Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods


Compliant Accomplice?

In an article on female serial killers, A.J. Cooper discusses women who kill with adult males. The victim, Cooper says, is usually a family member or an acquaintance, and the male accomplice is typically a boyfriend or husband. The male usually initiates the molestation and the female is usually sufficiently dependent on him to remain passive in the face of violence. She fears being abandoned or beaten. Eventually she may come to accept her role and even get "a measure of sexual/emotional gratification." Most of them have longstanding insecurity and are poorly educated. Many were abused during childhood.

In Karla Homolka's case, none of this is true. She was confident, educated and in contact with her family. She was co-equal with her partner in violence, and even suggested some of it before he thought of it. Partnerships like hers, Cooper says, are potentially more dangerous than those in which the woman passively complies.

In Deadlier than the Male, author Terry Manners describes in detail how Karla and her husband, the notorious Paul Bernardo, had killed three girls, starting with her own sister. It was Karla who had drugged young Tammy before Christmas in 1990 so Paul could rape her. Trying to please her man, she slipped an animal tranquilizer into Tammy's eggnog while they were all together in the basement of Tammy and Karla's parents' home, and when the girl passed out, they took turns having sex with her. They made a videotape of these activities so they could relive the pleasure. To their surprise, Tammy vomited and then suffocated and died. They redressed her and dragged her into the bedroom. However, there was no way to save her, so they claimed she'd had too much to drink. Karla took the lead in covering up the murder. The medical examiner failed to check very closely, and Karla and Paul kept their dark secret to themselves. However, Karla then dressed in her sister's clothes so that Paul could reenact the rape scene.

At no point did she protest and, caught on video, she seems to have thought the whole thing was quite funny.

Paul Bernardo & Karla Homolka wedding photo
Paul Bernardo & Karla Homolka wedding photo

Karla was 17 when she met Paul Bernardo, 23. To neighbors they seemed the perfect couple, but behind closed doors they carried out atrocities that boggled even the minds of the lawyers who later defended them. Karla had started out seemingly a simple, middle-class girl (she says) who just wanted a boyfriend, but from the moment they met, she was attracted to Paul, the sadist. She let Paul do anything he desired with her and his demands became increasingly brutal. Nevertheless, she wrote notes telling him she wanted more. He liked being in control, and with him Karla later claimed that she felt at peace. They married in 1991 at Niagara Falls, just two weeks after Paul had committed his second murder. Stephen Williams and Nick Pron both published books on the case (see bibliography) and fuller details can be read elsewhere on Crime Library.

Paul had raped and killed 14-year-old Leslie Mahaffy, who was last seen alive at a party and was found dismembered and cemented into seven blocks of concrete submerged in a lake. Then another schoolgirl, Kristen French, disappeared. She was seen being forced into a car in the middle of the day while walking home from school. Two people were in the car. Then weeks later she was found murdered, her long brown hair hacked off.

It turned out that Karla had lured her toward the car because, as she later put it, Paul liked young girls and that way she could keep him happy. Before killing her, they kept Kristin captive for a few days for their pleasure.

Karla was the one who turned Paul in. As the police closed in, she saw a chance to save herself, so she lied to get a short prison term in exchange for details about what Paul had done to the girls. There were incriminating videotapes of both murdered girls being there in his home, forced to have sex. He was charged with 42 criminal counts.

For her cooperation and a plea of guilty to two counts of manslaughter, Karla was sentenced to only two 12-year terms to be served concurrently. At her parole hearing in 1997, it was determined that she was still too potentially violent to be allowed into society. The same was true as of February 2001.

While some people believed that she was coerced into what she did by her overbearing husband, many others are just as certain that she was as much a part of it as he was, and that she enjoyed it. While little research has been done on the remorseless female who uses a man to act out her own violence, this could be a case in which such a dynamic occurred. That she could kill her sister and then continue to participate in more rapes and murders with her sister's co-killer for several years indicates a deviant personality. She was also caught on videotape telling Paul that she wanted to get many more young virgins for him. He had not scripted her to say this; it was spontaneous and flirty. She clearly had her own ideas about how to torment innocent victims.

Karla and Paul are not alone. In fact, Michael Newton states in The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers that about 25% of all serial killers are male-female teams, including the likes of:

Fred & Rose West (South West News Services)
Fred & Rose West (South West
News Services)

  • Fred and Rosemary West, who were sexual sadists with more than 12 victims between them. Fred had killed three times before meeting Rosemary, including his first wife, and they worked together to torture nine young girls. Their 16-year-old daughter was among the victims. To elude detection, between 1977 and 1987, they buried the remains in their home. After arrest, Fred said he'd killed more than 20 women. He committed suicide in prison in 1995, while Rosemary is serving a life sentence for 10 counts of murder.

Raymond Fernandez & Martha Beck
Raymond Fernandez & Martha Beck

  • Martha Beck and Raymond Fernandez swindled women together and killed several. They were suspected in as many as 20 deaths, including a child, but they only confessed to two. Martha, a grossly overweight woman, fell for Raymond's charm, but he wanted only to take what he could from her. Married three times and quickly divorced, Martha had an appetite for bizarre sex. She persuaded Raymond, who believed in black magic and who had conned over one hundred women out of the money, to team up with her. During 1947 and 1948, they engaged in fraud and deception of vulnerable women, stealing their money, and that activity soon turned to murder. One victim was strangled into unconsciousness and then Martha drowned her in the bathtub. Arrested and tried in a sensational proceeding that involved Martha's descriptions of her strange sexual practices with Raymond, they were convicted of murder. Despite Martha's attempt to appear to be a woman who'd fallen under a con man's spell, these two were executed on the same day in 1951. She proclaimed her love for him all the way to the chair.

Doug Clark & Carol Bundy
Doug Clark & Carol Bundy

  • Doug Clark and Carol Bundy were responsible for "the Sunset Strip Slayings" in Hollywood in the early 1980s. Carol would entice young girls into the car so that Doug could force them into sexual acts, during which he would shoot them in the head. He would then have sex with the corpses, or just with a severed head. Once Bundy made the head up to look like Barbie, which Doug then took for his pleasure. When arrested, they were charged with six counts of murderfive females and one male (a friend of Carol's who had suspected Doug in the string of slayings.) Clark was sentenced to die while Bundy, who testified against him, got two consecutive life terms.

Gerald & Charlene Gallego
Gerald & Charlene Gallego

  • From 1978 to 1980, Gerald and Charlene Gallego engaged in a series of sex crimes together in California and Nevada. As was the typical pattern for such couples, Charlene (Gerald's seventh wife) would entice girls into their car so that Gerald could rape, abuse and shoot them. Often kidnapping two girls together, they killed 10 people. A witness gave police enough information to link the last dead couple (a male and female) to the Gallegos, and they ran but were quickly captured. Charlene turned against her husband and was the star witness in trials in both California and Nevada, where Gerald received the death penalty both times. Charlene got 16 years for her part and was released in 1997.

Each couple involved a male and female who together lured and savaged innocent victims, including children. While no formal studies have been done on the kind of chemistry that happens between two people that sets off a rape or killing spree, many experts believe that under other circumstances and with another man, the female might not have been as sadistic or cold-blooded. (Yet in some cases, the female was the dominant or encouraging partner.)

Back to the study that former FBI Special Agent Roy Hazelwood did. He found that most of the women who get involved with these sadistic males are from backgrounds that included physical and sexual abuse. Once merged with their sadistic partners, they become unable to form their own identities because "the sadistic fantasy of the male becomes an organizing principle in the behavior of the women." From his interviews, he concludes that couples like Karla and Paul are not like the team killers, Bonnie and Clyde.

"Let's take Bonnie and Clyde," he says. "Wives and girlfriends of sexual sadists are quite different. I interviewed twenty women, and four of them had participated in the murder of another person. You can't excuse that. They are legally, morally, and ethically responsible for what they've done. But I believe the man had reshaped their sexual norms." After having spoken to these women, he viewed them as compliant accomplices with weak self-esteem who were isolated and made to believe that the male in their lives was the center of the universe. They had to do what he wanted or their world would fall apart.

Yet those psychiatrists who have evaluated some of these women believe that even without the male, they had the potential for aggression or cunning against others. It was also difficult to confirm the details of their self-reports. Maybe they were abused, maybe they weren't. There is certainly no evidence of that for Karla Homolka, or Bonnie Parker. That means it may not be just team chemistry. It could be about a shared ability to harm others and a willingness to witness and participate in it without trying to stop it.

In fact, if not for certain women, the lives of some men might not have been so violent.

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