The Barbie & Ken Killers
Updated: May 11
Criminal Behaviours explores, Paul Bernado & Karla Homolka
In Depth Case Study
A thorough look at the case of the Barbie and Ken Killers, one of the USA's most notorious and appalling couple killers.
Karla and Paul's case is a fascinating one the events that took place during the late 80's and into the early 90's has for a long time been of interest to anyone who is studying crime or a fan of true crime.
The complexities of this couples dynamics are unlike any others, as individuals they are both just as intriguing apart as when they are together.
Karlas explicit involvement in this crime has helped to dispel myths that females are not capable of such horrific acts. as a result she is often used as a point of study for many people gaining qualifications in psychology, criminology or law.
This article aims to explore the couple, how they met; their crimes; the arrests and trials; & look into their dynamic as a couple and how they operate.
Separate case studies with behavioural analysis for both Karla and Paul will be available on the site soon. These will take a deeper look into their lives as individuals and what may of driven and motivated them as individuals to commit the crimes they did.
Warning some aspects and images of this case are disturbing, those of a sensitive nature may not want to read on.
The First Encounter
Karla and Pauls story begins on October 17th 1987, at the Howard Johnson Hotel. A 23 year old Paul and his friend Van met Karla then 17 and her friend Debbie at a bar in the hotel while they were attending a veterinary conference. The same night Karla and Paul have sex. They exchange numbers and arrange to meet up again.
Karla later tells friends and family that the moment she saw Paul she knew she was going to marry him.
Over the next few months Karla and Paul start dating.
Paul would drive to see Karla a few times a week and they became inseparable. Friends close to Karla at the time recall her and Paul being very loved up and happy. She was said to of adored Paul and it seemed he felt the same way about her.
Karlas family accepted Paul with open arms and were very happy for their daughter despite the 6 year age gap they felt Paul was well suited for her and had good prospects being an accountant.
They had a very adventurous sex life Karlas friends had noticed handcuffs in her room and questioned her about them. She explained to them that Paul liked to play games in bed. A few of her friends recall she was very comfortable in talking about their kinky sex life. He seemed to be making her happy so they didn't question it.
Karla knew Paul had an interest in controlling and dominating sex due to him encouraging her to explore his sexual fantasies with him.
She went along with this and seemed to enjoy it, during sex Paul had even asked Karla what she would think if she found out he was a rapist. Her reply was "I think that'd be cool" - Katherine Ramsland (2014)
Over the next year their relationship grows stronger but not without problems, Paul befriends Karlas family, becoming particularly close to Karlas younger sister Tammy. Karla starts to get jealous about this bond Paul seems to have with Tammy and begins to think their relationship is sexual.
On the 9th of December 1989 Paul and Karla are on a trip and visit Niagara Falls where Paul proposes to her.
Karla still elated by this moment recalls it in a letter she writes on February 23rd 1990 expressing how amazing the moment was, and sends it into The Toronto Star to be published.
With a niggling idea still in the back of her mind about the nature of Pauls relationship with her sister she decides to confront him. Things come to a head for Karla after Paul and Tammy arrive back late from a day trip Karla demands some answers and accuses Paul of sleeping with her sister.
During this confrontation Paul Admits that he is attracted to her sister Tammy, because she is pure and a virgin. This was something Karla could never be, this upset Karla and made her concerned she could loose Paul if she didn't do something about this attraction he had towards her sister.
On the 20th of December 1990 Paul is brought in by detectives for an interview regarding the Scarborough rapist case. After seeing his uncanny resemblance to a composite sketch published in the paper, his friends become concerned and contact the police.
Insisting its nothing to do with him its just a coincidence he supplies them with hair, blood and saliva for DNA testing. He states that the rapes are nothing to do with him, he is questioned then released later that day.
After admitting his lust over Tammy to Karla, Paul from then on continued bringing up Tammy comparing her to Karla in various ways. After their initial confrontation about the topic, he became relentless in his pursuit of making this fantasy a reality.
Karla describes in interviews that he said he wanted Tammy and would keep going on and on about it until he got what he wanted.
So she thought that if she let him have her sister one time he would stop moaning at her and things could just go back to normal. It was then they started to devise a plan on how to render Tammy unconscious so that Paul could have sex with her.
Both of them decided on the plan to drug Tammy, Karla stated in police interviews that it was her idea to use Halothane and Halcion to make sure her sister was not responsive. She got these from her workplace Martindale Animal Clinic, where she was currently training as a veterinary nurse.
Karla's reasoning for this was that she was going to give her sisters virginity as a Christmas gift to Paul, something she couldn't give to him herself.
First Victim - Tammy Homolka
On the 23rd of December (1990) they put their plan into action once Karlas parents and sister Lori had gone to bed they invited Tammy to have a drink with them. The Halcion was slipped into Tammys drinks to make her drowsy once she fell asleep Karla applied the Halothane to a cloth and held it over Tammys mouth to make sure she stayed unconscious while Paul Raped her.
Once Paul was finished he prompted Karla to join in with the rape, which she did. As Karla leaned away from her sister finishing her sordid act Tammy started to make a gargling noise, foam and vomit started coming from her mouth, & she stopped breathing.
In a panic Paul and Karla hide as much of the evidence as possible and Karla calls 911 for an ambulance, they move Tammys body onto a bed redress her and try to resuscitate her until paramedics arrive.
Tammy was taken to hospital and was pronounced dead. There was a brief investigation into Tammys death but it was ruled as accidental death, suspecting that Tammy had choked on her own vomit from being highly intoxicated from alcohol. An idea the police got from Paul and Karla who said she had been drinking with them and fell asleep. they heard a gargling noise and a choking sound looked over and saw Tammy choking on her own vomit. They said they tried to resuscitate her but couldn't.
This story on any other occasion would be fitting given the evidence however Tammy had a very large dark red chemical burn on one side of her face which was explained by Karla to be carpet burn from them trying to do CPR and move her onto the bed. For whatever reason this was dismissed during the investigation but would be investigated again at a later date.
Shortly after Tammy's funeral Karla and Paul move to St Catherine's after getting kicked out by Karla's parents. Before moving Karla writes a letter to her friend Deb describing her current frustrations with her situation at home. Once they move out of Karla's parents house and into their own they live as though nothing had happened carrying on day to day life as normal.
Jane Doe (Anon) incident 1
Karla and some friends go out on a girls night out on the 7th of June (1991) one of her friends Jane Doe (anon) goes back home with Karla to carry on drinking. Karla drugs her with Helicon once she is unconscious Karla calls Paul who then joins her in raping the girl and filming it. She is let go once she becomes conscious again and doesn't seem to recall what had just happened to her.
Second Victim - Leslie Mahaffy
Now with a taste for this extreme sexual behaviour Paul went on the hunt looking for a girl he could kidnap and take home. He had told Karla he wanted more than a one night thing with these girls, he wanted them to become his sex slaves. On the evening of June 15th 1991 he Kidnapped Leslie Mahaffy age 14 on her way home. Paul approaches her from behind and grabs her covering her eyes with a blindfold. He then stuffs her in the car and takes her back home.
Once getting home and putting the girl into the spare bedroom he wakes Karla up to tell her. Karla however claims she went back to sleep, the next morning when she woke up she was upset and past the time walking the dog or reading while Paul raped and tortured the young girl in the spare bedroom.
Karla explains she got very annoyed when she leaves to walk the dog to find 2 of her best champagne glasses had been used by Paul and Leslie she recounts during an interview.
"I was really mad too, because when I took Buddy out there were two champagne glasses on the dining room table, and we had these really expensive champagne glasses from France which we never use. He had those out, the two of them had been drinking champagne from those glasses and I was really mad, its the stupid little things" - Karla Homolka (1993) kidnap and rape of Leslie
Eventually Karla joins Paul in raping and torturing Leslie, she explains that when her blindfold is off she sees Paul and Karla exposing their identity to her Paul insists that they cannot let her go because she has seen them. He starts to choke her with some electrical chord until she's dead, Karla doesn't attempt to stop him instead she just watches as he chokes Leslie to death.
"He went over to her and he did the same thing, he strangled her more and I think I watched that time. Cause what the hell, she's dead anyway" - Karla Homolka (1993)
Once Leslie has died they place her body in their basement while they decide how to get rid of her, they decide to use a circular saw and cement, Paul dismembers Leslie's body into pieces then sets them into the cement in blocks. They later dispose of the blocks containing Leslie in Lake Gibson.
After Leslie's death Paul and Karla lay low for a little while as their wedding is coming up and they have duties such as rehearsals to attend so carry on as if nothing has happened.
On June 29th 1991 Paul and Karla get married, they ride through their local town on a horse drawn carriage seeming to be the depiction of young innocent love, however this is far from the truth. In a morbid coincidence Leslie's remains were found by canoeists and reported to police and as Paul and Karla said I do Leslie's body parts were being retrieved from Lake Gibson the very same time they were joined in holy matrimony.
During their wedding night Karla is upset and annoyed with Paul because he decides to tell her he's the Scarborough rapist. This annoys her and she feels like it ruined their wedding day and honey moon and that it could of waited until after their wedding celebrations. She explained it as "the worst night of her life"
Jane Doe (Anon) Incident 2
On August 10th 1991 Karla invites Jane Doe over again for drinks with plans to drug her again so her and Paul can have their wicked way with her. This time though it goes wrong Jane Doe stops breathing, in a panic Karla phones 911, there is a recording of this she explains her friend can't breath and needs medical assistance, however Karla then finds out she is actually breathing and lets the 911 operator know that the girl's ok and hangs up.
Third Victim - Kristen French
After this Karla and Paul seem to take a break from their sordid activities until the 16th of April 1992 when Paul brings Karla along to look for a girl to abduct. They see Kristen French, 15 walking, driving slowly Paul explains to Karla exactly what to do. They pull into a Church car park and Karla asks Kristen for directions as she walks past them.
Kristen ushers her hands in the direction they want but Karla says she doesn't know the area well and could Kristen show her on a map, getting out of the car Karla places a map on the roof as Kristen approaches her.
As Kristen is showing Karla the directions Paul sneaks up behind her, he grabs Kristen holding a knife to her pushing her into the car. Due to the commotion onlookers notice something going on but assume its just kids messing about so it goes unreported.
They take her back to the house where they keep her hostage for three days systematically torturing and raping her. She is shown video tapes of their other victims and made to watch them, Karla makes a twisted attempt at befriending Kristen, trying to chat to her while Paul is out running errands and even gives her a cuddly toy to hold for comfort during her abuse. They record the rapes as they did with the other victims taking it in turns.
On April 19th 1992 the third day being held hostage Kristen French is murdered by strangulation at the hands of Paul and Karla. They then leave her body in the house to visit Karlas parents. upon return Paul takes Kristens body and disposes of her in a dumpster in Burlington.
The Investigation and Arrests
Kristens body is found on the 30th of April 1992, witness statements suggest they saw two males abduct her on the car park of the church and that they were driving a beige vehicle. A description of Paul was given.
Pauls Friend Van again notices the similarities between Paul and the descriptions of the suspected Scarborough rapist and reports his concerns to the police. Detectives then attend Pauls property to question him however he is not a high priority suspect wise and they carry on their investigation.
The witness reports didn't help in the fact they were looking for two males and a different make of car that had been mis-identified by a witness to Kristens abduction, slowing down the investigation into Paul and Karla.
December 27th 1992 Paul severely beats Karla hitting her in the face several times with a heavy flashlight causing extreme bruising and injury to her face. When Karlas parents see the state of her face on Jan 5th they remove her from the home. Paul is arrested on assault charges, while he is in custody Karla attempts to return to the house to find the tapes of their crimes.
Following his arrest Paul is released but not for long as the DNA samples he had given come back as a match for the samples they had gathered from crimes scenes of the Scarborough rapist.
February 9th 1993 Karla is brought in for questioning on her and Pauls involvement in the Scarborough rapes.
On february 17th 1993 Paul Bernardo is arrested at home for the numerous rapes he had committed and the murders of the young girls.
On february 19th police are granted warrants to enter the residence of Karla and Paul to collect as much evidence as the warrants allowed for. On the 21st of Feb they find a tape of a Jane Doe unconscious being sexually abused by Paul and Karla.
February 24th 1993 Karla Homolka is arrested for the rapes and murders of Leslie Mahaffy and Kristen French. In exchange for pleading guilty to manslaughter and agreeing to testify against Bernardo she took a plea deal in return for a reduced sentence.
The next day Karlas application for divorce from Paul is granted. Karla is offered a 12 year sentence in return for her testimony she is hesitant to take it but upon finding out her Aunt and Uncle Calvin and Patricia (who she had been staying with) had disclosed to the police her confession about Paul and the murders which implicates her in the murders, giving them solid evidence that she was an accomplice. Due to this she accepts the plea deal.
Karla makes claims she only acted the way she did because of battered spouse syndrome and that she was terrified of Paul so did what he wanted so he wouldn't hurt her. Some people believed this whereas many don't buy her story of also being a victim of Paul.
The police had gained evidence of a victim but the identity was unknown but presumed to be Kristen, after showing Karla an image still of the victim Karla suggests it could be her sister Tammy (it later turns out to be Jane Doe)
During Karlas walk through (when a person recounts the actions at a crime scene step by step to police this is recorded and used as evidence) she directed the police to spots in the house where the victims had been, samples taken from these places confirmed that both Leslie and Kristens DNA was present.
Karla is charged with 2 counts of manslaughter set at 12 years to serve total as part of her plea deal. She was sentenced on July 6th 1993 for her part in the abduction, torture, rape and murders of Leslie Mahaffy and Kristen French. She is incarcerated at Kingston Prison for Women and was unconditionally Released 4th July 2005.
Due to Karlas suggestion that her sister was also a victim of her and Paul, Tammys case was re-opened and her body was exhumed for autopsy. the results of this came back that Tammy had either died from choking on her own vomit or due to the chemicals used on her. Her death being down to alcohol intoxication was disregarded.
Paul and Karla had filmed their crimes as well as filming the general events of their lives, leaving undeniable evidence that they were the ones responsible for the deaths of their 3 Victims. However not all of these tapes were recovered by the police.
On the 21st February 1993 the police recovered one of these tapes during a search when they gained access to the property via warrants. This tape featured Paul and Karla sexually assaulting an unconscious Jane Doe, this was mistaken to be Kristen French at the time.
There were more tapes that the police did not find, that had been hidden in the house.
Paul hid the tapes within their property containing evidence of the rapes and murders of Tammy Homolka, Leslie Mahaffy and Kristen French. On may 6th 1993 he instructed his Lawyer Ken Murray to collect 6 tapes hidden in the ceiling above a bathroom light fixture. He then instructed him under no circumstances should he watch them until after May 18th.
John Rosen Takes over case after Murray quits 12th September 1994 over a dispute about destroying the tapes. Once in Rosens possession he handed the originals to the police for investigation.
The police were now aware of the extent of Paul and Karlas crimes, due to Karla already being charged with the manslaughter of the two young girls and taking a plea deal they were unsure if they would be able to add anymore charges onto her sentence. When requested they were later denied it due to Karla suffering PTSD which was affecting her memory, so wouldn't be reliable enough in court.
Pauls Bernardos Trial
Paul is found guilty of all charges on the 1st of September 1995 resulting in two counts in each for Kidnapping, forcible confinement, aggravated sexual assault and first degree murder, plus one count of offering an indignity to a dead human body.
He got life 25+ years and was taken to Kingston Penitentiary where he was put on a 23 hour lock down as a high risk offender.
On November 1995 Paul attended a Dangerous Offender Hearing, he pleaded guilty to all of his crimes including taking responsibility for the death of Tammy Homolka.
He was found to be of a significant risk due to the seriousness of his crimes and was classified as a Dangerous Offender meaning he will remain incarcerated indefinitely with no chance of parole or release.
Behaviour Analysis of Karla and Paul
There has been many theories and ideas put forward regarding the dynamics and situations between this couple with a clear divide of those who believe Karla was an equal participant in the crimes and enjoyed them to those who feel she was actually under duress and suffering battered spouse syndrome.
This breakdown will focus only on behaviours and situations that there is evidence of.
It is not a diagnosis but a possible explanation of their behaviours based on what is currently understood about their crimes.
From the get go it is clear Karla is infatuated with Paul which then leads to love we see evidence of this in the way she talks about him to family and friends.
Being only 17 when they met and him being 6 years her senior she seemed in awe of him, always eager to please him. Due to this seniority he assumed the dominant role in their relationship easily, Paul is a very confident person who is charismatic and focused and comes across as a likeable person on the surface.
Karla seemed happy with this arrangement and went along with it, although she gets very anxious over the thought she might possibly loose him especially to another woman. This is very important to note as her jealousy is at the forefront of her emotions a could be a possible reason for her decision making.
She displays this flawed decision making many times in her bouts of jealousy over Pauls attraction to young teenage girls for example.
This could possibly explain some of her willingness to co-operate at the suggestion of including these women in the relationship, in her mind it seems that if she allows him to satisfy his urges with these women not only will he stay with her but he will also value her for meeting his desires making her a better option for him in the long run.
Studies show that sexual jealousy can really impact a persons decision making, due to their preconceived ideas of how that rival makes them look in comparison. Their overwhelming desire to be better than the person they perceive to be their love rival can cause them to make decisions in bad judgement as an attempt to present themselves as the better option to their love interest.
"Often rivals possess some attribute that makes us look bad by comparison, and this attribute is seen as the quality that allows the rival to take a lover away from us (Schmitt, 1988). . . The particular intensity of jealousy (beyond envy) seems to lie in the threat to continued relationship rewards as well as the threat to self-es teem (Mathes, Adams, & Davis, 1985; Salovey & Rodin, 1989, White, 1981a)"
This is something that plays a key role in how she responds to Pauls ever more extreme requests.
She seems to be able to go to extreme lengths to make sure she can keep him interested and reduce her anxiety about her perceived love rivals.
Paul is a calculating and manipulative person you see this in the way he befriends those close to him creating intimate relationships with the people he knows. He uses violence, intimidation and emotional threats to gain control of his victims.
We know from his multiple rape convictions outside of his relationship with Karla totalling in 11 rapes not including those of Tammy, Leslie and Kristen and 4 attempted rapes.
Paul has demonstrated in his actions that he is a remorseless man he is heard in court explaining how the girls are just "additional props" to him like handcuffs are in a sex game. He saw no value in his victims life nor did he see a person he just saw a toy for him to destroy as he pleased. He has no empathy or sympathy for his victims or their families.
Over the span of 4 years from 1987 - 1991 Paul went on a raping spree destroying many girls lives however the only girls that lost their lives in attacks at the hands of Paul were those that also involved Karla. this suggests that Karla is a motivating drive in Pauls decisions to murder Leslie and Kristen. Whether it be because she is involved so his excitement is heightened at the presence of a willing accomplice causing him to do more extreme things or because something she did while they were committing the acts caused him to react differently could be some reason behind that difference in the outcome of the crimes
He was known to have very structured and rigid ways of the way he liked things to be, he had Karla write a list of the things she could and couldn't do showing the element of control he had over her.
Paul fits the profile of a prolific offender and a dangerous sexual predator especially to young teenage girls. He showed no signs of slowing his crimes down and the extremities of them got increasingly worse over time.
His crimes reflect this controlling nature in many of the tapes he is telling his victims to smile and look happy and gets angry when they don't obey him, Karla is also seen to be smiling in the videos giving the impression she is enjoying herself which has raised many questions into whether she was being forced to smile or was genuinely smiling because she was enjoying herself as Paul would later claim she was genuinely enjoying herself.
There is also the idea that she went along with the crimes because she was in fear of Paul and was suffering battered spouse syndrome so was not making decisions independently but rather under duress. Something she presented in court as a reason for her actions. However there are multiple occasions where her own statements cast doubt on this theory.
One of them being during an interview she discusses being more upset that her best champagne glasses had been used than showing any concern for the victims safety, this is not the actions of a person who has genuine remorse for their crimes or someone who feels genuine guilt for what they have done
Another example of her own actions not fitting the criteria for battered spouse syndrome but more fitting of someone with a cluster B personality disorder is in a letter she writes to a friend only a week or so after Tammys murder. Her family are still grieving and all she is bothered about is her wedding fund being cut to help pay for her sisters funeral, the sister she killed.
" Dear Deb
Fuck my parents first they took away half the wedding money then they kicked us out. my father doesn't even want us to have a wedding anymore, screw that! we're having a good time. If my father wants to sit at home and be miserable he's welcome to, he's only worked a day since Tammy died he's wallowing in his own misery" - Karla Homolkas letter to her friend Deb
These are not the words of a seemingly timid victim of domestic violence, but more so of a person who only has their own interests at heart. Another display of this behaviour is when Kristen is left with Karla.
Kristen French was left alone with Karla while Paul went to run some errands she didn't attempt to free her instead she guards her with a mallet she even describes the relationship with Kristen as "friendly" saying that they "did each others make-up and chatted "- police interview tapes (1993) She explains that she felt sad when Kristen died because she felt they had bonded however still displayed no remorse for doing it and wasn't sorry that Kristen was killed just at the fact she had got fond of her and felt a loss again self absorbed and only identifying how it affected her rather than the impact of her actions on Kristen.
Dr Fred Berlin expert criminologist is not convinced by Homolkas' defence of battered spouse syndrome. "To make the leap from being battered and getting back at your batterer, to killing innocent victims is a leap that I'm not prepared to make" - Fred Berlin (11.1997)
Paul and Karla together were a deadly duo both displaying varying aspects of personality disorders, distorted thinking patterns, and unhealthy codependency mixed with their distorted sexual desires made them a ticking time bomb. Karlas insecurities fed Pauls desires creating a codependency bound by family secrets, sex tapes and violence.
Pauls sexual gratification came from being sexually violent towards women treating them as objects he could control, something he can use up and throw away when he pleases. In turn making it somewhat believable that Karla was actually intimidated by him at times. But not enough for it to be believed that he had her under complete control or that she had no choice in some of the decisions she made.
Individually Karla may not have got involved with such extreme sexual practices and crimes had she not met some one like Paul Bernardo who was already a rapist, however it is hard to say for sure because of her sadistic and jealous tendencies. Who knows how she may of acted in another relationship when threaten with a potential love rival.
Paul is extremely troubled his actions were habitual and were getting progressively worse and more regular in frequency without the input of Karla. He was a sexual offender and predator before meeting Karla and would of still been one even if he hadn't of ever met Karla.
Ultimately they became a dangerous combination fuelled by lust, jealousy and the need to be in control. Paul's anger one of the main things that fuelled his actions eventually becoming his and Karlas downfall.
Want see more on this case or any of the theories discussed? Click any of the reference links below
Check out the very accurate depiction of the Barbie and Ken Killers film - Karla released in 2006 it sticks to the facts of the case, the casting of characters is very well done.
A brilliant film for anyone interested in this case.
Karla (2006) - https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0424938/
Youtube link Karla (2006) - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ed68KcdjTJM
Gavin, Helen (2014) Evil or Insane? The Female Serial Killer and Her Doubly Deviant Femininity. In: Transgressive Womanhood. Interdisciplinary press, Oxford, pp. 4960. ISBN 978184888283 6-available at http://eprints.hud.ac.uk/id/eprint/20322/
Peter Salovey and Judith Rodin (1991).Provoking Jealousy and Envy: Domain Relevance and Self-Esteem Threat.Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology: Vol.10, No.4, pp. 395-413.
Schützwohl, A. (2007). Decision Strategies in Continuous Ratings of Jealousy Feelings Elicited by Sexual and Emotional Infidelity.Evolutionary Psychology.https://doi.org/10.1177/147470490700500410
A triangular theory of love. Sternberg, Robert J.Psychological Review, Vol 93(2), Apr 1986, 119-135.https://psycnet.apa.org/buy/1986-21992-001
‘Karla Homolka,’ The Fifth Estate. BROADCAST DATE : NOV 25, 1997 - https://www.cbc.ca/fifth/m_episodes/40-years-of-the-fifth-estate/karla-homolka
Trial video & press archive - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jqSNWc5KEns&t=789s