Mystery woman

D’ARCY JENISH August 26 1996

Mystery woman

D’ARCY JENISH August 26 1996

Mystery woman



Her voice on the phone is sometimes tremulous and confused, sometimes defiant. “I have a strong emotional attachment to him,” she says. “I can’t change public opinion but you have to understand that I knew somebody totally different from the person who has been portrayed in the media. It’s very difficult for me to even think about what he did. Sometimes I just block it away. There isn’t any explanation that I could conceive of or comprehend. I couldn’t understand anything he would say. Maybe he can justify it or find a reason for it in his own mind, but there’s nothing that I could accept, and he knows that. ”

The woman, in her late 20s, lives with her parents in a suburb of Toronto. She has what she describes as a good job in the financial services industry and she drives a late-model car. Once a month since April, she has been driving three hours to Kingston, Ont., to visit a man with whom she had a passionate relationship in the late 1980s and whom, for reasons she cannot entirely explain, she still loves. The object of her affection is Paul Bernardo, 31, the schoolgirl killer and serial rapist currently serving a life sentence in Kingston Penitentiary. She spoke to Maclean ’s on condition of anonymity, fearing that, if her identity were revealed, she would be besieged

by other media and probably could not work. Because of that, she has told no more than a few trusted friends about the visits.

She is also aware that the relationship is, in all likelihood, hopeless. Bernardo was convicted last September of first-degree murder in the sex slayings of 15-year-old Kristen French and 14-yearold Leslie Mahaffy, and must serve 25 years before being eligible for parole. One month later, he was declared a dangerous offender for raping 18 young women, mostly in the Toronto suburb of Scarborough between 1987 and 1990—which almost guarantees that he will spend the rest of his life in prison. “We don’t talk about the future,” she says. “We have no plans to get married.” And, she asks rhetorically, “Where can it possibly go? He’s going to be in there for a minimum of 25 years. But obviously we’ve gotten more involved than just friendship. It’s hard to say This is not good for me. I can’t see you anymore.’ ”

Her situation, she concedes, raises a disturbing question: how can a well-adjusted young woman be attracted to a man who has committed such horrific crimes against other young women? On Dec. 24, 1990, Bernardo and his former wife Karla Homolka, now serving 12 years for manslaughter, drugged and raped her 15-year-old sister Tammy, who choked to death on her vomit. In June, 1991, they repeatedly raped Mahaffy in their St. Catharines home for nearly 24 hours, then strangled her, dismembered the body and disposed of the parts in a nearby lake. And in April, 1992, they held French hostage for nearly 72

hours, brutally raping her before strangling her to death.

But, she says, she saw a totally different Paul Bernardo during their 18-month relationship, which began when they were introduced by a mutual friend in 1988. At the time, Bernardo was 24, recently graduated from the University of Toronto and training to be an accountant. “He was just very easygoing and friendly,” she recalls. “He wasn’t violent or psychotic or aggressive with me. He was quite insecure and always afraid he was going to end up alone. So he surrounded himself with lots of people.”

But, when he was alone, he let the dark side of his character run wild. By the time they met, he had raped at least seven women. By the time their relationship ended in early 1990, he had raped another seven. Moreover, when she and Bernardo started dating, he was already heavily involved with Homolka, a St. Catharines, Ont., resident whom he met in Scarborough in September, 1987. In the

end, Bernardo chose Homolka over her. “We argued, we fought and we broke up, basically over Karla,” she says. “I was deeply disturbed to learn that he was involved with someone else.” She lost touch with Bernardo for about three years. Then, in January, 1993, he called her again to say that his marriage was over and that he was living alone in the Cape Cod-style bungalow in St. Catharines that he had shared with Homolka. Like others, it was only later that she learned that Homolka had left him after he severely assaulted her with a flashlight, leaving her eyes, cheeks and thighs badly bruised.

They met—and briefly renewed their relationship. On the last night they spent together, she recalls, “We went out to a club with some friends and afterward he and I went back to his place. But nothing happened between us. He talked about his problems. He told me

'It's difficult to think about what he did/

says Paul Bernardo's

female friend

everything was going wrong. He talked about Tammy’s death a lot, how upset he was by it, how his life was falling apart—but nothing specific. ” The real details of that life began to emerge on Feb. 17, 1993, when police descended on Bernardo’s home and finally took him into custody. “When 1 turned on the TV after his arrest, and found out what he was accused of I was shocked, totally devastated,”she says. “I tried to figure out how this could have happened. Why didn’t anybody see it? These were difficult questions. ”

Shortly after his arrest, Bernardo reestablished contact with a phone call from jail. They spoke regularly while he awaited trial for the murders of French and Mahaffy. She also visited him several times. But she did not attend the trial, which lasted from May 18 until Sept. 1 last year and was packed with spectators nearly every day. She also says that she did not read the newspapers, nor has she read any of the three books about the case. She did, however, tune in to daily newscasts. She also says that she helped convince Bernardo to plead guilty to the Scarborough rapes, rather than fight the charges—as he had intended to do—and put the victims through the ordeal of a long trial. “I said, ‘It’s not right—don’t cause these people any more harm,’ ” she says. “ ‘Too many people have been hurt already. It’s never going to end.’ And he agreed.”

With the completion of his trials, Bernardo was shipped to Kingston Penitentiary and assigned to a five-foot by eight-foot cell, the standard accommodation at the 19th-century institution. Prison administrators placed Bernardo in a unit known as Lower 1A, a segregation wing where inmates are locked up for 23 1/2 hours a day, either because of disciplinary problems or, as in Bernardo’s case, because they require protection from other prisoners. Residents of the unit are granted 30 minutes of exercise a day, two showers a week and four phone calls a month. Given Bernardo’s notoriety, prison officials also placed a Plexiglas barrier across the front of his cell to prevent other inmates from throwing things at him.

But the Plexiglas has not prevented unsolicited verbal attention. Fellow prisoners have called Bernardo names, taunted him and threatened him with physical violence. As one inmate recently told Maclean’s: “Everybody here totally despises the creep. I know a number of individuals who would love to cut his head off.” Attention of a different kind came from outside the walls of the penitentiary. “We were getting lots of calls from

young female persons asking for Paul,” says one guard. “We’d say, ‘Paul who?

We’ve got about 24 Pauls in here—who do you want to speak to?’ Of course, they’d always say ‘Paul Bernardo.’ ”

After his incarceration,

Bernardo received periodic visits from his parents, retired accountant Ken Bernardo and his wife, Marilyn. In the meantime, he used some of his monthly phone calls to maintain contact with his female friend.

“He asked me if I would come to visit him,” she says.

“I was absolutely hesitant, not because I was afraid of him but because I was afraid of the media getting a hold of it.”

Before she could be admitted to the institution, she had to agree to a routine procedure known as a community assessment, conducted by Correctional Services Canada to ensure that she was of sound character and fully aware of Bernardo’s offences. “The parole officer who interviewed her said that she’s not a groupie and she’s got her head screwed on straight,” says a CSC employee, who asked not to be named. “She knew what she was getting involved in and she knew what he’s all about.”

The visits take place in a small room, measuring about 20 feet by 20 feet, reserved for inmates from the segregation unit. Their actions are observed at all times by at least two guards. And the administration has taken a further precaution to ensure Bernardo’s safety. His 90minute visits occur while the other inmates are locked in their cells for lunch. “Our orders are to close everything down to get him up there,” said one guard familiar with the process.

Initially, she says, their visits were stilted. “He was a little in shock at first because we hadn’t had much contact for so long. He was a little bit weird—to use his words, ‘It’s hell in there. ’ ” Now, she says, they are comfortable with each other, talking about a wide variety of subjects: movies, current events—even prison life. “He’s living in a box,” she says. “He has a TV, he listens to the radio and he works out. He tries not to cause any trouble. You might say, ‘How much trouble can you cause when you’re liv-

Tm not saying that my feelings are in order'

ing in a box?’ But you can. Inmates set things on fire, break things and do all sorts of stuff. Prison is an awful, awful place. ”

Experts on prison law contend that CSC could not prevent Bernardo from getting married. But prison administrators could use their regulations to block conjugal visits in trailers located on the prison grounds. “The issue has been through the courts,” says Josh Zambrowsky, a Kingston defence lawyer familiar with prison law. “But CSC can deny trailer visits if they believe there is any risk either to the woman coming in or to the institution. My impression is that the prison would want to go very slow with Bernardo because they could look very bad if they didn’t.” Bernardo’s female friend admits that her feelings are too unsettled to contemplate anything like marriage. “I’m not saying that all my feelings are in order and that I can deal with everything—I can’t,” she says. “A lot of the time I sit there and think, What am I doing—I should just get out.’ And then I think, ‘What would he do?’ I care about this person, so it’s very difficult. Who knows? Will I be doing this five years from now? I don’t know.” □