Inside The Ken And Barbie Killers’ Vicious Reign Of Terror

Published May 20, 2023
Updated June 7, 2023

Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka looked like normal newlyweds, but the Ken and Babie Killers murdered three people and raped at least 14 in late 1980s and early '90s Ontario.

At first glance, Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka certainly didn’t seem like a pair of serial killers. They may have looked like a normal young couple from the outside, but the “Ken and Barbie Killers” were anything but.

Before Paul Bernardo was put behind bars for multiple murders, tortures, and rapes, he was a salesman by trade that lured his female victims using pickups and pitches he learned on his day job. He studied how to entice women like he studied how to do well in business.

Ken And Barbie Killers

PostmediaThe “Ken and Barbie Killers” Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka on their wedding day.

He read the novel American Psycho “like his bible,” and when he met and married Karla Homolka, his sadistic streak only increased as she encouraged his behavior. The Ken and Barbie Killers were born.

In the end, the Ken and Barbie Killers were found to be responsible for at least 13 rapes and three murders in and around Toronto between 1986 and 1992. This is the chilling story of Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka.

Paul Bernardo Goes From Having A Happy Childhood To Becoming The Scarborough Rapist

Paul Bernardo was born on August 27, 1964, in Ontario, Canada to Kenneth and Marilyn Bernardo. The Bernardos were a “financially well-off,” stable middle-class family. But as with everything else in the story of Paul Bernardo, this deceptively normal exterior masked a dark truth.

In 1975, Kenneth Bernardo was charged with child molestation and there were rumors he had even molested his own daughter. Paul Bernardo did not seem to be unduly affected by this dark turn in his childhood. Observers recall him as being “always happy…a young boy who smiled a lot.”

It wasn’t until he was 16 when his mother revealed to him that he was actually the result of an extramarital affair that Bernardo’s outward behavior began to noticeably change.

He began to refer to his own mother as a “slob” and a “whore.” When he went off to study at the University of Toronto, he became adept at picking women up at bars only to later humiliate and beat them.

Paul Bernardo was good-looking and charming, an unfortunate combination that he used to manipulate women and take them off their guard. Before long, he would give in to a far darker impulse.

Police Sketch Of The Scarborough Rapist

Toronto Star Archives/Toronto Star via Getty ImagesMetro police composite sketch of the boy-next-door-type suspect in eight rapes committed in Scarborough.

Starting in May of 1987, the suburb of Scarborough in Ontario was plagued by a series of horrific crimes.

In the early hours of the morning of May 4, 1987, a young woman getting off the bus was grabbed and brutally raped near her parents’ home. Over the next week alone, there would be two more similar assaults.

The women were all between the ages of 15 and 21 and the attacks all included beatings, intense verbal abuse, and dire threats to discourage victims from going to the police, led authorities to conclude that they had all been perpetrated by the same man, whom the newspapers quickly dubbed the “Scarborough Rapist.”

During his nearly five-year rampage as the Scarborough rapist, Paul Bernardo raped or attempted to rape at least 19 young women — and this is only the official count. The victims were all young women often grabbed around bus stops, although at least one 15-year-old was attacked in her own bedroom.

A couple of Bernardo’s victims managed to fight him off and Bernardo was actually questioned by the police twice, but he was never named as an official suspect. It wasn’t until May of 1990 that one of Bernardo’s victims was able to give police an accurate description of her attacker and by then, the Scarborough Rapist had become even more unhinged.

The Marriage Of Paul Bernardo And Karla Homolka — And The Birth Of The Ken And Barbie Killers

Karla Homolka Of The Ken And Barbie Killers

Dick Loek/Toronto Star via Getty ImagesKarla Homolka in her wedding video.

Paul Bernardo had met Karla Homolka in 1987 when he was 23 and she was 17.

Homolka was born to Dorothy and Karel Homolka in Ontario in 1970 and was the eldest of three siblings. She was described as a “well adjusted, pretty, smart, and popular” child with a fondness for animals that led her to start working at a veterinary clinic after high school. Like Bernardo, there was nothing in Homolka’s outward appearance that hinted at the depravity lurking just beneath the surface.

Well before they became the Ken and Barbie Killers, Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka had an immediate attraction, one which only intensified when Bernardo discovered that, unlike the other girls he had dated, Homolka shared the same sick fantasies.

They quickly began a sadomasochistic relationship in which Bernardo acted as an abusive master and Homolka as a willing slave. The whole while they dated, Paul Bernardo was also brutally raping girls in Scarborough with Homolka’s knowledge and approval.

Karla Homolka later sought to portray herself as an abused victim, but she was in fact a sadistic accomplice.

Bernardo and Homolka eventually became engaged. Homolka described to a friend how “Paul and I are happier than ever… he’s being so great, so romantic, but that’s typical of my honey.” But the truth was that three years into their relationship, Paul Bernardo was getting bored. He complained to Homolka that she was not a virgin when they met and soon turned his sick attention elsewhere: to Homolka’s 15-year-old sister, Tammy.

Far from being outraged at Bernardo’s desires, Homolka once again encouraged them. She told Bernardo that she wanted him to have her little sister’s virginity for a Christmas present. Thus the crime that remains perhaps the Ken and Barbie Killers’ most disturbing was set in motion.

On December 23, 1990, while at a Christmas party at the Homolka family home, Homolka spiked her own sister’s drinks with animal anesthetics she had stolen from the clinic where she worked. That night while the rest of the family was asleep and Tammy was unconscious, Homolka held a Halothane-soaked cloth over her sister’s mouth and took turns raping her with her fiancee, while videotaping the whole brutal incident.

Paul Bernardo And Karla Homolka

YouTubeAfter newlyweds Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka were arrested for raping and murdering a series of victims near Toronto, they became known as the Ken and Barbie Killers.

When Tammy began choking up vomit, the couple panicked and tried to hide the evidence before calling an ambulance. The teenager never regained consciousness and was pronounced dead at the hospital. Although the mysterious chemical burn on her face was noted, the drugs in her system were not detected and her death was ruled an accident as the result of choking on vomit from alcohol poisoning. Once again, the Ken and Barbie Killers evaded justice.

The Vicious Crimes Of The Ken And Barbie Killers

Paul Bernardo Leaving Court

Jim Rankin/Toronto Star via Getty ImagesPaul Bernardo leaves court in handcuffs.

Rather than sate Paul Bernardo’s appetite for blood, the murder of Tammy Lyn Homolka only increased it. In 1991, Homolka lured another teenager she had befriended at work to the home she now shared with Paul Bernardo. The couple again drugged the girl, abused her, and videotaped it, only this time the “Jane Doe” survived and woke up with no memory of the horrific events.

Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka married on June 29, 1991, the very same day a horrified couple canoeing in Lake Gibson discovered concrete blocks containing human body parts in the water. The remains belonged to 14-year-old Leslie Mahaffy, who had disappeared on June 15. She had been kidnapped by the Ken and Barbie Killers and abused over the course of several days. As this grisly discovery was made, the killers enjoyed an elaborate wedding ceremony which included their entrance in a white horse-drawn carriage.

Almost a year later, on April 16, 1992, the couple struck again, this time grabbing and killing 15-year-old Kristen French. They left her body battered and her hair partially shaved in a ditch along a rural road.

Police soon realized that the two murders were connected. After the release of a composite sketch that resembled Paul Bernardo, tips were called in, some from coworkers and friends who reported Bernardo’s disturbing penchant for violence.

Ken And Barbie Killers On Trial

Peter Power/Toronto Star via Getty ImagesKarla Homolka en route to court.

In January 1993, Homolka left her husband after he dealt her a particularly vicious beating with a flashlight. Within two months, a DNA sample taken from Bernardo turned up as a match for the Scarborough rapist and he was put under surveillance before eventually being arrested in February of 1993.

Paul Bernardo And Karla Homolka Go To Trial For The Ken And Barbie Murders

Karla Homolka quickly got a lawyer and sought a plea bargain in exchange for testifying against Paul Bernardo. She claimed Bernardo had told her he’d raped at least 30 women. The Ken and Barbie Killers were now pitted against one another.

The government agreed to a 12-year sentence in exchange for her cooperation, although this backfired dramatically when the videotapes the couple had made showcasing their gruesome crimes were discovered and Homolka’s true nature was revealed. Karla Homolka was not the abused victim she had attempted to portray herself as but rather a cruel sadist.

A 2007 police interview with Paul Bernardo regarding his involvement with the 1990 murder of Elizabeth Bain.

Homolka was ultimately released in 2005 and since remarried and given birth. Paul Bernardo was found guilty of all charges against him and consequently sentenced to life for the rape, murder, and kidnap of two teenaged girls, though it is believed he killed a couple more. His rape victims number somewhere in the double digits, presumably around 13.

Bernardo’s application for parole in 2018 after 25 years in prison was denied after only 30 minutes of deliberation. A lawyer on behalf of the victims’ families reported that “There’s never been an apology by Paul Bernardo. There’s been never any indication whatsoever of remorse.” Indeed, Bernardo admitted to the court that he hadn’t felt anything for his victims at the time of his crimes.

After learning about the Ken and Barbie killers, Paul Bernardo And Karla Homolka, read about how some of the other most infamous serial killers finally met their downfalls. Then read about more serial killer couples.

Gina Dimuro
A graduate of New York University, Gina Dimuro is a New York-based writer and translator.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.