Home > Buenos Diaz > Ten year obsession takes columnist on trip
Ten year obsession takes columnist on trip
By Gloria Diaz
Check out Gloria's Blog — Edge of Gloria!
Fort Wayne Reader
One of the cool things about grad school is you sometimes write a paper that’s so good, you submit it to a conference, and it gets accepted. For me, the subject was Karla Homolka, one half of the “Ken and Barbie” murders which occurred in southern Ontario from December 1990, to April 1992. The horrific details didn’t come to light until a few years later. So while we were arguing about O.J. Simpson, Canadians were outraged that Homolka, and her husband Paul Bernardo, kidnapped young teenage girls and tortured and raped them, then killed him.
The first victim was Karla’s own baby sister, Tammy. Bernardo was upset that Homolka was not a virgin when they first met, so he asked her to give him Tammy as a Christmas present. The idea was that Homolka would take some halothane and sedatives from the vet clinic where she worked, she would drug Tammy, Paul would have his way with a virgin, and only they would be the wiser. Only Tammy choked to death on her vomit. Bizarrely enough, Homolka stayed with Bernardo, who was also building a reputation as the Scarborough Rapist.
It’s a messed-up case, and I’m completely obsessed by it. So I proposed it as a topic for my “engaged research” paper for a class last semester. After all, I’d been reading about it for ten years, I might as well write about it. I went all out, and put extra effort into the visual presentation of the paper, and I, in the words of my instructor, “nailed it.”
I was proud of that paper, and decided to send it to a conference taking place in Cincinnati. I figured it was close enough to drive to. I felt my paper fit the theme, and was thrilled to find out it had been accepted. IPFW encourages students to present papers at conferences, and will put some money towards the trips, as well. It took what seemed like two dozen emails, but I got approval for the funds.
I’d been accepted, and I eagerly awaited an email (that I was promised) that would list the schedule, and other stuff, like what building it would be held in, where to park, and so forth.
I waited, and I waited.
The email never came. I sent another email to the committee, to make sure that the conference WAS going to be held on a particular date. I got an email back saying plans were still being made. The day of the conference loomed closer, and still nothing. I called the school, and they directed me to the conference schedule on the web. I found it, but didn’t find my name. Hmmmm.
I went, and it was a good thing I picked a hotel across the street from the school. I ended up being a few minutes late, but since I wasn’t on the schedule anyway, no one knew when I was going to present. I found my name tag at the registration desk, and told them who I was and what paper I’d submitted. One of the organizers mentioned how excited he was about my paper, which was flattering, but I was a little put out that I wasn’t listed on the schedule. Every so often, I’m convinced that I’m invisible, and my omission on the schedule didn’t exactly help.
Someone at the check-in table crossed out the name of someone who wasn’t attending, and penned my name in. I explained to the moderator of my session that I was presenting in place of the guy who didn’t show up and told him what my paper was about. Thankfully, the classroom computer didn’t crash (unlike the one at IPFW, which died right as I hit the “play” button on the video I spent hours working on as part of my presentation) and presented, in very unpretentious terms, the subject and the approach I took on the paper, which I passed around to the audience. I think my presentation was pretty well-received. I certainly got the attention of the people coordinating the event, when I proposed this paper.
Like a true obsessed freak, I knew that Karla liked juvenile stationary, so I wrote the paper as a series of letters to her, and then answered those letters as if I were Karla, complete with Mickey Mouse stickers on pink paper. So I was writing back and forth to myself, essentially, but tried to mimic Karla’s tone. Instead of presenting it in a three ring binder, I found a folder that looked like a big pink envelope, wrote my name, my instructors name, and other info in MLA format where the return address would be, and wrote the name of the paper, “Letters to Karla” in the address line.
Even though I wrote a 22 page paper, I’m still obsessed with Homolka and Bernardo. If I’d met someone like that at the age of 17, I would have been snowed too. Especially if my parents thought he was a catch. But unfortunately for Homolka, the princely-looking Bernardo convinced her to help with horrific crimes, threatening her and beating her, until she couldn’t take it anymore. It is terrifying to think what might have happened if Bernardo hadn’t beat her, and if the marriage was the fairy tale it appeared to be on the outside. Of the two, Homolka appears to be the smarter one, cutting a deal with the authorities, which got her a relatively light sentence of 12 years. Bernardo will likely be in prison for life, as Canada doesn’t have the death penalty.
But even though he’s in prison, he’s still dangerous. Last summer, he reportedly became engaged to a woman who is very smart, college-educated, but as her father put it, lacking in street smarts. If intelligent women who know about his crimes can still be swayed by someone like Bernardo, that says a lot about his personality.
People like Bernardo are out there. And they don’t necessarily look like monsters. And THAT is partly why this case has gripped me. Because you think you know a person, until you don’t.