The Monster in Your NeighborhoodA couple of years ago, I came across an article online about a woman named Karla Homolka. She was living in a Montreal suburb with her husband and children, and the news was reporting that Karla had recently volunteered at her kids' school in some capacity.
All in all, a pretty boring story. Except that Karla herself isn’t boring. You see, Karla Homolka—now Leanne Bordelais—isn't just your ordinary suburban parent. She's the former wife of serial killer Paul Bernardo. Her testimony, in exchange for twelve years in prison, was crucial in putting her then-husband away for life.
But she's not innocent.
Paul was convicted of raping and murdering three young women. One of them was Karla's little sister. The other two victims were also teenagers. And Karla participated in all of it. Paul liked to film everything, and there is video evidence detailing all the many ways his wife was involved. So this article—which talked about Karla raising her children in the suburbs and doing seemingly normal "mom things"—also highlighted the community's outrage.
It seems nobody has forgiven her, and I doubt any of us ever will.
Paul and Karla have always fascinated me. Growing up in the suburbs of Toronto in the 1990s, which was their hunting ground, the crimes had a profound impact on my own teenage years. As details seeped out during the trial (reported by the American press, as there was a publication ban on the crimes within Canada), it seemed that everybody knew someone who knew someone who'd been affected in some way.
"My neighbor's aunt used to cut hair at the salon near the veterinary clinic where Karla worked," a friend at school informed me.
"My cousin used to date a guy who went to the same school as one of the victims. They were in the same math class last year," someone else said.
These connections seemed forced and silly now, but at the time, they were extremely important. It felt like we were all a few degrees away from the horror of Paul and Karla. Monsters weren't supposed to exist in the safe neighborhoods where we lived.
In the storybooks we read our kids, the monsters die at the end. Or they're at least tucked away somewhere out of sight, like Paul, where they can't hurt anybody. They're most certainly not sitting next to you munching on a ham-and-cheese pinwheel at the Tuesday night PTA meeting. The thought of Karla walking around like a regular person—a mother, a wife, a neighbor, a parent volunteering at her children's school—is sickening, and frankly, confusing. Yes, she served her sentence, but still, it doesn't feel right.
Why does Karla get to start over? Why gives her the right to believe she can? What degree of compartmentalization does she have to possess to be able to build a new life for herself on top of all the lives she's ripped apart? Is she even sorry? Does she feel sadness? Does she ever think about the last few hours of those young women's lives? Does she ever dream about how they died?
And if she doesn't, does that mean she's rehabilitated and leaving her past behind . . . or does it mean that she's still a monster? Or was she never a monster at all? Was she simply another victim, as she proclaimed to be, of her abusive serial killer ex-husband?
What happens to the monsters after they're caught, put away, and then let back out?
I had so many questions, and writing JAR OF HEARTS seemed like the only way to answer them. I've long believed that crime fiction provides a safe space for us to dissect and process all of the terrible things that happen in the world, even if the endings aren't always happy. Reading and writing crime fiction can provide deeper insight into how minds darker than ours might work.
Because there are monsters all around us. Even in our safe little neighborhoods.