There are serial killers who are fascinating. Some because of their brutality. Some for their methods. Some for body count. And then there is Ted Bundy. Fascinating for all of the above and even more. He was charismatic, handsome, and completely psychotic. Here is a deeper dive into the case that Ann Rule named, The Stranger Beside Me.
Louise Cowell, welcomed a baby boy in November of 1946, in Vermont. She was an unwed mother and the baby’s father was never fully identified. She named her son, Theodore Robert Cowell. Her son was raised for the first three years with his maternal grandparents, who claimed the child was theirs to prevent any social stigma surrounding his mother’s unwed status. Young Theodore believed his mother was actually his sister.
Because his mother never told him the truth, and he found out on his own, he would always be resentful that she never told him the truth herself. In 1950, Louise changed her surname from Cowell to Nelson. And at the urging of many family members, Louise moved to Tacoma, WA, to live with cousins, she brought her young son with her.
Shortly after arriving in Washington, Louise met a man at a singles night, hosted at the Methodist church. Johnny Bundy later married Louise, and adopted Theodore, giving him his name, Bundy. Louise and Johnny would eventually have four more children, and as much as he tried to include his adopted son in family events, Ted remained distant. He would later tell girlfriends that Johnny wasn’t his real father, and he wasn’t a very smart man, nor did he make enough money.
While growing up Ted preferred to be alone, claiming that he was unable to understand interpersonal relationships, and he had no sense of how to develop friendships. However in high school he was remembered as a well known and well liked man. He was a medium fish in a large pond. Ted was also arrested at least twice in his youth. When he turned 18, his record was expunged, as was customary in Washington.
In 1965, Ted graduated from high school and attended the University of Puget Sound for one year before transferring to the University of Washington to study Chinese. In 1967 he was in a relationship with a student named Stephanie Brooks. A year later he would drop out of college and work a series of low-level, minimum wage jobs. He was also active in politics by supporting the Republican candidates.
Eventually Stephanie would break things off with Ted, returning to her family in California. She told Ted that he was immature and lacked ambition. Psychologists claim that this moment was the point in Ted’s life that was pivotal in his development. Ted was devastated by Stephanie’s rejection. He took some time to travel across the country and visited family in Arkansas and Philadelphia. It’s believed that during this trip he learned his true parentage.
By 1969, Ted was back in Washington state, and had started a relationship with Elizabeth Kloepfer. They would have a stormy relationship for several years, well past his incarceration in Utah in 1976.
In mid 1970, he was now goal oriented, and Ted was working on a suicide prevention hotline in 1971, where he met and worked along side a former Seattle police officer, Ann Rule. She was trying to become a crime writer, and eventually wrote a book about Ted Bundy. She claimed that Ted was “kind, solicitous, and empathetic.”
After graduating from the university, he was accepted into Law School in Utah, and at the time he had rekindled his relationship with Stephanie who was amazed by his transformation and dedication. He was also seeing Elizabeth at the same time, neither woman knew about the other.
Less than a year later, Ted broke things off with Stephanie, simply by not accepting calls or letters from her any longer. She felt that Ted planned this all in advance to get revenge on her breaking up with him in 1968.
Eventually Ted stopped attending classes at the University, and women were starting to disappear in the Pacific Northwest.
January, 1974, around the same time that he ended things with Stephanie, he had entered the basement apartment of 18 year old Karen Sparks. He bludgeoned her with a metal rod from her bed, and then sexually assaulted her with the same rod. She suffered internal injuries, and remained unconscious for ten days. But she did survive, with permanent mental and physical disabilities.
- On February 1, Ted broke into the basement room of Lynda Ann Healy, he beat her unconscious and then dressed her and carried her away. During the first half of 1974, women college students disappeared about one per month.
- March, 1974, Donna Gail Manson, left her dorm to go to a jazz concert, but never arrived.
- April, 1974, Susan Elaine Rancourt, disappeared after a meeting while going back to her dorm.
- May, 1974, Roberta Kathleen Parks, left her dormitory to have coffee with friends, but never arrived.
- June, 1974, Brenda Carol Ball, disappeared after leaving a tavern.
- June, 1974, Georgeann Hawkins, vanished walking back to her sorority house from her boyfriends apartment. Ted admitted to picking her up and knocking her unconscious with a crowbar, before driving to Issaquah, where he strangled her and spent the night with her body. He would visit her body three more times.
During this time Ted met and started dating Carol Ann Boone, who would be most important in the final phase of his life.
On July 14, 1974, Ted abducted two women from the beach in broad daylight. Janice Ann Ott, was abducted when she went to help him unload a sailboat. Four hours later, Janice was still alive, but Ted had abducted Denise Marie Naslund, and returned to where Janice had been left. He forced one to watch the other die, before killing her as well.
Police provided a composite sketch of the suspect, and a description of the VW Bug. They received over 200 tips a day, and Elizabeth Koepfel, Ann Rule, and other co-workers of Ted’s recognized the car and sketch as Ted Bundy. The police thought it was unlikely that a clean cut law student would be their suspect, especially one who didn’t have any adult record. Several months later the remains of Ted’s victims would be found. Donna Manson’s remains have never been found.
In August of 1974, Ted had gotten a second acceptance to Law School in Utah. He moved to Salt Lake City. His classes were incomprehensible to him, and he was amazed that his classmates were better than he was. A new string of murders began in Salt Lake City in September.
- September 2, he raped and murdered a hitchhiker in Idaho, this victim is still unidentified.
- October 2, Nancy Wilcox was abducted and buried 200 miles away, her remains have never been found.
- October 18, Melissa Ann Smith, disappeared after leaving pizza parlor, she was found nine days later.
- October 31, Laura Ann Aime, she vanished after leaving a cafe. Her body was found by hikers on Thanksgiving Day. Both she and Melissa had been raped, sodomized, and strangled.
- On November 8, presenting himself as a police officer he attempted to abduct Carol DaRonch. During a struggle, she escaped from his car. Later that evening, Debra Jean Kent, disappeared after a high school theater production.
In November of 1974, Elizabeth Kloepfer, called the police in Seattle, again providing Ted’s name as a suspect, he had also been elevated on their suspect list prior to her call. Elizabeth also called the Salt Lake City police to provide them with the same information. They stated there was no evidence that linked him to the crimes.
- January 1975, Caryn Eileen Campbell, disappeared in the hallway of her hotel in Snowmass Village. Her body was found a month later on a dirt road next to the resort.
- On March 15, Julie Cunningham, disappeared when returning from a dinner date with a friend. Ted visited her remains six weeks later.
- April 6, Denise Lynn Oliverson, disappeared while riding her bike.
- On May 6, 12 year old Lynette Dawn Culver was lured from her junior high school in Idaho. She was drowned and sexually assaulted in Ted’s hotel room before her body was dumped in the river.
- On June 28, Susan Curtis, disappeared in Provo. Her murder was the last one that Bundy confessed to moments before entering the execution chamber.
- The bodies of Wilcox, Kent, Cunningham, Oliverson, Culver, and Curtis have not been recovered.
Meanwhile, Washington investigators were still struggling to make sense of the overwhelming mass of data. The created a then-innovative strategy of compiling a database. After inputing the information of classmates and acquaintances of each victim, Volkswagen owners named “Ted”, known sex offenders, and so on, the computer produced 26 names from thousands. Ted Bundy was on this list. Detectives also compiled a list manually of their 100 “best” suspects. Ted Bundy was on that list as well. He was at the top of the pile when the news came from Utah of his arrest.
August 16, 1975, Ted was arrested by a Utah state trooper. The trooper had witnessed Ted cruising a residential area in the pre-dawn hours. And when spotting the patrol car sped off in high speed.
When searching the car, the trooper found a ski mask, a second mask fashioned from pantyhose, a crowbar, handcuffs, trash bags, a coil of rope, an ice pick, and other items initially assumed to be burglary tools. Bundy explained that the ski mask was for skiing, he had found the handcuffs in a dumpster, and the rest were common household items.
Police noted similarities of his vehicle and the items found within based on the information from Carol DaRonch. They also recognized his name from Elizabeth Kloepfer’s call.
Police had searched his apartment and found circumstantial links to some of the victims, but nothing definitive. As police didn’t have sufficient evidence to hold him, he was released on his own recognizance. Ted said police missed a stash of polaroid’s of his victims, that he destroyed after he was released.
In September Ted sold his VW Beetle to a teenager, Utah police then impounded it. Technicians disassembled it and found hairs that matched Caryn Campbell. They also found hairs from Carol DaRonch and Melissa Smith.
On October 2, Carol DaRonch identified Ted in a police lineup.
In February 1976, Ted stood trial for the DaRonch kidnapping. He waived his right to a jury trial and after a four day bench trial and a weekend of deliberation, the judge found him guilty of kidnapping and assault. He was sentenced to 1 to 15 years in the Utah State Prison.
In October, Colorado authorities charged him with the Caryn Campbell murder. After resisting, Ted waived extradition, and he was transferred to Aspen in January of 1977.
June 7, acting as his own attorney, he was researching his case in the courthouse law library, hiding behind a bookcase, Ted opened a window and jumped out from the second story. He eluded police for six days before being caught when driving a stolen car erratically. By late 1977, Ted escaped from jail a second time. This time he wouldn’t be caught until he reached Florida.
- January 15, 1978, Ted entered the Chi Omega Sorority through a back door. At approximately 2:45am, Ted began attacking the women who lived in the house.
- Margaret Bowman was the first attacked, she was bludgeoned with some firewood before being strangled.
- Lisa Levy was beaten unconscious, strangled, one of her nipples was tore off, and Ted left a bite mark on her buttock. He sexually assaulted her with a foreign object.
- Kathy Kleiner, survived but her jaw was broken and her shoulder was severely lacerated.
- Karen Chandler, survived as well, she suffered a concussion, broken jaw, loss of teeth, and a crushed finger.
Another sorority sister was coming in through the back door, when Ted was leaving. The attacks on the women in the sorority lasted approximately 15 minutes.
Eight blocks away, Ted broke into a basement apartment and attacked Cheryl Thomas. He dislocated her shoulder, fractured her jaw, and fractured her skull in five places. She has permanent deafness that affected her equilibrium and ended her dance career.
On February 8, Kimberly Diane Leach was abducted. She was summoned back to a homeroom for a forgotten purse, she never returned to class. She was found seven weeks later, she had been raped before her neck was slit.
February 12, Ted Bundy was arrested for driving a stolen vehicle near Pensacola, Florida. He had told police at that time, “I wish you had killed me.”
A change of venue to Miami, Florida, Ted was in charge of his defense. The prosecution had provided him a deal, plead guilty to the murders of Lisa, Margaret, and Kimberly; and they would recommend a sentence of seventy five years. They would take the death penalty off the table.
Ted was planning to accept, as he could see an acquittal in the future when he would file a post-conviction motion, after the evidence had disintegrated, witnesses recanted, but ultimately the case against him would be deteriorated beyond repair. He would then be set free. However Ted realized he would have to say in front of everyone that he was guilty, and that was something he could not do.
July 24, 1979, the jury deliberated for seven hours before finding Ted Bundy guilty. The judge imposed the death sentence for the murders.
Six months later, a second trial, in Orlando, FL, for the murder of Kimberly Leach, also ended with a guilty conviction.
During the penalty phase, an obscure Florida law allowed Carole Ann Boone, who was now living in Florida to be near Ted and was testifying on his behalf as a character witness, to marry Ted Bundy.
On February 10, 1980, Ted was sentenced for a third time to death by electrocution. He would ultimately fulfill the orders of the court in nine years.
In October 1981, Boone gave birth to a daughter and named Bundy as the father. While conjugal visits were not allowed at Raiford Prison, inmates were known to pool their money in order to bribe guards to allow them intimate time alone with their female visitors.
Ted attempted to overturn his convictions, and when it became clear that no further stays would be forthcoming from the courts, Diana Weiner, a young Florida attorney and Bundy’s last purported love interest, asked the families of several victims to petition Florida Governor Bob Martinez for a postponement to give Bundy time to reveal more information. All refused. “The families already believed that the victims were dead and that Ted had killed them. They didn’t need his confession.”
Officials made it clear that they would not agree to further delays in any case. “We are not going to have the system manipulated. For him to be negotiating for his life over the bodies of victims is despicable.” Boone had championed Bundy’s innocence throughout all of his trials and felt “deeply betrayed” by his admission that he was, in fact, guilty. She moved back to Washington with her daughter and refused to accept his phone call on the morning of his execution.
On the eve of his execution, he talked of suicide. “He did not want to give the state the satisfaction of watching him die.”
Ted Bundy was executed in the Raiford electric chair at 7:16 a.m. EST on January 24, 1989. Hundreds of revelers sang, danced and set off fireworks in a pasture across from the prison as the execution was carried out, then cheered as the white hearse containing Bundy’s corpse departed the prison. He was cremated in Gainesville, and his ashes scattered at an undisclosed location in the Cascade Range of Washington State, in accordance with his will.
So my friends, if you have stayed with me this long, you deserve the biggest thank you ever! This month is an in depth look at a notorious killer. I hope that I have given you an inside look into the Ted Bundy case. Obviously Ted took many secrets to the grave, not only of his victims locations, but how many victims he actually had.
One thing that Ted attempted to do before his death was to help investigators find the Green River Killer who was also working in Washington State. It was his profile that proved to be more accurate than that of criminal profilers.
I thank you again for reading this rather long posting. Be strong, make good choices, stay safe!