To an outsider, Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka were a picture-perfect couple. They met in October 1987 and were caught up in a whirlwind romance. By December that year, the pair were engaged. Karla was a pretty high school student with a passion for animals. Paul was a college graduate working in sales. The Homolka family were quick to welcome Bernardo into their number, and the couple seemed set to share an idyllic life together.
Bernardo and Homolka presented a convincing facade. But their marriage came to a bloody end—with its very own body count. The rape-murders of Tammy Homolka, Leslie Mahaffy, and Kristen French are burned into Canadian history, but here are ten lesser-known facts surrounding the infamous case.
10. Paul Bernardo Was Almost Apprehended Years Before The Schoolgirl Murders
Between 1987 and 1990, Toronto’s Scarborough district was rocked by a series of vicious rapes. The mystery attacker was targeting women, most of whom traveled by bus late at night. As the attacks grew increasingly violent, a police task force was established as a priority. Plainclothes detectives began to stake out bus stations, and in May 1988, an officer spotted a suspect matching the attacker’s description lingering under a tree. The suspect escaped on foot but was later identified as Paul Bernardo.
Despite the close shave, Bernardo seemed incapable of slowing down. By 1990, police had received three separate tips leading directly to him. The first came from an ex-girlfriend, who shared her experience of Bernardo’s violent sexual behavior with a friend in law enforcement. The second came from a bank teller who recognized Bernardo after seeing a composite sketch of the rapist. The final tip came from Tina Smirnis, the wife of Bernardo’s lifelong friend. Smirnis also saw a likeness in the composite and had been witness to Bernardo’s expressions of sexual deviance.
In November that year, detectives interviewed Bernardo for a total of 35 minutes. They found Paul to be credible; he provided samples for forensic testing and joked about his resemblance to the composite sketch. Bernardo was released, and delays in forensic testing ensured his freedom.
9. The Murder Of Tammy Homolka May Not Have Been An Accident
By 1990, Bernardo had developed an interest in 15-year-old Tammy Homolka, Karla’s youngest sister. Together, the pair devised a plan to drug and rape the teenager over the Christmas holiday. On December 24, that’s exactly what they did. At some point during the attack, Tammy began to choke. Bernardo and Homolka called 911, but it was too late. Tammy passed away at the hospital later that night.
It has been largely accepted that Tammy’s death was an accident. Bernardo and Homolka had only intended to drug and rape their victim. However, journalist Trish Wood and numerous medical experts believe that Karla knew precisely what she was doing. She had stolen a bottle of halothane, a liquid form of anesthetic, from the veterinary clinic she worked at. As an animal health technician, Homolka had a working knowledge of halothane. She was aware that the anesthetic should be administered through a vaporizer and that animals under the drug should have a breathing tube inserted. During testimony, Karla admitted that she had done her research before drugging Tammy. She ultimately chose to use the sleeping tablet Halcion after studying the Compendium of Pharmaceuticals and Specialties and discovering that death was not listed as an outcome in the case of Halcion overdose. However, the same cannot be said of halothane.
The initial autopsy of Tammy Homolka concluded that she had died of natural causes. The significant burn across her cheek was identified as a chemical burn, as no facial hair had been singed. It was concluded that the burn was a result of “gastric juices” due to vomiting. Shortly after Bernardo and Homolka were arrested, Tammy’s body was exhumed. A second autopsy concluded that this was not the case. It also found that smothering could not be ruled out as a cause of death. A videotape taken during the rape shows that Karla had covered Tammy’s nose and mouth with the halothane cloth, leading many to speculate that Tammy’s death was not as accidental as Homolka would have you believe.