IN THE BEGINNING
There are abiding mysteries in life such as who cleft the Devil’s foot or what song the Sirens sang? Two more contemporary mysteries have plagued me for the better part of the past decade: Who is Karla Homolka and how did she come to have a future?
Over the last ten years Karla has been examined by at least sixteen psychiatrists and psychologists. The majority of them diagnosed her as a battered woman suffering from Post-traumatic stress disorder. A few contrarians concluded that she was a psychopath. One honest man described her as a “diagnostic mystery.” Regardless, it seems the more she is studied the more mysterious and inexplicable her past behavior becomes.
Perhaps even more perplexing than what she is and what she has done is the fact that Karla has a future. How, in the name of all that is holy, does a woman like Karla, who did what Karla did, get the opportunity to pick herself up and just start over? Although there has been a great deal of speculation about what Karla is, and a great deal of anguished examination of what she did, no one has really addressed the fact of her future. After all, the facts of her past make the fact that she has a future inconceivable.
In the process of “giving” her younger sister to her boyfriend Paul Bernardo as a Christmas present in the basement of her parents’ house in 1990, she killed her. Six months later, Karla lured a young girlfriend into the house she was by then sharing with Bernardo, drugged her in the exact same manner as she had her sister, and then proceeded to participate with her fiancé in a lascivious videotaped sexual assault on the comatose girl. This time, the girl, known only as Jane Doe, was a wedding present. Miraculously, Jane survived.
A week later, Karla’s betrothed brought another schoolgirl home. He said it was merely reciprocity. He and Karla proceeded to repeatedly rape Leslie Mahaffy while again recording the action on videotape. Then they killed her, cut up her body, encased the parts in cement and dumped the blocks in a nearby reservoir. Two weeks later, Paul and Karla were married at historic Niagara-on-the-Lake. Their nuptials were a bizarre videotaped extravaganza marked by a horse-drawn carriage and a sit-down champagne dinner for their families and a hundred of their closest friends. They settled into seeming domestic bliss in a quiet St. Catharines’ suburb, a ten-minute drive north of the Peace Bridge and Niagara Falls, New York.
After returning from their honeymoon in Hawaii, Karla called on her young girlfriend again. The impressionable Jane Doe became a fixture in the Bernardo household. In collaboration with her husband, Karla put Jane down for the second time in August, 1991. This time, the girl appeared to stop breathing. As she had done the night her sister died, Karla called 911. A few minutes later she called back. Everything was all right, she said. It was a false alarm. Her friend had come around.
There were a few other atrocities, such as the rape of a Port Dalhousie teenager who was jogging alone early one April morning. But other than the fact that Paul Bernardo quit his job with a large accounting firm and started smuggling cigarettes for a living, everything was perfectly normal.
A year into the marriage, Karla took the afternoon off work to help Paul kidnap another teenager. They grabbed Kristen French as she walked home from school in the middle of the afternoon. In their late-model Nissan, Paul and Karla pulled into a church parking lot. Holding up a map as though needing directions, Karla called the girl over. Over that Easter weekend, with the ubiquitous video camera ever present, Paul and Karla repeatedly raped the fifteen-year-old. With vaporific demons almost visibly seething in the grainy frames, over the incessant, demonic gangsta rap that so preoccupied her husband pulsating in the background, Karla can be heard encouraging the teenager to smile and say just the right things while Paul is sodomizing her. Just before going to Karla’s parents for the obligatory Easter Sunday dinner, they killed Kristen too. Later that night, Karla cut off the corpse’s luxurious dark chestnut hair – as she later explained – to foil forensic analysis. Then she helped Paul dump the shorn, naked body in a ditch.
Among the more difficult facts in all these cases, Karla had numerous opportunities to save all of their victims. At one point during Leslie Mahaffy’s captivity, Karla went out and walked the dog for half an hour while Bernardo stayed home and raped the girl yet again. There was nothing to stop her going into a nearby telephone booth and calling the police. On another occasion, Karla was left alone to “guard” Kristen French while her husband went out to get take-out and rent a movie.
In a controversial plea bargain, allegedly motivated by the authorities’ need for her testimony against her husband, Karla pled guilty to two counts of manslaughter and received a twelve-year prison sentence. Almost as astonishing as the deal itself, the families of the murdered teenage girls sanctioned Karla’s deals.
Subsequently, there has been a good deal of superficial commentary and public indignation about the fact that Karla has a future. Some say it was blind luck, while others say it was blind Justice. Wiser men than I have proclaimed it a combination of both. All of it has been characterized by the idea that Karla wove some kind of voodoo spell that confused and befuddled our purveyors of law and order.
Like her namesake Karla Faye Tucker from Texas, in many American states, Karla Homolka would have been given the needle. If there were any such thing as Justice she would at least be rotting in jail for the rest of her life. Instead, on July 6, 2005, at the age of thirty-five, “her debt to society” paid in full, she will be released, a free woman.
The questions about Karla and her future and what she might do with it are not as profound as the nagging arcana of life and death but for me they are especially vexatious because I cannot get away from them.
God knows I’ve tried. After I was arrested in 1998 and unsuccessfully prosecuted over the next two years for allegedly violating court orders while writing my first book about Paul and Karla’s crimes, it became evident that I was not going to be allowed to end my quest where most quests end. I was not going to be able to settle comfortably somewhere between Heaven and Hell in the midst of a troubled acceptance that certain mysteries are unknowable. I had been unwillingly dragged back into the quagmire of sex, death and videotape that had defined Karla’s short life. It was like a nightmare from which I could not awake. By the time I was acquitted on November 30, 2000, it was too late.
“If you are not a bird, beware of coming to rest over the Abyss...” the German philosopher Frederick Nietzsche wrote. I had come squarely to rest over the Abyss and could not help staring into it.
It was a shape-shifter.
Sometimes, it was quite attractive, with blue eyes, full breasts and cashmere-blond hair. Many times it was naked and I watched, both repelled and riveted, while it performed various sex acts on members of both sexes. Often, it looked exactly like Karla Homolka, as she appeared in those videos, bent over her sister or some other comatose teenager, naked, legs akimbo, rubbing her pubis, a demonic, feral grin on her face.
Other times, it looked exactly like Michael Code, the square-jawed, Buddha-worshiping, ex-rugger-playing prosecutor who ultimately sealed Karla’s fate and delivered her a future.
Other times it was a huge blackness, like a starless country sky, under which it was impossible to get any bearing.
No matter how long I stared into it, or how much I read about it, or how closely I examined it, it stubbornly remained inaccessible and mysterious. Thus began my quest for the tarnished fleece of forbidden knowledge that might just stop the Abyss from staring into me.
With my first book, Invisible Darkness, I tried to write a straightforward, un-hyped, literate account of the crimes and the criminals and the police, and prosecutors who tried to bring them to justice. This time I am going to do a Rashomon and tell the story of Karla’s life in prison and suggest what her possible futures may be in many voices and from many different points of view. Certain viewpoints are more illusive than others. For instance, the letters I wrote to Karla throughout the nineties went unanswered. My frequent requests for interviews with the architects of Karla’s deals were ignored. Then something happened and things changed.
In myth and legend, mortals who embark on seemingly unattainable quests are aided by something – Fate, Coincidence, Divine Intervention. So was I.