Photographing elusive killer Karla Homolka
By Zoran Milic
Any opinions expressed here are the author’s own
It’s late May and I’m still crouched in a Caribbean bush, hours away from the streets of New York City, wondering how did I end up here and why? Just last week I was shooting New York Yankee Derek Jeter for a sports cover and next week I’m booked to spend a week with a horse that could become a Triple Crown winner. But today in the sizzling heat, it’s a different type of subject in front of my long sports lens; I’m waiting for one of the world’s most notorious serial killers, Karla Homolka, to show her face.
I’m waiting for the blonde killer who simply vanished in 2007 after spending just 12 years in prison for the death of two teenagers. Homolka drugged her own 15-year-old sister, Tammy Lyn, so she and her then-fiance, Paul Bernardo, could take her virginity. She protected serial rapist Bernardo as he terrorized young women, even luring some to her home. Then, Homolka plotted alongside him to kidnap, drug, rape, torture and eventually kill three teenage girls, including her sister. She talked the courts into a “sweetheart deal” and is free while Bernardo is in prison for life. (Homolka never faced charges in the drugging-sex-assault death of her sister). Psychiatric experts couldn’t agree on her diagnosis or predict if she’d kill again. Many citizens were just happy to hear she may have left Canada.
I’d been horrified by the serial killers at the time, but now that I am a devoted father, I have an even higher level of horror. Part of me didn’t want to think about the dead girls, but I understood perfectly why investigative reporter Paula Todd was worried. I’d worked with Todd before and trusted her implicitly. She’d found online reports that the “Barbie Killer” was now teaching school in the Caribbean and I shared her fear that as journalists we had an ethical obligation to find out. Many other reporters had tried to find the elusive killer and failed. But Todd is a smart, inexhaustible ace investigator. Todd not only found the killer but succeeded in spending a tension-filled hour with her. What she learned is detailed in “Finding Karla: How I Found An Elusive Serial Child Killer and Discovered A Mother of Three“. Now, it was up to me to attempt the near impossible: photograph the elusive Homolka after she knew Todd had found her.
It took days to convince nearby land owners to allow me to shoot from their place, along with endless drive-bys, 4 a.m. wake-up calls and following the wrong people on the dusty, sweltering islands of Guadeloupe. At one point I start asking myself, as I suppose many photographers do when not getting results, “Is this meant to be? Should I keep trying?” The answer, of course, was yes. Like Todd, I believed that people had the right to know whether any more children could be at risk. And as a photographer who’s shot all over the world, I knew Homolka had become a public figure the minute she set her little sister up to be raped and later killed.
But serial killer Homolka wants the anonymity she doesn’t deserve and no one else gets. I face the fact that I just might not be able to get the shot. And then, it’s Day 4 and I have one more day left. I shoot through jungle leaves as the steam off my face fogs the viewfinder. My lens is on manual mode.
My subject matter is in front of me – but a city block away – and behind me, there are a dozen goats preparing to force me off their turf. After days of waiting, Karla Homolka suddenly comes out into public view. I am pre-focusing on her back trying to see through the leaves. Any sudden movement on my part would send her running. A slight warm breeze suddenly moves the green obstruction and when she turns, I catch a split-second glimpse as my Canon’s mirror flaps into a burst of four frames a second. And then she is gone, shutting the door behind her.
Finally, I had the photographic proof of what happened to the notorious serial killer. Experts say I took an “iconic photograph” of a child killer with three children of her own. That’s for the world to decide. Me, I was relieved to get the shot and come out of the jungle.
(To view and buy Zoran’s images of Karla Homolka, log in to the Reuters Pictures archive and search Karla Homolka)