When it comes to serial killers, Ted Bundy is one of the most notorious in history. On the surface, he seemed like a handsome, successful law student with a heart of gold. In reality, he was a murderer, rapist, and kidnapper. How did someone get away with more than thirty murders?
Well, thirty years after Bundy was executed by electric chair, people are still trying to find the answers. Read on and learn all about Bundy’s abusive childhood, his harrowing escape from prison, and even the woman who married him while he was on trial for murder.
Suicide Hotline Worker By Day, Murderer By Night
In 1971, Bundy actually worked to save lives. He was an operator for Seattle’s Suicide Hotline Crisis Center and was tasked with easing other peoples’ pain, and reassuring them that they should live. It was here that Bundy met former police officer Ann Rule. Rather than see him for the killer he really was, she was fooled by his charm.
Rule recalls that Bundy was “kind, solicitous, and empathetic.” By all accounts from his other co-workers, Bundy was one of the best at his job and had a knack for putting the callers at ease. Little did they know, he’d already begun to kill.
The First Kill Is Still Unknown
While his earliest officially documented murder was committed in 1974, Bundy has always told different stories about when he actually began killing. Bundy once said that his first attempt at kidnapping a woman was in 1969 but he failed and didn’t try again until 1971.
Bundy later told a psychologist that he had killed two women in Atlantic City in 1969 but he never repeated that claim anywhere else. After his arrest, police tried to link Bundy to the abduction and murder of an 8-year-old girl in 1961. Bundy would have only been 14 at the time, but that was one murder that he always denied.
A Troubled Childhood Without A Father Figure
Bundy was born Theodore Robert Cowell on November 24, 1946, to his mother, Louise Cowell. His mother and family have many competing stories as to who Bundy’s father was. The man who signed the birth certificate was a salesman named Lloyd Marshall, but Louise later claimed his biological father was a sailor named Jack Worthington who had seduced her.
Years later, some family members suspected that Bundy’s father was actually Louise’s violent and abusive father, making her pregnancy out of wedlock even that much more controversial.
A Strange Connection With His Grandfather
By all accounts, the other members of Bundy’s family believed his grandfather Samuel to be a “tyrannical bully,” a violent abuser, and a racist who hated most other religions and races outside of his own. There were even reports that Samuel beat his wife, swung neighborhood cats by the tail, and even pushed his other daughter Julia down the stairs because she overslept.
While everyone else hated Samuel, Bundy seemed to connect with him. He later told interviewers that he respected his grandfather and “identified with him.” Many have speculated whether Samuel’s violent and abusive personality affected how Bundy viewed relationships and women later in life.
Creepy Childhood Behavior Showed His True Colors
Many classmates and acquaintances believed Bundy to be a pretty average child who kept to himself. In reality, he was showing disturbing behavior from a young age. The earliest account came from Julia, his mother’s sister, who recalled waking up from a nap one day to find herself surrounded by knives and Bundy standing at the end of the bed smiling.
Bundy himself later admitted that as a child he was obsessed with death and sexual violence. He would dig through the neighborhood trash to find photos of naked women, and liked to read crime novels that had illustrations of dead bodies.
A Dramatic, Never-Before-Seen Court Marriage
Bundy believed he was smarter than anyone else in the room so, during his second trial for murder, he chose to represent himself. Since he was acting as his own lawyer, he was able to interview witnesses and speak directly to the judge. Thanks to these privileges, Bundy took advantage of a long-lost Florida law that says if you declared marriage in court while the judge was present, it was legal.
After questioning a former co-worker and character witness, Carole Ann Boone, he asked her to marry him on the witness stand. She accepted and Bundy announced that the marriage was legal.
Adult Films Were His Downfall
By Bundy’s own admission, he thinks that his obsession with adult books and films were the driving factor behind his desire to kill. In the day before he was executed Bundy admitted in an interview that he began with regular adult films, slowly moved to more violent content, and then found himself wondering what it would be like “actually doing it” instead of “reading it or looking at it”
Not only did Bundy say adult films were his driving factor but he claimed that every serial killer he had ever met also has the same problem. This admission led the media to become obsessed with demonizing adult films.
Even His First Girlfriend Knew Something Was Wrong
Bundy attended the University of Washington in 1966 to study Chinese and it was there that he began dating a classmate Stephanie Brooks. The two dated for a few years until Brooks eventually ended things, believing Bundy was immature and had no ambition because he dropped out of school.
Despite the heartbreak, Bundy and Brooks rekindled in the summer of 1973. The two were serious and even discussed marriage until one day, Bundy abruptly ended things. When asked why he did it, Bundy later explained the entire rekindled relationship was just to prove to Brooks that she was wrong. One year later, he committed his first officially documented murder.
A Dangerous Murdering Muse
Many of those who look into Bundy’s murders believe that his dysfunctional relationship with Brooks led him to murder and that he used her appearance as a muse. All of Bundy’s victims were similar to Brooks in appearance and social status. They were all white females age 15-25. All the women also had straight brown hair that was parted in the middle, just like Brooks.
Like Brooks, most of Bundy’s victims were college students from middle-class backgrounds. The two murders that eventually sentenced him to death actually happened when he broke into a college sorority and murdered two women and attacked two others.
The First Great Escape
Bundy made several attempts to escape from custody and two times, he was successful. His first attempt came in June 1977. Bundy had been transferred to Aspen, Colorado for a preliminary hearing. Since he was acting as his own attorney, he was allowed to walk without shackles and handcuffs, as well as use the library.
Deduring one recess in court, he asked to visit the courthouse library for research. While hidden behind a bookcase, Bundy opened a window, jumped from the second story, and sled through the city into Aspen Mountain. He broke into a cabin for food, clothing, and tools, but got lost in the forest. After being on the run for six days, he was eventually caught again by police.
His Second Even Greater Escape
Back in jail, Bundy spent the next six months planning another escape. He managed to get a floor plan of the prison, a hacksaw blade from another inmate, and got fans to smuggle him $500 in cash. Bundy sawed a hole that was only about one foot square in the ceiling above the bars. He lost 35 pounds in order to be able to fit into the crawlspace.
On December 30, 1977, Bundy piled books from the library in his bed, escaped through the crawlspace, broke into the chief jailer’s apartment to change clothes, then walked out the front door. Bundy wouldn’t be apprehended for more than a month and during that time, he did the unthinkable.
Chilling Trophies Let Him Relive The Crimes
Often times, serial killers will keep mementos or trophies from their victims as a reminder. It can be anything from a piece of jewelry to a lock of hair. For Ted Bundy, his memento of choice was the victims’ heads. Bundy is believed to have decapitated 12 of his victims with a hacksaw.
It’s also believed that after he severed the heads, he kept them in his apartment until they began decomposing and he had to get rid of them. Four of his victims’ severed heads were found together at a secondary disposal site.
More Practical Mementoes Proved All His “Hard Work”
Severed heads weren’t the only mementos that Bundy kept. He was notorious for keeping Polaroid photos of his dead victims. When police searched his apartment, he had a utility closet filled with photos.
When the Utah highway patrol officer pulled Bundy over in his initial arrest, Bundy said that he had a stack of Polaroids in his car that the officer completely missed. Bundy later went home and destroyed all the photos. When an interviewer asked Bundy why he kept the severed heads and the Polaroids, he said, “When you work hard to do something right, you don’t want to forget it.”
He Helped Catch Another Serial Killer
While Bundy was on death row in the 1980s, he reached out to detective Robert Keppel of the Seattle police department and offered help finding the Green River serial killer that was tormenting them. Bundy offered his own experience, motivations, and behavior.
He told the police that the killer would likely return to the site where the murders happened to relive them. Bundy said that if they find a fresh grave, stake it out and wait for someone to return. While this wasn’t how the Green River killer was eventually caught, all of Bundy’s predictions turned out to be true.
No One Knows Where His Daughter Is
Believe it or not, Ted Bundy was a father. After his shocking in-court marriage to Carol Boone, she gave birth to a daughter, Rose, and claimed that Bundy was the father. Rose Bundy was born in October 1981, which means she would have had to be conceived while Bundy was in prison and on death row.
The problem was the prison didn’t allow conjugal visits. There have been rumors that Bundy bribed a prison guard to allow it happen. Today, Rose has reportedly dropped her father’s name, is living a quiet life and wants absolutely no connection to her evil patronage.
Charm, Wit, And Good Looks Helped Lure His Victims
For Bundy’s first murders, he would use force and violent attacks on victims who were sleeping or not looking. Over time, he grew more organized and began to use more elaborate tactics to trick women. Often times, he’d rely on his looks and charm to flirt with a woman.
Other times, he would wear a fake cast on his leg or have his arm in a sling, then ask a victim to help him carry something to his car. When all else failed, he would even go so far as to impersonate a member of law enforcement to gain a woman’s trust.
No One Suspected A Serial Killer To Drive A VW Beetle
Many of Bundy’s crimes were done using his infamous 1968 Volkswagen Beetle. He would lure most of his victims to his car and once there, hit them over the head with a crowbar. Bundy actually modified his 1968 VW Beetle by taking out the passenger seat so he could better fit an unconscious body.
The VW Beetle became a fixture for police searching for Bundy and it’s how he was eventually identified. In 2001, the VW Beetle wound up in the hands of the collector Arthur Nash. Nash allowed the Beetle to go on display at the National Museum of Crime and Punishment.
He Slipped Through Law Enforcement’s Fingertips
On August 16, 1975, a Utah highway patrol officer tried to pull over Bundy for not having his headlights on. Bundy tried to speed away but when the officer caught him, he was forced to allow a search of the vehicle. Inside, the officer found a ski mask, a mask made of pantyhose, a crowbar, handcuffs, trash bags, rope, and an ice pick. What he missed though, was a stack of Polaroid mementos.
The officer couldn’t arrest Bundy for the items but after hearing of the traffic stop, a detective remembered a similar car and suspect had been named in the kidnapping of Carol DeRonch, which had happened eight months previously.
He Inserted Himself As Close To The Investigations As He Could
In 1974, the year that women began to go missing all along the Pacific Northwest, Bundy was employed with the Seattle Crime Prevention Advisory Commission. He was the assistant director and one of his jobs was to write a pamphlet for women on how to prevent being raped.
Bundy then began working at the Department of Emergency Services in Olympia, Washington. This was a state government agency that was actually heavily involved with the search and hopeful rescue of the women disappearing at the time. Bundy tried to interject himself into as many aspects of the murders as possible.
His Final Meal Was Left Uneaten
It’s customary for those on death row to be given a final meal of their choosing. Bundy refused a final meal, likely in the hopes that he would not actually be heading to his death. As a result, he was given—but didn’t eat—a medium-rare steak, over easy eggs, hash browns, toast, milk, coffee, and juice.
Bundy walked to the electric chair at 7 a.m. on January 24, 1989. He was said to have spent the entire night before crying and praying. His final words in front of the families of his victims were: “Give my love to my family and friends.”
People Were Shocked To Hear He Was An Admitted Necrophile
A lot of horrifying details of the Bundy crimes came out during the trials, but it wasn’t until he was on death row that he finally began to admit his darkest secrets. The biggest shock was what he did to his victims after they were dead. During the trial, he admitted to assaulting the victims but later on, he said he would violate them multiple times after they had died.
Bundy would have intercourse with the corpses and even rebury them in a shallow grave so he could revisit them. Sometimes he’d even spend the night sleeping beside their decomposing bodies.
Adults Weren’t His Only Victims
Most of Bundy’s victims were college-aged women from middle-class backgrounds. His oldest victim was Julie Cunningham. He kidnapped her on March 15, 1975, from a hiking trail and her body has never been discovered. She was 26 years old at the time.
On the other end of the spectrum, Bundy murdered girls as young as 12. His final victim, Kimberly Leach, was his youngest. She was only 12 years old when Bundy abducted her from her junior high school. Lynette Dawn Culver was another victim of Bundy’s who was only 12 when she was abducted, raped, then drowned to death.
Women Had Bundy-Mania
After his high-profile escape attempts, Bundy’s final trial was highly publicized. Many believe that acting as his own legal council let Bundy put on a show for people watching and that he never actually believed he’d be let off as innocent. It was during this trial that he married Carol Boone but that wasn’t the only woman on Bundy’s radar.
The court proceedings were public and many women waited outside for Bundy. He was known for getting hundreds of letters in the mail from fans. Even his graphic descriptions of his crimes against women didn’t deter people from becoming charmed by his handsome looks.
Hollywood’s Renewed Interest
Thirty years after Ted Bundy died by electric chair, people are just as fascinated with his crimes and motives. On the thirty year anniversary of his death, Netflix released a four-part documentary series called Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes. The series features archival tapes and audio that Ted Bundy himself recorded from death row.
Hollywood has also hopped on the train with the upcoming release of Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile. The movie will be a blockbuster biopic of Ted Bundy’s life, including his marriage and family. Zac Efron was cast to play the handsome serial killer.
He Rarely Left Evidence
As Bundy became more sophisticated he also became careful of what he left behind. The 1970s was long before DNA testing but Bundy still made sure to wear gloves, clean surfaces, and dispose of any evidence that police could tie back to him. Bundy also avoided using firearms because he knew that they left evidence behind that could be traced to him.
Not leaving evidence wasn’t enough for Bundy. When he’d go out in search for a victim, he’d make sure to wear neutral color clothes that wouldn’t stand out to witnesses. He’d also wear turtlenecks to cover the one distinctive mark on his body—a mole on his neck.
He Didn’t Want To Accept The Death Penalty
Bundy was sentenced to death on February 10, 1980. The charge came down after his third trial when he was sentenced for the murders of the Chi Omega sorority women. When it was announced, he reportedly stood up and shouted at the judge, “Tell the jury they were wrong!”
When his death sentence was approaching, he actually tried to get the families of his victims to keep him alive. He sent the families and the Florida Governor letters pleading for mercy and blackmailing them, saying if they delayed his death sentence he would tell them where the bodies of the victims were.
Some Women Survived His Attacks
While Bundy became notorious for what he did to his murder victims, it was the survivors of his violent actions and kidnappings that put the final nail in his coffin. His first survivor, Karen Sparks, managed to withstand a violent sexual assault. She was left with severe internal organ damage and mental disabilities.
The second known survivor of a Ted Bundy attack was Carol DaRonch. She was the woman he attempted to abduct in Utah. DaRonch eventually managed to escape from his car and survive. The kidnapping is what Bundy would later be arrested on. The other four survivors of Bundy were all members of the Chi Omega sorority.
The Chi Omega Attacks Put Him On The Map
In the time between his second successful escape from jail and his final capture, Bundy went on a brutal mass murder rampage over the course of 46 days. The worst of these attacks happened on January 15, 1978, when Bundy broke into Florida State University’s Chi Omega sorority house.
There he bludgeoned 21-year-old Margaret Bowman to death with a piece of firewood. He then moved to the next room and beat 20-year-old Lisa Levy unconscious and mutilated her. Bundy then attacked three other sleeping women before fleeing the scene. In total, the vicious attacks happened in less than fifteen minutes.
He Got Sloppy In The Chi Omega Attacks
One of the reasons why Bundy managed to evade law enforcement for so long was because he never left behind evidence. He disposed of the bodies, was careful leaving behind evidence, and made sure to be smart and methodical. The Chi Omega rampage saw Bundy revert to his primal ways.
The Chi Omega rampage left three survivors that helped identify Bundy. He also left DNA and bite marks on one of the victims. It was also in that rampage that fiber from Bundy’s shirt was left on one woman’s shirt, which was used as evidence against him on trial.
An Unknown Rap Sheet
Bundy got into a lot of trouble as a kid but no one knows the true details. He was often reported for picking through the neighbors trash but never penalized for it. The only sport of interest to Bundy was downhill skiing but since he was so poor, he had to steal his equipment and carefully forge ski lift tickets.
During high school, Bundy says he was arrested at least twice. Once on suspicion of burglary and another on auto theft. Both of these claims by Bundy can’t be verified though because his record was erased when he was 18.