Karla Homolka: From Convicted Killer to Anonymous Mother

Shadlee Rahman is a research assistant for the Terry Project Podcast–the theme of rebranding raised brought back some history.

Very few crimes, if any, are as heinous as killing another human being. It calls into question the whole point of citizens living together in peace and harmony, and yet, wherever we look today, there are instances of such happenings,.

 Karla Homolka was one of the convicted criminals who belonged to the first group. She and her partner at the time, Paul Bernardo, were convicted of killing of manslaughter following the rape-murders of two Canadian teenagers, Leslie Mahaffy and Kristen French.. Generally, such a conviction would result in a life sentence in Canada, which is 25 years, but, as it happened, she left jail a free woman after only twelve years and is now living with her husband and children (ironic that it was the rape-murder of two young girls that she was convicted for) under a different name.

The story of Karla Homolka raises different questions. How did she get away with a reduced sentence after being convicted of such a heinous crime? Do her now-neighbors know her real identity? What does her changed identity tell us about personal rebranding?

Homolka stated during her 1993 murder investigation that Paul Bernardo, her partner, had abused her and forced her to take part in the killings. As a result, she got a reduced sentence of twelve years in exchange for a guilty plea, while Bernardo got the maximum of 25 years. Ultimately, they gave her a choice between being convicted of two first degree murders and manslaughter or choosing the twelve year plea bargain on the premise that she had been an unwilling accomplice in the murders. She chose the latter, in a deal which has come to be known as ‘The Deal With The Devil.’

Shockingly, this was not the first time she had done such a thing.. In July 1990, she drugged her sister’s (Tammy Homolka) dinner with anesthetic drug called Valium, after which she fell unconscious, was raped by her and Bernardo and eventually died.

So, the question is, what happened next after she walked out a free woman after serving her 12 years in 2005? Certain restrictions were placed on her in terms of her freedom- no contact with Bernardo, no drugs, etc.. As her release date of 4th July 2005 neared, rumors were rife that she would either relocate to Quebec or go to a country where her case was unknown. Upon her release, she told Radio Canada that she’d be staying in Quebec since she found the media there less sensationalist than in other English speaking provinces. She lived in Montreal until 2007, upon which she moved top Guadalupe so that her children could live a more normal life. She now goes by Leanne Bordelais, and is married top the brother of her former lawyer.

The noted journalist Paula Todd, who tracked her down and spoke to her in her home in the Caribbean, confirms all of this in a new book. They spoke on the 5th of May last year, and Homolka was visibly shocked at being tracked down, and her defensive nature showed when the first thing she said to Todd was ‘Why should I trust you? I have everything to lose.’

So, what do her neighbors think of her? As soon as the Todd book came out and his one hour session at Homolka’s home became public, it was met with shock and anxiety by people in Guadeloupe and in her neighborhood. Axelle Kaulanjan-Diamant, a local Guadeloupe journalist, mentioned that even though he doesn’t now much about the Homolka case, he found it disturbing that such a person should be allowed to be near small children. Another person said that she wonders why Homolka would decide to go there and that it was worrisome. However, not everyone has a negative attitude towards her. Clemence, a retired 66 year old woman made the point that she had rebuilt her life and had paid her dues to society. ‘She has rebuilt her life…and I wonder if we should just leave her alone…’

Karla is on listed on the online registry register-her.com as a convicted rapist, although it does not show her current location. Peter Worthington, writing in the Huffington Post, makes the point that now we have let Homolka out, we should leave her alone, and that Todd’s assertions that she felt in danger while she was interviewing Homolka was preposterous and that Todd was using her chance to get in the spotlight.

So, all in all, that is the story of Karla Homolka, from convicted rapist to now living in an isolated island. Whatever we say, we certainly cannot accuse Karla Homolka of having had a life void of controversy and eventfulness. She had rebranded herself and, at least externally, her unwillingness to talk about the past means that she might just have left it behind as well.


To hear some other perspectives on identity and reinvention, check out the Terry Podcast # 24: Rebranding. 

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