Inmates are constantly released back into society and their reintegration can be very difficult because of social fear, prejudice and lack of opportunities. Sometimes, the only strike in their favor is not to be associated with a high profile case.
Karla Homolka was released from prison on July 4, 2005 after having served a 12-year sentence for her role in the murders of Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy in St. Catharines, Ontario.
The name Homolka is forever tied to the name of her former husband, serial rapist and killer, Paul Bernardo, and is recognizable virtually all over the world. They were the Ken and Barbie killers, complete with their pretty white and green house and their sports car.
After serving time at the Kingston Penitentiary in Ontario, Karla was moved to the Joliette Correctional Institution for women near Montreal where the emphasis was placed on her rehabilitation. During her
incarceration there, she obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and learned French. According to the prison psychologist’s report, ‘’Homolka’s self-esteem and self-confidence had been influenced in a positive way at Joliette.’’ A month before her release, she was transferred to a prison called St. Anne-Des-Plaines, north of Montreal.
Karla and Paul had requested to change their legal names to Leanne Teale and Paul Jason Teale toward the end of their crime cycle, and had received formal approval five days before Bernardo was arrested in 1993.
Therefore, the woman who walked out of St. Anne Des Plaines after serving her full 12-year sentence was named Leanne Teale and she was fluent in French.
And the hunt began
Reporters had waited outside for days hoping to catch her leaving the penitentiary and had pursued various vehicles thinking Leanne was in one of them. Finally, a prison official and the lawyer for the victims’ families confirmed her release.
In June 2005, a judge had imposed restrictions on her freedom which took effect the day of her release. She was required to:
• Tell police her home address, work address and who she lived with.
• Notify police as soon as any of the above information changed.
• Notify police of any change to her name.
• Give a 72 hours’ notice if the wanted to be away from her home for more than 48 hours.
• Not contact Paul Bernardo, the families of Leslie Mahaffy and Kristen French or Jane Doe. She also could not contact any violent criminals.
• She was also forbidden from associating with people under the age of 16 and from consuming drugs other than prescription medicine.
• She was to continue therapy and counselling.
• She was to provide police with a DNA sample.
Two hours after her release, Leanne gave an exclusive interview to the French-language service of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. She was accompanied by her attorney, Sylvie Bordelais.
In fluent French, she discussed her nervousness and anxiety in the face of her new found freedom. She described how her lawyer had planned her release and how they avoided detection by hiding from the media by laying down in the back of their “getaway” car. Deciding to give that interview was not easy for Leanne, because she is an extremely private person and does not like to talk about her feelings.
As she wanted to avoid being hounded by the media, she decided to talk publicly and tell people that she was not a dangerous person who would hurt them or their children. She chose to give the interview in French and picked CBC because they never sensationalize the news and do not scream on the air when they address the public or their guests. Symbolically, speaking French might have been a way to start fresh and try to put the past behind her.
The support network she created in Quebec was solid. Ontario was too much of a hot bed of anger and disdain for her to return there. When she was asked if she thought that her debt to society had been paid, Leanne replied that legally yes, but emotionally and socially no. She felt that socially she could try to help people and make herself useful to the community to the best of her abilities, but emotionally she would never be free of her horrendous past actions. In prison, she had been a member of a team of peer counsellors as well as an aid group for other inmates. She had been an exemplary detainee and she intended to be a model citizen.
When asked if she had remorse, Leanne replied yes. She said that she still cried often and could not forgive herself. She could not forget what she had done and would tell herself that she did not deserve to be happy. She felt that what she had done was terrible but she had been in a situation where she could not see clearly and was unable to ask for help. She had felt overwhelmed and deeply regretted her actions. She had felt powerless at the time but now realized that all the while she had the power to walk away but did not.
Only 17 when her relationship with Paul began, she did not know how to walk away even though the relationship was toxic. As an adult, she felt she knew better and would never follow anyone blindly like she had in the past. She felt that Paul had been the initiator and that as bad as her role had been, it did not compare to his in the kidnapping and murders. She perceived herself as having been totally under his influence.
She talked about getting death threats when she was in isolation for four years at the Kingston penitentiary, and how her parents had also received constant threats. But her whole family loved and supported her even though they hated what she had done. Bernardo had lived with her family and he had fooled them also so they understood how persuasive he had been. Leanne reiterated how extremely lucky she felt to have them on her side.
When asked what she wanted to do now, Leanne replied that she wanted to be able to live somewhere in Quebec and do everything, legally, morally and ethically according to the judge’s restrictions. She relied on her psychologist and her support network to help her begin her new life. She ended the interview by saying how very scared she was. What was the first thing she would do? At the risk of sounding foolish, she would like to get an iced cappuccino at Tim Horton’s. On a more serious note, she stated that she would never really be free. She will always be in a prison of her own making because of her past actions. And instead of time erasing the memories, they were increasingly more present in her mind as time went by.
On that same day, Paul Bernardo, speaking through his lawyer, announced that Homolka attempted to murder Mahaffy on her own while he intended to release her. The man was obviously furious that she had been released after testifying against him.
And the hunt continued
Leanne Teale went on to live her life in the vicinity of Montreal. The media was tracking her but had not managed to get her scent yet. Not until the fat man sang in the person of Leanne’s new boss. Leanne had found work in a hardware store in a suburb of Montreal, Her boss, Richer Lapointe, had befriended her so he could reveal her location to the media and release audio tapes of their conversations. It turned out that this despicable individual had set her up to get his pay day from the press. He alleged that she had contacted someone with a criminal record and came in contact with children, in violation of her release conditions. The Justice department investigated and concluded that there was no truth to the accusations. She had not breached the conditions of her release.
She obviously had to quit her job and go back into hiding.
In November 2005, a judge overturned the 14 conditions imposed on Leanne Teale. The lawyer for the families of the victims urged the Attorney General to appeal the decision but to no avail. Leanne was no longer considered a threat to society.
In 2006, the movie “Karla” came out on the big screen. And a few sightings were reported. Some reporters caught up with Leanne walking in the street and standing in a phone booth. She was slimmer and had a different hairstyle and was not so easy to identify anymore.
Lynda Veronneau, her former lover from Joliette, published a book and sold photos to the press. She painted a negative picture of the woman who had rejected her but admitted that Karla was a positive influence on her because of her discipline and drive. Veronneau, who considered herself to be a man, is a repeat offender and was given an ultimatum by Homolka about her drug use. She later expressed regrets about the book. Many other books and articles have been published about the case. Google galore.
Sylvie Bordelais’ brother Thierry lived in Montreal and was introduced to Leanne. They connected and became a couple. On February 13, 2007, Leanne gave birth to a baby boy in a Montreal hospital. There are reports that the staff treated her horribly but nothing official.
That same year, reports indicate that Leanne left Canada for the Caribbean with Thierry Bordelais and their young son. They married in Guadeloupe. There were a few sightings before their nuptials and the couple asked the reporters to leave them alone and to respect their privacy. But of course they did not. When cornered, Thierry told reporters of their intentions to live peacefully in Montreal but they eventually fled to Guadeloupe because of the constant scrutiny.
In 2010, the Public Safety Minister announced an agreement between all concerned parties to pass a bill that would prevent notorious offenders like Karla Homolka from applying for a pardon.
Luka Magnotta, the infamous killer who murdered a young man and posted a video of it on the Internet, started a rumor that he and Karla Homolka were an item. The newspapers ran with it and for years people thought that they were a pair. It was proven to be a lie.
As hard as they tried, the reporters could not get a morsel of Leanne Bordelais and her family. Except for a few sightings of Leanne and her baby, the media had hit wall upon wall. Then in 2012, Toronto journalist and lawyer, Paula Todd, embarked on a relentless quest to find Leanne. She succeeded where many had failed and would finally get her scoop by outing the “notorious villainess”.
With the help of a birth certificate, Todd followed clues all the way to Guadeloupe and snooped around until she found her prey. She peeked through windows of an unnamed city until she came face-to-face with the woman she still called Karla. She then cornered her into giving an interview. If Leanne refused, Todd threatened to provide her exact location to the press; if she relented, she would not divulge the locale.
Todd was surprised to see Leanne with three children. Two boys and one girl. Leanne lived in a very modest but clean apartment in a secluded area. Her paleness indicated that she did not go out often. In that sunny climate, she would otherwise have had a tan. She and her family obviously lived like recluses. Todd observed out loud that Leanne seemed to be a good mother but Leanne objected, asking her how she could possibly know that after seeing her only for such a short time. She reiterated that she had no interest in talking to the press, ever, because whatever she said would be misconstrued. She had a point.
Her husband Thierry arrived and was obviously displeased and upset at seeing a reporter. After a loud discussion with Leanne in another room, they called their attorney and asked Todd to leave. The journalist now had a scoop to bring home but wait…she had no pictures of her trophy. In fact, she had nothing but one hour of lame and empty conversation. She was nevertheless determined not to leave empty-handed. She decided to come back and do more spying around the house.
And the hunt continued
Todd commissioned a photojournalist to stake out the Bordelais’ residence. They rented a car and drove past the small building dozens of times scouting for the right surveillance point. They realized it would be difficult and that they had to be careful. They were acting like paparazzi and the neighborhood was protective of their residents. They had to pay two elderly women who had land behind the residence to set up a post. It was in a lush, thick jungle area and full of wild dogs and goats.
It was like a safari with two people waiting to corner an animal — in this case Leanne Bordelais. They were given permission to take photos on the land. They pretended to be shooting a sporting event and in a way, it was. They set up camp for four days.
The property in front of Leanne’s veranda was a goat farm. The animals surrounded them and the terrain was rough. Sometimes they would slip and tumble down. At times, they could hear Leanne’s voice from her house, calling to the children in English. They kept hiding and lurking.
The photographer had a camera equipped with a 600-mm-equivalent lens, for thick foliage, that could see as far as two city blocks. Temperatures soared to 40° C, the humidity was heavy and the bugs merciless. Four days went by with no sign of Leanne. On the fourth day, he caught her in a moment when she was reaching toward her child with open arms.
She had been out for only a few seconds. And he had taken her picture. Victory! People had been alerted of their presence and they had to rush out of there because the locals were not pleased with their intrusion. They were the ones who could now become the hunted so they ran like the wind.
Maybe that infamous photo ended up in the book written by Todd but I personally never saw it. Instead of being happy that their ‘killer’ had left Canada, they had to hunt her down and reactivate the story in the media. Which is exactly what Paula Todd did the minute she returned home. She toured television stations and recounted her encounter with the DEVIL. A bit like a fisherman bragging about the 6-foot fish he caught when in fact, it was 12 inches long.
The lion they were hunting had no teeth and no claws anymore. It was a mother with three children in her arms living a simple life in a village with her husband. A woman never setting foot outside to avoid the Paula Todds of this world.
It really makes you wonder why any journalist/attorney would choose to go on a safari on their own dime, to chase a non-recidivist ex-con instead of using their skills to repair a system they obviously consider broken. Why not focus on the present and work at influencing their readers towards a better understanding of all the elements of a crime? Is it a case of greed and fame over honesty and integrity? Why not get involved in cases for the wrongly accused or push for restorative justice instead of playing Jane of the Jungle?
Restorative justice and fairness for all should be the order of this day and every day in the mind of every investigative journalist worthy of that name. Let’s repair instead of destroy. I say let’s help Bordelais lead a better life and make sure her children do not fall victims to our bad behavior.
Leanne and Thierry Bordelais have an internet business. She sells mainly environmentally friendly diapers and baby products online. She is very close to her family and misses living near them in Ontario. But she knows that she has to make the sacrifice to protect them as well as her children. And her children are innocent so why make their lives miserable?
For the longest time, Leanne’s mother, Dorothy Homolka, was hospitalized at the same time every year and treated for deep depression. The pain was too overwhelming. Her father Karel Homolka has been suffering from Parkinson’s disease. From all accounts, they still live in the same house and their neighbours and friends are kind to them. They also spend time in Hamilton with their daughter Lori who also changed her name. They get horrible flak but not from the people that matter to them. They never gave interviews.
Like it or not, Leanne Bordelais has paid her legal debt to society. Emotionally and socially, she is still dealing with the aftermath of her crimes. Most outsiders think she should have never received the deal she did but that is the way the authorities handled it and it cannot be undone. At least, the Justice system did not use this high profile case to boost their image and did not give in to public outcry. They did what they thought was right at the time and stuck to their guns.
You could assemble the world’s most renowned psychiatrists in the same room and they would not come to an agreement on what Karla Homolka’s responsibility was in the crimes or what mental dysfunctions to stamp on her forehead. And if they can’t, we would be fools to pretend we can.
If her family has forgiven her and she lives a law-abiding life, the hunt for Karla Homolka should cease and desist. It should not be open season on the Bordelais. Two wrongs never make a right.
The remaining victims of Karla Homolka are the French and the Mahaffy families and they are the ones we should focus on. They have every reason to be upset and to want her to disappear. Their wish came true and she moved to Guadeloupe and she is not frolicking on a beach but living inland as a pariah. But you do not see them lurking in the bush to catch a glimpse of her and she has not contacted them either. And they would be the only ones entitled to that type of madness. Instead, they remain ethical and reserved and speak up publicly about the case only when legal decisions are made.
We need to support them by not encouraging the vultures still flying around the corpses of their beloved daughters to keep spreading stories in the media. As one of the mothers stated: “We get stabbed in the heart each and every time it happens.’’
As former detective and writer Mark Fuhrman wisely said, murder has become a business and this case is the gift that keeps on giving to the media. Therefore, they will keep it alive even if it is slowly killing the families of the victims and of the perpetrator.
Note: I know that many would like to see Leanne Bordelais trampled by a herd of elephants or rotting in prison for life. This article is not about her crime but about the legal right of any released inmate to live free of harassment from the media, for their sake and for the sake of the families involved. Therefore, I will not post or answer hateful comments.
During the trial of Luka Magnotta, Karla Homolka’s sister was called to testify because Magnotta had used her name and address to send a package to Vancouver in May 2012. Quite an unlucky break for Lori Homolka who had changed her name to Logan Valentini to maintain her privacy after her sister, Karla, was sentenced to 12 years in prison. She was stunned to hear her name was used to mail body parts and wondered why it became mixed up with this tragedy. Despite the name change, Valentini told the court many people already knew she was the sister of Homolka. As she was under oath, she also had to out Karla who now lives in Quebec with her husband. She had to leave Guadeloupe after being found by the media, and even though she’s probably happy to be closer to her family, she knows the hunt will now continue.
Leanne and her family were found in Châteauguay, QC and a reporter even went door to door to create a stir. I was shocked to listen to adults condemning children and trying to uproot her family once again. The school reacted very diligently and sent parents a letter to assure them that their children were safe, but that the rights of every child to a public education would be upheld. And the hunt continues.
Click here to read the school letter. Also, click here to listen to Kim Pate, the executive director of the Canadian Association of the Elizabeth Fry Societies who explains the need to stop the revictimization of the victims’ families while respecting the right to public safety and of an inmate to be rehabilitated.