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Ted Bundy

Notable Quotable
“You feel the last bit of breath leaving
their body. You’re looking into their eyes.
A person in that situation is God!”
—Ted Bundy, on the joy of murder
Q: What’s the leading cause of death in Florida?
A: The electric chair.

The state of Florida has no problem at all letting bad guys ride the lightning. And it may well be that Ted Bundy, one of the most infamous serial murderers of this century, wanted to ride it - at least subconsciously. Consider this 1976 conversation Bundy had with his lawyer while in jail in Aspen, Colorado, on multiple murder charges, as reported in Bundy: The Deliberate Stranger, by Richard W. Larsen:

“What’s going on with executions now?” Ted asked.
“Where are most people likely to be executed now?”
“I suppose it might be Georgia. . . .  No,” Bundy’s lawyer corrected himself. “It’d probably be Florida now.”
“Florida?” repeated Bundy.
The lawyer said the constitutionality of Florida’s death penalty had recently been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“Florida,” murmured Bundy, “Florida. Hmmm.”

It makes you wonder, then, why, knowing this, Ted Bundy would travel all the way across the country from Colorado to Florida to kill somebody. Why not one of the other fortynine states, where he was less likely to be executed?

Although we may not understand his motives, one thing is for sure: Ted Bundy ranks as one of the most malevolent serial murderers of the twentieth century, mainly because he was a con man supreme. If you were pretty girl who had long, dark hair parted in the middle and you met Ted Bundy, you were in deep trouble.

Looks That Could Kill

Bundy was a trim man about six feet tall with wavy brown hair, penetrating eyes, and even features, born in November 1946. He was handsome and articulate. Bundy graduated from the University of Washington, went partway through law school, and was active in both politics and community activities in Seattle, where he was raised—he even worked for the governor, Dan Evans. Ironically, he was one of the volunteers on Seattle’s crisis hotline, counseling people who were contemplating suicide or had other problems.

It was hard to imagine that behind this polished exterior lurked a monster. Indeed, Ann Rule, one of the top truecrime writers in America, had befriended Bundy at the crisis hotline and never suspected that it was he who was responsible for the host of women being killed or disappearing in Washington and, later, all across the Pacific Northwest. (Ann Rule went on to write a riveting book about Bundy called The Stranger Beside Me.)

The serial killer in the motion picture The Silence of the Lambs, who lures a woman into his van by pretending his hand is broken and that he needs help carrying a piece of furniture, portrays a good example of Bundy’s cleverness. Bundy did that at least twice in one day in Lake Sammamish State Park in Washington. He approached one woman in the morning and one in the afternoon, and asked each for her help loading his boat on to his Volkswagen bug. The women went with him, and that was the last anyone saw them alive.

He tried it on other women, too, some who, fortunately, did not fall into the trap. One woman in Tallahassee, Florida, told a local newspaper about coming out of the Florida State University library one night and encountering a scruffy-looking man whose arms were loaded with books. He seemed to be in obvious pain and was struggling to carry his books with one arm. The woman offered to help him carry them, and she walked along with him in the darkness.

But there was something about him that turned her off, and by the time they arrived at his car - a VW with the rear seat missing - she was scared. When he asked her to get in, then ordered her, she ran away - an action that undoubtedly saved her life.

There is no way to tell just how many women Bundy killed - bones buried in some godforsaken woods don’t talkbut police conservatively estimate at least forty. Invariably, as mentioned earlier, Bundy’s victims were pretty, with dark hair that was parted in the middle. Most of the killings occurred in the Pacific Northwest, but three occurred in Florida, and two of those in the Chi Omega sorority house at Florida State University.

The Great Escape

Bundy was ensconced in jail in Aspen, Colorado, while a number of murders in the state were being investigated. In December, against the advice of his attorney, Bundy filed a motion with the judge for a change of venue - mysteriously, because his lawyer advised him that Aspen was one of the most liberal towns in the state and that he was likely to get a lighter sentence there. The judge obliged Bundy and moved the trial to Colorado Springs.

Too late, Bundy realized that his trial would be held in probably the most conservative, law-enforcement-conscious city in all of Colorado, a place in which four of the five murderers on the state’s death row had been tried.

Bundy realized that he had to break out of prison to avoid being tried and sentenced in Colorado Springs. He plotted various means of escape before discovering a metal plate directly above the ceiling light fixture in his cell that had been improperly welded and was loose. By prying and probing, he was able to push it off, leaving an opening of about one square foot. Bundy had been dieting to lose weight in preparation for escape, and he was down to a very lean 150 pounds. He realized that he could wriggle through the hole into the area above.

The jail was a one-story building with a low attic, and crucially, the attic was connected to other rooms. A few times Bundy stealthily crawled up into the ceiling to explore, and he finally found an escape route - he could break through a plasterboard ceiling into a closet in the jailer’s house. One night when the jailer and his wife went to the movies, Bundy dropped down and made his escape. He was not discovered missing until noon the following day, when jailers went in to wake Bundy and discovered that he had bulked up books and other objects under his blanket to make it appear that he was sleeping there. In the meantime, Bundy was busy stealing cars and taking public transportation across the country until he arrived in Florida.

Bundy the Lothario
From the television writer Tom Towler:
Bundy, of course, portrayed himself as a Lothario who could attract women at will. In fact, he always used a ruse to get them to his VW, a fake cast on his arm, a crutch, etc. He’d removed the back seat from the VW and hidden a tire iron by the rear wheel. He’d knock them out with the tire iron, load them into the car, then take them to a wooded location of his choosing where he killed them and then had sex with them. He, like the Green River killer, returned often to his victims for sex and to watch them change colors.
 Murders in Florida

Bundy had always liked college campuses, so when he got to Tallahassee, Florida, after escaping from jail, he took a room - he had about $700 in cash on him - on West College Street in a big rooming house called the Oak. The Oak housed a number of people who went to Florida State University and was about a block and a half away from the campus. Using the name Chris Hagen, Bundy started to hang around the campus and join in the activities. On the night he began to kill in Florida, he went to a local bar frequented by students, and at least one girl there had a very close brush with death. He danced with her and then asked her if she wanted to take a ride. She almost did but demurred because of a certain look in his eyes that she didn’t like. Her life had been saved because she caught a glimpse of a madman.

The author Richard W. Larsen has aptly described Bundy’s visit to the Chi Omega sorority house as a day on which a “tornado of violence touched down.” The sorority house, a small brick apartment building, had an entrance on West College Street and another on the side. One of the sorority sisters, a pretty strawberry blonde named Nita Neary, was returning to the house with a date a little after three in the morning after an uncharacteristically cold night for north-central Florida. She came in through the side door, which she opened by dialing a combination lock.

She walked inside quietly and heard a loud thump from upstairs, and then the sound of someone running. Then she heard someone racing down the stairs and caught a glimpse of a person moving quickly across the foyer toward the front door. He was wearing a dark cap, a dark coat, and in one of his hands he was carrying a club of some sort or a rough, thick piece of lumber.

Neary went upstairs to her room and woke up her roommate, Nancy Dowdy, and told her to get up, that something strange was going on. Together they woke up the president of the sorority, Jackie McGill, and they were standing in the hall when the first victim of the night found them.

Bloody Result
Sorority sister Karen Chandler staggered out of one of the rooms, and the girls were taken aback - Karen’s head was soaked with blood. They rushed to her aid, and then went into her room and found her roommate, Kathy Kleiner, sitting on the edge of her bed in a daze, her head also soaked with blood.

Someone called the police, and they were there in minutes. A description of the man with the club went out over the police airwaves. The officers started to check the other rooms, one of which belonged to Lisa Levy. They entered the darkened room and called for Lisa to wake up, but she didn’t respond, and when they turned on the lights, they saw blood all around the woman. Levy was lying prone on the bed, covered with a sheet. An officer pulled the sheet back and saw that her buttocks were bloody, and when he rolled her over, he saw that she was already cyanotic - her lips purple and her eyes covered with the grayish film of death.

In the hall someone was screaming that she hadn’t seen another of the sorority sisters, Margaret Bowman. Where was she? With trepidation, one of the officers opened the door to her room and turned on the light. It was as if someone had hosed the place with blood. The bed was covered with blood and the walls spattered with it, as was the victim, Margaret Bowman. As he got close, the officer saw something that made him gasp: A ligature had been pulled around Margaret’s throat with such ferocity that it looked as if she had been decapitated.

Kathy Kleiner and Karen Chandler were taken to an area hospital. They survived, but with physical and psychological wounds that would last all their lives. Lisa Levy and Margaret Bowman were dead.

An hour and a half after the assault on Chi Omega, Bundy struck again, six blocks from the first scene, at 431 Dunwoody Street. One young woman was awakened from her sleep by a rhythmic pounding noise, which she quickly realized was coming through the wall of the adjoining apartment, whose single occupant was Cheryl Thomas. She awoke her roommate and they heard Cheryl, a pretty dance major from Richmond, crying and moaning.

One of the women called Cheryl’s number, and when the phone started to ring they heard the sound of someone running away, banging into things. Bundy was frightened off. The girls next called the police, and medics who had recently worked on the sorority sisters now had to minister to the savagely beaten Cheryl Thomas.

This time the police found the weapon - a length of a two-by-three near the bed. They also found a large semen stain on Cheryl’s pillow. As they would learn later - and this says much about Ted Bundy’s mind - he had been rhythmically beating her on the head with the club while masturbating with his free hand.

The police issued an all points bulletin, and it was one officer’s alertness that snared Ted Bundy. On February 15, 1978, Officer David Lee was on car patrol, tooling down Cervantes Street in Pensacola, when he noticed a yellow VW bug idling in an alley behind a restaurant. It was late and the restaurant was closed; it seemed suspicious that someone was there. Lee went past it but watched the car in his rearview mirror. It pulled out of the alley and headed in the opposite direction.

Lee turned around and followed the car; as he went, he radioed in the car’s license plate number. It came back as stolen, and Lee started going after the car, which sped up and began a series of evasive maneuvers. Finally the car stopped. Lee drew his gun and approached the car cautiously.

Ted Bundy reacted with characteristic slickness, wondering aloud why he had been stopped. Lee ignored Bundy’s protests, took him out of the car, and had one cuff on him when Bundy suddenly assaulted Lee and tried to escape. Lee quickly subdued him, and Bundy was brought into the station.

Because Bundy had false identification on him, it was a while before the Tallahassee police realized they had hooked as large a fish as anyone could imagine.

The Trial
Bundy’s trial was a circus. It was televised, and Bundy represented himself. The consensus was that he did a bad job, though not a lot of lawyers could effectively fight the amount of evidence the prosecution had against him. For one thing, they had an eyewitness who could place Bundy at the scene: Nita Neary, the woman returning to the sorority house from a date. And then there was the forensics evidence, the centerpiece of which was expert testimony from a forensic dentist. He was able to testify—using huge close-ups of Bundy’s teeth—that bite marks found on Lisa Levy’s buttocks had been made by the teeth of Ted Bundy.

In July 1979, Bundy was found guilty of the murders of Lisa Levy and Margaret Bowman and the assaults Ted Bundy on the other women. For the assaults, he received sentences totaling 270 years. For the murders, Judge Edward Cowart invited him to ride the lightning.

Close Call
From television writer Tom Towler:

The detective who got [Bundy] to confess, Bob Keppel, got a letter one day from the [Florida] state slam. It was from Bundy, who offered his services in finding who he called “The Riverman,” who was eventually known by the name Green River Killer. In the letter, Bundy told Keppel that he was incarcerated with some serial killers and so knew a bit about them.
Keppel, by the by, was put on the Seattle area Bundy murders as a young cop. Just before he got to Bundy’s file, Bundy left for Utah to go to law school and the murders stopped.

Birth of a Monster
How did Bundy get to be the way he was? There are only hints. His mother Louise had him out of wedlock in November of 1946 at a home for unwed mothers in Vermont, and for a time Louise and Ted lived with his maternal grandfather in Philadelphia. This grandfather was purportedly a strict and forbidding figure and—it is alleged—was Bundy’s blood father. In 1951, when he was nine years old, Louise moved with Ted to Tacoma, Washington, and married a man named John Bundy. It’s difficult, though, to track exactly what forces drove Bundy to the point in life where he loathed women with dark hair parted in the middle to such an extent.

Notable Quotable
“Sometimes I feel like a vampire.”
—Ted Bundy

Ted Bundy, still his own lawyer, was granted a number of last-minute stays of execution, but on January 25, 1989, he went to his death in the electric chair. (A reporter told one of the authors of this book that Bundy had once come very close to getting murdered himself before his trial. The father of one of his victims, twelveyear-old Kimberly Smith, spotted Bundy being transported in a police car and, for a millisecond, contemplated driving his car into the police car to kill Bundy—but he was able to control himself).

Bundy maintained his innocence until the end of his life, but of course he wasn’t innocent. The authors Steve Michaud and Hugh Aynesworth provided plenty of circumstantial proof: They interviewed Bundy hundreds of times over four years, compiled hundreds of tapes, and published the book The Only Living Witness. Bundy talked freely with the authors about the murders but in the third person, distancing himself from the crimes and never admitting anything directly to them. However, of all the books written about Ted Bundy, none is as horrendous as theirs—Bundy brings the readers into the scenes as he killed his witnesses.

Hope You Don’t Meet Someone Like Me!
From television writer Tom Towler: “I spent a couple of days with a professor in [Florida]—an anti-death-penalty advocate—who became friends with Bundy and got the last words Bundy wrote (he also was responsible for Bundy’s ‘wife’ getting pregnant while Bundy was in the [Florida] slam). Bundy closed his last letter to the professor with, ‘Be careful. There are a lot of crazies out there. Peace, ted’ (small t on his name was the way he signed it).
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