STRANGERS AND STRANGE ANNIVERSAIRIES – PART II

2009_0303stehenscamera0038I’ll come back to the woman from France and how that played out.

This past Friday, February 15, 2013 I got an email from the crime reporter for Global Television, Catherine McDonald. Catherine told me something that I could hardly believe: It was the 20th anniversary of Paul Bernardo’s arrest. The problem is, for me, it happened yesterday. I was sitting in my studio reading a long newspaper report about Bernardo’s arrest. Deep in the copy it said that Bernardo was married to a young woman from St. Catharines. I jotted down a note to a couple of publishers I knew. It asked who this young wife was and what she was doing all the while Bernardo was out allegedly raping and pillaging? I fashioned it as a book proposal and faxed it off. (Was there email in 1993? If there was it was not ubiquitous – the obsolete fax was the fastest medium). It was Sunday. By Monday evening I had a book deal.

This compression of time (and space, because there is very much a spatial aspect to memory) can be discombobulating. Further, I sense there is some kind of renaissance of interest in the Paul and Karla cases, as though they are perpetually going through generational rediscovery. (Or else what was the young French woman at my door?) This is curious to me because there are no heroes in that seaweed and there are no lessons to be learned from the tragic expression of Paul and Karla’s darkest natures. For some one who was fully prepared to move on and never think about any of the details again by early winter 1998, I found myself parroting Michael Corleone in “Godfather III”: “Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in!”

On the upside, I have noticed a decided up tick in the sales of my books in both in Canada and the United States which is something quite remarkable given that “Invisible Darkness: The Horrifying Case of Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka” was published 15 years ago and “Karla: A Pact with the Devil” in 2003 – 2004. At any rate, Catherine wanted me to do a “hit” – give her a comment or two on camera. She said she was at the courthouse covering some current malfeasance – I think it was the anesthesiologist who is alleged to have sexually assaulted dozens of female patients after he put them under for various surgeries over the past dozen years.

Canadians seem to have a purchase on the most peculiar and bizarre crimes – I have never heard of anything like the crimes this doctor is accused of perpetrating in any other country in the world; similarly there is no series of crimes so deviant and peculiar as those Colonel Russell Williams confessed to, not to mention Paul and Karla’s trespasses, unique, as far as I know, in the annals of criminal behavior.

Catherine explained that Paul Bernardo’s erstwhile defense lawyer John Rosen was conveniently in the courthouse defending some other miscreant and had agreed to say something and she thought I would make the ideal counterpart.

Catherine is a vivacious and persuasive woman who just happens to be married to a good friend of mine, Adrian Montgomery, and she is also eight-and-a-half months pregnant. Although I really have never had any particular interest in Paul Bernardo who I’ve always seen as a callow pawn in Karla’s game, a kind of fern bar habitué gone very wrong, it’s hard to say no to Catherine. However, when she found out I was at the farm and did not intend to come into Toronto that day, as I had indicated to Adrian I was going to be earlier in the week – I believe I said to him “I am going to be at Ciao (the Yorkville bar and eatery where the partisans gather every Friday evening in Toronto,) come Hell or high water, on February 15.” For emphasis I said “I’m a third generation Torontonian. My grandfather had a butcher shop at the corner of Eglinton and Spadina; legend has it I was born on the loading dock of Marty Millionaire’s at the corner of Queen and Parliament. (See Sandra Martin’s profile in “Toronto Life,” October 2004) The fact that I don’t have a pied-a-terre in the city and the mobility to come and go as I please is a tragedy of epic proportion: Diligently working to rectify that situation – it’s what keeps me going.”

I meant what I said except my beloved paramour Marsha Boulton and I had been traveling for a couple of days, visiting old friends who own wineries in the Niagara Peninsula and Marsha was tired and did not feel like a trip to the city and she trumps Hell and high water.

Catherine said she could not possibly come up to the farm – there was simply no time – she had to have the piece done and finished for Global’s six o’clock news broadcast and hung up.

When I told Marsha about Catherine and the anniversary of Paul Bernardo’s arrest she was willing to make an exception so I called Catherine back and made arrangements to meet her at the Global studios as soon as I could get there – which would probably be around 4:00 PM. That would work.

With no time to indulge any nostalgia – I’m not much for nostalgia anyway but 10 years involvement in the morass that became the Bernardo and Homolka disaster for me, it is sometimes hard to stave off, we hurriedly packed, kept our reservation at the Metropolitan Hotel and furiously made a rather uneventful 2 1/2 hour drive. We arrived at the studios on Barber Green at about 4:10PM.

I saw the piece at 11:30 PM in our hotel room that night. I was on air for about 25 seconds. Rosen got 40. It wasn’t profound but it was nostalgic.

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3 thoughts on “STRANGERS AND STRANGE ANNIVERSAIRIES – PART II

  1. Twenty years, and yet I can still recall those heavy days in heart-stopping clarity. At the time, I was of about the age of the murdered girls. The horrid details which managed to seep through the publication ban burrowed beneath my skin, and I am certain that coming to know those ugly truths at such a tender age left me forever changed.

    I was able to find Ms. McDonald’s piece… you look as though you haven’t changed a bit these last two decades!

  2. Greetings from the states Mr.Williams:) I’m a big fan of your books and I believe you are the most honest journalist I can think of. That being said, I would like like to put a bug in your ear about a deeply disturbing murder case in Florida. A mother of four named Tonya Thomas killed her four adolescent children one night in May 2012. I do not think an American journalist will ever write a book about this tragedy. If you Google the case you will know why. Please check it out!!!

  3. Hello Mr. Williams:

    “I was sitting in my studio reading a long newspaper report about Bernardo’s arrest. Deep in the copy it said that Bernardo was married to a young woman from St. Catharines. I jotted down a note to a couple of publishers I knew. It asked who this young wife was and what she was doing all the while Bernardo was out allegedly raping and pillaging? I fashioned it as a book proposal and faxed it off.”

    That’s a very small but significant jewel of information there. I’d love to hear more, if you ever feel like following up. You’ve explained “Why Karla” part two (http://www.stephenwilliamsbooks.com/html/why_karla_.html), but I’m not aware you’ve ever explained what led you to explore ‘Why Karla?” in the first place.

    What was it that enabled you (or drew you) to pick up on this tiny little nugget of seeming non-information? Were others asking this question too, or were you the first? Did you go on to develop it into a mountain (heck, almost a parallel universe) of knowledge about the story AND the backstory of this case – and the people involved – through serendipitous happenstance, or did that small excerpt immediately set off alarm bells in your brain? If the latter, was that due to some pre-existing knowledge or experience you’ve had?

    How much of what you discovered later was a complete surprise, vs. how much was, rather, validation of what you already suspected (and keyed in on) when you first asked yourself the question which you then “fashioned […] as a book proposal and faxed if off”?

    I imagine you’ll want to say something about journalistic instincts, but those instincts don’t just come out of nowhere. I assume there’s a backstory here too?

    Regardless of what led you to make that leap – thank you. Justice – in its legal sense – definitely wasn’t served in this case. But justice in its larger sense was definitely aided by your instincts, intelligence, perserverance and tenacity. Not to mention your enormous talent.

    Pushing back against injustice is a noble cause. I’m just sorry you and Marsha had to pay such a heavy price for it.

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