Canada

Bungling the case

An inquiry concludes that Paul Bernardo could have been stopped

D’ARCY JENISH July 22 1996
Canada

Bungling the case

An inquiry concludes that Paul Bernardo could have been stopped

D’ARCY JENISH July 22 1996

Bungling the case

Canada

An inquiry concludes that Paul Bernardo could have been stopped

He now languishes in segregation, locked up for 23l/2 hours a day in a 1.5-by 2.5-m cell in Kingston Penitentiary. But even though he is imprisoned for life, Paul Bernardo’s connection to the world beyond the prison walls remains horrifyingly real. During a six-year spree of brutality that began in May 1987, he raped at least 18 young Ontario women, murdered two others and caused the death of a third before his arrest in February 1993. Could some of it have been prevented? Yes, concluded Justice Archie Campbell of the Ontario Court, as he released the results of his six-monthlong, independent inquiry into the police investigation of the Bernardo case last week.

In his highly critical, 473-page report prepared for the Ontario government, Campbell said that the investigation was hampered by dozens of mistakes and oversights by individual officers, as well as conflicts and rivalries between different police departments. “There were times during the separate investigations,” he writes, “that the different police forces might as well have been operating in different countries.”

While investigators stumbled, Campbell says, Bernardo continued his rampage. Police in Metro Toronto and their counterparts in St. Catharines, where Bernardo lived when he killed teenagers Leslie Mahaffy and Kristen French, both failed to investigate public tips that could have led

them to Bernardo long before February 1993. Worse still, says Campbell, the Toronto-based Centre of Forensic Sciences waited 25 months before conducting DNA analysis of hair, blood and saliva samples that Bernardo provided to Metro police in November 1990—a delay that allowed him to commit four more rapes and commit the sex murders of 14-year-old Mahaffy and 15-year-old French. “It appears that Bernardo’s DNA submission went into a black hole at the end of 1990,” Campbell says. “In hindsight, it is clear that these rapes and murders could have been prevented if Bernardo’s sample had been tested within 30 or even 90 days.”

Despite such glaring errors, Campbell refused to blame individual officers or forensic investigators. Instead, he praised them for being skilled and dedicated, and attributes the problems to systemic flaws in police departments not organized or equipped to deal with a mobile and determined predator like Bernardo. “They are hard to recognize and detect, and they create a unique challenge to law enforcement,” Campbell adds. “They slip easily through the gaps in our law enforcement systems.”

In fact, Campbell concludes that Bernardo “fell through the cracks” simply by moving from one com-

munity to another, a tactic frequently used by serial killers to avoid detection. In early 1991, three months after being questioned by Metro police on the basis of a tip and providing the samples, Bernardo, then living in Scarborough, moved to St. Catharines, where he rented the bungalow in which he and Karla Homolka, his 26-year-old ex-wife, raped, tortured and murdered French and Mahaffy. (Homolka is currently serving 12 years for her role in the murders, as well as the death of her 15-year-old sister Tammy, who died on Dec. 24,1990, after being drugged and raped by both Homolka and Bernardo.)

After Bernardo left Toronto, Campbell says, Metro police essentially stopped their investigation of the serial rapes because no new attacks were occurring in their jurisdiction. On the other hand, because of the lack of co-operation between departments, Niagara police had no idea that someone who had been questioned in those crimes had moved to their community—even though Metro police knew Bernardo was living in St Catharines. And once both police forces zeroed in on Bernardo as a suspect in early 1993, they maintained separate investigations which were hampered by interdepartmental rivalries and a competitive battle to make the arrest. “The remarkable thing about serial predator investigations is that the same problems repeat themselves in every investigation with tragic frequency,” Campbell notes. “We seem incapable of learning from previous experience.” But some of the worst blunders occurred after Bernardo was arrested. His initial eight-hour interrogation became useless as evidence because the officers in charge violated Bernardo’s Charter rights by not allowing him to call a lawyer despite his repeated requests. Police made another major mistake when, during their 71-day search of Bernardo’s St. Catharines home, they failed to find videotapes on which Bernardo had recorded the rapes of Mahaffy, French and Tammy Homolka. Campbell disclosed that an officer did reach into the ceiling area above a pot light where the tapes were hidden—but he did not extend his arm far enough. The tapes were later retrieved from the spot by Ken Murray, Bernardo’s first lawyer, who held on to them for 16 months.

During that time, in the absence of that evidence, Crown prosecutors entered into a plea-bargain agreement with Karla Homolka.

Campbell’s report contains several recommendations for reform, especially in police co-operation. Whenever more than one police force begins working on the same case, a co-ordinated command structure should be established, backed by a full-time staff of specially trained investigators, profilers, computer technicians and a media officer drawn from the forces involved. But first, says Campbell, police must become much more adept at early recognition of similar or linked crimes.

In fact, since December 1993, police forces across Ontario have had access to a national computerized system known as ViCLAS. Designed to reveal any links among unsolved murders, rapes and other violent or predatory crimes that appear to be similar in nature, the system, developed by Ottawa-based RCMP inspector Ron MacKay, has been recognized as one of the best in the world. But police in Ontario and the rest of eastern Canada have not been making use of it: of the 12,000 cases logged on ViCLAS, 10,000 have been submitted by officers from the four western provinces.

Campbell criticized those shortcomings, noting that in 1995 Ontario investigators reported less than 30 per cent of murders in the province and under six per cent of serious sexual offences. “Homicidal and sexual offenders exhibit identifiable and often predictable characteristics,” Campbell says. “ViCLAS has little chance to work unless investigators enter all violent predatory crimes into the system.” Last week, provincial Solicitor-General Robert Runciman responded promptly to Campbell’s recommendations, announcing that he will make ViCLAS reporting mandatory.

At the Centre of Forensic Sciences, meanwhile, where one of the biggest mistakes of the entire Bernardo investigation occurred, major changes have already taken place. Campbell notes that when the centre began DNA testing in June 1990, it was quickly swamped with hundreds of samples—but had only one scientist and one technician. Since then, the centre has increased its DNA lab staff to 26 scientists, but police forces must still wait five to eight months for results. Consequently, the centre recently announced that its will double its number of DNA scientists to 52. That will cut the waiting period for results to 30 days in most cases.

While police reactions to Campbell’s report were generally positive, some officers questioned whether his recommendations will have a lasting impact. Det.-Insp. Kim Rossmo of the Vancouver Police Department, who recently completed a PhD thesis on serial killers, said that investigators involved in the Clifford Olson case in the early 1980s also learned a great deal about serial killers. But once they retired, their knowledge and skills were lost to the force. Others, like Memorial University’s Elliott Leyton, author of Hunting Humans: The Rise of the Modern Multiple Murderer and a leading expert on serial killers, contend that while progress in the investigation of serial predators has been great, such cases will always present difficulties. “There are no social links before the crime or physical links afterward,” said Leyton. “No one sees a connection because there is none.”

Families of the victims also welcomed Campbell’s recommendations, while praising the police effort under difficult circumstances. Leslie Mahaffy’s mother, Debbie, noted that investigators were dealing with an unfathomable mind: “At the time, I said we haven’t found Leslie’s body because we are looking for a person— we should be looking for an animal.” In Bernardo’s case, the lack of connections to his known victims helped him elude capture for six years. Now, at Kingston Penitentiary, the man who once boasted to Homolka that he would never be captured is a reviled figure; prison officials have installed a Plexiglas barrier over the bars of his cell to prevent other inmates from throwing things at him. He is allowed out for 30 minutes of exercise a day and two showers a week. When he leaves his cell, Bernardo is accompanied by at least two guards, and sometimes the rest of the inmates are locked up to ensure his safety. “Everybody here totally despises the creep,” one inmate told Maclean’s in a recent interview. “I know a number of individuals who would love to cut his head off.”

D’ARCY JENISH