Ted Bundy is one of the world’s most prolific serial killers, but do you know the full story?
His taped confessions make fascinating listening, but we will cut through the BS and bring you the real story.
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– And The Manchester Pusher, residents fear a serial killer is on the loose but police say there is no evidence.
According to Ted Bundy, he was raised in a ‘healthy home.’ He felt safe and secure in the life he had with those he believed to be his parents. Unlike the childhoods of other murderers, there was no religious mania, and no sexual, physical or psychological abuse in his home. He was shown love and encouragement and the family he knew remained settled through most of his young life. Ted Bundy’s early years showed very little clues to the monster he would become.
Even until the very end, Bundy was able to find people who adored him. Even the trial judge, Justice Edward Cowart, showed admiration and sympathy for the prolific serial killer when passing his death sentence, saying, ‘Take care of yourself, young man. I say that to you sincerely; take care of yourself, please. It is an utter tragedy for this court to see such a total waste of humanity as I’ve experienced in this courtroom. You’re a bright young man. You’d have made a good lawyer, and I would have loved to have you practice in front of me, but you went another way, partner. Take care of yourself. I don’t feel any animosity toward you. I want you to know that. Once again, take care of yourself.’
Ted Bundy was born Theodore Robert Cowell on 24 November 1947. Unbeknownst to him, he was the illegitimate son of Eleanor ‘Louise’ Cowell. On Bundy’s birth certificate, Lloyd Marshall was named as his father, but Eleanor also mentioned that another man, Jack Worthington, was a possible candidate. Claims have since surfaced that Bundy’s grandfather – Louise’s father – could in fact have been his real father.
To avoid any scandal and to hide the truth from Ted, Louise moved in with her parents, and Ted was brought up believing himself to be their son, and his biological mother Louise his older sister. While this situation could not be described as the perfectly healthy home Bundy claimed it to be, the home was apparently absent of sexual or physical abuse. Bundy always maintained that his early life was quite normal, and that he was raised in ‘a wonderful loving home where he was the focus of his parents’ lives.’ He was quick to turn blame for his crimes away from his family, instead pointing to external forces that may have led to his becoming one of the world’s most prolific killers.
In 1951 Louise moved with Ted to another relative’s place. A year later, she met and married an army cook called John Bundy. Ted took Bundy’s name, though he still did not know Louise was his real mother at the time. As a boy of 12 about to embrace puberty, Bundy discovered soft core pornography, on magazine stands at local supermarkets, at news agencies and even discarded in rubbish bins on garbage collection days. Yet Bundy soon found that the semi-clothed women of the soft porn magazines he stole no longer fuelled his sexual fantasies. He sought out more explicit images and went in search of harder pornography periodicals, including detective magazines that combined violence with sexually explicit stories and images. He would search through rubbish bins and dumps, looking for material to suit his violent tastes. Much later, in an interview in prison, he mused, ‘Sex and violence brings about behaviour that is too terrible to describe. I’m not blaming porn, it did not cause me to go out and do those terrible things, the issue is how this type of literature contributed, moulded and shaped my violent behaviour. In the beginning it fuels the thought processes that crystallise as a separate entity.’
At the same time that his sexual deviance was rising to the surface, Bundy learned he was an illegitimate baby, but was not told that Louise was his mother. He threw himself into his studies, doing well at school and becoming popular. Psychologists later described him as ‘intelligent, high achievement-oriented, had the acumen necessary for a political career.’ At school, Bundy always felt a little out of place, yearning to be more like the wealthy students. He was suspected of committing several robberies to try and attain things his family could not afford, but was never caught or charged with any offences.
After graduating high school in 1965, he was accepted to the University of Washington, where he commenced studying for a degree in psychology, a weapon he would use to gain the trust of the women he abducted and later murdered, and to play with the psychologists who tried to study him in prison. He claimed that his stealing became more prolific at this time, too.
Bundy sent applications to several law schools between 1969 and 1972 and became actively involved in politics for the first time. He carried out volunteer work at a crisis clinic in Washington, then took a job with the King County Law and Justice Planning Office in Washington State, tracking habitual criminals. During the same period he discovered that his older sister was his real mother, and his mother and father were really his grandparents. The news forced Bundy to close down part of his life. What he believed to be a normal and loving family was more dysfunctional than anyone could have imagined. The shock destroyed what he believed to the norm and instead he turned his back on his family and returned to his studies with vigour. It was at this time that he learned to use disassociation, a behaviour people display when they are faced with uncomfortable feelings or emotions. Bundy returned to Washington University and graduated, and in September 1973 went to University of Puget Sound in Tacoma to study law. He started seeing Stephanie Brooks, a young woman he had dated before – she had broken up with when he became belligerent. But now seeing his new drive and ambition, she was willing to give him another chance.
On 4 January 1974, Bundy brutally attacked his first victim. Eighteen-year-old student Joni Lenz was found unconscious and bleeding in her apartment bedroom, the morning after the attack. Bundy had broken into the woman’s room and raped her, tearing a rod from the bedhead and savagely ramming it into her vagina, causing horrific internal injuries. He had also beaten the woman around the head. Joni was taken to hospital, where she remained in a coma for several months. She survived the attack but was left with brain damage. Bundy broke up with his girlfriend Stephanie, in February 1974 purely to make her suffer the same grief he had when she broke up with him originally. He was angry about the relationship, and found a way to react to those emotions, coupled with the violent fantasies he had been having since puberty – he began raping and murdering young women who looked like his ex-girlfriend.
On the night of 31 January 1974, 21-year-old Lynda Healy was murdered by Bundy in her basement level room at Washington State. Her room showed signs of their struggle and her bed, where Bundy had cut her throat after raping and sodomising her, was covered in blood. The top sheet was missing from her bed; Bundy had used it to bundle up his victim and remove her from the room. She was listed as missing for two months before police took the case seriously, having originally believed that she had suffered a bad nosebleed and gone to hospital, disappearing afterwards.
Having murdered his first victim, Bundy commenced a savage killing spree that would last four years. Though he was arrested several times, he would subsequently escape and continue to kill. Initially, he ensured that he remained in control and was careful to hide his victims so that it would take months to find them, by which time most forensic evidence was lost to the elements.
On 8 February 1974, Carol Valenzuela, aged 20, disappeared in Vancouver. Her body was found in October, along with the remains of another female who was never identified. The two murders have been attributed to Bundy, but the women may also have been the victims of Warren Leslie Forest, another serial killer operating in the region at the time. Then on 12 March 1974, another college student disappeared. Nineteen-year-old Donna Manson left her dorm room around seven in the evening to walk to a jazz concert on campus. Along the route, she was charmed by Bundy, who possibly offered to walk with her or give her a lift to the concert in the drizzling rain. Either way, Bundy was able to take the young Evergreen State student, and Donna wasn’t reported missing for six days – she had a habit of travelling with little notice. She was never seen alive again.
Like Donna, 18-year-old Susan Rancourt disappeared as she walked across the campus of the college she attended. On the evening of 17 April 1974, Susan had made plans with a friend to see a German film at Central Washington State College, but she never arrived. She was last seen leaving a meeting with one of her advisors after nine that evening. It was the one and only time Susan had gone out at night alone, she had been concerned with the recent missing young women in the area. The risk she took cost her her life.
On 6 May 1974, Bundy abducted another victim. Roberta Parks, 21, decided to walk to another dorm hall to have coffee with friends. She never arrived. Along her travels, she had met with Bundy, who pretended to be handicapped by a broken arm. He dropped his books near the young woman, who offered to pick them up for him. He convinced her to carry them to his car, where he struck her over the head and abducted her.
Twenty-two-year-old Brenda Ball was the next to disappear. She was last seen at Flame Tavern in Burien on 1 June 1974. She had told friends she was going to find a ride to Sun Lakes. Toward closing time, she asked one of the musicians at the Tavern, but he was unable to help her. She was last seen talking to Bundy in the parking lot. He had his arm in a sling, just as he had done with previous victims. It took Brenda’s friends 19 days to realise she had not made it to Sun City and call police to report her missing.
On 11 June 1974, 18-year-old Georgann Hawkins was abducted from behind her sorority house, Kappa Alpha Theta, in Seattle. Georgann had been to a party and was on her way to say goodnight to her boyfriend, and to borrow some textbooks for a Spanish exam, which she was going to cram for the next day. A friend of Georgann’s saw her walking across campus and called out to her from a window. The two students chatted for a few minutes, they said goodnight, and Georgann walked toward her dormitory. When she had not arrived home two hours later, the alarm was raised. Given the recent abductions in the area, the Seattle police took action immediately. A dorm mother had heard some screams but thought it was students mucking around outside and did not look to see what was going on. Had the dorm mother looked, she might have seen Bundy using his broken arm ruse on Georgann, yet again. Ted had asked her for help carrying his briefcase to his car and she had obliged. He knocked her unconscious, bundled her into the car and sped away. Bundy later recalled that Georgann had regained consciousness in the car and in her confused state thought he’d been sent to help her with her Spanish exam. He knocked her out again, then pulled over near Lake Sammamish, where he strangled her before raping her.
Bundy was becoming an expert at killing, having gotten away with at least eight murders. None of the bodies had been found and police were no closer to identifying the person responsible for the abductions. He felt confident in his abilities and began escalating his crime spree – next, he killed two women on the very same day.
Janice Ott was the first, abducted by Bundy on 14 July 1974. Janice was feeling solemn and missing her husband, who had stayed on at his practice in Riverside. She left a note for her roommate saying she was going to go for a bike ride around the park at Lake Sammamish. Witnesses told police they had seen a girl matching Janice’s description talking to a friendly-looking man with a broken arm. It was the last time she was seen alive. Ted abducted her in front of everyone at the park, without raising any suspicion. He took her into the woods, where she was raped and murdered like the other victims before her. Yet Bundy was not done. Janice’s murder had happened so quickly and easily that he went back to the park to abduct another victim.
Nineteen-year-old Denise Naslund was having a picnic with friends on Lake Sammamish that day as well. While the others fell asleep in the summer sun, Denise wandered off to the bathrooms, where she was spotted by Bundy. Like Janice before her, Bundy asked her for help to get something from his car, pointing again to his broken arm. She was happy to oblige. At his car, she was forced inside and driven away to Bundy’s dump-site. She was bashed over the head and raped.
With the murders on his mind, Bundy’s ‘normal’ life quickly began to lose its excitement. He soon left his position with Emergency Services and looked to study again. By 30 August 1974, he was a student at the University of Utah College of Law. A week after Bundy had started studying for his law degree, bones were found scattered along a four-kilometre stretch near Lake Sammamish State Park. They turned out to be part of the remains of Georgann Hawkins, Janice Ott and Denise Naslund. The discovery of his victims’ body parts did little to damper Bundy’s drive to kill, though he did decide to find new dumping grounds for subsequent victims.
On 2 October 1974, he abducted 16-year-old Nancy Wilcox in Holladay, raping and sodomising her before killing her. Her body was never recovered. Then on 18 October, another young woman fell victim to his charm. The Midvale police chief’s daughter, 17-year-old Melissa Smith, was abducted on her walk from home to a girlfriend’s house. Nine days later, on October 27, her bludgeoned and strangled remains were found in Summit Park. Like the other victims, she had been raped and sodomised before her murder. Her skull had been fractured by an instrument similar to a crowbar.
On 31 October, 17-year-old Laura Aime left a Halloween party and went for a wander to a nearby park, where she was abducted by Bundy. She was later found on a riverbank in the Wasatch Mountains on 27 November. Her naked body had been beaten beyond recognition and she had been sexually assaulted. A little over a week after Laura’s murder, on 8 November, 19-year-old Carol DaRonch survived an abduction attempt. At a Waldens Bookstore, she was approached by Bundy, posing as a police officer; he had changed his ruse from that of handicapped man to a person of authority. He asked if she’d parked near Sears, and she said yes. He asked for her license number and she gave it to him. Bundy then told Carol someone had tried to break into her car and she needed to go with him to check if anything was missing. She trustingly followed him out of the building, but felt a sudden apprehension as they headed out into the rainy night. Like the others before her, she had trusted Bundy quickly; at trial, she described him as ‘polite … well educated.’ Nevertheless, she asked him for some ID. He responded by laughing, attempting to make her feel at ease, and showed her a fake identification badge.
When the pair reached Carol’s car, she saw that nothing was missing. He told her they had apprehended a suspect and asked her to go with him to the station in his VW Beetle to see if she knew the suspect. But Carol felt that something wasn’t right and noticed an aroma of alcohol on the man’s breath. Alarm bells sounded and as they walked to his VW, she became more worried about the situation she was in. Reluctantly, she got into the car, after he gave her another convincing lie about being undercover. When he told her to put on her seatbelt she said no, and was ready to jump, but he’d already driven off. She realised he was heading away from the local police station.
Bundy suddenly stopped the car and attempted to handcuff her, but in the struggle, he connected both cuffs to the same wrist. He pulled out a small gun and threatened her with it, but she opened the car door and fell out. As she got up, Bundy attacked her with a crowbar he had hidden under the driver’s seat. He grabbed her and threw her up against the car, but the diminutive Carol broke free from Bundy’s grasp and ran wildly onto the road, where an elderly couple came upon her and took the terrified girl to the police station.
After failing to abduct Carol, Bundy went looking for another victim that same evening. Seventeen-year-old Debby Kent had offered to pick up her brother while her parents stayed behind at her school’s drama night. Later, another parent told police he had arrived late at the play and saw a light-coloured VW bug racing away from the school. A quick search by police discovered a small handcuff key in the parking lot. The key fit the cuffs that Carol DaRonch had been wearing when she arrived at the police station. While police investigated the disappearances and the attempted abduction of Carol DaRonch, Laura’s body was found on Thanksgiving. Like the others, she had been raped and beaten.
After murdering four young women in a little over a month, Bundy spent the period between Thanksgiving and the New Year without killing. The police had linked many of the disappearances and were searching for a local man in Utah. After the New Year, Bundy headed to Aspen in Colorado for his next murder, where police were not looking for a mass murderer. On 12 January 1975, Caryn Campbell was on a ski trip in Aspen with her fiancée and his kids. After a minor squabble with her partner, she stormed off. When she did not return, he went to their room to see if she was there, but she had never made it to the hotel room and was never seen alive again. Bundy had grabbed the woman as she had walked to her room, possibly using the policeman/stolen car ruse once again.
On 18 February 1975, as the weather slowly began to warm, the naked and battered body of Caryn Campbell was found in a snow bank off Owl Creek Rd, close to the hotel where she had been holidaying with her fiancée and children. She had been raped before being murdered. Police were quick to compare the injuries that Caryn had sustained with the injuries inflicted on Melissa Smith and Laura Aime. Investigators noted, ‘You couldn’t look at those photographs and autopsy slides and read those reports without noticing gross similarities.’ Bundy’s signature was obvious. He had beaten all of his victims in a frenzied attack, and raped and sodomised them, either before or after their deaths. The victims were all young women with similar features and of good moral standing. None of them were taken freely; they had all been abducted against their wills. Unlike killers who chose prostitutes or victims from low socioeconomic backgrounds, Bundy picked women who would be missed, and who represented the type of woman he wanted to be with. There was even a resemblance to his former girlfriend in the victims, demonstrating that the murders, though sexual in nature, had a retaliatory motivation as well.
On 1 March 1975, the skull of 22-year-old Brenda Ball was found in a thick wooded area on Taylor Mountain. Brenda had been missing since June 1974. The police began a search of the area and soon more gruesome discoveries were made. Parts of the skeletons of Lynda Healy, Susan Rancourt, Donna Manson and Roberta Parks were also found. Lynda Healy’s skull had been fractured in the brutal beating she suffered. Susan Rancourt’s decapitated skull was also severely fractured.
The discovery of some of his victims did little to slow down Bundy’s killing spree. On 15 March 1975, 26-year-old Julie Cunningham disappeared while on her way to a nearby tavern, in Vail Colorado. Her body was never recovered. Then on 6 April, 25-year-old Denise Oliverson decided to go for a bike ride to visit her parents in Grand Junction, after having an argument with her husband. When she didn’t return that evening, he assumed she had decided to stay the night at her parents’ house, but in fact she had never made it there. Along the way, she’d been abducted by Bundy. Her body remains undiscovered. Nine days later, on 15 April, 18-year-old Melanie Cooley disappeared after walking off from her school playground. Road workers discovered her body on 23 April at Nederland. She had been bludgeoned to death with a crowbar, like many of the other victims. Her hands had been tied behind her back and a pillowcase was tied tightly around her neck. On 6 May, twelve year old Lynette Culver was abducted from her school playground, followed by Susan Curtis from a university campus on 28 June, 24-year-old Shelley Robertson from Golden, Colorado, on 1 July, and Nancy Baird on 4 July, from Layton.
This long and successful killing streak, however, caused Bundy to take more risks. As he searched for another victim on 18 August 1975, stoned, he was arrested in Salt Lake City for evading a police officer. He had seen the police vehicle following him, but knowing that he had marijuana in the car, had chosen to keep driving. Of his arrest, Bundy said, ‘I really didn’t know what was on my mind or what I wanted to do. I was a little bit fucked up.’ When the officer searched the car, he found handcuffs, a crowbar, a ski mask and pantyhose. Bundy was arrested for possessing implements for breaking and entering. While out on bail he murdered another young woman, Debbie Smith, in February 1976.
When the police officer told others about Bundy’s car and the handcuffs, an investigating officer quickly suspected a link to the man who had been seen with several of the murdered women before their deaths. Carol DaRonch was brought in to see if she could identify Bundy as her would-be abductor; she did so, and he was placed under arrest. On 1 March 1976, after a trial in which Bundy represented himself, he was convicted of attempting to kidnap DaRonch in Utah. While in prison, Bundy was also charged with the murder of Caryn Campbell, but on 6 June 1977, he escaped from Pitkin County Courthouse lock-up in Aspen. On 16 June, a very dishevelled Bundy was recaptured, but a jail cell in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, was again unable to hold him, and on 31 December he escaped once more, and went on the run through Denver, Chicago and Michigan. By 7 January 1978, Bundy had arrived in Tallahassee, Florida, and rented a room in a student boarding house. It had been two years since his last killing, and he spent his time roaming the nearby campuses, looking for victims.
The Chi Omega sorority house at Florida State University was pretty quiet on the evening of 15 January; the students had no idea that a killer was stalking them. Bundy later recalled that, having been in prison and unable to fulfil his need to kill, the vicious attack at the Chi Omega sorority house was a manifestation of his need to harm. Twenty-one-year-old sorority house member Karen Chandler and 20-year-old Kathy Kleiner had gone to bed around midnight, 22-year-old Lisa Levy at around 11pm, and Margaret Bowman at around 2.30am, after talking to a girlfriend about a blind date she’d had that evening. Cheryl Thomas had returned home around 1.30am. She had turned on the TV, made something to eat, and fed her new kitten. Her friend Debbie, who lived in the next room, arrived home soon after and shouted teasingly through the wall for her to turn down the TV.
At 4am, Debbie woke to a strange hammering sound. She slept on a mattress on the floor, so she could feel the whole house vibrating from the thumps. She shook her roommate awake and they listened in fear until there was silence. Scared, they sat in the dark and listened. Then the two women heard Cheryl moaning from the next room. Debbie called Cheryl’s room – the girls had an agreement to always answer the phone, just to make sure they were safe. When Cheryl didn’t pick up, Debbie called out that she was going to call the police. As they were speaking to police, they heard a thunderous crash from Cheryl’s apartment, as if someone was running and crashing through the kitchen. Debbie and her roommate were shocked to see a dozen police cars arrive at their house within four minutes of their call.
As the sorority sisters headed down the hallway to the dorm-mother’s room, Karen staggered out into the hall from her room. She had been savagely beaten and blood was streaming down her face. After seeing Karen, the house-mother decided to check the other rooms. Kathy was sitting on her bed, her head in her hands, and blood was running down her arms from the wounds she had suffered. Her jaw was broken in three places. Lisa Levy had been beaten, her right nipple almost bitten off, her left collarbone broken, and she had been strangled. A hairspray bottle had been jammed into her vagina and there was a double bite mark on her left buttock, which would later help identify Ted Bundy. Paramedics tried to save her, but she was pronounced dead at hospital. Margaret Bowman was found lying on her stomach across her bed. She had been beaten across the head with a crowbar, which had shattered her skull instantly. A stocking had been pulled tightly around her throat. She did not survive the attack.
Cheryl was the last of the women to be attacked by Bundy. She was found lying diagonally across her bed, barely conscious, whimpering and writhing in pain. Her face was swollen and turning purple with bruises and she had several serious head wounds. Her skull was fractured in five places (causing permanent hearing loss in her left ear), her left shoulder was dislocated, her jaw was broken, and her cranial nerve was so damaged that she would never have normal equilibrium again. She suffered the worst injuries on that night, remaining in the hospital for a month, but somehow survived the attack. If the girls hadn’t shouted out that they were calling the police, Bundy would certainly have killed her. Instead, he fled the scene before police arrived, only escaping by minutes. In his wake, he had left the fullest extent of his brutal homicidal signature.
Less than a month later, Bundy struck again, this time killing his youngest victim. Twelve-year-old Kimberly Leach disappeared on 9 February 1978. She had left class to go and find her wallet, which she had left somewhere in the playground, and was seen by a friend talking to Bundy. It was the last time she was seen alive.
Though Bundy was being sought all over America for the Chi Omega attack, and the string of other murders he had left in his wake, it was another traffic stop that brought the killer to justice. He was arrested by a traffic officer in Pensacola, Florida, on 15 February 1978 for driving a stolen car and taken into custody where the officer found that he had arrested American’s most wanted killer. On 12 April 1978, after eight weeks of intense searching, the decomposed remains of Kimberley Leach were found hidden in a pigsty. She had been raped before being murdered.
Though Bundy, representing himself at trial, attempted many different lines of defence during his trial such as insanity, he was sentenced to death, plus 196 years for the murders of the students at Chi Omega House on 13 July 1979. He was also sentenced to death by electrocution for the murder of Kimberley Leach on 9 February 1980.
While in prison, Bundy admitted to the murders of other victims. The confessions were made in an attempt to stave off his looming execution date. Often speaking about himself in the third person, he gave details of victims who had not been found, hoping these bargaining chips would save him. But it was too little too late, and on 25 January 1989, Ted Bundy took his final seat in the arms of Old Sparky at Starke Prison, Florida.
When confronted with the question of why he had murdered so many young women, Bundy chuckled to himself and asked, ‘Is there really enough time to explain it all?’ Reflectively, he explained that he could see how certain feelings that he was experiencing over his lifetime developed to such a point that he needed to act on his destructive fantasies. His killing spree lasted for years and there are still some among his victims who have never been found.