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Why Karla?

WRITER, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST, SOLIPSIST, FALLIBILIST

Front page, Globe and Mail, 2005.06.30GLOBE AND MAIL
Thursday, June 30, 2005

HOW I BECAME AN ADVOCATE FOR THE ‘DEVIL’

Author Stephen Williams Explains why he wrote two books about Homolka

If I had not been arrested in late October 1998 and relentlessly prosecuted until my acquittal in November, 2000 on two criminal charges of disobeying court orders and publication bans to do with my first book Invisible Darkness: The Horrifying Case of Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka I would never have written to Karla Homolka.

Nor would I have written the book based on that correspondence, Karla: A Pact with the Devil. Ironically, that book and the national publicity it garnered got me arrested a second time and my eight-year ordeal didn’t end until Jan. 14, 2005, after the Attorney General came to my lawyer, Edward Greenspan, and offered a deal that we could not refuse.

To this day many friends who stood by me all this time have, at one time or another, accused me of deliberately “poking the bear.”

After all, they say, you should have known after your first arrest that the authorities clearly didn’t like you. Another book on the same subject was going to bring down a world of hurt on your thick skull, they added.

This perspective shocked me. It was never my intention to “poke the bear”.

As an investigative journalist I believed it was my job to find out the facts behind the apprehension and prosecutions of  Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka and put them on the record. The only stories that are interesting to me are the back stories. In Invisible Darkness I told the back story.

How was it my fault that the facts tell a story of breathtaking police ineptitude and prosecutorial malfeasance? Was I somehow to blame that that there was not one redeemable character in the whole sordid tale. I like a hero as much as the next guy. Unfortunately, there wasn’t one.

By the time Invisible Darkness was published “the bear” had spent a great deal of effort, time and taxpayer’s money to keep all of those facts that were contained in the book secret. Regardless it never occurred to me that the bear would attack. Way back then, circa 1998, I thought we lived in a democracy.

I was sick to death of Paul Bernardo, Karla Homolka, their horrible crimes, the  lawyer for the families of the victims - Tim Danson - his tireless self-aggrandizing advocacy,  the obsessive media, the amoral Ministry of the Attorney General,  the whole squalid, bloody business.

By late 1997 it was tout finis.  I had signed a contract to write an historically based fiction about Myer Lansky’s protégé, a Toronto Jew named Nathan Klegerman who grew up on Spadina Avenue and was the only mobster I had ever heard of who was also a Spinoza scholar. He actually used to to audit Marshall McLuhan’s famous Monday night graduate seminars at the University of Toronto. Klegerman’s story was fascinating and filled with all kinds of colourful and possibly redeemable characters and I was very eager to get started..

By year’s end I had put all my Bernardo/Homolka papers, research notes and other paraphernalia in boxes and stored them. Good riddance, said my partner Marsha Boulton. We had a small celebratory dinner.

Our relief was short-lived. After an article in a Toronto tabloid alleging that I had told the columnist I saw restricted videotape evidence from the Bernardo trial, the ubiquitous Mr. Danson wrote a letter to the Attorney General demanding that this specious, unfounded and clearly unprovable allegation be investigated by the police. He wrote to the man responsible for ordering police investigations, Murray Segal. Mr. Segal just happened to be one of three central individuals who had delivered Karla her future.

Mr. Segal signed the order for the Ontario Provincial Police to launch a full investigation into me and my book. Because that is what those dogs do - they hunt, a year later I was arrested and the matter was set down for trial.

It was this inexplicable and totally unexpected behavior of “the bear” that precipitated my correspondence with Karla. The first thing my lawyers told me to do was get my Bernardo stuff out of storage, thoroughly review and catalogue it for their easy and ready access. Everything I had: the crown briefs, the interviews, the photographs, they said, was essential to my defense.

I was heartsick. For months I could not bring myself to open the boxes and look at the wretched stuff. Surely this was a nightmare from which I would soon awake.

The fact that it wasn’t a nightmare finally sank in and I began going through it all and doing as I was told. I again watched hundreds of hours of videotaped police interviews with Karla Homolka. If I had lived with Karla for ten years I would never have been able to dream up as many specific and wide-ranging questions, nor would she have answered them nearly as honestly.

After all, the police were never her interrogators, they were collaborators.

I went through thousands of pages of police will-says and reports again, hundreds of transcribed interviews with potential witness, hundreds of photographs, dozens of psychiatric reports and other bric-a-brac.

           Suddenly I saw something within the mounts of Crown briefs that I had not seen before. The revelation - the details of the decisions and actions of a few key individuals involved. It was the fulcrum, the defining moment that would explain one of the great mysteries in my life. It explained, at least to my mind, exactly how and why Karla Homolka got off so lightly even though the authorities had known from the get-go she was equally if not more responsible for the deaths of her sister, Leslie Mahaffy and Kristen French. It was there all along among the strewn boxes and papers, staring me right in the face. I simply had not seen it before.

This discovery was sufficiently revelatory to interest a publisher. Suddenly all was redeemed because now I had a project that dovetailed perfectly with the whupping that was being laid on me by the police and the Ministry of the Attorney General.

Alas, what goes up must come down. I was exuberant until I realized that in spite of the things I had discovered this new book for which I had just signed a contract could not be written unless Karla talked to me. And frankly I was the last person on earth that she would ever talk to.

As she said in her first startling letter to me: “Well, they say ‘never say never’ and they’re right. Never in a million years did I think that I would ever write a letter to anyone from the media, let alone you who has treated me so harshly.”

By that time I had written her two, long letters but it was an obituary that did the trick. Like the information that delivered the new book contract, I discovered the obituary completely by accident.

           One afternoon as were were driving over to the bank in Durham, Ont. Marsha said from behind the newspaper she was reading “What a shame. Hans Arndt has died.”

Dr. Arndt was Karla’s psychiatrist, the man who had hospitalized her for seven weeks in March, 1993 and given her a haven in what she perceived to be a heartless world. He was also the principle force in the definition of Karla as a battered spouse suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. “I’ll bet Karla doesn’t know Dr. Arndt has died,” Marsha continued. ”You should send this to her.”

I did and scrawled one line on the clipping: “Thought you might want to know.”

I had all but given up until one fine early spring afternoon in May, 2001 a made the daily trek down our farm lane-way to the old battered mail box and there it was, a small envelope in that all too familiar handwriting of hers. I stood there stunned in the middle of the empty country road. The dog sat down and regarded me with perplexed concern. I gingerly opened the envelope.

“I want to thank you for letting me know of Dr. Arndt’s death. I had no idea.” Karla wrote in her careful script on Winnie-the-Pooh stationary. “The world has lost a truly wonderful and most compassionate man. He was incredibly helpful to me at a very difficult time as I’m sure you know. It’s strange - just last week I did a “housecleaning” and threw away his card. Perhaps on some level I knew? Things like that happen to me often.”

As it happens, about Dr. Arndt’s character Karla and I are in complete agreement. In fact finding Dr. Arndt’s obituary was exactly one of those things that happen. Things that also happen to me all the time. I wrote back and told her so and thus it began.

As with most “things,” it was not just the one precipitous coincidental act of sending Dr Arndt’s obituary to Karla that persuaded her to engage in an 18-month-long voluminous correspondence and put me on her visitor’s list.

As it turned out, the bear had turned on her too.

For seven years Correctional Services Canada treated Karla as Dr. Arndt and others experts in the employ of the Ministry of the Attorney General for Ontario had diagnosed her - as a battered woman suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. They coddled Karla. They gave her therapy. They reassured her that if she was a good girl she would be paroled - at the latest on her Statutory Release date in July, 2001. Karla did exactly as her jailers bid. The warden at Joliette told me that Karla was a model prisoner, he sincerely wished they were all like her.

If her name was not Karla, she would have been the poster woman for the CSC’s self-proclaimed new women’s penology based on Madame Justice Arbour’s scathing 1995 report.

Then, in the way things often happen, Karla became a political football. In the fall of 2000, some one in the PMO, on the eve of Jean Chretin’s last election, woke up to the fact that Karla was about to be paroled on Statutory Release. But Karla on parole would be an optical nightmare.

The Liberal Party perceived itself to be under siege by the fledging neo-con Alliance Party for being soft on crime and criminals. If Karla were ever to be released, even though almost everyone in jail is released on their statutory date on parole, if not sooner, it would have been politically disastrous.

The word went out to then Solicitor General Lawrence MacCauley and from his office to the office of the Commissioner of the Correctional Service, Lucy McClung and from Ms. McClung’s office to the Director of the Correctional Service for Quebec.

The warden at Joliette got one of those middle-of-the-night calls.

The CSC was going to reevaluate their relationship with Ms. Homolka and, in the process reinvent her as psychopath or at least a person too dangerous to be released on parole. In aid of that undertaking, they were going to fly her - in an airplane borrowed from the RCMP - at Thanksgiving, again in the middle of the night, to a maximum security cell in CSC’s Regional Psychiatric Centre in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. There, in spite of the fact it was against the law they would prod and probe her psychiatrically and, by hook or by crook, redefine her.

After four months in that hell hole, in early 2001, they shipped Karla back to a un-secured psychiatric hospital named Pinel in north Montreal. She languished there for six weeks while they readied a cell in the maximum security wing of the all male Regional Reception Centre at Ste-Anne des Plaine. That is where my letters found her - letters that told her that what had happened to her was a travesty; that she should have been released on parole on her statutory date. As Karla said to me in her first letter “I must say, however, that you letters intrigued me. You have some very valid points. It’s a shame that nobody wants to hear them.”

If the CSC had not intervened and reneged on their promises to Karla - or even if they had - but simply left her where she was in Joliette - among her convict friends, lovers and acquaintances - Karla would never have answered my letters, obituary or not.

The rest, as they say, is history. (from the Globe and Mail, July 1, 2005; all rights reserved.)

Contact for Stephen Williams:
stephenwms@sympatico.ca
 

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