ST. CATHARINES, ONTARIO -- Looking back on the kidnappings, rapes and killings, people were struck by the fact that the bride wore white.
Karla Homolka was resplendent on her wedding day, June 29, 1991. Garlands of baby's breath adorned her hair and fluffy veil; her long flounced dress made her look like Cinderella. Her proud husband wore white tie and tails. The couple left the church near Niagara Falls in a horse-drawn carriage.
About 20 miles away on that same sunny day, police were pulling seven blocks of concrete out of the waters of a favorite local fishing spot. Encased in them were the body parts of Leslie Mahaffy, a shy, delicate 14-year-old with long blond hair who had disappeared from a nearby town two weeks before.
Only two people in Canada knew at the time that those events were related, but nearly the entire population knows it now.
Karla Homolka, 23, was sentenced last summer to 12 years in prison on two counts of manslaughter in the deaths of Leslie Mahaffy and another teenage girl. Her husband, Paul Teale, 29, awaits trial for their murder and other charges, including the rapes of 17 other women.
But the story of the most shocking set of crimes in Canada's history is even more ghoulish than those facts would indicate.
Many Canadians know the whole tale of evil, but they don't know it from reading their own newspapers or watching television. By judge's order, it is illegal in this country to disclose facts about the deaths of Leslie Mahaffy and 15-year-old Kristen French. And it is illegal to reveal that Homolka's trial showed that there was another victim: Karla Homolka's 14-year-old sister, Tammy, who died on Christmas Eve 1990.
"This case is unique in the annals of Canadian crime," says noted criminal lawyer Edward L. Greenspan, who like many Canadians has heard "rumors" about it. "It involves such a marked departure from normal human conduct that we can't help being drawn to it."
The alleged perpetrators were attractive, well-dressed professionals who lived in a high-rent neighborhood and had lots of friends. Yet the murders and other crimes they allegedly committed were particularly sadistic. The schoolgirl victims were abducted as they went about their daily routines, then were held prisoner while a variety of sexual tortures were performed on them. Some of those tortures were videotaped.
The Homolka-Teale case "is the kind of homicide people are most afraid of," says Anthony Doob, professor of criminology at the University of Toronto. "It involves the abduction of children, which is every parent's worst fear. And the speculation is that the dimensions of the crime are extremely horrible."
There is another notable element to the case. One of the killers is female. Karla Homolka, she of the fairy-tale wedding dress, is expected later to testify against the husband from whom she has recently filed for divorce. Whether Homolka was herself a victim of her husband or was a deviant in her own right is not yet known. But what she did has shocked the few who have been allowed in the courtroom at her trial and the many who have heard about it through other means.
"She was a participant in the luring, the confinement, the sexual activities and the deaths," says a person familiar with what was said in the courtroom.
The case of Homolka and Teale has fascinated the nation, partly because the crimes the couple is accused of are so horrible -- and partly because obtaining the facts of the case has itself become sport. Residents of this region have eagerly and successfully sought the details through computer bulletin boards, dinner-party gossip, stolen satellite television signals, secret copies of a few articles in foreign publications -- and even through eavesdropping on private conversations on commuter trains.
The full story of Karla Homolka and Paul Teale probably will not be known until after his trial, but much of it was related in an airy courtroom here last July, when prosecutors read a long statement of facts agreed to by the defense as part of Homolka's plea bargain. The judge ruled that the information in the statement cannot be legally published in Canada until after Teale is tried.
This account is based on interviews with people knowledgeable about what was said in the courtroom, and on press reports.
Karla Homolka was 17 in 1987 when she met the man she would marry, who was then named Paul Bernardo. He was a university graduate, an accountant from an eastern suburb of Toronto that at the time was experiencing a series of violent rapes. She was a senior in high school in this industrial border town, a quiet girl who loved animals. The two quickly became infatuated; he moved to St. Catharines and she wrote in her high school yearbook that her wish was "to marry Paul and see him more than two times a week."
Despite his accounting training, Paul made his living in St. Catharines by smuggling tobacco and alcohol from New York into Canada, it has been reported. After graduating from high school, Karla worked as a veterinarian's assistant. Later they moved into a pink clapboard Cape Cod on the shores of Lake Ontario in a quiet neighborhood not far from where Homolka grew up.
It is not clear at what point Homolka learned what kind of man her lover really was. But even before Christmas of 1990, before they were married, she was helping find girls for him for sex, according to accounts of the trial. Friends noticed, according to press reports, that young girls visited frequently, sometimes staying overnight. Some of them were said to be friends of Karla's younger sister, Tammy.
Tammy herself was to be Paul's Christmas present.
According to accounts of the trial, Homolka slipped an animal tranquilizer into Tammy's rum-and-eggnog on the evening of Dec. 23 in their parents' house. While the young girl was unconscious, Teale had sex with her. So did Karla. Each of them videotaped the other in the act. Karla's parents were at home, in another room, unaware.
Then Tammy began to vomit. Teale and Homolka carried her into her bedroom, laid her in bed, then called an ambulance. They did not tell medical personnel about the drug she had ingested. Tammy died the next day, Christmas Eve. The coroner ruled that she had choked on her own vomit.
The next known victim was Leslie Mahaffy, from the town of Burlington. Teale allegedly abducted her forcibly in June 1991, two weeks before his wedding, and took her home in his car. The garage adjoins the house, and a tall fence blocks any view of the back yard from outside. Teale took Leslie inside and locked himself in a room with her, according to accounts of the trial. Leslie lived two days at most before she died, of strangulation.
Kristen French was next, 10 months later. By this time, Teale had Homolka's cooperation, secured with the threat of revealing her role in Tammy's death, Homolka said. Homolka helped him to abduct Kristen, a slim, brown-haired figure skater of 15, on her way home from Catholic school one afternoon in April 1992. Kristen apparently went over to the car in a church parking lot when Homolka, holding a map, asked for directions.
Kristen's nude body was found in a small dump about two weeks later -- yards from the cemetery where Leslie Mahaffy is buried. Kristen had been strangled and her long hair cut off. Police later said she was alive until shortly before her body was found.
During the time these crimes were being committed, relations between the young couple were deteriorating. Teale beat Homolka regularly and threw her down the stairs, she said. Finally, in January 1993, he beat her so severely with a flashlight that she left home and went to the hospital. When she was released, she went to her parents' house, called the police -- and started talking.
About this time her husband changed his name from Bernardo to Teale. He knew the police were looking for him.
Paul Teale was arrested in February and charged with 43 counts of sex-related offenses allegedly committed in Scarborough, his home town. Police also said he would be charged with the Mahaffy and French murders. About that time the investigation into the death of Tammy Homolka was reopened. In May, Teale was charged with two counts of murder, of Leslie Mahaffy and Kristen French, as well as two counts each of kidnapping, forcible confinement and aggravated sexual assault, and one count of committing an indignity to Leslie's body.
Police spent six weeks searching the Teale-Homolka house, removing more than 900 pieces of evidence, some of them videotapes. It was revealed at the trial that Kristen had been shown a tape of Leslie. It is not known what all the other tapes showed, but indications are that to convict Paul Teale, prosecutors badly needed the testimony of his wife. In Canada, as in the United States, one spouse cannot be compelled to testify against the other.
By the time Homolka's manslaughter trial began, there was widespread speculation she would plead guilty in return for a reduced sentence.
More than in the United States, Canada chooses to muzzle the media in some court cases, for fear that open coverage could jeopardize a fair trial. News media are prohibited from reporting on any evidence presented at a bail hearing or preliminary inquiry, for instance, until the full trial has begun. And judges have the prerogative, though it is rarely used, to restrict media coverage of a trial.
In the Teale-Homolka case, prosecutors wanted to be sure that evidence presented at Homolka's trial did not taint the trial of her estranged husband, which will not take place for at least 18 months. After legal arguments back and forth -- the media opposed a publication ban -- Ontario Court Justice Francis Kovacs made his ruling.
Canadian reporters could be in the courtroom but could publish only a few prescribed facts, such as Karla Homolka's verdict and sentence (but not her plea). Foreign media were barred from the courtroom entirely because, the judge said, the ban could not be enforced against them. The general public was kept out as well -- Kovacs said he feared people would tell U.S. media what had happened. Buffalo media had been following the case closely; the Buffalo News and three network television affiliates were among those left outside the courtroom.
At Homolka's brief trial, prosecutor Murray Segal read the statement of facts, a 25-minute litany of assault, rape and torture that left seasoned law enforcement officers and journalists in tears. Virtually stumbling out of the courtroom, reporters called what they heard "gruesome" and "devastating." The staid Toronto Globe and Mail said the next day that it was "a catalogue of depravity and death." Teale's lawyer, clearly shaken, took his glasses off and put his hand to his head while the statement was being read.
Two others addressed the court: the mothers of Leslie Mahaffy and Kristen French, who read statements about what their daughters' deaths had meant to their families. Both women broke down several times on the stand, and even Karla Homolka, who had remained impassive throughout the trial, was observed to be choking back tears and wiping her eyes.
After imposing the 12-year sentence on Homolka, Kovacs said, "No sentence I can impose would adequately reflect the revulsion of the community in the death of the young girls, who lived lives beyond reproach. I understand the outrage the community feels, and rightly so."
Since that time, learning the secrets revealed at the trial has become a cottage industry, particularly in Toronto, about 60 miles from here. Computer bulletin boards have sprung up that share facts and rumors. And though the publication ban allowed journalists to discuss what they learned only with their editors, newsrooms are rife with gossip.
The law enforcement side has been a source of stories as well. One observer was on a commuter train some time after the trial when a woman began talking to a friend. The woman said she knew a law enforcement official who had withdrawn from the case because he found the details so painful. The woman then revealed those details, as the train fell silent and commuters craned their necks.
"We've created a monster with this order," said one lawyer.
A few foreign news organizations, such as the Fox Television program "A Current Affair," have carried stories that included information from the trial, but only one Canadian publication, a satirical magazine, has printed prohibited facts. Canada's constitution includes a more restricted definition of press freedom than does the U.S. Constitution, and editors of major Canadian newspapers and television networks say they do not believe in breaking the law. Their legal appeal of the ban is pending.
A British newspaper printed a story that included banned material, and 1,000 copies destined to be sold in Toronto were voluntarily shredded by the distributor, after discussions with officials of the Ontario provincial government. Similarly, cable systems did not carry the episode of "A Current Affair" that dealt with the Homolka case.
Some people believe the ban actually has been counterproductive. Nothing was said in the courtroom about the widespread rumors that Teale made "snuff films" and sold them in nearby Buffalo, for instance, but reports persist, in part because there is no published truth to correct them. And then there is the question of whether Homolka's sentence -- she will be eligible for parole in four years -- was appropriate to the crime. That question cannot be debated by the public because so much information has been withheld.
"This is a secret trial of a major crime of monumental proportions," said Gordon Domm, a retired police officer who on his own has distributed 50 videotapes of the "Current Affair" program to protest the ban. Domm was arrested Friday for attempting to mail out 200 copies of the British newspaper article. He was released, the articles were confiscated and police have not said whether he will be charged.
Tammy Homolka's body was exhumed a few weeks after the trial and examined by government pathologists. So far no charges have been filed in her death, but the local coroner says the investigation is ongoing.
Tammy has been reburied now. Her grave in a cemetery on the east side of St. Catharines is planted with fresh chrysanthemums. Her headstone is engraved with a cross and a soccer ball. There is a little plasticized picture on it; she is smiling. The grave faces west, toward the house a few minutes' walk away where she once lived with her parents and her big sister, Karla.