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  • Writer's pictureJ. R. Erickson

The True Story that Inspired The Scream Sisters

Updated: Nov 29, 2023

Below is the true story that inspired The Scream Sisters. Though the novel was inspired by this true crime, the book involves a very different set of circumstances and is not meant to be in any way linked to the true story that follows.

The horrors began in Scarborough, Ontario in Canada in 1987 with the rape of a young woman who was attacked in front of her parents’ home. They would continue for years until the monster targeting young women moved to a new location and elevated his crimes from sexual assaults to murder. Along the way, he’d gain a wife who’d not only be complicit in his crimes, she’d become a willing participant.

Paul Bernardo was born on August 27th, 1964, to Kenneth and Marilyn Bernardo. Though his parents had a successful business and appeared to be an ordinary family, there was trouble at home. Paul’s father was a peeping tom and had been accused of pedophilia. His mother became severely depressed and withdrew from her family. At 16, Paul would learn that Kenneth was not his biological father, and he was actually the illegitimate child of a man his mother had an affair with. This revelation affected Paul deeply and after the revelation, he became hostile toward his mother, often calling her a slut.

Despite his troubled home life, Paul wore a mask of outward success. He was handsome, blonde and blue eyed, and intelligent. He attended college and later got a job at Amway. He began listening to tapes of motivational speakers and had visions of being a great success.

When Paul met seventeen-year-old Karla Homolka at a hotel during a pet convention in October 1987, there were instant sparks. For Karla, especially, Paul appeared to have it all. Smart, a successful accountant, and handsome. She was unaware that she’d just fallen in love with a vicious rapist.

Karla Homolka was born on May 4th, 1970 to parents Karel and Dorothy Homolka in Port Credit, Ontario. From a young age, Karla loved animals. She was a bright girl who did well in school, though she was also described as stubborn and insisted on getting her way. Like Paul, Karla’s childhood was at times troubled. Her father was an alcoholic and her parents regularly fought.

When Karla met Paul in 1987, they appeared to be the perfect couple and for Karla, she likely saw him as the answer to all her problems. In fact, he was the devil in disguise.

Despite outward appearances of the guy who had it all, at night Paul was attacking and violently raping women in Scarborough, Ontario. In 1988, Metropolitan Toronto Police formed a task force devoted to catching the rapist; however, their task was daunting. The rapist struck at night from behind, preventing his victims from seeing his face. Though they’d collected DNA from victims, the technology was still new and they didn’t have suspects to compare it to.

Ultimately, their break arrived in May 1990 when the rapist changed his MO. Rather than simply attacking his victim, Paul approached her and made small talk before launching his assault. This allowed his victim to provide a detailed sketch, which was released through the media. Paul Bernardo’s name was given to police as a man who resembled the sketch.

Unfortunately, police made the age-old mistake of judging a book by its cover. When they met Paul, he was a handsome, seemingly successful accountant. He didn’t fit their vision of the monster who’d attacked over twenty women. They collected his DNA, but released him before it was tested.

By December 1990, Paul and Karla were engaged and Paul had moved into Karla’s family home in St. Catharines, Ontario. At some point, he’d revealed to his future wife his sick desires and, rather than fleeing the relationship, Karla chose to participate in Paul’s depravity.

On December 23rd, 1990, as a Christmas gift for Paul, Karla agreed to help him take her younger sister, Tammy’s virginity. Tammy was fifteen. After Karla’s parents went to bed, Karla and Paul gave Tammy alcohol laced with a sedative Karla had stolen from the vet office where she worked. During the sexual assault of Tammy, which they videotaped, Tammy became ill and threw up. By the time Karla and Paul woke her parents and summoned the police, Tammy was unresponsive. She died at the hospital. Karla and Paul told police Tammy had drunk too much alcohol and must have had an adverse reaction.

Again, unable to see past the veneer of the young, pretty couple, investigators believed the lie and Tammy’s death was ruled an accident.

After getting away with their first murder, Paul and Karla moved into a house in Port Dalhousie, Ontario, where they would continue their killing spree.

On June 15th, 1991, 14-year-old, Leslie Mahaffy was locked out of her home after she missed her curfew. She’d walked to a funeral home to attend the wake of a friend who’d died in a car accident the week before. When Leslie discovered she was locked out, she went to a pay phone and called a friend, asking if she could sleep over, but her friend told her she couldn’t.

The following day, when Leslie hadn’t returned home and didn’t attend the funeral of her deceased friend, her mother called the police and reported her missing. As friends and family searched for Leslie, they were unaware she’d been abducted in the early morning hours of June 15th by Paul Bernardo and taken to his home in Port Dalhousie.

Over the next twenty-four hours, Paul and Karla repeatedly raped and assaulted Leslie, videotaping much of the crime. Sometime on June 15th, Paul strangled Leslie to death with an electric cord.

Leslie’s body was later dismembered and encased in concrete before Bernardo discarded the concrete in Lake Gibson near St. Catharines, Ontario. On June 29th, 1991, Leslie’s body was found the same day that Paul and Karla were married in an elaborate wedding ceremony near Niagara Falls.

Paul and Karla’s next victim was 15-year-old Kristen French, who they abducted on April 16th, 1992 from a church parking lot as the girl was walking home from school. Like Leslie, Kristen was taken back to Paul and Karla’s home and subjected to extensive sexual assaults over a period of days before Paul strangled her.

Her nude body was found on April 30th, 1992 in a ditch in Burlington.

Despite a massive investigation, and having Paul’s DNA on file for more than two years, the police were still unaware he was the Scarborough rapist and now the man abducting and murdering girls near St. Catharines.

It would be Karla herself that ultimately turned the spotlight on her and Paul’s crimes. After Paul brutally beat her with a flashlight in January 1993, Karla was admitted to the hospital for her injuries and Paul was arrested for assault.

Paul’s DNA was at long last processed by the Centre of Forensics and investigators realized it matched the Scarborough Rapist

During this time, Karla went to police and told them that Paul was both the Scarborough rapist and the murderer Of Leslie and Kristin. She admitted she was complicit in the crimes, but did not confess to the full extent of her involvement. She also told investigators about the death of her sister, Tammy, which was not the accidental death from alcohol originally believed.

In an agreement that many Canadians would later call a deal with the devil, prosecutors offered Karla a plea deal in exchange for testifying against Paul. It was only later when the videotapes of the crimes were discovered that investigators realized Karla took part in the brutal assaults and was not an abused bystander.

Karla was convicted of two counts of manslaughter and was released from prison in 2005. Many people in Canada continue to be outraged that the woman who prosecutors called a ‘cold-blooded participant,’ in the killings was free and living her life. Karla continues to maintain that Paul manipulated and controlled her, and out of fear she assisted him in the rapes and murders.

In 1995, Paul was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life in prison. He was denied parole in 2021.


News18: Who Are Paul Bernardo And Karla Homolka, The Most Notorious Killers In Canadian History?


News Week: Who Are Ken and Barbie Killers, Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka?

Wikipedia: Karla Homolka

Wikipedia: Paul Bernardo

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