“Just as victims of child sexual abuse use the Accommodation Syndrome to protect their fragile psyches, so can those suffering any type of debilitating abuse over time revert to this type of deviant behavior.”
When is a house not just a ‘house’? I suppose it’s when it is described as a pretty, little, pink, Cape Cod cottage at 57 Bayview Drive in Old Towne Port Dalhousie, Ontario. It no longer exists. The lot has been renumbered to 61 where another house now resides but that doesn’t stop people, now twenty-three years later, from still driving — slowly by, looking…
June 15, 1991
In the early hours of June 15th 1991, Leslie Mahaffey, 14 was abducted after making a phone call at a convenience store near her home in Burlington.
There was little publicity since the initial reaction to her disappearance was that she had run away. Family, friends and police expected her to eventually turn up safe and sound.
Turn up she did, but not safe and definitely not sound.
On June 30th, two weeks after her disappearance, fishermen discovered her dismembered body, encased in blocks of cement in Lake Gibson in Thorold, a three minute drive from my home….
Twenty-four weeks later . . . .
December 1, 1991
On the evening of November 30, 1991, Terri Anderson, 14 went to a party intending to stay the night at a friend’s home. Her father was surprised when she returned home shortly before 1:00 am.
Sometime later that night Terri went back out into the cold night leaving the front door of their townhouse ajar . . . never to be seen alive again.
A massive search was undertaken, but nothing was found. Media reports stated that her estranged mother felt that she might have run away to Toronto.
Twenty-weeks later and uncomfortably close to Terri Anderson’s home . . . .
April 16, 1992
On April 16, 1992, the day before Good Friday, Kristen French, a fifteen year old student at Holy Cross Secondary School in north St. Catharines was abducted from a church parking lot in broad daylight while walking home.
Two weeks later, on April 30th, Kristen’s nude body was found on a back road in Burlington, only a few kilometers from the spot where Leslie Mahaffey had been abducted.
The forensic evidence determined that Kristen had been kept captive for at least ten days before she was asphyxiated. She had been sexually assaulted and her long brown hair had been cropped close to her skull.
The public was shocked, outraged and terrified.
Three weeks later . . .
May 22, 1992 …
Terri Anderson’s partially clothed body was spotted floating in Lake Ontario near Port Dalhousie by fishermen.
Although the autopsy could not determine the cause of her death — it did rule out drowning. Further blood tests revealed she had ingested some LSD before she expired…
Police ruled out any ‘foul play’ in her death and assured the public that there was no connection between Terri’s death and the murders of Leslie and Kristen.
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The abduction of Kristen French sent shock waves throughout the Niagara community. No one remained untouched by the tragedy.
As the days passed the confidence that she’d be found alive was slowly giving way to a almost paralyzing fear. Adding to this growing fear was the fact that only five months earlier, Terri Anderson, (who was still listed as missing when Kristen’s body was discovered), had disappeared very close to where Kristen was abducted.
When Kristen’s body was found, public fear turned to outrage. How could someone disappear, be held captive and murdered without someone having seen something? Why couldn’t the police find the ‘cream-coloured Camaro’ reported by witnesses?
Unfortunately the police’s method of handling this sensitive issue, may have done them and their credibility more harm than good. Officially released statements at first denied any link between the murders of Leslie and Kristen and the disappearance (and subsequently discovered death) of Terri Anderson. Could it be that they originally thought that the public would rest easier thinking that instead of one psychopath – a serial killer – roaming the streets of Niagara, that there were maybe two, or more? When they later admitted that they were indeed investigating the possibility of some connection between the Leslie Mahaffey and Kristen French murders, people questioned why they hadn’t just admitted that in the first place.
However it wasn’t until the Kristen French story was aired on major television channels across Ontario that public seriously began to question the abilities of those conducting the investigations. The program which focused on the FBI profile of Kristen’s abductor(s) brought many new facts to light. First of all the public was told that there was more than one person involved. The police had known this for some time but had chosen to say nothing. Secondly, although witnesses had provided the details for composite sketches of the two suspects in the case, the police had deliberately withheld them for many weeks. The reasons given for this lack of communication were less than satisfactory leaving the local media and many others in the community questioning the accuracy and integrity of the police-released information.
People were confused and frightened not knowing who to trust anymore. The police spokesmen continued to be optimistic giving the impression that these cases would be solved quickly and the murderers identified and prosecuted.
However, in the Police department’s attempts to keep a disturbed public calm, a preoccupied media at bay, and in deference to their own wishes to capture this psychotic before more deaths occur, they unwittingly caused themselves more problems. This, of course, is not an uncommon situation in these cases.
As the days began to drag into weeks and the weeks into months it was apparent that either these cases were not going to be solved so simply, or the Niagara Regional Police Force just wasn’t up to the job. Public confidence soon changed to public rancour. Debates were held in the community where open discussions occurred not about the murders but about the investigations. It seemed that the frustration mixed with fear was clearly directed at the police force and its credibility.
It has now been over six months since Kristen French’s murder. The Green Ribbon Task Force has its own headquarters and has expanded in size and jurisdiction having seconded officers from other regions to help co-ordinate the investigation. Thousands of cream-coloured Camaro’s have been checked and hundreds of tips have been explored.
To date no suspect has been apprehended and the stories in the press are dwindling.
Now more than 23 years later very few people in Ontario have not heard of Paul Bernardo and Karla Holmolka the murderous duo who were finally arrested and convicted of these horrendous crimes.
Originally I researched and wrote this essay for my sociology course in deviance. As I wrote I realized that it also served to demonstrate my mixed-up thinking. It would be years before I understood that being abused by an Anglican priest from the age of twelve to sixteen was influencing my thought processes.
After Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka were arrested, I found myself identifying with Karla. I had no idea why. More than that, it made me extremely uncomfortable. Even though all my research pointed to her engaging in the horrific crimes with as much enjoyment as her deranged husband, I could not get the picture of her bruised, swollen, and beaten face out of my mind. His complete control over her, not even allowing her to go to work on her own, or visit her family alone, seemed to me his way of brainwashing her to do his will.
I saw her as tortured, beaten, and compliant, afraid for herself and willing to do anything to make him happy, even when it meant sacrificing her own younger sister. Needless to say, this was not the feeling the media or, for that matter, any of my friends or associates thought rational or logical. I soon learned to keep my thoughts to myself but never overcame this feeling.
This haunts me to this day.
Karla finished her prison time some years ago, moved away and from all accounts started a family. Many thought she should have been punished longer. I firmly believe that she will continue to punish herself for her role for the rest of her life. And so it should be. The psychology behind her culpability may never really be known or for that matter accepted but in my mind, she too, was a victim.
Bernardo will be eligible to apply for parole in 2020. Some say he will never be released. Many pray that to be true.
Me, I have now completed a memoir that is an attempt to deal with my past and come to grips with how someone with life and death power over me influenced how I have seen myself over these many years.
Maybe that is why I note the similarities with Karla. Although horrifically diverse, the results on an impressionable mind are unfortunately somewhat the same. In this type of serial murder the psychology notes that the perpetrator needs a partner in order to get the thrill of scaring someone else to death while torturing their victims. Unfortunately Karla fit the role perfectly. ((Not unlike the Svengali defense))
Even now, years later, late at night, I still find myself wondering what would have changed to alter this series of tragic events had someone intervened and gotten Karla the help she needed so many years ago.
We will never know…