Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Paul Bernardo & Karla Homolka


The police first became aware of the handiwork of Paul Bernardo in his incarnation as the Scarborough Rapist. Detective Constable Steve Irwin of Toronto's Metropolitan Police was deeply involved in that particular serial rape case. There were a lot of similarities in the stories the victims told and police were sure that it was one man.

As Stephen Williams points out, serial rapists are fairly rare creatures. "They are invariably acting out some kind of strange, private fantasy, so the details of their crimes are distinctive... In the earlier assaults, the women had all just left buses, they were accosted from behind, the guy had been rough but he did not really 'rape' them. He had fondled them sexually, penetrating the last one with his fingers... the descriptions of a well-groomed young man who had good teeth and did not smell bad. The rapist talked all the time he was assaulting his victims, and he wanted to hear certain, specific things. All of the attacks had occurred within a short radius of Scarborough's Guildwood Village.

Just before Christmas, 1987, one of his victim's gave a very specific description of her rapist. He was good looking, about six feet tall, clean-shaven and had no tattoos. Her description and the composite picture she helped develop resulted in the exact likeness of Paul Bernardo. But the police did not publish the photo.

One of Paul's old girlfriends, Jennifer, had gone to the police several times about Paul regarding his brutal rape, physical abuse of her, and his threats to do her bodily harm. There were coincidences which tied Bernardo to the rapes that were going on at that same time: the rapist drove a white Capri and so did Bernardo; Bernardo lived in the vicinity of where the rapes took place. A report was filed, but nothing came of it.

Finally, in May of 1990, years after the rapes began, the police decided to finally publish the composite picture, which the victims had agreed upon as the likeness of their attacker. That picture, plus the $150,000 reward, initiated a flood of tips.

By this time, Paul had quit his position with Price Waterhouse and was living entirely on his cigarette-smuggling income. But once his former colleagues at the accounting firm saw the newspaper picture, they marveled at how much it resembled Paul. An employee of Paul's bank contacted the police and reported that Bernardo looked liked the picture. However, at this point in time, the police were inundated with similar calls and did not have the manpower to follow up on all of them.

Detective Steve Irwin centralized all the physical evidence gathered from the rape victims under one individual, Kim Johnston, in the forensic laboratory. From the semen samples, she was able to determine that the rapist was a non-secretor and his blood type factors, which put him in 12.8 percent of the male population.

Eventually, a number of Paul's acquaintances contacted the police about him and Irwin paid Bernardo a visit. Paul did not strike Irwin as the kind of personality to be a serial rapist, but he took a blood, saliva and hair sample from Paul anyway. The samples, along with 230 samples from other suspects, were handed over to Kim Johnston. Only five of the 230 samples fit the blood factors of the attacker. Paul Bernardo was one of those five. His sample was resubmitted for additional testing in April of 1992. By that time, the Scarborough Rapist had mysteriously ended his attacks and the case did not have the urgency and priorities that it had two years earlier when the attacks were in progress.

The Scarborough Rapist samples went onto the back burner.