Karla’s marriage to Paul, in a storybook wedding, was her ‘wildest dream’ come true
BRIDE AND GROOM
Karla’s marriage to Paul, in a storybook wedding, was her ‘wildest dream’ come true
Nothing the spectators heard or saw in court could explain the apparent contradiction. In the defendant’s chair of a St. Catharines court sat 23-year-old Karla Homolka—poised, elegantly groomed, her blonde hair perfectly coiffed, even as a statement was read out detailing her involvement in the brutal sex slayings of two young teenage girls. After her estranged husband, Paul Teale, stands trial for murder in the same cases and the publicity ban on her trial is finally lifted, the public will learn the details of Homolka’s conviction on two counts of manslaughter in the killings of Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy—what happened, when and how. But not why. No one may ever know why a pretty middleclass girl, from what friends and neighbors call a nice quiet family, would get involved in such heinous crimes.
The most that Canadians can know for now are the broad strokes of Karla Homolka’s history. The trail begins on the potholed road that leads to the site where her family used to live in a trailer park on the
industrialized outskirts of St. Catharines. Her father, Karel, and mother, Dorothy, moved to the city from the Toronto area in the mid1970s when Karla was about 5. Karel Homolka, a refugee from Czechoslovakia, along with a group of his relatives who lived in the same trailer park, started a pictureframing business. One former neighbor remembers the Homolka clan selling blackvelvet paintings outside local shopping malls. By 1977, Karel and Dorothy had moved their family—Karla and her younger sisters, Lori and Tammy—into a pretty brown clapboard townhouse in the city’s north end. Two years later, they moved again, this time into a comfortable semidetached home in the neighborhood of Merritton, where the Homolkas still live.
Most close friends and relatives have remained fiercely loyal to the family, declining to talk to reporters. At a recent party around the pool in the Homolkas’ backyard, friends held up a cardboard box to shield Karla from prying photographers. One family friend who, like most of those who did
agree to speak, asked that his name not be used, recalled that Karel Homolka used to talk about how he escaped from Czechoslovakia, and “how happy he was to get over here.” Neighbors remember the Homolkas as pleasant. “They were a happy, normal family,” said one former school friend of Karla’s youngest sister, Tammy, who died tragically at age 15 in 1990.
A high-school friend of Karla’s said that the three Homolka sisters were close. “She loved her sisters,” he said of Karla. ‘Tammy got on her nerves and everything, but she loved her.” Corey Coakley, 20, a neighbor who used to play soccer with Tammy in the field behind their homes, said that Tammy was “really athletic and outgoing and popular.” She did gymnastics, track-and-field and cross-country at school, but her real passion was soccer, a game she began playing when she was six years old.
Tammy Homolka’s teammates on the St. Catharines Girls Soccer Club attended her funeral—there is even a soccer ball on her gravestone at Victoria Lawn Cemetery. She died on Christmas Eve, in the basement of the family home, during a small gathering at which both Karla Homolka and Teale, Karla’s then-boyfriend, were present. A coroner in the case found that Tammy had choked to death on her vomit. But since Teale’s arrest on sexual assault charges in February, the investigation has been reopened. Tammy’s death—and now the renewed investigation—shocked the community. “She was a wonderful person, very outgoing and kind,” remembers a schoolmate. “Nobody seems to have questioned her death two years ago,” she added. “Obviously, it should be looked at again, but I think the family has gone through enough.”
At Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School, Karla Homolka was involved in the choir and variety shows and did some tutoring, according to her 1989 graduating yearbook. She also was known as an animal lover who doted on the family’s cats and worked part time at a pet store. “She would get mad if someone tried to kill a fly,” says Kevin Jacobi, who met her during singing class in Grade 9, “or if anyone tried to hurt an animal. She was fanatic about that.” She preferred to dress in black or all white, never pink or frilly clothes, friends say. And she seemed strong-willed and independent. “She said what was on her mind, which a lot of girls didn’t,” recalls Jacobi. But she occasionally exhibited an uneasy self-consciousness, as well. “She was not one to sing by herself,” explains Jacobi. “In singing tests, we had to do them in front of the class by ourselves, and she’d get really upset. She’d ask the class to turn around so we wouldn’t watch her sing. And she had a good voice.”
By her third year in high school, Karla’s interest in school activities waned and she began hanging out with a small clique of close friends. They would occasionally skip
classes and drive around the school parking lot listening to a Beastie Boys song called You Gotta Fight for your Right to Party, a friend says. According to another yearbook entry, Karla also belonged to an informal circle that called itself the “Diamond Club.” “What it basically means,” remembers Jacobi, “is when they marry, they will marry rich.”
In another entry, under the heading
ACT: Choir, musicals, variety shows, tutoring, exclusive Diamond club, dance club NN: Kar CHD: A certain C.A. in Toronto FM: October 17/87, "camping”, Aug. '88, Gr. 11 accounting, getting "promised” GRINLIFE: Paul KF: Diamond rings and other great gifts, a rich older man PF: married at 19 AMB: U of T, wife and mother PP: huge phone bills MEM: Gr. 9 Phys. Ed, FE: Let's skip! PHOL: People who make excuses never make any money WD: To marry Paul and see him more than twice a week.
“wildest dream,” Karla wrote: “To marry Paul and see him more than twice a week.” Paul was Paul Bernardo, as Teale was then known. They met on October 17, 1987. She was just 17, he was a 23-year-old University of Toronto bachelor of arts graduate, training as an accountant while living in the Toronto suburb of Scarborough. Although she had dated before, friends say, Teale was her first serious relationship. He showered her with gifts, charmed her with his easy
manner. “She had $300 phone bills,” Jacobi recalled. “She was working part time at a pet store and that’s where most of her money went.” Added a teacher: “She was in love—she used to go see him during the week, and every weekend.” She used to gush about her handsome blond, blue-eyed boyfriend, and show his picture around. While she was in Grade 13, they became engaged. “She was walking around, showing off her ring,” a classmate recalls.
After school, Karla went to work as a veterinary assistant at a St. Catharines clinic while the couple began planning their wedding in nearby Niagara-on-theLake—it was a lavish affair complete with horse-drawn carriage and a pheasant dinner, followed by a honeymoon in Hawaii. And they moved to St. Catharines’ upscale Port Dalhousie neighborhood, into a quaint pink clapboard Cape Cod-style house just three kilometres from the old trailer park where Karla used to live.
There had been signs of trouble during Paul and Karla’s courtship. At a graduation party for Karla, according to newspaper reports, Teale got into a fistfight with a
group of her male classmates because he thought one of them was interested in her. After their marriage, the couple applied to have their surnames changed to Teale because, Paul told his friends, he had had a falling out with his parents. And Karla seemed increasingly isolated from her friends. Still, when the marriage ended abruptly last January, after Teale was charged with assaulting his wife with a flashlight and she left him, her friends were surprised. “Nobody ever knew what was going on,” Dr. Patty Weir, a veterinarian at the clinic where Homolka worked, said last February. “We were shocked when she told us.”
Toronto police charged Teale shortly afterwards with a series of sexual assaults in Scarborough. In May, he was charged with murder in the deaths of Mahaffy— whose body parts were discovered encased in concrete on the same day that he and Karla were married—and of French, who was abducted and killed last year. The manslaughter charges against Homolka were laid at about the same time. Last week, just hours after her conviction, the path that Homolka followed took her 350 km away—far from the pretty pink house and the fairy-tale marriage that never was— to Kingston’s Prison For Women.
MARY NEMETH with ANNE MARIE OWENS in St. Catharines
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