Theodore “Ted” Bundy was born Theodore Cowell on November 24, 1946, in Vermont, at the Elizabeth Lund Home for Unwed Mothers. After his birth, the future Bundy’s mother moved to Philadelphia and stayed with her parents. For a while, he was told that his grandparents were his parents, and that his mother was his sister; back then, there was a harsh stigma associated with being an unwed mother.
When he was four, he and his mother moved to Tacoma, Washington, to stay with relatives. His mother soon met a military cook named Johnnie Bundy, and they married. Ted Cowell took Bundy’s last name, but oddly enough had not been told his real parentage. Doesn’t every brother take the last name of his sister’s husband?
(Worth noting that Ted Bundy’s father was in the Air Force; apparently Mom had a thing for guys in uniform.)
Growing up, Bundy was shy, often the victim of teasing and bullying in school. In high school, he seemed to undergo a personality change and became more outgoing. He was well-dressed and well-mannered, but rarely dated. His real interests were in skiing and politics. (Huh.)
Bundy bounced around from the University of Puget Sound and the University of Washington, and also bounced from job to job. His one serious girlfriend from the University of Washington dumped him after she graduated in 1968, and then a year later, he finally learned who his “sister” really was.
Not that the revelation seemed to make much difference; by this time, Bundy was already engaged in petty theft, getting a particular thrill from shoplifting. He stole without guilt and with a sense of entitlement, a common trait in a psychopath.
He re-enrolled at the University of Washington and studied psychology. He also began sending out applications for law school. (Insert your own joke here.) He was active in politics as a Republican (too easy) and worked on the campaign to re-elect Washington State’s governor.
Around this time, he also saved a three-year-old boy from drowning in a lake. He received a commendation from the Seattle police. He had a steady girlfriend too, Elizabeth Kendall.
But then he started raping and killing young women, specifically white, slender, and single, with long hair parted in the middle. He took his victims in the evening, while wearing a cast on his arm or his leg to appear helpless. (The trick was later used by Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs.) He removed the front passenger seat of his tan 1968 VW bug to make hauling away his victims easier.
He started in 1974 in Washington, but soon took his show on the road, striking in Utah that same year, and Colorado in 1975. He beat his victims in the head with a crowbar and dumped their bodies in parks and beside rivers. The police in those three states saw the similarities in the crimes and opened investigations.
He didn’t catch every woman he approached, and they would later provide the police with valuable information, as would several bystanders.
On November 8, 1974, he tried to abduct Carol DaRonch from a Utah mall while posing as a police detective, with the claim that someone had hit her parked car. She was suspicious of him from the start, but got into his car anyway. She fought him, though, when he pulled out his handcuffs. He did end up cuffing her, but in the confusion, he got the cuffs on the same wrist. He grabbed his crowbar. She kicked him in the balls. She managed to get out of his car and flag down a couple in another car. They took her to the police station.
On August 16, 1975, Bundy was apprehended in Salt Lake County, Utah, by a cop who thought his car looked suspicious. Bundy took off when the cop hit his brights in an attempt to get a better look at the license plate. He blew through two stop signs before finally pulling over at a gas station.
The cop was soon joined by two state troopers. After seeing the lack of a passenger seat, the officers searched the car. They found a crowbar, ski mask, rope, wire, and an ice pick. Oh, and handcuffs, later found to be the same make and brand used on Carol DaRonch. Bundy was immediately placed under arrest for suspicion of burglary.
DaRonch picked Bundy out from a line-up. So did two witnesses to one of his earlier abductions.
Police started to dig a bit more into Bundy’s background. In Washington State, the King County Police Major Crime Unit called his girlfriend, Elizabeth Kendall, in for questioning. They didn’t have to question her very hard. Things about Bundy had been bothering her for a while: he slept during the day but went out at night, never telling her where or what he was doing; he had very little interest in sex unless it was bondage, and was angry with her when she refused to participate. He kept plaster of Paris in his apartment, and he had a hatchet in his car.
On February 23, 1976, Bundy was put on trial for the attempted kidnapping of Carol DaRonch. He had no alibi, but claimed that he’d never seen DaRonch before. A week later, the judge found him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of aggravated kidnapping. June 30th found him sentenced to one to fifteen years in Utah State Prison with the possibility of parole.
The police and FBI, meanwhile, continued to find evidence that linked Bundy to the unsolved murders in Washington, Utah, and Colorado. The crowbar was matched to an impression in the skull of one of his victims, Caryn Campbell of Colorado. Hairs in his car were matched to Campbell and another victim, Melissa Smith.
Colorado police filed charges in October of 1976 against Bundy for the murder of Campbell. April of the next year, he was transferred to Garfield County Jail in Colorado.
Bundy dropped his lawyer, believing that, with his law experience, he could do a better job. On June 7th, he was transferred to Pitkin County Courthouse in Aspen for a preliminary hearing. Since he was acting as his own defense, the judge excused him from having to wear handcuffs or leg irons.
During a recess, he asked for and was granted permission to visit the courthouse’s law library on the second floor to research his case. He found a window concealed behind a bookcase and jumped out, spraining his ankle upon landing.
Bundy stayed inside the Aspen city limits, while the police set up road blocks around the town. He stole food from campers and cabins, sleeping in the ones that were abandoned. He tried to escape Aspen via the woods, but became lost and instead found a car with the keys in the ignition. Six days after escaping, sleep deprived and in constant pain from his ankle, he was pulled over by two policemen who noticed his car swerving from lane to lane.
Bundy was tossed back into Garfield County Jail. He soon acquired a hacksaw from another inmate, and $500 in smuggled cash from various visitors. He went to work cutting a one-foot square hole in his cell’s ceiling that led to a crawl space. He lost 35 pounds so he could fit through it.
He made a few trial runs, exploring the jail, and on December 30, while most of the jail staff was on Christmas break, he squeezed into his hole and used the crawl space to reach the chief jailer’s apartment. The jailer was out with his wife, so Bundy changed into some of the jailer’s street clothes and simply walked out the door.
Bundy’s escape wasn’t discovered until almost 17 hours later. By then, he was in Chicago, having stolen a car, hitched a ride after the car broke down, and taken a bus and then a plane. In January, he ended up in Tallahassee, Florida, where he rented a room in a boarding house, using the alias Chris Hagen. He intended to lay low, believing he could stay in Florida and escape detection.
Bundy’s version of laying low, however, was a bit . . . not right. Seven days after arriving in Tallahassee, he broke into the Chi Omega sorority house on the Florida
State University campus, not far from his room, and attacked four women. The savage nighttime attacks, which included bludgeoning, strangulation, and biting, lasted approximately 15 minutes and killed two of the women. No one else in the house heard anything.
From there, Bundy traveled eight blocks, broke into a basement apartment, and assaulted another female FSU student.
On February 8th, he stole a FSU van and drove to Jacksonville, failed to kidnap a 14-year-old girl, and went on to Lake City, where he snatched 12-year-old Kimberly Leach from her junior high school while she was on her way to her home room. Her body would be found seven weeks later.
Four days later, Bundy stole a VW bug and decided to flee Florida. He was behind on his rent, he was on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List, and he had the feeling that the cops were closing in. He made it the Alabama state line before a Florida cop pulled him over after a random wants and warrants check told the cop the car was stolen.
Bundy wasn’t too keen on being captured again. He fought the cop, but was overpowered. June 1979 found him in Miami, on trial for the Chi Omega attacks. At the time, he was suspected of 36 murders in four states. Again, Bundy acted as his own defense.
Bite marks left behind on one of the Chi Omega victims were matched to Bundy’s teeth. It was the biggest piece of evidence the state had, and it was more than enough to convict him of the murders. He was given the death penalty twice. Back then, that meant the electric chair.
In January 1980, he was tried for the murder of Kimberly Leach. This time, he had hired two lawyers, believing they could help get him off.
Nope. A month later, he was sentenced to death. His execution date was set for March 4, 1986, but Ted Bundy soon hired a new lawyer and began to appeal the murder convictions. He also assisted in the hunt for Washington State’s Green River Killer, believing that a murderer could catch another murderer. It didn’t work. The Green River Killer, Gary Leon Ridgway, would remain free until 2001.
With his appeals exhausted, and a new execution date of January 24, 1989, Bundy switched tactics and began confessing to murders the police had not connected him to, including a few in Idaho, Oregon, and California, hoping for a stay of execution.
Nope. He was electrocuted as scheduled at a little past 7 in the morning.
Creepy bastard. Ted Bundy was a charming, articulate psychopath, a description that, at least in literature and movies, has become a cliché. For further reading (including where I got some of the above information), check out the following sources:
The Stranger Beside Me – Ann Rule
Riverman: Ted Bundy & I Hunt for the Green River Killer – Dr. Richard Keppel
Not a fan of the printed word? God, who is?
Netflix has available for streaming Ted Bundy (2008), starring Corin Nemec, as well as Ted Bundy (2002), starring Michael Reilly Burke. Which do I recommend? Neither. They were both unsettling.
Here’s a TV movie version of the Ann Rule book, starring Billy Campbell (The Rocketeer, AMC’s The Killing) – Ann Rule Presents: The Stranger Beside Me (2003).
Here’s a pic of Bundy reacting to a jury verdict:
and here’s one of his infamous ’68 VW, now housed at the National Museum of Crime and Punishment in Washington, D.C.