Who were the ‘Ken and Barbie killers’? The shocking crimes of Karla Homolka and Paul Bernardo

Infamous for their incongruous good looks and gruesome crimes, Karla Homolka and Paul Bernardo were dubbed the ‘Ken and Barbie killers’

Nathan Place
New York
Tuesday 14 December 2021 07:18 GMT
Ken and Barbie Killers: The Lost Murder Tapes

A new documentary series recounts the horrific crimes and controversial trial of Karla Homolka and Paul Bernardo, the infamous duo dubbed the “Ken and Barbie killers.”

Homolka and Bernardo, who in the early 1990s were a young married couple, were convicted of sexually assaulting and killing at least two teenage girls in Canada. Perversely, the couple also videotaped their crimes – but the tapes only emerged after Homolka had reached a plea deal that spared her a lengthy prison sentence.

All this is examined in the new series, Ken and Barbie Killers: The Lost Murder Tapes, which is streaming on Discovery+.

“It’s an unbelievable thing to commit these crimes,” Alan Young, a professor at Osgoode Hall Law School in Ontario, says in the trailer. “It’s another thing to actually create a record of it so that in some dark moments in your basement you can go back and look at these things and feel proud about the depravity you’ve shown.”

The Discovery+ show is broken down into four parts: one on the murders, one on the disturbing video evidence, and two on the couple’s trials.

Readers should be warned that the details of these crimes are extremely disturbing.

Homolka and Bernardo met in 1987, and got married in 1991. On Christmas Eve 1990, they claimed their first victim: Homolka’s own 15-year-old sister, Tammy. Years later, a Canadian court found that Homolka drugged her sister with sleeping pills and then brought her to Bernardo, who violently raped her. The teenager eventually choked to death on her own vomit.

Somehow, Canadian authorities mistook Tammy’s death for an accident, and Homolka and Bernardo continued their killing spree. In June 1991, the couple raped and killed 14-year-old Leslie Mahaffy. In April 1992, they did the same to 15-year-old Kristen French. In both cases, the couple filmed their sadistic violence.

In February 1993, Homolka turned herself in to police, saying she’d been an unwilling accomplice to her husband and feared she’d be his next victim.

In a deal with prosecutors, she pleaded guilty to manslaughter and served just 12 years in prison. She was released in 2005 and now lives in Quebec.

Months after Homolka made her plea deal, police learned of the horrifying videotapes she and her husband had filmed.

Those tapes were played for jurors in the trial of Bernardo, who was was convicted of first-degree murder, aggravated sexual assault, kidnapping, and a number of other charges. He is currently serving a life sentence.

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