Five years after Karla Homolka dropped off the radar screen, journalist Paula Todd has tracked her down. Her brief e-book, Finding Karla, describes the quest and the discovery. It is (let’s hope) the closing chapter on the most sickening crime story in Canadian history.
Why did she bother? Because Karla’s story is incomplete. People are furious that she never got the justice she deserved. Most of us believe she deserves to rot in hell. Instead, she got away with a laughably light prison sentence for crimes that, at the very least, demanded imprisonment for life. Knowing she would be hounded to death in Canada, she chose to disappear from sight. Where did she go? How does she live? Is she still a menace? How dare she have children? What happens when they find out – as they surely will – that they have a notorious murderer for a mother? Does she, at least, suffer?
Ms. Todd tracked her subject to the tiny island chain of Guadeloupe in the Caribbean. Karla hadn’t even changed her name – she goes by her married name, Bordelais, and her middle name, Leanne. She lives with her family in a simple apartment building in the back of beyond. (In order to protect the kids, Ms. Todd won’t say where.) She is 42 now. Her face has the lines and folds of middle age, and her brilliant blonde hair is now a faded beige. She is married to Thierry Bordelais, whose sister, Sylvie, is Karla’s Canadian lawyer. Her name was right there on the mailbox.
Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka, widely known as the Ken and Barbie of the serial-killer world, have provided grist for half a dozen TV shows and movies. No screenwriter could make the story more lurid than it is. Paul met Karla when she was 17, and they went on a killing spree. They started with Karla’s little sister, Tammy, who probably died because Karla smothered her with a cloth soaked in anesthetic. Then, two weeks before their fairy-tale wedding, they raped and killed Leslie Mahaffy, who was decapitated and sawed into pieces that were sealed in concrete. They finished off with Kristen French.
Karla struck a brilliant plea deal in exchange for testifying against Paul. She managed to persuade a bundle of psychiatric experts and even prosecutors that she too was a victim – a battered woman who only did what he told her to because she feared he would hurt her. Only later, when those shocking videos came to light, did we learn that Paul and Karla were enthusiastic partners in sadistic rape and murder.
As an avid student of sociology and psychology (she took courses in prison), Karla has become an expert in battered-woman syndrome. Incredibly, the question of her moral agency is still a hot topic in feminist criminology circles, where some so-called scholars swallowed her self-serving narrative hook, line and sinker. Academics have argued that she was simply acting out the role of the “good wife,” as dictated by patriarchal ideology. Other academics have sought parallels with prisoners in Nazi concentration camps who committed horrible crimes under duress. They seem to have overlooked the fact that Karla was a highly manipulative narcissist who, unlike prisoners in Dachau, could have got away any time she wanted.
Fortunately, only other academics could believe such rubbish. The rest of us just want to know if Karla feels the least bit sorry for what she’s done. On the evidence so far, the answer is no. In the hour that Ms. Todd spent with her – before she was kicked out – her strongest emotions were alarm that she’d been found and distress that everyone in Canada hates her guts. In the universe of Karla, concepts of remorse, repentance, shame, responsibility and atonement still have no place.
How could any man have married her? Ms. Todd doesn’t try to answer that. She also doesn’t say what they live on, although judging by their modestly furnished apartment, it’s not much. Will she kill again? I doubt it. I’ve always thought that she found Paul and they made each other worse. Also, she loves her kids. Presumably she doesn’t want to lose them.
Many people think Karla’s decision to have children was another crime. Ms. Todd leaves that judgment up to you. “The kids are clearly accustomed to affection, competing for her lap and yearning for her praise,” she writes. “The baby snuggles in her arms.” As she breastfeeds him, “she looks up at me and barely manages to conceal her pride.” Maybe they will hate her some day, but maybe not. In the meantime, they are the only source of love (apart, perhaps, from her husband) that she will ever have.
What’s frustrating about Karla’s story is that we will always be denied our cosmic justice. The monster has skated out of reach. And even if she’s the best mother in the world, she’s beyond redemption. Her punishment, as Ms. Todd concludes, is to live out her life, lonely and bored, in the back of beyond. And for most of us that’s not enough.
More info for those who weren't familiar with her until the Magnotta case. trigger warnings for both: