Notorious Serial Killer
A serial killer is defined as someone who kills three or more people over a long period of time. They are usually male and possess a “mask of sanity,” which means that on the surface, they appear to be normal law-abiding citizens with a pleasant demeanour. However, beneath their facade serial killers are sociopaths who lack the capability to empathize with the suffering of their victims.
Ted Bundy was a good-looking guy, and seemed very friendly and charismatic. However, behind his handsome face lurked the twisted mind of a serial killer, and between the years of 1974 and 1978 Bundy kidnapped and murdered 30 young women in the U.S. Those were just the women we know of; experts agree that he could have been responsible for up to forty disappearances and murders to which he didn’t confess.
To lure in his victims, Bundy would often pretend to be disabled or would pose as an authority figure. Other times, he would simply break into his victim’s homes and bludgeon them to death as they slept. After killing them, he would rape, torture, and dismember them, often keeping souvenirs (like their heads) in his apartments for months at a time.
After a thrilling police chase, Bundy was finally arrested and brought to justice in 1979 and was killed in the electric chair in January 1989, in Starke, Florida.
Few journalists are lucky enough to stumble into stories that grab the national consciousness for decades. And when they do, even fewer are lucky enough to know their subjects intimately enough before the news breaks to offer readers not just a scoop, but a kind of dual biography.
Ann Rule, was one of these. Rule was just another anonymous writer in Seattle in 1971. A former police officer turned crime reporter on the wrong side of 40 with four children at home and a dissolving marriage, Rule volunteered at suicide crisis hotline one night a week.
There — fortunately and unfortunately — she befriended a young man who would commit dozens of horrific murders a few years later: Ted Bundy. This friendship between a great crime writer and her greatest subject was as unlikely as it was fated: the equivalent of Bob Woodward sharing a schoolyard see-saw with Richard Nixon.
“I liked him immediately,” Rule wrote in “The Stranger Beside Me,” the book about Bundy that brought her fame in 1980. “It would have been hard not to. He brought me a cup of coffee and waved his arm over the awesome banks of phone lines.” Bundy’s first words to Rule: “You think we can handle all this?”
”Ted Bundy was a complex man who somewhere along the line went wrong,” a prosecutor of one of his crimes said when Bundy was executed in 1989. ”He killed for the sheer thrill of the act and the challenge of escaping his pursuers. He probably could have done anything in life he set his mind to do, but something happened to him and we still don’t know what it was.”
If it’s rare to hear a district attorney pay a tribute of sorts to a man who beat women to death and sexually assaulted their corpses, it wasn’t for Bundy. People loved him. He volunteered for the Republican Party; with Rule beside him, he convinced people not to kill themselves over the phone; he dated; and he was kind of hot.
“His physical attractiveness helped to make him a mythical character, an antihero who continues to intrigue readers, many of whom were not even born when he carried out his horrendous crimes,” Rule wrote. Even further: “As far as his appeal to women, I can remember thinking that if I were younger and single or if my daughters were older, this would be almost the perfect man,” she wrote.
Yet, down the line, it became clear that Bundy fell far short of Mr. Right.
Beating the streets of the Pacific Northwest for stories, Rule, in 1974, followed the bloody path of a killer who preyed on young women. A witness reported hearing a suspect identify himself as “Ted” and police thought he drove a Volkswagen. Though Rule didn’t think Bundy owned a car, she was concerned that her old friend from the suicide hotline matched a description authorities were circulating, and tipped off an officer she knew.
The ensuing interaction went beyond tragedy into comedy.
“I don’t really think this is anything, but it’s bugging me,” Rule wrote she told police. “… His name is Ted Bundy. B-U-N-D-Y. Call me back. O.K.?”
The officer reported back: “Would you believe [he drives] a 1968 bronze Volkswagen Bug?”
Rule thought the officer was kidding. “Come on … What does he really drive?” she asked.
Officer: “Ann, I’m serious.”
Unfortunately, flooded with leads, police didn’t recognize Rule’s hot tip for what it was. Bundy continued to kill — and Rule continued to be his friend. Even after Bundy was initially arrested for kidnapping in 1975 in Salt Lake City, Rule had lunch with him in Seattle while he was out on bond and bought him a carafe of Chablis.
“When this is all over,” Bundy told Rule, “I’ll take you out to lunch.”
Ted Bundy is a striking contrast to the general image of a “homicidal maniac”: attractive, self-assured, politically ambitious, and successful with a wide variety of women. But his private demons drove him to extremes of violence that make the gory worst of modern “slasher” films seem almost petty by comparison. With his chameleon-like ability to blend, his talent for belonging, Bundy posed an ever-present danger to the pretty, dark-haired women he selected as his victims.
Ted Bundy was born as Theodore Robert Cowell on November 24, 1946, in Burlington, Vermont, to Eleanor Louise Cowell, age twenty-two. From birth Bundy was already in a category in which the FBI survey found 43 percent of sexual and serial killers: he had only one parent. The story of who the father was remained obscure. After giving birth to Ted in November, Eleanor returned to Philadelphia, leaving Ted behind in Vermont for three months. Back in Philadelphia, her father, Sam Cowell, pretended to adopt Ted as his son from some unknown orphanage. Eleanor, it is said, pretended to be his sister. Nobody knows for sure when Ted unravelled the mystery of his birth history because he gave conflicting stories about it afterward. When Eleanor married Johnnie Bundy on May 19, 1951, her son had finally had the name he would carry for life, Theodore Robert Bundy.
Though Bundy loved his grandfather, it is reported that the man had a volatile temper and a mild taste for pornography. Aside from that, no sign of serious instability seemed to exist in Bundy’s childhood. His step-father and he were never particularly close but no abuse was ever evident and Eleanor was devoted to her son, though he remained confused about their relationship. Bundy reportedly alternately referred to her as his sister and his mother.
His classmates from public school remember Bundy as an intelligent, happy, and popular child with many friends and a good academic record. Once in high school, people’s recollections of Bundy suddenly become more clouded. Bundy is said to have been withdrawn and his academic progress was mediocre. He no longer was as popular as in junior high school. His friend recalled that he lost his confidence and appeared tongue-tied in social situations, not only with girls but with meeting new people in general.
In the spring of 1966 Ted Bundy met the love of his life. Her name was Stephanie and she was older than him – a beautiful young woman who wore her long, dark hair parted in the middle. Her resemblance to Bundy’s later victims is striking. But, by the time she graduated she was starting to get bored with Bundy, feeling he was too childish and immature, so she broke up with him, and moved to San Francisco. Bundy’s lack of confidence and tendency toward manipulation had ruined the relationship. He soon dropped out of Stanford, reportedly devastated. Ted’s brother recalls that before the breakup with Stephanie, Ted was always in charge of his emotions. He had never seen his brother so upset and moody.
Bundy then waited until the fall and re-entered the University of Washington with a sense of purpose, turning form an average student into an honor student. He excelled at his studies and became increasingly involved in local politics, continuing to work on and off for political campaigns.
Around this time he met Liz Kendall, who would be a part of his life until well after his final incarceration. A divorced mother, with a three-years-old daughter, supported Bundy in every way possible and the two seemed a close couple – it looked like they were going to get married. Things seemed to stay relatively calm for the time being. Bundy graduated from Washington with a degree in psychology and in the summer of 1973 was accepted into the University of Utah Law School. Nobody will ever know what happened to set Ted Bundy off, but toward the end of 1973 he began murdering women at a frightening rate.
While some Bundy experts, including former King County detective Robert D. Keppel, believe Ted may have started killing in his early to mid-teens a twelve-year-old neighbour vanished from her house when Bundy was fourteen the earliest verified murders began in 1974, when he was 27.
Shortly after midnight on 4 January 1974, Bundy entered the house of Joni Lenz, an 18-year-old student at the University of Washington, and bludgeoned her with a crowbar while she slept. Bundy also removed a bed rod from Lenz’s bed and used it to sexually assault her. She was found the next morning, in a coma, lying in a pool of blood. Lenz survived the attack, but suffered permanent brain damage.
Bundy’s next victim was Lynda Ann Healy, a senior at the University of Washington. On 31 January 1974, Bundy broke into her room, knocked her unconscious, meticulously removed her clothes and dressed her in jeans and a shirt, folded her night clothes, wrapped her in bed sheet, and carried her outside. A single hair would be found at the crime scene which did not belong to the victim. A year would pass before her decapitated, dismembered remains were found.
From that January to June he stalked and killed more than one young woman a month, a spree that culminated in July with the double daytime abduction and murder of two females at a lakeside park near Seattle.
He murdered approximately ten victims in Oregon, Utah and Washington. Bundy had a remarkable advantage as his facial features were charming yet not especially memorable. He would be later described as a chameleon, able to look totally different just by changing his hairstyle, for example.
All his victims had been young, attractive, with their dark hair worn at shoulder length or longer, parted in middle – they all resembled Stephanie, the love of his life that he could never have.
That autumn, Bundy moved on to Utah, where the killings began in October with the murder in Midvale of Melissa Smith, the 17-year-old daughter of police chief Louis Smith. Bundy raped, sodomized, and strangled the Smith girl. Her body was found nine days later. Next was Laura Aime, also 17, who disappeared on Halloween. Her remains were found nearly a month later, on Thanksgiving Day, on the banks of a river.
A week before the final, grim discovery, Ted Bundy was arrested in Salt Lake City for suspicion of burglary. Erratic driving had attracted the attention of police, and an examination of his car – a small VW – revealed peculiar items such as handcuffs and a pair of panty hose with eyeholes cut to form a stocking mask. The glove compartment yielded gasoline receipts and maps that linked the suspect with a list of Colorado ski resorts, including Vail and Snowmass. Carol Da Ronch – a lucky woman that escaped- identified Ted Bundy as the man who had attacked her in November, and her testimony was sufficient to convict him on a charge of attempted kidnapping. Other states were waiting for a shot at Bundy now, and in January 1977 he was extradited to Colorado for trial in the murder of Caryn Campbell, at Snowmass.
Faced with prison time already, Bundy had no time to spare for further trials. He fled from custody, and was recaptured after eight days on the road. He tried again, with more success, found lodgings on the outskirts of Florida State University. Suspected in a score of deaths already, Bundy had secured himself another happy hunting ground.
In the small hours of January 15, 1978, he invaded the Chi Omega sorority house, dressed all in black and armed with a heavy wooden club. Before he left, two women had been raped and killed, a third severely injured by the beating he inflicted with his bludgeon. Within the hour, he had slipped inside another house, just blocks away, to club another victim in her bed. She, too, survived. Detectives at the Chi Omega house discovered bite marks on the corpses there, appalling evidence of Bundy’s fervor at the moment of the kill.
On February 6, Ted stole a van and drove to Jacksonville, where he was spotted in the act of trying to abduct a school girl. Three days later, twelve-year-old Kimberly Leach disappeared from a schoolyard nearby; she was found in the first week of April, her body discarded near Suwanee State Park.
After the murder of Leach, Bundy for some reason returned to his Tallahassee apartment, though the rent was due, and dumped the stolen van in a high-crime neighbourhood. It was never found. Bundy then stole another vehicle, only to be nearly arrested after being pulled over. He managed to escape when the officer left him alone while he checked the stolen car’s plates. Returning to his apartment Bundy wiped the place clean of prints, stole a VW and finally fled Tallahassee. After some harrowing encounters with restraint and hotel employees concerning his now-reported stolen credit cards, Bundy ended up in Pensacola, Florida, where his stolen plates were recognized by a patrol officer and he was pulled over after a short chase. Refusing to go quietly, Bundy fled on foot, falling and pretending to be shot when the officer fired on him. Bundy leaped up and resisted when the officer ran up to him, but after a brief struggle Bundy was again – once and for all – under arrest.
Bundy was an unusually organized and calculating criminal who used his extensive knowledge of law enforcement methodologies to elude identification and capture for years. His crime scenes were distributed over large geographic areas; his victim count had risen to at least 20 before it became clear that numerous investigators in widely disparate jurisdictions were hunting the same man. His assault methods of choice were blunt trauma and strangulation, two relatively silent techniques that could be accomplished with common household items. He deliberately avoided firearms due to the noise they made and the ballistic evidence they left behind. He was a “meticulous researcher” who explored his surroundings in minute detail, looking for safe sites to seize and dispose of victims. He was unusually skilled at minimizing physical evidence. His fingerprints were never found at a crime scene, nor was any other incontrovertible evidence of his guilt, a fact he repeated often during the years in which he attempted to maintain his innocence.
Other significant obstacles for law enforcement were Bundy’s generic, essentially anonymous physical features, and a curious chameleon-like ability to change his appearance almost at will. Early on, police complained of the futility of showing his photograph to witnesses; he looked different in virtually every photo ever taken of him. In person, “his expression would so change his whole appearance that there were moments that you weren’t even sure you were looking at the same person”, said Stewart Hanson, Jr., the judge in the DaRonch trial. “He [was] really a changeling.”Bundy was well aware of this unusual quality and he exploited it, using subtle modifications of facial hair or hairstyle to significantly alter his appearance as necessary. He concealed his one distinctive identifying mark, a dark mole on his neck, with turtleneck shirts and sweaters. Even his Volkswagen Beetle proved difficult to pin down; its colour was variously described by witnesses as metallic or non-metallic, tan or bronze, light brown or dark brown.
Bundy’s modus operandi evolved in organization and sophistication over time, as is typical of serial murderers, according to FBI experts. Early on, it consisted of forcible late-night entry followed by a violent attack with a blunt weapon on a sleeping victim. Some victims were sexually assaulted with inert objects; all except Healy were left as they lay, unconscious, or dead. As his methodology evolved Bundy became progressively more organized in his choice of victims and crime scenes. He would employ various ruses designed to lure his victim to the vicinity of his vehicle where he had pre-positioned a weapon, usually a crowbar. In many cases he wore a plaster cast on one leg or a sling on one arm, and sometimes hobbled on crutches, then requested assistance in carrying something to his vehicle. Bundy was regarded as handsome and charismatic by many of his victims, traits he exploited to win their confidence. “Ted lured females”, Michaud wrote, “the way a lifeless silk flower can dupe a honey bee.”Once near or inside his vehicle the victim would be overpowered, bludgeoned, and restrained with handcuffs. Most were sexually assaulted and strangled, either at the primary crime scene or (more commonly) after transport to a pre-selected secondary site, often a considerable distance away. In situations where his looks and charm were not useful, he invoked authority by identifying himself as a police officer or fire-fighter. Toward the end of his spree, in Florida, perhaps under the stress of being a fugitive, he regressed to indiscriminate attacks on sleeping victims.
Following a change of venue to Miami, Bundy stood trial for the Chi Omega homicides and assaults in June 1979. The trial was covered by 250 reporters from five continents and was the first to be televised nationally in the United States. Despite the presence of five court-appointed attorneys, Bundy again handled much of his own defense. From the beginning, he “sabotaged the entire defense effort out of spite, distrust, and grandiose delusion,” Nelson later wrote. “Ted was facing murder charges, with a possible death sentence, and all that mattered to him apparently was that he be in charge.”
According to Mike Minerva, a Tallahassee public defender and member of the defense team, a pre-trial plea bargain was negotiated in which Bundy would plead guilty to killing Levy, Bowman and Leach in exchange for a firm 75-year prison sentence. Prosecutors were amenable to a deal, by one account, because “prospects of losing at trial were very good.” Bundy, on the other hand, saw the plea deal not only as a means of avoiding the death penalty, but also as a “tactical move”: he could enter his plea, then wait a few years for evidence to disintegrate or become lost and for witnesses to die, move on, or retract their testimony. Once the case against him had deteriorated beyond repair, he could file a post-conviction motion to set aside the plea and secure an acquittal. At the last minute, however, Bundy refused the deal. “It made him realize he was going to have to stand up in front of the whole world and say he was guilty”, Minerva said. “He just couldn’t do it.”
At trial, crucial testimony came from Chi Omega sorority members Connie Hastings, who placed Bundy in the vicinity of the Chi Omega House that evening, and Nita Neary, who saw him leaving the sorority house clutching the oak murder weapon. Incriminating physical evidence included impressions of the bite wounds Bundy had inflicted on Lisa Levy’s left buttock, which forensic odontologists Richard Souviron and Lowell Levine matched to castings of Bundy’s teeth. The jury deliberated for less than seven hours before convicting him on July 24, 1979 of the Bowman and Levy murders, three counts of attempted first degree murder (for the assaults on Kleiner, Chandler and Thomas) and two counts of burglary. Trial judge Edward Cowart imposed death sentences for the murder convictions.
Six months later, a second trial took place in Orlando for the abduction and murder of Kimberly Leach. Bundy was found guilty once again, after less than eight hours’ deliberation, due principally to the testimony of an eyewitness who saw him leading Leach from the schoolyard to his stolen van. Important material evidence included clothing fibres with an unusual manufacturing error, found in the van and on Leach’s body, which matched fibres from the jacket Bundy was wearing when he was arrested.
During the penalty phase of the trial, Bundy took advantage of an obscure Florida law providing that a marriage declaration in court, in the presence of a judge, constituted a legal marriage. As he was questioning former Washington State DES co-worker Carole Ann Boone—who had moved to Florida to be near Bundy, had testified on his behalf during both trials, and was again testifying on his behalf as a character witness—he asked her to marry him. She accepted, and Bundy declared to the court that they were legally married.
On February 10, 1980, Bundy was sentenced to death by electrocution for a third time. As the sentence was announced, he reportedly stood and shouted, “Tell the jury they were wrong!” This third death sentence would be the one ultimately carried out nearly nine years later.
In October 1982, Boone gave birth to a daughter and named Bundy as the father. While conjugal visits were not allowed at Raiford Prison, inmates were known to pool their money in order to bribe guards to allow them intimate time alone with their female visitors.
All of Bundy’s known victims were white females, most of middle-class backgrounds. Almost all were between the ages of 15 and 25 and most were college students. He apparently never approached anyone he might have met before. Ann Rule noted that most of the identified victims had long straight hair, parted in the middle—like Stephanie Brooks, the woman who rejected him, and to whom he later became engaged and then rejected in return. Rule speculated that Bundy’s animosity toward his first girlfriend triggered his protracted rampage and caused him to target victims who resembled her.Bundy dismissed this hypothesis: “They … just fit the general criteria of being young and attractive”, he said. “Too many people have bought this crap that all the girls were similar … but almost everything was dissimilar … physically, they were almost all different.”He did concede that youth and beauty were “absolutely indispensable criteria” in his choice of victims.
After Bundy’s execution, Ann Rule was surprised and troubled to hear from numerous “sensitive, intelligent, kind young women,” who wrote or called to say they were deeply depressed because Bundy was dead. Many had corresponded with him, “each believing that she was his only one.” Several said they suffered nervous breakdowns when he died. “Even in death, Ted damaged women,” Rule wrote. “To get well, they must realize that they were conned by the master conman. They are grieving for a shadow man that never existed.”
“People like Ted can fool you completely,” Rule said in 1999. “I’d been a cop, had all that psychology — but his mask was perfect. I say that long acquaintance can help you know someone. But you can never be really sure. Scary.”
She added: “I felt sick when Ted was executed — but I would not have stopped it if I could. He was going to get out, and he would have killed again and again and again.”