Karla: A Pact With the Devil

by Stephen Williams

Published by Cantos

456 pages, 2003



Blind Justice

Reviewed by Adrian Marks


Go hunting for a copy of Stephen Williams' gruesome portrait of serial sex killer Karla Homolka and you're unlikely to have much luck. For various reasons, Karla: A Pact With the Devil has been pulled from many bookstores in English Canada, the country where the book is published and where Homolka's crimes occurred. Lawyer Tim Danson -- who represents the families of two of the girls Homolka and her husband, Paul Bernardo, killed -- requested that booksellers in Canada not stock either Karla: A Pact With the Devil or an earlier work by Williams that also deals with the Bernardo/Homolka case, Invisible Darkness. Not only did many bookstores comply, but an early March poll of visitors to the Canadian Booksellers Association Web site suggested that while 41 per cent of Canadian booksellers feel A Pact With the Devil should be displayed, 27 per cent felt it should be available, but not on display and a shocking 32 per cent -- of booksellers, don't forget -- felt the book should be banned.

What is it about Karla: A Pact With the Devil that has so outraged a nation normally known for fairly gentle outbursts? On close inspection, the most offensive thing seems to be the topic itself as author Williams is non-journalistically critical of almost all aspects of the case. Williams has issue with the initial investigations, the manner in which the trials progressed and that Homolka will be free by 2006, at the latest.

A sore point may well be that, unlike many true crime-type biographies that include only disconnected author observation and interviews with people whose lives touched on the periphery of the crime or crimes in question -- investigating policing agents, prosecuting attorneys and so on -- Williams has included letters from Homolka to himself, perhaps inviting critics who have not read the book to opine that this has given Homolka an outlet for expressing her thoughts on her crimes: an outlet that the very nature of the crimes should deny her.

Though the horrific nature of Homolka's crimes mean that some background is in order -- and Williams supplies it -- in many ways Karla: A Pact With the Devil picks up where Invisible Darkness left off: at the beginning of her sentence to 12 years imprisonment for pleading guilty to two counts of manslaughter. The light sentence was the result of "a controversial plea bargain," Williams writes near the beginning of Pact With the Devil, "allegedly motivated by the authorities' need for her testimony against her husband, Karla pled guilty to two counts of manslaughter and received a twelve-year prison sentence."

Critics that charge Williams' book should be banned should, if nothing else, read the opening paragraphs of Pact With the Devil.

There are abiding mysteries in life such as who cleft the Devil's foot or what song the Sirens sang? Two more contemporary mysteries have plagued me for the better part of the past decade: Who is Karla Homolka and how did she come to have a future? ...

Perhaps even more perplexing than what she is and what she has done is the fact that Karla has a future. How, in the name of all that is holy, does a woman like Karla, who did what Karla did, get the opportunity to pick herself up and just start over?

Williams summarizes just what Homolka did over the next few paragraphs:

In the process of "giving" her younger sister to her boyfriend Paul Bernardo as a Christmas present in the basement of her parents' house in 1990, she killed her. Six months later, Karla lured a young girlfriend into the house she was by then sharing with Bernardo, drugged her in the exact same manner as she had her sister ...

A week later, Karla's betrothed brought another schoolgirl home. He said it was merely reciprocity. He and Karla proceeded to rape Leslie Mahaffy while again recording the action on videotape. Then they killed her, cut up her body, encased parts in cement and dumped the blocks in a nearby reservoir. Two weeks later, Paul and Karla were married at historic Niagara-on-the-Lake.

There's more -- a lot more -- and most of it just as horrific. Prompting Williams to passion not long after this description:

If there were any such thing as Justice [Homolka] would at least be rotting in jail for the rest of her life. Instead, on July 6, 2005, at the age of thirty-five, "her debt to society" paid in full, she will be released, a free woman.

Though Williams appears to present an even account in Karla: A Pact With the Devil, this last sentiment -- this howl at the moon of Justice -- permeates his text. "Look at this!" he sometimes seems to shout. "Just look! How can this be? How can this be happening?" The answer? An almost stupefying silence from the Canadian press. Ignorance is bliss. And, as Williams points out -- sometimes stridently -- in just over two years, Karla Homolka will be free. | May 2003


Adrian Marks is an author and journalist.