Homicide blond

January 3, 2001


Why a killer holds our attention with her dark power.



The bubbly, unpredictable blonde in the 1998 film There’s Something About Mary! had a puzzling and dazzling effect on her male admirers. But Mary was merely a frothy character; she had nothing on a woman named Karla.

Since her arrest in 1993, Karla Homolka has held our fascination.  While Paul Bernardo, locked away in Kingston Penitentiary for life, is no longer newsworthy, Karla has an uncanny way of grabbing attention.  Just last week, her name was again emblazoned across newspapers, this time with unnamed sources saying that an official report recommends she be denied her chance at parole later this year. The document produced by Corrections Canada reportedly states—as if we didn’t already know—that she is “too dangerous” to be granted early release. Long before she was recently shipped to a high-security psychiatric center in Saskatoon for an extensive assessment, we all knew Karla was dangerous.

That’s what has made her fascinating and maintained her standing amongst the most newsworthy people of the last 10 years. While murderers like Rosemary West and Susan Smith achieved a mere blip of public interest, Karla manages to keep titillating us. Never donning the gray garb of repentance, she, instead, intrigues and infuriates by posing in party dresses.

Psychologists can debate whether she is a psychopath; a term too weak for her prowess, or a battered spouse, the farfetched excuse for granting her a “sweetheart deal,” but what label fits her is not the source of our curious absorption with Karla. Without even seeing the infamous videotapes, we know how she relished in the rapes and murders of Leslie Mahaffy, Kristen French and her own sister, Tammy.

To most of us, she is an enigma; her behaviour goes way beyond any feeble explanations of female victimization or psychiatric disturbance, and takes us far into the dark regions of evil. For some reason, evil of this magnitude stimulates our prurient curiosity like nothing else. Why else would Karla and Paul have become the Bonnie and Clyde, the folk heroes, of modern sexual sadism?

Recently, a psychologist confessed to me that his idea of a dream date would be to share an evening and a bottle of wine with her. At first I was shocked; then I began to wonder how many men might harbour fantasies of being seduced by her. Why not? Karla is a very attractive woman. Perhaps it is her movie star looks or the healthy girl-next-door image that rouses men’s fantasies. Maybe it is her magical ability to mix the roles of servant and partner as she did with Paul.   For, as she testified, she would do anything for him, including calling him “King” and telling him he deserved to take the virginity of young girls. And, after seeking out their sexual prey, she would join with him, as queen and lover, in exacting their profane pleasure.  To men, she may well be the epitome of a woman who will satisfy their every, unfettered fantasy.

But, I’ll admit that as a woman, Karla fascinates me too. I see her as a co-conspirator, if not the mastermind, of diabolical deeds. This intrigues me as, I suspect, it does many women. Karla is not a susceptible waif; she does not wear the drab mantle of a submissive victim. As journalist Margaret Wente noted at Bernardo’s 1995 trial, Karla is “poised, self-assured, stylish and attractive.” Not a pawn but rather a queen, she exerts her cool control, appearing to dominate not only Paul but potentially all men.

However repulsed by her that I and other women may be, I think there is a part of us that envies the remarkable erotic power that she exudes. Pictures of her evoke a perverse, unconscious and persistent admiration. In her virginal white wedding gown and in her slinky black dress, she stands as the perfect blend of good and evil, the archetypal Madonna and whore.

While outrage over the crimes that she has gotten away with may legitimately consume us, along with it, we harbour a fascination with this woman, and this fascination is not specific to Karla.

For centuries, the Marquis de Sade has drawn public interest. Last month, when Quills, a fictionalized tale of de Sade’s last days in the notorious Charenton insane asylum, opened in theatres, horrified audiences sat through it mesmerized. The public interest in de Sade, it would seem, endures, as does the focus on his modern-day protege, Karla. While much of their kinky, violent sex and sadistic killing is similar, one significant exception exists. In Quills as in history, de Sade was an old man who was held in custody until he died in his cell.   Karla, even if not released this year, will still be a young woman when she walks again among us. While his tale has ended, any movie, which might be released soon about Karla Homolka, may well be just the beginning.

The real intrigue that we share, men and women alike, is the question:

what will come next? What will she do? Who will she find to do it with? In one letter sent from her cell, she reportedly wrote: “Life is going to be great when I’m out of here.” Our fascination has taught us we can’t understand this woman, neither her behaviour and values nor what a “great” life means to her. While de Sade may be long dead and Mary just a bit of fiction, there still is “something” about Karla: something real, dangerous and captivating.


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by Dr. Tana Dineen, special columnist,