Theodore Robert Bundy was an American serial killer who was responsible for the kidnapping, rape, and murder of a number of young women and girls throughout the 1970s. However, there is evidence that suggests he began his crimes far earlier in his life. Before being put to death in 1989, he admitted to 30 murders that he had perpetrated in seven different states between the years 1974 and 1978. This came after he had denied the accusations for more than a decade. It is not clear how many people were killed or injured.
Bundy was seen as attractive and personable, qualities he used to gain the trust of victims and society. He would generally approach his victims in public, pretending to be injured or disabled or impersonating an official figure, before knocking them unconscious and transporting them to remote spots to rape and strangle them. He occasionally returned to his secondary crime scenes, grooming and performing sexual activities on the rotting bodies until putrefaction and animal devastation rendered any further contact impossible. He beheaded at least 12 people and kept some of the severed heads as souvenirs in his residence. He broke into victims’ homes at night on a few occasions and bludgeoned them while they slept.
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Bundy was imprisoned for the first time in 1975 when he was sentenced in Utah for aggravated abduction and attempted criminal assault. He was then named as a suspect in a growing number of unsolved killings across numerous states. Faced with murder accusations in Colorado, he staged two daring escapes and perpetrated more assaults in Florida, including three killings, before being apprehended in 1978. In two separate trials, he earned three death sentences for the Florida killings. On January 24, 1989, Bundy was killed by an electric chair at Florida State Prison in Raiford, Florida.
Bundy was described by Ann Rule, a biographer who had previously worked with him, as “a sadistic psychopath who derived joy from another human’s misery and the power he had over his victims, to the point of death, and even after.” In Burlington, Vermont, he once described himself as “the most cold-hearted son of a bitch you’ll ever meet.” The identity of his father has never been established. His parentage is reported to be assigned to a salesperson and Air Force veteran named Lloyd Marshall on his birth certificate, however other versions indicate his father is classified as “Unknown.” Louise claimed she was seduced by an old-money war veteran named Jack Worthington, and the King County Sheriff’s Office had him on file as the father. Some family members have speculated that Bundy was fathered by Louise’s own violent, abusive father, Samuel Cowell, although no solid proof has ever been presented to support this theory.
Bundy spent the first three years of his life at the Philadelphia home of his maternal grandparents, Samuel and Eleanor Cowell, who raised him as their son to escape the social stigma associated with childbirth outside of marriage. Family, acquaintances, and even little Ted were informed that his grandparents were his parents and his mother was his elder sister. He ultimately uncovered the truth, despite having conflicting memories of the events. He told a lover that after calling him a “bastard,” a relative handed him a copy of his birth certificate, although he informed biographers Stephen Michaud and Hugh Aynesworth that he found the certificate himself. Ann Rule, a biographer and true crime writer who knew Bundy well, believes he didn’t find out until 1969, when he discovered his authentic birth document in Vermont. Bundy held a lifetime grudge towards his mother for never telling him about his real father and left him to figure out his true origins for himself.
Bundy talked fondly of his grandparents in other interviews, telling Rule that he “connected with,” “respected,” and “clung to” his grandfather. In 1987, he and other family members told attorneys that Samuel Cowell was a tyrant and bigot who loathed blacks, Italians, Catholics, and Jews beat his wife and the family dog, and swung neighboring cats by their tails. For oversleeping, he once hurled Louise’s younger sister Julia down a flight of stairs. He occasionally spoke aloud to invisible entities and, at least once, fell into a frenzy when the topic of Bundy’s paternity was broached.
Bundy characterized his grandmother as a shy and submissive lady who received electroconvulsive treatment for depression on a regular basis and feared leaving their home near the end of her life. Bundy had worrisome conduct from a young age. Julia remembers waking up from a nap to find herself surrounded by kitchen knives with Bundy smirking by the bed.
In Bundy’s account, his grandmother was a shy and submissive person who occasionally received electroconvulsive treatment for depression and was afraid to leave their home as she grew older. Early on, Bundy occasionally demonstrated strange behavior. After waking up after a nap, Julia remembers seeing herself surrounded by kitchen knives with Bundy grinning near the bed.
When speaking to his biographers, Bundy gave varied accounts of Tacoma. When he spoke with Michaud and Aynesworth, he explained how he combed through garbage cans in his area in search of images of naked women. He described to Polly Nelson how he combed through detective publications, crime books, and true crime films looking for tales of sexual assault, especially when the tales were accompanied by images of dead or disfigured bodies. He claimed that he never, ever read fact-detective publications in a letter to Rule, and the “shuddered at the prospect” that anyone would. In his interview with Michaud, he explained how he would drink a lot and “canvass the town” late at night in search of bare windows where he could see women undress, or “anything might be seen.”
When speaking to his biographers, Bundy recalled Tacoma in a variety of ways. While speaking with Michaud and Aynesworth, he revealed that he frequently searched through garbage cans in his area for images of scantily clad women. In his conversation with Polly Nelson, he revealed that he often read detective magazines, novels, and true crime films in search of accounts of sexual assault, especially when such accounts were accompanied by graphic images of victims’ injuries. His reply to Rule stated, “I have never, ever read fact-detective publications, and shiver at the prospect.” He said Michaud he would get drunk and “canvass the town” at night to look for unblinded windows where ladies would be undressed, or “anything might be seen.”
Soon after his 1965 high school graduation, Bundy enrolled in the University of Puget Sound for a single year before transferring to the University of Washington, where he eventually majored in Chinese. In 1967, he started seeing a fellow University of Washington student named variously in Bundy’s biography, but most often as “Stephanie Brooks.”
At the 1968 Republican National Convention, Bundy represented the Rockefeller party as a delegate. The convention was held in Miami, Florida, in August. Soon after, Brooks dissolved the relationship, citing Bundy’s immaturity and lack of ambition as reasons for their breakup.
This turning period, as psychiatrist Dorothy Lewis put it, was “probably the key stage in his growth.” After being rejected by Brooks, Bundy visited family in Colorado and then headed east, spending a semester at Temple University and making trips to Arkansas and Philadelphia. Rule speculates that in the early months of 1969, Bundy went to the Burlington, Vermont, birth records office to verify his biological parents.
By the fall of 1969, Bundy had returned to Washington and had met Elizabeth Kloepfer, a divorcee from Ogden, Utah who was working as a secretary at the University of Washington School of Medicine. After he was released from prison in Utah in 1976, their tumultuous relationship continued.
After gaining some maturity and direction, Bundy returned to the University of Washington in the middle of the 1970s, this time declaring a major in psychology. He excelled academically to the point that his teachers considered him a peer. In 1971, he began working with Ann Rule, a former Seattle police officer, at the Suicide Hotline Crisis Center in Seattle. Aspiring to be a crime writer, she ended up penning one of the most comprehensive biographies of Bundy, titled The Stranger Beside Me. Rule did not find anything unsettling about Bundy’s character at the time, praising his “kind, solicitous, and compassionate” nature instead.
With his 1972 UW diploma in hand, Bundy immediately joined Governor Daniel J. Evans’ re-election effort. To help Evans’ campaign, he posed as a college student and followed his opponent, former governor Albert Rosellini, about and taped his campaign speeches. After Evans was re-elected, the Republican Party in Washington State hired Bundy to work under Chairman Ross Davis. Davis spoke well of Bundy, praising him as “brilliant, forceful… and a believer in the system.” On the strength of letters of reference from Evans, Davis, and numerous UW psychology professors, Bundy was admitted into the law schools at UPS and the University of Utah in the early 1970s.
It was in the summer of 1973 when Bundy and Brooks reconciled while he was in California on Republican Party work. She was impressed by how he had matured into a determined professional on the edge of a successful career in law and politics. Even when seeing another lady, he kept up his relationship with Kloepfer. When Bundy enrolled at UPS Law School in the autumn of 1973, he was still actively wooing Brooks, who made frequent trips to Seattle to be with him. They spoke about getting married and he even presented her to Davis as his fiancée.
But by January 1974, he had completely severed communication. None of her letters or phone calls were returned. A month later, Brooks called Bundy and wanted to know why Bundy had abruptly stopped their relationship. He said in a calm, even tone, “Stephanie, I have no idea what you mean,” and then he cut off the call. She lost all contact with him and never heard from him again. Just to show to me that I could have married her, he said afterward. After some reflection, Brooks came to the conclusion that he had premeditated the entire courting and rejection in order to get revenge for the split she had begun in 1968.
By that point, Bundy had already begun to regularly skip lectures in his law school program. As young ladies in the Pacific Northwest vanished in April, he stopped going altogether.
The first two murder sprees
Nobody seems to agree on when or where Bundy first started murdering women. In the days leading up to his execution, he confessed in vivid detail to scores of killings he committed later on, yet he gave conflicting accounts of his initial crimes to various persons. He informed Nelson that he tried to abduct someone in Ocean City, New Jersey in 1969, but didn’t really kill anyone until 1971 in Seattle. While in Philadelphia visiting family in 1969, he informed a doctor named Art Norman that he had murdered two women in Atlantic City. He freely stated that on three consecutive occasions he had returned to view Hawkins’ body. According to him, he went back to the UW alley where Hawkins was abducted and murdered the following morning. In the midst of a large crime scene investigation, he went to the adjacent parking lot, where he had left Hawkins’ earrings and one of her shoes, and retrieved them.
For the time being, Bundy was serving as the Assistant Director of the Seattle Crime Prevention Advisory Commission in Olympia. After that, he was employed by the state’s Department of Emergency Services, which was leading the hunt for the ladies. Carole Ann Boone, a mother of two who had been divorced twice, was a significant figure in his life’s final years, and he met her at DES where they dated. Five female witnesses reported a handsome young guy who spoke with a slight accent, maybe Canadian or British, and wore a white tennis attire with his left arm in a sling. The man, who introduced himself as “Ted,” needed assistance from the bystanders in order to unload a sailboat from the back of his tan or bronze Volkswagen Beetle. Four of them declined, but the fifth went with him to his car before realizing there was no sailboat and running away. Janice Anne Ott, a 23-year-old probation case worker at the King County Juvenile Court, was seen leaving the beach with him after he approached her and told her about the sailboat by three other witnesses. Denise Marie Naslund, a 19-year-old aspiring programmer, disappeared after leaving a picnic to use the toilet and didn’t come back. It has been reported that Bundy informed both Stephen Michaud and William Hagmaier that Ott was still alive when he returned with Naslund and that he compelled one to watch while he murdered the other, but in an interview with Lewis on the night of his execution, Bundy refuted these claims.
Now that police in King County had a good description of the guy and his automobile, they distributed posters across Seattle. A composite sketch appeared in newspapers and on TV stations across the country. Elizabeth Kloepfer, Ann Rule, a DES employee, and a UW psychology professor all recognized the profile, the sketch, and the car and reported Bundy as a possible suspect; however, detectives, who received up to 200 tips per day, were skeptical that a clean-cut law student with no adult criminal record could be the perpetrator.
On September 6, two grouse hunters were walking along a service road in Issaquah, east of Lake Sammamish State Park, when they came found the skeleton remains of Ott and Naslund. It was less than a mile away from the Midvale diner where Melissa Smith was last seen. As “Officer Roseland” of the Murray Police Department, he informed DaRonch about an attempted break-in to her vehicle. To report the incident, he wanted her to come with him to the police station. Upon being informed by DaRonch that the route they were on did not lead to the police station, Bundy drove over to the shoulder and attempted to arrest her. During their battle, he accidentally cuffed both of DaRonch’s wrists together, allowing him to free his other hand and unlock the vehicle door. Later that night, 17-year-old Viewmont High School student Debra Jean Kent vanished after leaving a school theatrical presentation to pick up her brother in Bountiful, north of Murray. After his conviction for abduction in 1976, he was excommunicated from the LDS Church. Hayward saw Bundy roaming a residential neighborhood in the wee hours of the morning; upon spotting the police cruiser, Bundy made a hasty exit. In the DaRonch case, there was more than enough proof to prosecute him with aggravated kidnapping and attempted criminal violence. After his parents posted bail in the amount of $15,000, he was able to return to Seattle, where he stayed at Kloepfer’s place for most of the period between his indictment and trial. There was insufficient evidence to charge him in the murders in the Pacific Northwest, but Seattle police continued to closely monitor him. “When Ted and I stepped out on the porch to go somewhere,” Kloepfer wrote, “so many unmarked police cars started up that it sounded like the beginning of the Indy 500.”
The three main Bundy investigators, Jerry Thompson from Utah, Robert Keppel from Washington, and Michael Fisher from Colorado, gathered in Aspen, Colorado in November to share their findings and hear those of 30 other detectives and prosecutors from across five states. At the end of the conference, the officials were certain that Bundy was the killer they were looking for, but they also agreed that additional proof was needed before he could be prosecuted.
Bundy was tried for the kidnapping of DaRonch in February of 1976. Due to the unfavorable publicity surrounding the case, Bundy was advised by his lawyer, John O’Connell, to forego his right to a jury trial. He was convicted guilty of kidnapping and assault after a bench trial lasting four days and a weekend of deliberation before Judge Stewart Hanson Jr.’s Judgment was handed down in June, and he was given a term of one to fifteen years in the Utah State Prison. In October, he was discovered hidden in the prison yard’s bushes with an “escape package” consisting of road maps, flight timetables, and a social security card. He was sent to solitary confinement for many weeks. His arrest for the murder of Caryn Campbell was made by Colorado police later that month. A period of resistance was followed by his surrender in January 1977, when he was sent to Aspen without further extradition hearings.
Yes, he actually made an attempt to flee
Bundy was transferred from the Garfield County prison in Glenwood Springs to the Pitkin County Courthouse in Aspen for a preliminary hearing on June 7, 1977. He had chosen to represent himself and, as such, was spared from wearing handcuffs or leg shackles by the judge. During a break, he requested to use the courthouse’s law library to conduct research on his case. He unlocked a window and leaped to the ground from the second story while hidden behind a bookcase, hurting his right ankle as he fell. He walked into Aspen as roadblocks were being placed on its outskirts, then trekked southward up Aspen Mountain after removing an outer layer of clothes. He broke into a hunting cabin at the mountain’s peak and took food, clothing, and a gun. The next day, he left the chalet and headed south toward Crested Butte, but got lost in the wilderness. He roamed aimlessly on the mountain for two days, missing two routes that went down to his planned destination. On June 10, he snuck into a camper trailer on Maroon Lake, south of Aspen, and stole food and a ski parka before walking back north toward Aspen, evading roadblocks and search parties along the way. He stole a vehicle on the outskirts of Aspen Golf Course three days later. He drove back into Aspen, cold, sleep-deprived, and in constant agony from his sprained ankle, where two police officers observed his vehicle drifting in and out of its lane and pulled him over. He’d been on the run for six days. There were maps of the mountain area near Aspen in the automobile that prosecutors were utilizing to show the location of Caryn Campbell’s body, demonstrating that his escape was not an unplanned act.
Bundy defied the advice of his friends and legal professionals to remain in jail in Glenwood Springs. The case against him, which was already weak at best, was progressively worsening as pretrial motions were regularly decided in his favor and important evidence was declared inadmissible. “A more sensible defendant could have known he had a fair chance of acquittal, and that defeating the murder charge in Colorado would have undoubtedly dissuaded other prosecutors… Ted might have been released with as little as a year and a half to serve on the DaRonch conviction if he had persisted.” Bundy instead devised a fresh escape strategy. He obtained a full floor map of the jail and a hacksaw blade from other inmates, and he gathered $500 in cash, which he subsequently said was brought in over a six-month period by visitors, specifically Carole Ann Boone. During the nights, while other convicts were showering, he sawed a one-square-foot hole between the steel reinforcing bars in his cell ceiling and, having lost, wiggled through it into the crawl space above. Bundy later stated that he initially resolved to find legitimate employment and refrain from further criminal activity, knowing that he could likely remain free and undetected in Florida indefinitely as long as he did not attract the attention of the police; however, his lone job application, at a construction site, was rejected when he was asked to produce identification. He went back to his old ways, shoplifting and taking credit cards from women’s wallets left in shopping trolleys.
Bundy entered FSU’s Chi Omega sorority home through a back entrance in the early hours of January 15, 1978, one week after his arrival in Tallahassee. He bludgeoned Margaret Bowman, 21, with a piece of oak firewood while she slept at 2:45 a.m., then garroted her with a nylon stocking. He then entered Lisa Levy’s bedroom and knocked her unconscious, choked her, tore one of her nipples, bit deeply into her left buttock, and sexually attacked her with a hair spray bottle. He attacked Kathy Kleiner in an adjoining bedroom, shattering her jaw and extensively lacerating her shoulder, as well as Karen Chandler, who suffered a concussion, fractured jaw, tooth loss, and a crushed finger. Detectives in Tallahassee ultimately established that the four attacks occurred in less than 15 minutes, within hearing of more than 30 witnesses who heard nothing. Bundy broke into a basement apartment eight blocks away after leaving the sorority home and assaulted FSU student Cheryl Thomas, dislocating her shoulder and breaking her jaw and skull in five places. Her dance career was cut short due to severe hearing and balance impairment. Police discovered a sperm smear and a pantyhose “mask” with two hairs “identical to Bundy’s in class and characteristic” on Thomas’s bed.
Bundy went east to Jacksonville in a stolen FSU van on February 8. He approached 14-year-old Leslie Parmenter, the daughter of the Jacksonville Police Department’s Chief of Detectives, in a parking lot, introducing himself as “Richard Burton, Fire Department,” but left when Parmenter’s elder brother confronted him. He returned westward to Lake City that afternoon. Kimberly Dianne Leach, 12, was sent to her homeroom by a teacher the next morning at Lake City Junior High School to recover a lost pocketbook; she never returned to class. After a seven-week search, her partially mummified bones were discovered in a pig farrowing shed near Suwannee River State Park, northwest of Lake City.
Six months later, a second trial for Kimberly Leach’s kidnapping and murder was held in Orlando. When the punishment was read, he allegedly rose up and said, “Tell the jury they were wrong!” This third death sentence was finally executed nearly nine years later.
Boone gave birth to a girl in October 1981 and named Bundy the father. While conjugal visits were not permitted at Raiford Prison, prisoners were known to band together to bribe guards into allowing them private time alone with their female guests.
Death Row, His Confessions, and Death
Bundy began a series of interviews with Stephen Michaud and Hugh Aynesworth shortly after the completion of the Leach trial and the start of the lengthy appeals process that followed. He began disclosing specifics of his actions and mental processes for the first time, usually in the third person to avoid “the shame of confession.”
He described his thieving career, confirming Kloepfer’s long-held belief that he had shoplifted practically everything of value he had. “The huge benefit for me was really holding whatever it was I had taken,” he explained. I genuinely loved possessing something… that I had desired and obtained.” Possession was also a major motivator for rape and murder. Sexual assault, he said, satisfied his need to “completely possess” his victims. Initially, he killed his victims “as a matter of practicality… to avoid the prospect of being caught,” but murder became part of the “adventure” later on. “The ultimate possession was, in reality, the taking of life,” he explained. “After that… actual custody of the corpses.”
Bundy also confided in FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit Special Agent William Hagmaier. Hagmaier was impressed by Bundy’s “deep, almost supernatural delight” in murder. “He stated after a while, murder isn’t merely a crime of desire or violence,” Hagmaier explained. “It is taken possession of. They are a part of you… they become a part of you, and you will always be one… And the places where you murder them or abandon them become hallowed to you, and you are continually pulled back to them.” Bundy informed Hagmaier that in his early years, he considered himself an “amateur,” a “impulsive” murderer, until transitioning into his “prime” or “predator” phase around the time of Lynda Healy’s death in 1974. This meant that he began killing before 1974, albeit he never officially confirmed it.
Raiford guards discovered two hacksaw blades that Bundy had stashed in his cell in July 1984. A steel bar had been sawed entirely through at the top and bottom of one of the cell’s windows and cemented back into place with a homemade soap-based adhesive.
The Chi Omega convicts were slated for death in early 1986; the Supreme Court provided a temporary stay, but the execution was immediately rescheduled. Bundy ultimately revealed to Hagmaier and Nelson in April, shortly after the new date was announced, what they felt was the entire scope of his depravity, including descriptions of what he did to several of his victims after their deaths. He informed them that he returned multiple times to Taylor Mountain, Issaquah, and other secondary murder places to sleep with his victims and conduct sexual activities on their rotting bodies until putrefaction forced him to stop. He drove for many hours each way and stayed the entire night in some circumstances. In Utah, he put makeup on Melissa Smith’s dead face and cleaned Laura Aime’s hair repeatedly. “They can be anything you want them to be if you have time,” he told Hagmaier. He used a hacksaw to decapitate about 12 of his victims. A new date was scheduled to carry out the Leach sentence; the Eleventh Circuit Court ordered a stay on November 17.), such as outward charm and charisma with no actual personality or genuine insight underneath the veneer; and a lack of shame or regret.
Before his execution, Bundy provided an interview with James Dobson, a psychologist and the founder of the Christian evangelical organization Focus for the Family. and other onlookers, as well as Bundy, made cryptic remarks to fuel that notion. In 1980, he informed Hugh Aynesworth that for every “reported” murder, there “might be one that was not.” Bundy said, “Add one digit to that, and you’ll have it,” when FBI officers presented a total tally of 36. Years later he told attorney Polly Nelson that the common estimate of 35 was accurate, but Robert Keppel wrote that ” and I both knew was much higher.” “I don’t think even he knew… how many he killed, or why he killed them,” Rev. Fred Lawrence, the Methodist pastor who performed Bundy’s final rites, stated. “That was my first impression, and it was a powerful one.”
On the evening before his execution, Ted reviewed his victim tally with Bill Hagmaier on a state-by-state basis for 30 homicides.