Was she, as the Crown alleges, another of Bernardo’s victims—or was she a cold and calculating predator?
The two faces of Karla Homolka
Was she, as the Crown alleges, another of Bernardo’s victims—or was she a cold and calculating predator?
The home-made videotape is full of adolescent smiles and Christmas cheer. A blond and beaming Karla Homolka, then 20, giggles with her sisters, Lori, 19, and Tammy, 15, and teases her parents, Karel and Dorothy, who are reluctant to pose for the camera. At one point, Karla says gleefully:
“Isn’t Christmas fun.” Those scenes were recorded by Paul Bernardo, Homolka’s future husband, on the evening of Dec. 23,
1990, at the Homolka family home in St.
Catharines, Ont. A few hours later, Homolka and Bernardo appeared in another home-made video—this time as they raped Homolka’s drugged and unconscious sister Tammy in the basement recreation room while the rest of the family slept upstairs. Last week, both videotapes were shown in the downtown Toronto courtroom where Bernardo is on trial for the first-degree murder of two other teenage girls. But while the jury will decide the fate of Bernardo, the public was left to ponder a question that lingered even after Homolka’s own trial nearly two years ago: was Karla Homolka. as the defence will likely claim, a calculating predator—or was she, as the prosecution has alleged, just another of Bernardo’s victims?
The graphic, deeply disturbing videos presented last week provided hints, but no firm answer. In the attack on Tammy, who died hours later after choking on her own vomit, Homolka appears to be a reluctant participant, calling it “f-—ing disgusting” when Bernardo forces her to have oral sex with her sister. But on other tapes, while having consensual sex with Bernardo, she seems a willing—even enthusiastic—participant in her future husband’s fantasies. She declares that she “loved” it when he had sex with Tammy, dons her dead sister’s clothes for Bernardo’s amusement—and suggests that they abduct other young virgins for the man she calls “the king.”
For all the intellectual fascination with the Homolka enigma, the gut reaction to the Bernardo tapes was overwhelming revulsion. Early last week, Justice Patrick LeSage, who is presiding over the trial, ruled that only the accused, the jury and court officials could see tapes that depict the physical and sexual assaults on 14-year-old Leslie Mahaffy and 15year-old Kristen French, the two girls Bernardo is accused of kidnapping and murdering. But he allowed the public and media to hear the audio portions of the tapes. The ruling also applied to tapes showing the attacks on Tammy and on an unnamed fourth young victim— known as Jane Doe—who survived her ordeal and is expected to testify later in the trial, possibly with her identity concealed.
LeSage’s ruling allowing the public to hear the tapes angered members of the French and Mahaffy families, who have sat in the courtroom almost daily. They quickly applied to the Supreme Court of
Canada for permission to appeal LeSage’s decision, but were turned down. They also showed their displeasure by walking out of court, along with several supporters, on the afternoon when Crown lawyers played the ô'A-minute tape depicting the rape of Tammy Homolka. And they stayed out of the courtroom for almost an entire day when the Crown presented two long, sexually explicit segments involving only Bernardo and Homolka, who is now serving concurrent 12-year prison sentences after being convicted in July, 1993, of manslaughter in the deaths of Mahaffy and French.
Those tapes were shown on two large TV screens to the public, because none of the teenage victims appear in them. They contained lurid dialogue during scenes in which Homolka mechanically performs oral sex on Bernardo, who appears bored and passive. In the second, taped in the dead girl’s bedroom, they perform sexual acts on Tammy’s water bed, amid her teddy bears and rag dolls. Bernardo holds up the girl’s Grade 9 school photo in front of the stationary camera, and says: “There’s my little virgin. There’s Tammy Lynn Homolka.”
The tapes, shown on June 1 and lasting nearly 44 minutes, were played twice in their entirety to allow the juiy to absorb both the images and the dialogue. They had a deadening effect on almost everyone in the room. Bernardo’s lawyers, John Rosen and Tony Biyant, worked on newspaper crossword puzzles rather than watch. Initially, many spectators stared at the floor or shook their heads in disbelief. By the end of
the afternoon, the public galleries were nearly empty. “I can’t understand how people can be that way,” spectator Cindy Dempster, a 22-year-old community college student, said outside. “It’s sadistic, psychotic, gross.” The following morning, the Crown played a series of even more chilling tapes that depicted the June 15, 1991, confinement and rape of Leslie Mahaffy—whose dismembered body was later found encased in concrete in a nearby lake. While only the jury and court officials saw the images, Bernardo’s voice was perfectly audible in the public gallery at several points. And among those listening was the victim’s mother, Debbie Mahaffy, who made a startling entrance, accompanied by two victims’-rights advocates, while the Crown was playing a 251/2-minute tape. As music by pop performer David Bowie and reggae legend Bob Marley plays in the background, Bernardo and Homolka perform numerous sex acts with the teenager, whose speech sounds slurred and uncertain. At one point, Bernardo says:
“You’re doing a good job, Leslie, a damned good job.” Then, he adds: “The next two hours are going to determine what I do to you. Right now, you’re scoring perfect.” As she listened, Mahaffy’s mother sat absolutely rigid, her right fist clenched and pressed against her chest, and her face locked in utter agony. When she stood up to leave, she staggered and almost fell.
Later, on another segment of tape, the assault escalates. Mahaffy cries out in pain and begs Bernardo to stop; in the Crown description of the scene, he is sodomizing her while her hands are bound with twine. Mahaffy says that her blindfold seems to be slipping. That was a terrifying prospect, Crown attorney Ray Houlahan said in his opening statement, because Mahaffy felt that if Bernardo believed she could identify him, he would kill her.
As Houlahan portrays it, Mahaffy was not the only one frightened of Bernardo. He is trying to show the jury that Homolka participated unwillingly in her ex-husband’s crimes because she was petrified of his physical and mental abuse. Prior to the showing of the tapes, he called Homolka’s mother, Dorothy, and her sister, Lori, both of whom testified about the relationship between Karla and Bernardo. They said that they had observed an escalating pattern of abuse, culminating in a terrible beating in early January, 1993, that ended the relationship. A photograph taken after that incident—entered into evidence and later published by The Toronto Sun despite the fact that it was not officially released to the media—shows Karla with eyes so blackened that, as her mother put it, she resembled a “raccoon.” But the family’s testimony left several holes in the story. In effective cross-examinations by Rosen, mother and daughter conceded that Bernardo’s abuse of Karla occurred only in the last six months of the relationship, after the murders of Mahaffy and French. Until then, they acknowledged, Homolka and Bernardo appeared to be a happy, loving couple. They also agreed with Rosen that, shortly after the French murder, something happened between Homolka and Bernardo that destroyed their marriage. But they said they had no idea what it was. That is only one of the enduring questions in this case, questions Homolka will undoubtedly be called upon to address when she testifies as the prosecution’s star witness—presumably in late June or early July. Perhaps then the larger riddle of Karla Homolka—cunning or coerced?—will finally be answered.
‘BECAUSE I WANT YOU TO BE HAPPY’
The death of 15-year-old Tammy Homolka, who choked on her own vomit on Dec. 23, 1990, was ruled accidental. But the Crown alleges that she died after Paul Bernardo and sister Karla Homolka secretly spiked her drink with sleeping pills—and sexually assaulted her. In early 1991, while having sex in the basement of the Homolka family home in St. Catharines, Ont., Bernardo and Homolka discussed the death in a videotaped conversation. Edited excerpts:
Bernardo: [Referring to the videotaped sexual assault of Tammy] Did you like watching that? Homolka: I loved watching it.
Homolka: I felt proud. I felt happy. It’s my mission in life to make you feel good.
Bernardo: What did it teach you?
Homolka: Well, we like little girls.
Bernardo: What age?
Homolka: Cause it’ll make you happy.
Bernardo: But why 13?
Homolka: That’s a good age I guess. They’ll still be virgins.
Bernardo: So what are you saying?
Homolka: I’m saying I think you should take their virginity. They’re our children and I think you should make them ours even more. Bernardo: I think you’re right. You’re absolutely right. Good idea. Is it because Tammy’s gone? Homolka: It’s the closest thing we can get. We did something a few days ago. We raped a little
girl down here in my room. [The court has so far heard no further elaboration on this incident.] You went out and you found her. Got her. Brought her back to the house, brought her downstairs. I was shocked.
I gave you that. I let you do that because I love you. Because you’re the king. I want you to do it again.
Homolka: This summer because the wintertime is too hard. If you want to do it 50 times more we can do it 50 times more. Every weekend. We can do it every weekend. Because I love you. Because you’re the king. Because you deserve it.
Bernardo: Will you help me get the virgins? Homolka: I’ll go in the car with you if you want. Or I’ll stay here and I’ll clean up afterwards, like I did on Sunday. I’ll do everything I can 'cause I want you to be happy, ’cause you’re the king.
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