Ted Bundy: America’s Most Famous Serial Killer

Ted Bundy Documentary

Ted Bundy is America’s most famous serial killer. That’s a pretty bold claim considering the number of prominent serial killers that make up the roll call for America’s most well-known serial killers. Jeffrey Dahmer may be a close second because of the bizarre nature of his murders, but I contend that Bundy has captured the imagination of the American public to the point that he may have transcended the entire list of known serial killers. If Ed Gein is America’s most influential, Ted Bundy can at least compete for the title of “Most Famous.” It may be that Bundy’s seemingly normal public persona, while he was on his killing spree, is what truly differentiates him from the likes of Dahmer, Manson, Gein and the like. When one looks at the life and times of Ted Bundy prior to the emergence of Ted Bundy the serial killer, one can see what appears to be a seemingly normal average Joe who would have been inconspicuous to the general public.

Ted Bundy mugshot
Source: Wikipedia creative commons.

I once heard author and minister, Kevin Sullivan, characterize Ted Bundy as America’s “Jack the Ripper.” Indeed, that particular designation seems to fit quite well with the gist of this article in that America’s fascination with Bundy continues to this day and will likely continue on into the future when all of the victims’ family members, investigators and friends and acquaintances of Bundy have long passed. We are nearly three decades removed from his death and new information has continued to surface on the Bundy murders over the last 10 years of this time period. (Free audio download also available)

From 1974 to 1979 Ted Bundy went on a killing spree, leaving 30 to possibly 100 women dead. Bundy would eventually confess to only 30 murders, but some have speculated that the number may have been as high as 60. The figure of 100 is the most outlandish claim that some researchers have made, but is not likely given what we actually know about Bundy and his life before and after the ’74-’79 period. We can say with some certainty that the number probably exceeds 30 because we know of Bundy’s reluctance to give up information. In his sick twisted mind, those experiences, those deaths, were his and his alone. He would only divulge additional information if he could somehow benefit from doing so. We’ll spend more time on Bundy’s thought process later; here it will suffice to note that deception and secrecy were merely tools that he had as his disposal that he used when necessary, especially when dealing with authority figures.

What is interesting and even fascinating about Bundy is that his upbringing wasn’t particularly traumatic, nor were there indications that he suffered from any type of mental condition that would later lead to a life of serial killing. Many psychopaths have some specific traumatic event that serves as a trigger that sets them off on their life of depravity, but for Ted that wasn’t necessarily the case. There was the potential trigger of his illegitimate birth, something which he himself alluded to on occasion. However, we have to keep in mind the fact that Bundy often changed his story and conflated facts in order to confuse and deceive.

We do know that Ted was initially brought up to believe that his grandparents were his biological parents, while his actual biological mother posed as his sister. This seems to have had something to do with the fact that his mother may have had a one night stand with a sailor by the name of Jack Worthington, who disappeared completely after this night of passion and procreation. There is debate among those who have studied Bundy’s past as to whether or not Worthington was a real person or was someone made up by his family to coverup an incestuous rape of Ted’s mother by his grandfather. Whatever the case may be, this did serve as one source of Bundy’s anger later in life.

It is disputed as to when Bundy learned the actual truth. It could have been a harrowing realization that his biological father and his grandfather may have actually been the same person, or simply that he was abandoned by the father he never met. We simply do not know the answer to this particular question, but we do know that Ted would later be adopted by one Johnnie Bundy, a man who his mother married in 1951. Johnnie Bundy already had children from a previous marriage but he went to great lengths to make Ted feel included and loved as part of the family. Sources seem to suggest that Ted remained aloof from the rest of the family, though, and preferred to be alone most of the time. Could it be that Ted had learned of his birth situation prior to his mother’s marriage to Johnnie? It could have been that Ted was already coming to grips with this reality and dealing with the internal conflicts it was creating. Kevin Sullivan suggests that Ted believed himself to be intellectually superior to Johnnie and often berated Johnnie verbally because he believed that Johnnie could not hold his own in an argument against him. In any case, it is clear that the happy upbringing that Ted could have had never happened because of Ted’s own internal conflicts and his inability to accept his new father figure.

There is reason to suggest that Bundy was killing women before 1974. The circumstantial evidence suggests that he probably killed Ann Marie Burr of Tacoma, Washington, in 1961. Ted would have been 14 years old at the time; she was eight. Although he denied any connection to the death of Burr for most of his life, a behind closed doors meeting with her parents, while he was on death row, left her parents coming away satisfied that they knew what had happened to her daughter and even the approximate location of her body. Examination of Bundy by psychologists also seems to corroborate this.

If Bundy was killing as early as 1961, there is no reason to assume that he didn’t do it again until 1974. The prolific nature of his five-year spree seems to suggest that he had some practice in killing with efficiency. Furthermore, Bundy’s success in politics and his admittance to law school followed by his complete abandonment of both, seems to suggest that his impulses had grown too great to control any longer. The idea that he would simply quit going to school and opt out of his political obligations because he just decided to go on his first killing spree seems implausible. It would seem that Bundy was well on his way to a successful career in law or politics or both. By the time he had started his spree, he had made the decision to leave that all behind.

Prior to his killing spree, Ted dated a girl by the name of Stephanie Brooks at Washington University in the late 1960s. The relationship was tenuous at best, largely due to the fact that Brooks was of a higher social class than was Bundy. Ted became enamored with Brooks to the point that he was willing to do just about anything to make their relationship work. Whether it was his attempt to elevate his own social status or simply the fact that he would be able to be with someone of greater status than him is uncertain. Nonetheless, it was clear that Bundy staked much of his future on whether or not their relationship worked out. His lack of social status and, more specifically, his tendency to drift from one menial job to another, seemed to affect Brooks’ view of Bundy to the point that it would eventually lead to them splitting.

Ted would eventually move on from Brooks, but all of the evidence seems to suggest that he was actually devastated by their break up. It could have been that Brooks represented Bundy’s one last and greatest attempt to sublimate his monstrous urges to kill. Perhaps Bundy believed she could “fix” him so that the monster within would no longer emerge. Whatever the case may have been, her absence seems to have opened the door for the monster to appear on a more regular basis. Ted eventually moved on and had a five year relationship with one Elizabeth or “Liz” Kloepfer (after Bundy’s arrest and national fame, Kloepfer went by the pseudonym Liz Kendall) who deeply loved Bundy and believed that the would one day be married. As a sociopath, Bundy accepted the relationship for what it could do for him: make him appear normal.

Indeed, it is during the period of the transition from Brooks to Kloepfer that Bundy would start to see the regular emergence of the monster behind the façade that he presented in public. As Bundy began to move forward, though, and experience some success in school and a burgeoning political career, he came back into contact with Brooks who he saw from time to time, even while dating Kloepfer. Brooks eventually saw Bundy in a different light and wanted to take him back. At one point, Bundy proposed to Brooks and she accepted. That would be the last time she would ever see Ted in person again. He had no intention of marrying her, despite his proposal. He had only set out to prove to himself that he could have a woman of her status, despite his own shortcomings. Bundy never bothered to contact Brooks after the proposal and pretended to not even know anything about the engagement when she confronted him about a month later over the phone. Bundy was satisfied that he had gotten his revenge. He was now ready to move on to more important things like feeding the monster.

Even though 1974 marks the beginning of Bundy’s killing spree, it would be wrong to assume that is when Ted began to kill for the first time. Kloepfer had long suspected that Bundy was somehow connected to a string of disappearances during the time that they were together, but it took her some time to come to grips with that fact and alert the police. The period from ’74 to ’79 was the crescendo of his activity and not the totality. When it became almost too hard to deny, Kloepfer spoke to a detective about her suspicions.

As Bundy neared the end of his reign of terror, he became increasingly unstable and sloppy in his methods to the point that it eventually put him on the radar of law enforcement. It is possible that Bundy got lazy by 1979 or, at the very least, was trying to take shortcuts to increase his quantity of kills without necessarily working harder to do so. Bundy would eventually resort to police impersonations and other shortcuts that were meant to deceive his victims so that he could strike more easily. It was one of these incidents when Bundy was impersonating a cop that he got sloppy, letting a potential victim escape while leaving evidence behind at the original crime scene.

He had also slipped up before during his infamous double murder at Lake Sammamish State Park in Issaquah, Washington. It was during these murders that Bundy slipped up using his real name in conversations with potential victims. When he failed to get a couple of potential victims into his car, the women who escaped his bloody clutches were later able to help identify his vehicle which they refused to enter. The Issaquah murders put Bundy on law enforcement’s radar with a name and a vehicle for the first time. That would not be enough, though, as he was only one of more than a hundred potential suspects based on those two criteria alone. For this reason, Bundy was able to evade law enforcement, which he considered incompetent anyway as proven by his continual ability to outsmart them.

By the time Bundy was caught and tried for his crimes, he had become America’s most famous serial killer. Bundy’s spree struck fear into the heart and soul of American communities for nearly five years. The inability of law enforcement to bring him in, or retain him once they did, only enhanced his fame. It was partly his elusiveness and partly his persona that caused fascination with Bundy by the general public. Psychologists and criminologists alike have identified Bundy as having a “fractured” personality. The Ted Bundy seen on the outside was merely a façade for the Bundy lurking beneath the skin. Ted could only sublimate this monster’s desires and demands for short periods of time. Eventually, though, he would give himself over to the monster and no longer even try to resist. His every waking moment was spent scheming and planning his next attack.

It is probable that America’s fascination with Ted Bundy stems from the fact that we too find ourselves facing the same dilemma that Bundy’s girlfriends also faced. He had constructed his outer façade to near perfection. How could such an attractive, articulate and upwardly mobile person commit such atrocities, especially when his future appeared to be so bright? Why doesn’t Bundy meet our preconceived notions of a monster like an Ed Gein.  Are we simply not willing to believe that such things can happen? Are we simply unable to change our preconceived notions of what a serial killer should look like, or was Bundy simply a master of disguise? Do we fear what we or our children could become, especially in light of Bundy’s own seemingly “normal” appearance? Are serial killers born or made? Our fascination with Bundy stems from these questions and our inability to answer them. It is Ted Bundy, the anomaly, that continues to fascinate.

Scott Bonn’s Why We Love Serial Killers available for free audio download here: http://serialkilz.com/dhjj

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