Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Women Who Kill: Part Two

Women in Teams

Karla Homolka
Karla Homolka

Karla Homolka cried at her trial, as Terry Manners depicted in Deadlier than the Male. She and her husband, the notorious Paul Bernardo (aka Teale), had killed three girls, including Karla's own sister. It was Karla who had drugged young Tammy before Christmas in 1990 so Paul could rape her. They made a videotape of these activities so they could relive the pleasure of torturing another human being at their mercy. To their surprise, Tammy vomited and then suffocated and died. Karla and Paul kept their dark secret to themselves.

Karla was 17 when she met Paul Bernardo, 23. To neighbors they seemed the perfect couple — they'd even been nicknamed Ken and Barbie — but behind closed doors they dreamed up and carried out atrocities that boggled even the minds of the lawyers who later defended them.  Karla was a simple, middle-class girl, but she had been attracted to Paul and his sadistic ways from the moment they met. Stephen Williams describes her coy submission in Invisible Darkness, indicating that she let Paul do anything he desired with her, and his demands became increasingly brutal. Nevertheless, she wrote notes telling him she was ready for anything and wanted more. He liked being in control, and with him Karla felt at peace. They married in 1991 at Niagara Falls, just two weeks after Paul had killed another girl.

Paul Bernardo
Paul Bernardo

She was 14-year-old Leslie Mahaffy, who was found on Karla and Paul's wedding day near a Toronto suburb, dismembered and cemented into seven blocks of concrete submerged in a lake. Then Kristen French disappeared in 1992. She was seen being forced into a car in the middle of the day while walking home from school. Then weeks later she was found murdered, her long brown hair hacked off.

Karla had lured Kristen toward the car because Paul liked young girls and that way she could keep him happy. Before killing her, they kept Kristen captive for their pleasure, and then Karla had to dress the part of a schoolgirl just like Kristen so Paul could have sex with her.

Karla was the one who turned Paul in. After he had brutally beaten her with a flashlight and she called the police, he had locked her out of the house.

Around this time, Paul was identified through DNA as the Scarborough Rapist, at work in the Toronto area brutalizing women since 1988. Two police forces, armed with details from Karla, converged on him and arrested him. They found the incriminating videotapes and charged him with forty-two criminal counts.

For her cooperation and a plea of guilty to two counts of manslaughter, Karla was sentenced to only two 12-year terms, to be served concurrently, and she was never again to own any firearms, explosives or ammunition. She went to prison and then came back to court to testify against Paul, from whom she had sought and gained a divorce.

Leslie Mahaffy
Leslie Mahaffy

At her parole hearing in 1997, it was determined that she was still too potentially violent to be allowed into society. The same was true as of February 2001, and it's likely that Karla will serve her entire term until 2005. Even though some people believed that she was coerced into what she did by her overbearing husband, many others feel just as certain that she was as much a part of it as he was and that she enjoyed it. That she could kill her sister and then continue to participate in more rapes and murders for several years indicates a deviant personality.

Karla and Paul are not alone. In fact, Michael Newton states in The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers that around 25% of all serial killers are male-female teams, including the likes of Bonnie and Clyde, Charles Starkweather and Caril Fugate, Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, Fred and Rose West, Martha Beck and Raymond Fernandez, Doug Clark and Carol Bundy, and Gerald and Charlene Gallego. Each of these couples involved a male and female who together lured and savaged innocent victims, including children. Sometimes the female ratted on the male, and sometimes they were just caught. While few studies have been done on the kind of chemistry that happens between two people that sets off a rape or killing spree, many experts believe that under other circumstances and with another man, the female might not have been as sadistic or cold-blooded. (Yet in some cases, the female was the dominant or encouraging partner.)

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