Netflix's Chart-Topping Release Finds Viewers Seeing True Crime Parallels

Stay Close, based on the Harlan Coben novel of the same name, has been a success for Netflix since its release on New Year's Eve. Like many of Coben's other novels, the story centers on a group of characters whose lives are upended by their secrets. The story also involves "Ken and Barbie" killers, played by Poppy Gilbert and Hyoie O'Grady. These characters are fictional, but some viewers suspected they may be inspired by a real crime story.

Ken (O'Grady) and Barbie (Gilbert) are introduced as bubbly, polished characters, but viewers later discover the two are psychopathic murderers. The motivations behind their crimes do not come to the surface until later on in the show. In a recent statement, Coben said there was a real-life inspiration for the two weird killers.

"At half-time in NFL football games in the '70s and '80s there used to be group called Up With People, who would perform this really wholesome act," the author said, reports Radio Times. "They would sing all these Kumbaya-type songs and they had these fake painted smiles on. I'm sitting there going, 'There's got to be more behind those fake painted smiles.' So I decided, wouldn't it be cool if two of them were kind of psychotic killers?"

Coben enjoyed adding elements to the show that keep the audience in suspense and seem totally unrelated to the plot at first. "I think Ken and Barbie keep us off balance a little bit," he said. "And yet as outrageous as Ken and Barbie are there is something about them that feels grounded and realistic."

While Coben's inspiration for his Ken and Barbie killers might be a halftime show act, there was a real duo of murderers nicknamed "Ken and Barbie." Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka were convicted in the rape and murder of at least three minors in Canada between 1990 and 1992. They have been the subject of several documentaries and the case even inspired a 2000 Law & Order episode. Discovery+ released the four-episode documentary series Ken and Barbie Killers: The Lost Murder Tapes on Dec. 12.

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Bernardo and Homolka's horrific crimes began in 1990, when Bernardo raped Homolka's sister and filmed the assault while Homolka held her sister down with an anesthetic. The couple was linked to three other cases, including the rape of a woman identified as Jane Doe, and the rape and deaths of 14-year-old Leslie Mahaffy and 15-year-old Kristen French. Before the trial, Homolka agreed to testify against Bernardo and was sentenced to 12 years in prison for manslaughter. Bernardo was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years.