Theodore Robert Bundy is one of the most heinous killers in history. Died in the electric chair at 42 he killed over thirty women: that’s who Ted Bundy was.
In the 1970s, the United States faced a wave of crime that resulted in a dramatic increase in murders and sexual violence, as well as other minor crimes. There was no internet, there were no social networks and the idea of a shared and coordinated database between the police forces of the various American states was more than pure science fiction. It was in this melting pot of evil and violence, in this chaotic ecosystem that he struggled to manufacture the antibodies necessary to counteract such a wild escalation that one of the most terrible, famous and suggestive criminal minds in history found its ideal habitat: Theodore Robert Bundy.
The story of Ted Bundy
Where does evil come from? What are the crossroads that push a life to take the path of violence? What can transform an ordinary person into a terrible monster, a being capable of kidnapping, killing, beheading and torturing dozens of defenseless young women? If it is true that every legend has a beginning, this must also be valid for the dark, dark and evil myths. And Ted Bundy is one of them.
The childhood of Theodore Robert Cowell
Ted Bundy was born on November 24, 1946 in Burlington, Vermont. The mother, Eleanor Louise Cowell, gives birth to him in a home for single women and is initially even undecided whether to keep it or leave it in foster care. For Louise the idea of having a child out of wedlock, without a partner to raise him with, without a father with whom to share the joys and sorrows of motherhood is not easy. But in the end he decides to keep the baby: Louise’s parents, Samuel and Eleanor, raise the child as if he were their son to avoid the scandal of a motherhood out of wedlock. Theodore is initially kept silent about the truth: Sam and Eleanor introduce themselves as his natural parents and Louise is just an older sister.
Ted Bundy many years later will remember fondly his childhood but the reality of the facts is very different. Samuel Cowell, the grandfather-parent, was a violent and sadistic man. He beat his wife, was racist and exhibited vague personality disorders. Sam Cowell had such a bad reputation that some family members thought that Ted could have been the result of an incest between Samuel and his daughter. Eleanor, submissive and intimidated by her husband’s violence, underwent periodic electric shocks to treat depression. Louise and little Ted will stay with Samuel and Eleanor for three years. Is it during this time that the seeds of evil were planted inside the tiny Ted? Maybe. But already at that time, relatives say, he showed some strange behavior.
It is in 1951 that Louise, after leaving her parents’ house, meets Johnny Culpepper Bundy with whom he will marry the same year. Johnny welcomes Louise and little Ted who from that moment will inherit the surname with which he will be known in the terrible years to come.
The discovery of Ted Bundy and his adolescence
If we wanted to improvise psychologists and identify the first real trauma that started defining the adult Ted Bundy, we could travel with our time machine until 1960 when the thirteen year old Ted discovers some documents that reveal a truth that is difficult to accept: on the certificate of birth two words strike like a sentence. Unknown Father. A trauma. A piece that finds its place and even if in the following years Bundy will not attribute too much importance to the discovery, there is no doubt that it was an event to say the least fundamental. However, this date is controversial: according to the journalist Ann Rule, Ted will learn the truth in 1969, as an adult man.
Ted, in interviews released from prison, idealizes his childhood. He describes himself as a successful and mature young man. He traces back to that period the beginning of his morbid interest in sex but deliberately removes the complications of adolescence. Bundy was suffering from a speech disorder, his classmates made fun of him and he was often short-tempered. In addition, during camping, he enjoyed placing dangerous traps and causing some bad accidents. Added to this are small thefts and a decidedly particular conception of private property.
The adulthood of Ted Bundy
After graduating in 1965, Theodore Bundy spends a few years looking for a purpose, for something that engages him and finally gives him what he believes he deserves. He gets engaged but cannot concentrate, to divert his efforts towards a single goal, so much so that he is left by the girl who accuses him of not having ambitions. This state of indecision continues until 1969 and then the turning point: Bundy decides to devote himself to university career.
It is this sudden change of attitude, this renewed energy that prompted Ann Rule and to identify in 1969 the year in which Ted Bundy learns who he really was his mother, the fact that his grandparents were not the parents and the absence of a father. Could such an event have catalyzed Ted’s energies on the one hand and triggered his latent perversion on the other?
Whatever the truth, Ted has changed since 1969. He graduated in psychology and began to take an interest in politics first and then law, moving to Utah for a second degree. He carves out some roles of responsibility in local election campaigns and plays the role of a talented, charismatic and capable young man. Finally, the idea of a brilliant, adequate and inserted self in society materializes. But it is enough to look at some of his interviews or public appearances to perceive that there was something more restless behind the smile of Ted Bundy.
And that something comes to life right in those years when very young and enterprising young women begin to disappear.
In 1974 between Washington state and Oregon some young women begin to disappear into thin air. The first is Lynda Ann Healy who is kidnapped while in her house, or so they testify to traces of a scuffle. After her it is the turn of Donna Gail Manson, a nineteen-year-old student from Olympia, Washington. And then again, shortly after Susan Elaine Rancourt. The kidnappings follow each other at a fast pace between the two American states at the rate of one per month. But we are in the 70s, the police force does not have effective logistical coordination and widespread crime is a smoke screen behind which Theodore Bundy feels comfortable.
Two girls also disappear on July 14, 1974, lured on Lake Sammamish by a handsome man called Ted, with an English accent and a cast arm. Among thousands of people Denise Marie Naslund and Janice Anne Ott disappear.
In August 1974 Ted Bundy moved to Salt Lake City (Utah) to attend law school and here his self-esteem suffered a severe blow: the lessons were complicated and Ted felt uncomfortable, unable to keep up. In addition, to attend the University of Utah Law School he leaves the historic girlfriend Elizabeth Kloepfer in Seattle and begins a new phase of his life. Other girls disappear: always young, always beautiful. And this time the bodies are also found. Killed, tortured, sometimes even after death. During this time Ted is dating Carole Ann Boone, who a few years later will play a key role in Bundy’s life.
There is something terrible at work. Something evil, dark, unstoppable. Ted Bundy has freed the beast (or the Entity, as he will later call it) and is unleashed. So wild and out of control to make even a few mistakes. On November 8, 1974 he tries to kidnap Carol DaRonch and does so in broad daylight: but the girl struggles, struggles with all her strength and manages to escape from Bundy’s car, a Beetle. It will be Carol DaRonch and his girlfriend Liz Kloepfer to play a determined role in the arrest of Ted Bundy. It is Liz, in November 1974, who warned the police that her boyfriend Ted may be the man who attempted to kidnap Carol: but there is little evidence. The accusation falls on deaf ears.
But it’s not over yet. In 1975 Bundy inaugurates a new hunting ground: Colorado. And there too the victims increase, they increase dramatically. The fourteenth woman to disappear is Caryn Eileen Campbell, 23 years old. The body will be found a month later. Then it’s 26-year-old Julie Cunningham and the list is set to go on with even more names.
In the meantime, the police, thanks to the indications of Carol DaRonch and the confirmation of his girlfriend, are looking for a man named Ted, young, brisk and owner of a Beetle. The pieces are on the chessboard: it is only a matter of time before the checkmate.
The arrest and the escapes
In the 70s there were no technologies today: no DNA and, as we said, no shared databases of victims or criminals. So when Granger’s traffic police officer Bob Hayward arrested Ted Bundy on 16 August 1975 after he attempted to escape, he has no idea who is behind the wheel of the Beetle. But the accusations a few months before Liz and the DaRonch case tightened an invisible loop around Ted’s freedom. He is immediately released but on October 2, 1975, during an acknowledgment, Carol DaRonch identifies him: Ted is arrested for the kidnapping of Carol DaRonch and transferred to Aspen prison, Colorado. We are in January 1977.
The escapes of Ted Bundy
There are two escapes of Ted during his detention: the first, daring is very short and takes place on 7 June 1977 during the transfer for a preliminary hearing. Bundy, after planning the escape for days, having strengthened his knees and ankles simulating the fall, jumps from the window of the Pitkin court. A flight of almost ten meters: Bundy lands on the lawn and flees. Three days later, sick and in pain, after stealing a car he returns to Aspen where he is arrested again.
The second escape took place on December 30, 1977, but will have far more dramatic implications. Bundy has lost a lot of weight while in prison, so much so that he has managed to slip into a hole in the ceiling he created while many of the guards are not on duty for the Christmas holidays. Ted disappears, leaves Colorado and reaches Florida. On the night of January 15, 1978, he entered the dormitory of the Chi Omega, a female brotherhood based in Tallahassee, and armed with an oak branch, he killed and tortured two girls and reduced them to death, raping and beating them wildly, two more . Then a few hours later he will attack another girl, leaving her forever disabled.
Bundy’s escape continues as his death streak continues: on 9 February 1978 he will also kill 12-year-old Kimberly Diane Leach. On February 15, 1978, Ted Bundy was arrested for driving a stolen car: the policeman does not know that he has just stopped one of the ten most wanted men in America. In all this time, one after another, the corpses of Bundy victims begin to emerge from the woods where the maniac had hidden them, returning to abuse them and leaving wild animals to get rid of the bodies. But still no one knows that the many chains of death all lead to the same man.
In June 1979 Ted Bundy was tried in Miami (Florida) for the double murder of Omega Chi and for the attacks on the three surviving girls. During the trial Bundy decides to defend himself: in spite of the seriousness of the situation, the implications that a conviction would have entailed, in spite of all logic, Bundy insists on defending himself in the courtroom. Mania for protagonism? Do you want to be the center of attention? Reflections of an evidently disturbed mind? Whatever the reason, Ted Bundy again has the celebrity he has always wanted.
On 24 July 1979 Theodore Bundy was found guilty and, also because of the violence of the attacks (bites on the bodies of the victims), sentenced to death. Six months later he is also tried for the death of little Kimberly Leach and sentenced to death a second time. But the time has not yet come to write the final word on the story of Ted Bundy. The man will use all his persuasion skills to postpone the death sentence and will manage to do so more than once. First by offering clues to undiscovered murders (the real extent of Bundy’s murders is not yet certain), then by seducing Diana Weiner, a young lawyer who will plead her course of action. Ted Bundy does not want to die but will have to surrender.
What could a talent like yours have done, if engaged in just causes, if put at the service of good?
Certainly, his family played a fundamental role in Ted Bundy’s life. The first lies he had to face came from his mother Louise and his maternal grandparents who deceived him by denying him the truth about his birth. Then the acquaintance with Liz Kloepfer, his historic girlfriend who, however, will have a fundamental role in pointing him out for the kidnapping of Carol DaRonch and, in the end, Carole Ann Boone who will be a key actress in another of the most theatrical performances of Bundy.
The marriage proposal in court
During the second Florida trial, the one for the murderer of little Kimberly Leach, Bundy shows she knows the law very well. Taking advantage of an ancient Florida legal quibble at the time, a marriage proposal made during a trial in the presence of a judge has legal value and can be confirmed at that time. Ted Bundy does just that: he asks Carole Ann Boone, present as a witness to both trials, and she accepts. Once again Ted Bundy amazes by showing total disinterest in all the monstrosities he has committed and by concentrating on himself: the victims do not interest him, the suffering does not interest him. He is there, and he alone.
Ted Bundy’s daughter
During his detention in Raiford prison, Ted Bundy manages to get a clandestine encounter with his wife Ann Boone. During this meeting Bundy and Boone consume their wedding vows and the fruit of this union will see the light nine months later. In 1982 Rose (also called Rosa) Bundy was born, daughter of the serial-killer Ted and his wife Carole Ann Bone. Little is known about her daughter, also because Ann Boone will divorce Ted Bundy in 1986. Journalist Ann Rule calls Rose Bundy an intelligent woman but she and her mother have lost track.
With thirty murders confessed behind him, thirty deaths inflicted in the most terrible and difficult ways even just to tell, thirty lives broken in just four years (although doubts remain about the possibility that Bundy started his macabre career already towards the end of the years ’60), Ted Bundy remains one of the most incomprehensible and frightening monsters of all time but something is hiding behind the serial killer’s icy eyes.
What could have driven Bundy towards the black abyss of a horror that engulfed him and all his victims? A morbid attraction towards pornography? An unclear family situation? Or was Ted Bundy just born that way?
“His analysis is clear. But is it powerful enough to turn this powerful intuition on itself? What do you think? Why not, why don’t you look inside and write what you see? Or should I think that scares you?”
With these words Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) turns to Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) in an attempt to push him towards a sort of self-diagnosis. During his long conversations in prison, Ted Bundy collects the invitation from Agent Starling (represented here by journalists Stephen G. Michaud and Hugh Aynesworth). Graduated in psychology and gifted with strong analytical skills, Bundy really begins to tell himself by speaking in the third person. Partly to avoid turning everything he says into a confession, partly because it makes it easier for him to tell the truth.
It is during these sessions, if we can call them that, that Ted Bundy introduces the mysterious Entity for the first time in his personal history. A powerful and violent force, a frustration born and raised in the morbid attachment to extreme pornography that leads Bundy to vent all his insecurity in the hunt for young and beautiful women. The Entity grows more and more until, quoting the Bundy himself while speaking about himself in the third person: “he controls him, he hears a voice and does exactly what the entity tells him to do”.
Bundy does not dissociate his alter ego from the Entity of which he speaks during the meetings but rather creates a diabolical symbiotic relationship: the Entity originates from within, grows, feeds and takes control. It is not exogenous, it does not come from outside, it is not something extraneous. But the need for violence to satisfy her appetites and those of the man who hosts her. Bundy’s eyes, so say some of those who have met him closely, change when the Entity emerges on the surface: empty, dark, devoid of any emotion.
Theodore Bundy has transformed his trial into a real world media event starting from the brutality of the crimes he committed, passing through the absurd desire to defend himself and arriving at the nature of Bundy: a man who seeks in all ways to attract attention and that transmits, by observing it, a subtle feeling that something is wrong with him. It leaves a corrupt legacy also made up of phrases which still today ring like a dark prophecy. Here are a few:
“We serial killers are your children. We are your husbands. We are everywhere. And tomorrow there will be many more dead, dead among your children.”
“I didn’t know what made people want to be friends with each other. I don’t know what made them attractive to each other. And I didn’t know what basic social interactions were.”
“I don’t think anyone doubts that I have done bad things. The question is: what, of course, in what way … and, above all, why?”
“Feel the last breath that leaves their body. You are looking into their eyes. A person in that situation is God!”
“The final possession was, in effect, the taking of life. And then … the physical possession of the remains.”
“I don’t want to die. I’m not going to make fun of you. I deserve the most extreme punishment that society can inflict … I think society deserves to be protected by me and by others like me.”
“Fault. It’s this mechanism we use to control people. It’s an illusion. It’s a kind of social control mechanism and it’s very unhealthy. It does terrible things to the body.”
Movies, books and series inspired by Ted Bundy
Evil has always had a great fascination for man and Ted Bundy was, in many ways, the embodiment of evil. This turned it into a great inspiration for films, books, series and other cultural products. Some have quoted it indirectly. For example, the ploy used by Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Innocents to lure his victims, an arm in plaster for help, is reminiscent of exactly what Bundy did on Lake Sammamish. Others have drawn heavily on his story with films and TV series: below is a list of the main references.
- Ted Bundy (2002), directed by Matthew Bright and with Michael Reilly Burke as Ted Bundy. The film romances the criminal affairs of Bundy and takes some liberties in the unfolding of the story
- Ted Bundy – The Serial Killer (2003), TV movie directed by Paul Shapiro and with Billy Campbell as Ted Bundy. Based on Ann Rule’s bestseller, A Stranger to My Side
- The Riverman – Story of a Serial Killer (2004), TV movie directed by Bill Eagles and with Cary Elwes in the role of Ted Bundy. From prison Ted Bundy offers himself as a consultant for the capture of the Green River Killer
- Bundy (2008), TV movie directed by Michael Feifer and with Corin Nemec as Ted Bundy. Television transposition of Bundy’s life from his childhood to the trial
- The Capture of the Green River Killer (2008), two-part TV movie with James Marsters as Ted Bundy. The case of the Green River Killer takes up again
- Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (2019), film directed by Joe Berlinger with Zac Efron in the role of Ted Bundy. Discussed about assigning the role to Efron, it is a biography of Ted Bundy.
- Below the review.
- The Monster (1986), television miniseries directed by Marvin J. Chomsky with Mark Harmon in the role of Ted Bundy. The only TV product broadcast when Bundy was still alive
- Conversations with a Killer: The Bundy Case (2019), four-part miniseries is enough on the direct testimonies of Bundy through the interviews given to Stephen G. Michaud and Hugh Aynesworth
- Serial Killer – Stories of Murderous Obsession by Carlo Lucarelli and Massimo Picozzi. A journey into the mind of the serial killer that starts right from Ted Bundy
- A Stranger to my Side by Ann Rule, author who met Bundy before he revealed his real perversion to the world. Considered one of the most complete reconstructions of Bundy’s life
Ted Bundy appears in dozens of cultural containers: cartoons, films, songs, TV series and films. His figure has marked so deeply the collective imagination also and above all for the terrible contrast between his affable and fascinating ways with his monstrous dark side. And what do you think of this nightmare?