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First Chapter

WRITER, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST, SOLIPSIST, FALLIBILIST

INVISIBLE DARKNESS - CHAPTER ONE

Evil is unspectacular and always human. And shares our bed and eats at our table.

        - W.H. Auden

At 7:30 a.m., Monday morning, March 8, 1993, Sister Josephine, a sixty-two-year-old Carmelite nun from Lindsay, Ontario, woke with a start from a tortured dream which inevitably was about her increasingly tenuous relationship with her beloved companion for life - Jesus Christ. The internal struggle between her sense of duty and her waning sense of self-worth seemed hopelessly lost, and her forty-year marriage to the Lord on the rocks. A semi retired teacher, unable to perform even the most menial tasks, she had become totally withdrawn. She had been diagnosed with endogenous depression and hospitalized a week and a half earlier. At least she knew where she was. She was in Room 802 on the psychiatric ward of Northwestern General Hospital in northern Toronto. As Sister Josephine woke up, she realized she was no longer alone.

A pretty young woman (or was she a girl?) with blond, cashmere hair and a provocatively flimsy nightgown was sitting on the bed opposite. She was wearing a set of headphones, rhythmically tapping the fingers of one hand on a fashion magazine to music only she could hear and painting her toenails pink with the other. A perfect angel, Sister Josephine thought, and smiled at her new companion. The nun would soon learn that her name was Karla - with a K. Karla, seeing the nun was awake, held up an enormous stuffed animal that was reclining on her pillow. "This is Bunky," she said, with a friendliness and enthusiasm that the nun found refreshing. Sister Josephine only wished she was her old self and could show some spark of enthusiasm in return.

Dr. Arndt, her psychiatrist, had told her not to worry too much about her present state of dimmed awareness. It was not unusual for people undergoing electro-convulsive therapy - or "buzzing," as he so irreverently called it - to be "out of it" for the first week or two. "Although it works faster than the drugs," he said in his heavy Austrian accent, "it can be a bit discombobulating."

 Dr. Hans Arndt was the senior staff psychiatrist at Northwestern. With his accent, he could just as easily have been sent by central casting. At fifty-eight, Dr. Arndt was bald, bearded and bespectacled. A leading exponent of "buzzing," known in lay terms as shock treatment, he was also one of those modern, pharmaceutical alchemists who concocted drug-induced "sleep therapies" that put patients out for at least three days at a stretch. Sister Josephine's angel companion had just been awakened from such a therapy.

Dr. Arndt knew what was wrong with the nun, but he had not come to any conclusion about the mental health of Karla Homolka-Bernardo. As he had told her lawyer, George Walker, when he agreed to hospitalize her, "I don't know if this girl is mad or just bad."

On February 26, George Walker had first called Dr. Arndt's colleague, psychologist Allan Long, and asked him urgently to organize a psychological and psychiatric evaluation for a new client. And so it came to pass that Dr. Long and his colleague Dr. Arndt arrived at Walker's offices at 4:30 p.m. on March 3, 1993, to be introduced to this bizarre case. Dr. Arndt had no idea who Karla was - but then, again, he had learned not to be surprised by the chemistry of the human soul.

The truth was, Dr. Arndt found Niagara Falls fascinating. Historically speaking, the area wore its psychoses on its sleeve. It represented the best of nature and the worst of mankind  - a coincidence of geographic purity pitted against the impurity of human behavior. It was the God-given inexhaustible supply of fresh water from the Great Lakes and the man-made ingenuity of an obscure Croatian engineer that had spawned cheap power at the turn of the century, which had then led to massive industrialization. That, in turn, had poisoned the land and the water - the minds would follow.

Like certain psychopathologies, Niagara Falls's symptoms lay dormant, invisible for generations. It appealed to Dr. Arndt's sense of irony that the nearby Love Canal was such a place and had a name that resonated a multiplicity of definitions.

* * * * * * *

 George Walker's law offices in Niagara Falls are in a gray-blue, two-story, aluminum-sided building on the corner of Victoria and Queen Streets directly across from DeMarco's infamous pawnshop. Oddly, Walker had known Karla before the "mad murder publicity." Karla had worked as a veterinary assistant at the Martindale Clinic in nearby St. Catharines where Walker had taken Kelly, his cancer-riddled Dalmatian for treatment. He remembered how tender she had been with his beloved pet. After the dog died, Walker kept its ashes in an urn on the mantelpiece in his living room.

Karla first put a call in for Kelly's daddy in the late evening of February 9. She said she wanted to see Walker about a "domestic dispute." Perhaps it was for the memory of Kelly that Walker agreed to see the "tender" vet's assistant, who was about to become a pariah. An appointment was set for Karla Homolka-Bernardo to come to see him at 3:00 p.m. on Thursday, February 11, 1993.

 At first, Walker simply didn't believe Karla's story. It was too incredible. But after she confessed everything, in a relentless, strangely monotonic monologue, his disbelief was quickly replaced by an abiding abstruseness. First thing to do - her confession in hand - was to start positioning the Attorney- General's office. In return for immunity, Walker told them that Karla would be happy to betray her estranged husband, Paul Bernardo, and testify categorically that he had murdered Leslie Mahaffy and Kristen French.

Walker had a professional responsibility to determine whether or not Karla was sane enough to stand trial. But he wanted more than that - he wanted to turn this determination to his advantage. Walker knew that he needed a psychiatric game plan for Karla's defense argument. Drs. Long and Arndt were meant as a stunning, preemptive strike. With astonishing good fortune, Walker would be able to move a chess piece first - and maybe capture the board.

Considering that Karla's estranged husband, Paul Bernardo, had been arrested two weeks earlier, on February 17, and that police were now ransacking their matrimonial home, Walker knew he had to move quickly. Walker arranged for Karla to secretly meet the doctors who would deliver his psychiatric game plan. They met in the second-floor conference room of his office building at 4:30 p.m. on March 3. At first, when Karla arrived and sat self-consciously in front of the experienced psychiatrists, Walker wondered if they would find her credible.

* * * * * * *

 With the power of a natural actress, Karla showed the doctors her wedding pictures. Dr. Arndt, looking to somehow grab her trust, said the wedding pictures looked more like a funeral.

 "I fancy myself as a photographer and perhaps I see something that other people don't," the doctor said, with a forgiving, empathetic voice.

 "My God," said Karla with a shock of recognition, "everybody else just oohed and aahed and said how it looked like a storybook wedding." Karla seemed dismayed - but only for a second. "But it really was my funeral. It really was... Yes, that's what it was."

Dr. Arndt now had Karla in his power or - an argument could be offered - was it the other way around? It was Dr. Arndt's opinion that Karla was in a lot of pain and needed to "spill"; an Arndt-ism for unburdening. Clearly she was able to instruct counsel and fit to stand trial. The opinion was clear. Karla should be hospitalized for a "total work up, comprehensive assessment and therapies." Walker liked that. This scored him some time. And so it was agreed.

Karla's mother, Dorothy, delivered her troubled daughter to Northwestern General Hospital on March 4 at 11:30 a.m. Karla was quickly admitted under her mother's maiden name - Seger. This was a strategy, on the part of the hospital, to try and hide the fact of Karla's admission. It was important that journalists not know about her movements. On the admission form Karla was described as a "twenty-two-year-old female patient with diagnosis of depression."

It was Dr. Arndt's idea to put Karla and the nun in the same room. Perhaps it appealed to his sense of irony. But above all he thought it might give the Good Sister some benefit - a startling jolt of reality. He had warned the hospital that he would be admitting someone who "might be having a high profile," but he thought he would let Sister Josephine find out who Karla was on her own.

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