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Karla Homolka encouraged Paul Bernardo's behavior through their BDSM sexual lifestyle. But where and how were the Ken and Barbie Killers' evil born?

The awful true-crime tale of the Ken and Barbie Killers’ Paul Bernardo

Barbie and Ken or Paul Bernardo and his wife Karla Homolka: an unlikely pair of Canadian killers. But Paul Bernardo, with the help of his wife Karla Homolka, stalked a Canadian suburb with a number of terrible rapes that were only the beginning of his life of cruelty. It’s believed Bernardo was responsible for at least four murders and thirteen rapes over the years.

By all accounts, Bernardo was a salesman – and a good one at that. He learned the skills of persuasion from his dayjob and used them to lure women into this thrall. He apparently studied Bret Easton Ellis’s horror novel American Psycho like a bible.

After he met and married Karla Homolka, his sadistic streak increased. Homolka encouraged his behavior through their BDSM sexual lifestyle and, later, bloodthirsty stalking and abuse of their victims. But where and how was Paul Bernardo’s evil born?

Paul Bernardo’s dark history

On the surface the Bernardos were a perfect, financially well-off family. In 1975, when Paul was only 9 years old, his father Kenneth Bernardo was charged with child molestation. Horrifying rumors circulated that he’d molested his daughter, Paul’s sister.

Paul Bernardo seemed to be unperturbed by his father’s crimes – but he did struggle at age 16 when his mother revealed to him he was actually the child of a man she had an affair with. Teenage Paul’s outward behavior began to change noticeably. He verbally abused his mother, and while studying at the University of Toronto, started picking women up at bars after which he’d beat and humiliate them.

The Scarborough Rapist is born in Paul Bernardo

Paul Bernardo was handsome and charming, attributes he used to lure and manipulate women. In 1987, Scarborough, Ontario was haunted by a series of depraved crimes. On May 4th, a woman was snatched and brutally raped, followed by two similar assaults the same week.

The women all fit the same profile: aged 15 to 21. All the rapes included beatings, verbal abuse, and bloodthirsty threats. After authorities concluded one man was responsible, local newspapers quickly coined the name “Scarborough Rapist” to describe him.

In the five years that followed, Paul Bernardo raped and attempted to rape nineteen young women. Many were grabbed near bus stops, but at least one woman was attacked in her own home. Several of the victims were able to fight the perpetrator off. Despite investigations, sadly police never named Bernardo as an official suspect. 

The Barbie and Ken murders

Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka met in 1987 when he was 23 and she was 17. The two were strongly attracted to each other, which intensified when Bernardo discovered that Homolka also had an interest in S&M. 

Bernardo & Homolka entered into a sadomasochistic relationship, with Bernardo acting as master and Homolka as his slave. It’s said Homolka knew her boyfriend was the “Scarborough Rapist” and approved of his crimes, for which he felt no guilt. 

When Bernardo and Homolka got engaged, Bernardo was apparently getting bored of Homolka and wanted to pursue Homolka’s 15-year-old sister, Tammy, for a sexual relationship. Homolka told him she’d love to present him her young sister’s virginity as a gift for Christmas.

Family rape gone wrong

On December 23rd, 1990 at a party at home, Homolka spiked her sister Tammy’s drink with an animal anesthetic she had stolen from her place of work. While the rest of her family slumbered, Homolka held a cloth soaked in halothane over her sister’s mouth and took turns in raping her with Bernardo, all the while videotaping their twisted crime. 

Tammy soon started to vomit, and the couple frantically tried to hide the evidence before they called for help. Tammy was taken away in an ambulance, but never woke up. She was pronounced dead at the hospital; the coroner noticed a strange chemical burn on her face, but her death was ruled an accident caused by alcohol poisoning.

Marital bliss

On June 29th, 1991, Bernardo and Homolka were married on the very same day a traumatized couple canoeing in Lake Gibson found concrete blocks containing human body parts. These remains belonged to 14-year-old Leslie Mahaffy, who had disappeared on June 15th. This girl had been abducted by Bernardo and Homolka, used and abused over several days, and then horrifically discarded.

On April 16th, 1992, “Ken and Barbie” kidnapped, abused, and killed 15-year-old Kristen French. When police realized these murders were connected, they released a composite sketch of the murderer. A colleague from his work tipped off authorities that the man was Paul Bernardo, regaling the police with tales of Bernardo’s disturbing love for violence.

Serving time

In January 1993, Homolka left Bernardo. Two months later, a DNA sample taken from Bernardo proved he was the Scarborough Rapist. He was surveilled and finally arrested in February 1993.

Homolka lawyered up and was granted a plea bargain to testify against her husband. She claimed her husband had admitted to raping more than 30 women and painted herself as a victim. 

However, videotapes soon emerged which showed Homolka to be a co-conspirator in several of his most heinous attacks and she was sent to prison. Homolka was released in 2005 and has started a new family with a new husband. 

Paul Bernardo was sentenced to life in prison for the rape, murder, and kidnap of two teenage girls. It is believed he murdered and raped many more victims than the cases proven in court. In 2018 after 25 years in prison, Bernardo’s parole was denied. 

The lawyer speaking on behalf of his victims’ families noted that “There’s never been an apology by Paul Bernardo. There’s been never any indication whatsoever of remorse.” 

Film & TV

The horrifying story of the Ken and Barbie Killers has been committed to TV and film a number of times. A Murder Made Me Famous episode featured the couple, and feature documentary The Ken and Barbie Killers explores their crimes.

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