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The Ken and Barbie Killers: Canada's deadly serial killer couple

Ken and Barbie
Image: Brenda Rocha - Blossom /

Canada is home to some of the world’s most prolific serial killers, but a blonde serial killing couple often goes under the radar. Karla Homolka and Paul Bernardo shocked the nation with the murders of three teenagers during the early 1990s, one of whom was Karla’s younger sister. They were given the moniker of ‘The Ken and Barbie Killers’ due to the widespread disbelief that an attractive young couple could commit such atrocities.

Homolka was the eldest of three daughters and had a seemingly normal upbringing. However, she displayed callous and problematic behaviour throughout her childhood. In one incident, she strapped a parachute to a friend’s hamster and threw the pet out of the window.

In contrast, Bernardo had a tumultuous childhood. He was the youngest of three children and his father beat his mother and sexually abused his sister. As a teenager, Bernardo spied on his neighbours getting dressed but managed to keep his disturbed behaviour towards women hidden.

One night in 1987, Homolka met Bernardo for the first time. From that moment on, the couple embarked on an intense relationship where she revelled in his sadomasochist sexual fantasies.

During the relationship, Bernardo sexually assaulted young women around Scarborough, which earned him the name ‘The Scarborough Rapist’. Homolka knew of his crimes and spurred him on. A victim of one of the assaults reported witnessing a woman close to the scene with a video camera.

Bernardo became infatuated with Homolka’s 15-year-old sister, Tammy, and wanted to take her virginity. Instead of being mortified by her partner’s confession, Homolka promised to give him her sister's virginity as a Christmas present.

On 23rd December 1990, the sadistic couple drugged and sexually assaulted Tammy whilst her parents were sleeping upstairs. During the attack, Tammy choked on her own vomit and died. Her death was ruled an accident.

In the summer of 1991, Homolka had invited a teenager known as ‘Jane Doe’, whom she met at a pet store two years prior, over to her home. Whilst at their house, the teenager was drugged and sexually assaulted by the couple. Just like Tammy, she began to choke on her vomit. An ambulance was initially called but cancelled after the girl was revived.

On 15th June 1991, 14-year-old Leslie Mahaffy was locked outside her home after missing her curfew. Bernardo approached the teenager and bundled her into his car. Leslie was tortured and sexually assaulted on camera before being killed.

Whilst her body lay in their couple’s basement, Homolka and Bernardo hosted a family dinner for Father’s Day. They then dismembered Leslie’s remains and discarded them in Lake Gibson. Two weeks later, as Leslie’s remains were discovered, Homolka and Bernardo were enjoying a lavish wedding ceremony.

The killers struck for the final time on 16th April 1992. Homolka and Bernardo spotted 15-year-old Kristen French walking home from school and Homolka got out of the car and asked the girl for directions. Whilst the teenager was looking at the map, Bernardo came from behind and forced her into the car. Kristen endured three days of torture and sexual assault before she was killed.

Homolka left Bernardo in January 1993, after he allegedly beat her and gave her two black eyes. Around this time, the police were closing in on Bernardo as the Scarborough Rapist as a DNA sample taken two years prior was finally processed.

As the investigation into the Ken and Barbie Killers was intensifying, Homolka quickly obtained a lawyer. In what became known as a 'deal with the devil', she took a plea bargain to testify against her husband.

However, this dramatically backfired for investigators. At the time of taking this plea bargain, the videotapes of the crimes remained undiscovered. When they were finally found, they showed that she was not the innocent bystander she had portrayed herself to be, but rather a willing participant in their crimes.

Unable to change the plea bargain, Homolka was sentenced to 12 years in prison for manslaughter, whilst Bernardo was found guilty of murder and handed a life sentence.

In 2005, Homolka was released from prison and went on to get married and have children. As of 2023, Bernardo remains behind bars after having parole requests denied in 2018 and 2021.