How he become a murderer-and almost eluded police

JOE CHIDLEY September 11 1995


How he become a murderer-and almost eluded police

JOE CHIDLEY September 11 1995



How he become a murderer-and almost eluded police


Although graphic and gruesome, the evidence BY JOE presented in open court at the trial of Paul Bernardo did not tell the whole story. And the conclusion of the trial, after four months of often chilling testimony, has only raised more questions. To protect the accused’s right to a fair hearing, the media were limited during the trial to reporting only what was said in front of the jury. Now, however, evidence ruled inadmissible by Judge Patrick LeSage may be reported—and it paints a fuller, even more disturbing picture of Paul Bernardo, his life and crimes. Just as disturbing, from the standpoint of public safety, are unresolved questions about the investigation of the murders of Leslie Mahaffy and Kristen French—an investigation that led to Bernardo’s arrest a full two years after police first interviewed him.


On a Sunday morning in July, 1991, a 21-year-old woman named Rachel Ferron was on her way home. Driving along deserted St. Catharines streets at about 2 a.m., she passed a gold Nissan sports car going the other way. In her rearview mirror, however, she noticed that the car made a U-turn and began to follow her. When she pulled into the driveway of her home, the car drove by without stopping. But a week later, the gold Nissan reappeared. This time, it followed her as she drove to her boyfriend’s house—he wasn’t home—and, later, to a video store where he worked. Ferron took note of the make of the car, and of the licence plate number: 660 HFH. That was the licence

number on the Nissan 240SX registered to Paul Kenneth Bernardo.

The stalking of Rachel Ferron was only one of several incidents in which police had at least the opportunity to apprehend Bernardo long before February, 1993. After the verdict last week, Niagara Regional Police Insp. Vince Bevan, who headed the so-called Green Ribbon task force that investigated the French and Mahaffy murders, declined to comment on the investigation—or on the controversy surrounding the police failure to follow up on early leads. But if mistakes were made, they are shared by officers of the Metropolitan Toronto Police, who received complaints about Bernardo as far back as 1988, when he was still living in Scarborough. And they failed to follow up immediately DNA evidence collected from him in 1990—when the socalled Scarborough rapist was terrorizing that Toronto suburb. By the time DNA testing was completed in January, 1993, Bernardo had caused the deaths of at least three young women.

By comparison, Rachel Ferron was lucky. That night in 1991, she returned to her boyfriend’s house—with the Nissan 240SX still following her. She remained in her car with the windows rolled up and the doors locked. At 4:30 a.m.. Ferrons boyfriend arrived and noticed a man standing in bushes near her car. He and Ferron chased the man, but he got away in the 240SX. Waving down a passing police car, Ferron reported the licence number of the stalker’s car. The officer looked it up and found out that the car was registered to Paul Kenneth Bernardo. But St. Catharines police did not know who Bernardo was—and did not investigate Ferron’s complaint further.

The Ferron incident—less than a month after Leslie Mahaffy’s body was discovered in Lake Gibson, north of St. Catharines—was not the only stalking that came to the attention of police. Around midnight on March 29,1992, sisters Lori Lazurak and Tania Berges were sitting in a St. Catharines doughnut shop drinking coffee when they saw a gold sports car drive by several times. The car eventually stopped its drivebys, and the women thought nothing of it. But then they noticed the

CHIDLEY lens of a video camera pointed at them through the doughnut shop window. (A videotape found in Bernardo’s house shows the two women sitting in the shop.)

A month later, on April 18, 1992, Lazurak was driving along Martindale Road in St. Catharines when she saw the car again. This time, she followed it; before she lost the car on Bayview Drive—the street on which the Bernardos’ rented house was located—she managed to get a licence plate number: 660 HFM. Lazurak reported the incident to Niagara police. Although she was only one letter off from a match with Bernardo’s real number, there is no indication that police followed up the report. At the time, the area was rife with stories of Kristen French’s abduction just two days earlier in a church parking lot, but police never looked for a gold Nissan. Instead, they conducted a massive search for the cream-colored Camaro that witnesses had reported near the scene of the abduction.

Until Karla Homolka told her story to Crown prosecutors a year later, police did not know that at 6 p.m. on April 18, 1992, while Lazurak was following the gold Nissan, Bernardo was on his way home from a Swiss Chalet restaurant, where he had picked up food for his captive—Kristen French. He killed her just hours later.

Stalking women, Homolka told Crown prosecutors, was something of a hobby for Bernardo. She said that in August, 1992—four months after French’s disappearance—Bernardo told her he wanted to kidnap, rape and kill a woman he had spotted at Walt Disney World in Florida during the couple’s vacation there. “He told Miss Homolka the state of

Florida had the death penalty,” prosecutor Ray Houlahan said during evidentiary hearings when the jury was not present, “but he didn’t care because he was so sure he wouldn’t get caught.” According to police surveillance teams, Bernardo was still stalking young women in the Toronto area in early 1993, in the weeks preceding his arrest.

In ruling that evidence of stalking was inadmissible at trial, Judge LeSage said that it merely damaged Bernardo’s character without being sufficiently relevant to the issue of who killed French and Mahaffy. LeSage also ruled as inadmissible a stun gun that Bernardo bought after the killings—Homolka had told prosecutors that her husband bought it for the sole purpose of helping him kidnap young women.

Should police have known about Bernardo and his obsession before it turned fatal? Should they have known about him before Karla Homolka’s youngest sister, 15-year-old Tammy, died of asphyxiation after Bernardo and Karla drugged and raped her in December, 1990? Before the murders of Mahaffy and French?

In fact, they did. In January, 1988, a 15-year-old girl reported to Toronto police that her ex-boyfriend was a pervert and had been sexually violent with her. She said he had raped her frequently, and both physically and mentally abused her. The boyfriend’s name: Paul Kenneth Bernardo.

By mid-1990, the Scarborough rapist was headline news. Using a knife, the rapist would intimidate his young, petite victims into vaginal and anal sex, and then into oral sex. Composite sketches of the rape suspect—a blond man with heavy-lidded eyes—were plastered on bus shelters throughout the city. Acting on tips that he closely resembled the sketch, Toronto police interviewed Bernardo on Nov. 20 of that year. Fully co-operative, he provided them with saliva, blood and hair samples. After the interview, police did not list Bernardo in the countrywide suspect database—hindering any subsequent co-operation with other police forces. As for the DNA samples, they were not analyzed by police for another two years. When DNA tests were finally

completed in January, 1993, they strongly indicated that Bernardo was a match for three fluid samples taken from victims of the Scarborough rapist. Those results led to his arrest the following month. He now faces 28 raperelated charges in those cases.

Even after Bernardo’s arrest in February, 1993, there was another, more publicized police bungle. In their extensive search of the Bernardo house, investigators missed what turned out to be the most crucial pieces of evidence at trial: the videotapes depicting Bernardo and Homolka assaulting their victims. Instead, Ken Murray, Bernardo’s lawyer, retrieved the tapes after the police finished their search—Bernardo had hidden them above a ceiling light fixture, a ploy favored by drug dealers and smugglers. Murray held on to the tapes for 16 months, until quitting as Bernardo’s

lawyer in September, 1994. His successor, John Rosen, immediately handed them over to Crown prosecutors.

Murray’s failure to surrender the tapes is now under investigation by Ontario Provincial Police. But lead Crown attorney Ray Houlahan criticized Murray sharply in evidentiary hearings that could be made public only after the trial. “Lawyers cannot suppress evidence of this nature,” Houlahan said outside the jury’s hearing. “It’s against the law and it’s a criminal offence to suppress evidence.” While Murray had the tapes, Homolka’s lawyers were negotiating a plea bargain that resulted in her conviction on twin manslaughter charges and a sentence of 12 years in prison. If police had had the videotapes earlier than that, Houlahan said, Homolka would have faced more serious charges of first-degree murder. Now, she will be eligible for parole in 1997.


Boy scout, good student—on the surface, Paul Bernardo was raised in a typical suburban environment by his father, Kenneth, an accountant, and mother Marilyn, a homemaker. Guildwood, in the Toronto suburb of Scarborough, was a pleasant neighborhood of middle-class bungalows and tree-lined streets. Paul Bernardo, by all accounts, was a cute child, fairer than his two elder siblings, David and Debbie. “He looked like this sweet, angelic, Hollywood-type kid,” says one former neighbor, who requested anonymity.

But among the kids in the neighborhood, the Bernardos were considered misfits and were often the butts of childish pranks. Even at a young age, Paul seemed to have a distant relationship with the rest of his family. When he was just a boy of 5 or 6, he ran away from home,

returning days later. Paul’s elder brother Dave told a friend later that nobody in the family even asked him where he had been.

The young Paul rarely socialized with other children, and when he did, he would often burst into violent temper tantrums. A neighbor recalls several times seeing Kenneth Bernardo pick up a screaming and kicking Paul on the front lawn and carry him into the house. On the rare occasions when Paul joined in local street-hockey games, he displayed a disturbing disregard for his physical safety. When the ball went under a parked car, for instance, Paul would dive headfirst onto the ground and scurry beneath the automobile, emerging seconds later with the ball—and with scrapes and cuts on his arms and legs.

Meanwhile, during the period from 1969 to 1974, Kenneth Bernardo indecently assaulted an unidentified female—crimes for which he was sentenced to nine months in prison, plus three months probation, in March, 1993. In sentencing Ken Bernardo, Judge Ted Ormston said that the assault did not involve sexual intercourse or threats of violence. When the accountant committed the assault, Ormston added, he had “little intellectual or emotional control.”

Van Smirnis, a childhood friend who served as Bernardo’s best man at his June, 1991, wedding, told the U.S. tabloid TV show A Current Affair that when Paul was 16, his mother told him he was not Kenneth’s son but the progeny of an affair she had had with a prominent Canadian businessman. After that, the distance between son and parents grew wider, Smirnis said. At his wedding at Niagara-on-theLake, Bernardo exchanged harsh words with his mother after she told him that she did not like pheasant—the main course at Bernardo and Homolka’s lavish reception.

Kenneth Bernardo, now 60, has partially confirmed Smirnis’s story, acknowledging to the Toronto Globe and Mail last week that Paul is not his biological son. “That’s his hang-up,” he said. “That’s never been a hang-up with me.” Although none of the family attended the trial—at Paul Bernardo’s request, his father says—they have visited him in jail. “I’ll never see him outside prison,” Ken Bernardo said. “And I have an awful feeling he’s going to die in prison.”


The jury did not hear one of the more disgusting exhibits of Bernardo’s cruelty. Homolka told prosecutors that while living in their St. Catharines bungalow, she and Bernardo kept a pet iguana

Tve got no remorse and Eve got no shame

named Spike. One night, while another couple was visiting, the iguana bit Bernardo on the hand. In a rage, he grabbed a kitchen knife and chopped off Spike’s head, Homolka said. Then, he put the carcass on the barbecue and served it to his guests.

Judge LeSage also ruled inadmissible testimony that elucidated Bernardo’s disturbed mental state.

While they did not have an opportunity to interview Bernardo himself, two psychologists formed opinions about him based on their interviews with Homolka. Dr. Chris Hatcher, whom the Crown wanted to testify as an expert on battered spouse syndrome, speculated that by the time Bernardo met Homolka, he had already established a pattern of criminal behavior and of sexual abuse. Dr. Stephen Hucker went further, identifying Bernardo’s behavior with several pathological mental states named in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, a psychological handbook. Among the disorders Bernardo may suffer from, according to Hucker: paraphilia (sexual deviation), sexual sadism, voyeurism, hebephilia (attraction to pubescent or adolescent females), toucheurism (grabbing of unsuspecting women), coprophilia (deriving sexual excitement from feces), alcohol abuse and narcissistic personality disorder. Still, Hucker wrote, “there is nothing I have seen in the evidence so far available that Mr. Bernardo has or has had a major illness of a psychotic type, i.e. he is fully in touch with reality.”


After Bernardo’s arrest, police found in his home written and recorded material that, although it pointed to his fascination with young women and with criminal behavior, was ruled inadmissible by LeSage. Among the excluded exhibits were newspaper articles, dating from October, 1991, to December, 1992, that seemed to focus on violent sex crimes. Police also found department-store flyers and ads depicting young women modelling panties, brassieres and other clothing. The ads dated from 1986, before Bernardo met Homolka.

Police found in Bernardo’s bedroom a copy of American author

Bret Easton Ellis’s controversial 1991 novel American Psycho—a harrowing tale revolving around a blond, narcissistic businessman in his 20s who abducts, tortures and rapes young women. Prosecutors unsuccessfully argued that the novel should be admitted as evidence in that it provided a “blueprint” for Bernardo’s crimes. Investigators also found another book, entitled Perfect Victim, the true story of a man in California who kidnapped a 20-year-old woman and brutalized her as his personal sex slave for seven years.

On the wall of his master bedroom, Bernardo—failed accountant turned cigarette smuggler—had taped motivational phrases, gleaned from ads, books and movies. Written in his own hand, the phrases are m by and large a collection of morally vacuous clichés espousing the I power of positive thinking. “Poverty sucks!” reads one. “The facts | don’t count when you have a dream,” reads another. Several seem to have been borrowed by Bernardo from the fictional character Gordon Gekko, a loathsome, amoral corporate raider portrayed by Michael Douglas in the 1987 movie Wall Street “Greed,” one of the slips of paper reads in part, “is good.”

Perhaps the most chilling evidence that police found in Bernardo’s home—and that the jury was not allowed to hear on the grounds that it would be prejudicial—was the so-called Deadly Innocence tape. Discovered in his music room, the tape contains rambling lyrics and home-made rap music that Bernardo, who had long harbored dreams of becoming a rap star, recorded in late 1992. On the surface, at least, many of the lines in the songs—which, according to Homolka, Bernardo wanted to release under the rap pseudonym Young Hype— are eerily reminiscent of his crimes.

In light of the horrors revealed over the past four months, Bernardo’s musical aspirations also seem oddly pathetic. In their false bravado and immature demands for respect, the lyrics reveal something of the man who composed them. Speaking hastily and in a rap-like cadence, Bernardo refers to himself as “the solo creep, I make the girls weep, acting out my crimes while the others sleep.” With rap-star puffery, he threatens: “I’ll drain your brain, and steal

your gold chain____I’ve got no remorse and I’ve got no shame.”

Elsewhere on the tape, Bernardo says that he plans to call his first album Deadly Innocence. And he returns incessantly to the chorus for the title track—the lines that he dreamed would make him famous.

You know they say Did you everget caught?

No, never, why?

They say Tm a deadly innocent guy. □