to reopen her case regardless of how incriminating the footage had been. In the end, Homolka served 12 years in prison while Bernardo was given life. His attempts at parole have been shot down ever since.

Woman standing in sunset, representing Karla Homolka's freedom
Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay

Homolka is a free woman, walking the streets

Karla Homolka was set free in July of 2004, according to CBC News, but not without restrictions. She’s to keep her whereabouts and personal details on file with police at all times, for starters, since she’s still considered a danger to society even decades later. She is also legally forbidden from spending time with people under the age of 16. For some reason, this doesn’t apply to her children despite having been involved in the killing of a young relative in the past. Yes, you read that correctly: Karal Homolka, the Barbie half of the Ken and Barbie Killers, has children.

According to The Globe and Mail, Homolka has birthed two sons and a daughter since her release. And despite the rule preventing her from contact with children under 16 years of age, she’s been allowed to volunteer at her children’s school, Global News explains. Sure, Homolka now goes by the name of Leanne Teale, but that doesn’t change who she is or her legal restrictions. And it certainly doesn’t wash away the deeds of her past.

Representatives of the families she helped ruin are upset about this disregard of Homolka’s special rules. Allegedly, the school had no complaints about Homolka (Teale) helping out, so they allowed her to continue. But should Homolka get to enjoy a normal life after taking part in ending the young lives of others? If you think not, you’ll have to blame the legal loophole that allowed her to get away with such a minuscule sentence.

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