Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Paul Bernardo & Karla Homolka

A Charming Little Boy

Paul Bernardo was born into an unusual family. His mother, Marilyn, had been adopted early in life by the well-to-do Toronto lawyer Gerald Eastman and his wife Elizabeth. Marilyn was raised in a happy, genteel household. Her husband, Kenneth Bernardo, was the son of an Italian immigrant and a woman of English heritage. Kenneth's father made a very successful life in the marble and tile business, but was abusive to his wife and children. Kenneth did not go into the family business but became an accountant instead.

Kenneth and Marilyn married in 1960 after her father disapproved of her other suitor who did not have the education that Eastman demanded in a son-in-law. Eventually, Kenneth and Marilyn settled in a nice middle-class neighborhood in Scarborough area of Toronto. The marriage did not go well and Kenneth, like his father, was allegedly physically abusive to his wife. After giving birth to a son and daughter, Marilyn found refuge in the arms of her previous suitor — the man without the education her father had required for his daughter. Thus, was Paul Bernardo conceived illegitimately.

Kenneth was very open minded about this indiscretion and, in August of 1964, the name of Paul Bernardo was listed on the baby's birth certificate. Kenneth had his difficulties as well. He fondled a young girl and went to court for it. He started hanging around the neighborhood at night, peeping into the windows of young women. But worst of all, he started to sexually abuse his young daughter.

Marilyn put on more and more weight. She became grotesquely obese. Signs of severe depression were very noticeable. She stopped taking care of the home and the children and withdrew into her own world in the basement of the house.

The children keenly felt the effects of the mental and emotional turmoil in the household. For a while, it looked as though Paul might have escaped the unhappiness that the older two children had experienced. Nick Pron in Lethal Marriage describes Paul as a friendly little boy: "He was always happy. A young boy who smiled a lot. And he was so cute, with his dimpled good looks and sweet smile, that many of the mothers just wanted to pinch him on the cheek whenever they saw him. He was the perfect child they all wanted: polite, well mannered, doing well in school, so sweet in his Boy Scout uniform."

Later, as he grew up, he became more involved in scouting. He worked summers as a counselor and he was the most popular one with the children. The kids loved him and he seemed to enjoy being with them.

The teenage girls also adored him. He had angelic looks and a shy, pleasing demeanor. Those who dated him in high school considered him a thoughtful and considerate lover.

Paul was out to make something of himself. He was intelligent, worked hard in school and held a series of responsible after-school jobs. He had a good head for figures and the makings of a good future businessman.


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