October 6, 2002
Ted Bundy didn't have it all but he had most of it: good looks, charm, smarts, and ambition. He could have been anything he wanted to be. Instead he became the poster boy for serial killers, killing as many as 40 young women and girls as young as 12 years old during a four-year rampage in the mid 1970s. He was so mainstream that the Washington State Republican Party hired him, so cunning that twice he escaped from jail, and so dashing a figure that women sent marriage proposals to him on death row.
by David Lohr
Mention the term "serial killer" and Ted Bundy's name is frequently the first to pop into mind. Before he was executed in 1989, he admitted to murdering 40 young women in almost a dozen states during his four-year reign of terror in the mid-'70s. In the process he became one of the most feared and prolific serial killers in U.S. history. But what sets Bundy apart is how different he was from the stereotype of the homicidal madman: He was so mainstream that the Washington State Republican Party hired him, so cunning that he twice escaped from jail, so dashing a figure that women sent marriage proposals to him on death row.
What caused Ted Bundy to snap and murder countless young women and girls as young as 12 years old for no apparent reason? The devil is in the details. Many of his early victims bore a physical resemblance to Bundy's first girlfriend, who was tall and slender and wore her long brown hair with a part in the middle.
Bundy was born Theodore Robert Cowell on November 24, 1946, in Burlington, Vermont. Bundy's mother, Eleanor Louise Cowell, was unmarried and just 22-years-old at the time of his birth. Bundy's father, Lloyd Marshall, apparently wanted nothing to do with him, so he and his mother moved to Philadelphia to live with her parents. In an unusual twist, Eleanor's parents, out of fear that their daughter would be criticized for having a bastard child, raised Bundy as their own son, leaving him to believe that his mother was his older sister.
In 1950, Eleanor and Bundy moved to Tacoma, Wash., to live with relatives. Once there, Eleanor legally changed their names. Ted Cowell became Theodore Robert Nelson, and Eleanor became Louise Cowell. A year after their move, Eleanor married a military cook by the name of Johnnie Culpepper Bundy. From then on Ted Cowell became known as Ted Bundy.
As time went by Louise and Johnnie had four other children of their own, whom Bundy spent much of his time looking after. Ted never seemed to form a bond with his stepfather. He had his own ideas of how things should have been and considered himself a Cowell rather than a Bundy. In the book The Only Living Witness, by Stephen G. Michaud, Bundy's adolescent years are described as unhappy ones. As a child, Bundy was shy and often teased by bullies.
Bundy graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School in 1965, and by way of a scholarship began attending the University of Puget Sound. He took courses in psychology and Asian studies, but after attending just two semesters, he transferred to the University of Washington in Seattle.
In 1967, Bundy met a beautiful young woman named Stephanie Brooks. The two hit it off quickly and Bundy was soon head over heels in love. It was the first time in his life that he ever felt close to a woman and also, according to the book The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule, the first time he engaged in any form of sexual activity. During the fall of 1968, Bundy once again transferred, enrolling in Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif. Shortly thereafter, Stephanie graduated from the University of Washington and abruptly ended their relationship. She later explained that she felt like Bundy had no real direction or future goals and that she had not been not ready to commit. Bundy was devastated at loosing his first love and was unable to concentrate on anything. Eventually his grades suffered so badly that he decided to drop out of college.
As Bundy tried to get his life back on track, he began traveling around the country. He eventually decided to visit his birth town in Vermont, where he was dealt yet another damaging blow while looking up the record of his birth: He discovered that his sister was actually his mother, and the woman who had raised him as her son was actually his grandmother.
During the fall of 1969, Bundy re-entered the University of Washington and excelled in all of his classes. He was a man on a mission, hoping to win Stephanie back. Nonetheless, she still had no interest in rekindling their previous romance. Undaunted, Bundy worked harder and became increasingly involved in local politics, working on and off for various campaigns. In his spare time he worked the phones at the Seattle Crisis Clinic, where he soon met and befriended Ann Rule, the woman who years later would write of Bundy's life and crimes in her best-selling book, The Stranger Beside Me. It was also during this time that Bundy met Meg Anders, a divorcee who worked as a secretary. The two began dating and Meg was soon deeply in love. Bundy treated her well and took on the role of a father figure for her young daughter. Regardless, Bundy was not yet ready to settle down and unbeknownst to her continued to keep in contact with Stephanie through letters and phone calls.
Bundy spent the next two years working on political campaigns and applying to various law schools. At one point during this time he was commended by the Seattle Police as a "hero" for saving the life of a 3-year-old boy whom he rescued from drowning. With his life on track and his future looking up, Bundy graduated from the University of Washington in the summer of 1973, and was quickly accepted into the University of Utah Law School. However, whether it was because of his ongoing relationship with Meg, or his job with the Washington State Republican Party, he chose not to attend until the following school year.
During one of Bundy's business trips for the Republican Party, he decided to meet up with Stephanie, to reminisce about old times. The new Bundy profoundly impressed Stephanie and sparks began to fly once again. The two began spending as much time together as possible and even talked of marriage. Meg had no idea Bundy was secretly meeting Stephanie, all the while he continued to profess his love to her. Stephanie felt that Bundy was now the man of her dreams and began looking forward to their future together. While neither woman knew about the other, they were also unaware of the transformation Bundy was undergoing. For unknown reasons, he began focusing his energy into a murderous downward spiral, which began just three days after New Years. Each victim was methodically chosen and each evoked Stephanie's slender build and hairstyle.
On January 4, 1974, 18-year-old Joni Lentz became Bundy's first victim. Joni shared a large house in Seattle with several roommates. No one suspected anything was wrong when she failed to come down for breakfast. As the day drew on, her friends grew concerned and decided to check on her. Joni appeared to be asleep when her roommates walked in, but upon closer inspection they were horrified when they noticed that she was lying in a pool of blood. When they pulled back the covers, the seriousness of the situation was amplified to that of pure terror – a bed rod had been broken off and rammed deep into her vagina. Joni appeared to still be breathing, so her roommates quickly called paramedics and local police. Joni was in a comatose state when the EMT's arrived, but she had amazingly survived the attack.
Bundy's next known victim was Lynda Ann Healy, a 21-year-old weather forecaster and law student at Seattle's University of Washington Law School. On Jan. 31, 1974, one of Lynda's roommates received a call from Lynda's boss saying Lynda had not shown up for work. The roommate went into Lynda's basement bedroom and saw that her bed was made and her bicycle was sitting in the corner. As day turned to night and no one heard from her, her worried parents called the police and asked them to look into their daughter's disappearance. As part of their investigation the police performed a routine search of Lynda's room. When one of the officers decided to pull back her bedcovers, he was shocked to discover that the pillowcase and sheets were soaked in blood. Another officer soon found Lynda's nightgown, the neckline of which was crusted with dried blood. The investigators were unable to find any evidence pointing to a suspect. As local law enforcement kept busy searching for Lynda, Bundy kept busy going about his everyday life with little concern that he would be discovered.
In February 1974, without warning, and for no apparent reason, Bundy dumped Stephanie Brooks, just as she had him years earlier. Stephanie never saw or heard from Bundy again.
Over the course of the next few months, seven more women mysteriously vanished within the states of Utah, Oregon, and Washington. Each case was remarkably similar: each of the victim's was a slender Caucasian female, wore her hair parted in the middle, and had disappeared in the evening hours. As the investigation of the disappearances intensified, investigators learned from several witnesses that a handsome man, driving a VW bug, and wearing a cast on either his arm or leg, had been seen during many of the incidents. Several women who had been approached by him recalled him mentioning his name was Ted.
No one knew what happened to the girls until two bodies were found in Washington in August of 1974, just four miles from Lake Sammamish. It appeared to investigators that the victims, Denise Naslund and Janice Ott, had been murdered during a crazed sexual frenzy. There was little evidence at the scene, but the similarities between the Washington and Oregon murders quickly caught the attention of investigators in Utah. The three states began working together and soon agreed that one man was committing the crimes.
Investigators got their first break on Nov. 8, 1974, when a man driving a VW bug attempted to kidnap 18-year-old Carol DaRonch from a mall in Salt Lake City. The young woman managed to escape and was able to give investigators a description of the man and his vehicle. As investigators in Salt Lake City looked for their suspect, authorities in Bountiful, Utah, were notified that a 17-year-old girl, Debby Kent, had disappeared from Viewmont High School. A witness later reported seeing a tan Volkswagen bug speed away from the high school parking lot.
The killings stopped for four months before resuming in Colorado where at least four women mysteriously vanished. Almost a month later, one of those missing women was found just miles from where she had disappeared. Following an autopsy, it was discovered that she had been sexually assaulted and murdered with a blunt instrument. Back In Washington, the Taylor Mountains were becoming well known as the burial site for the killer, as the mountain slowly revealed the remains of several women, one of which was later identified as 21-year-old Lynda Ann Healy.
On Aug. 16, 1975, investigators finally got the break they were hoping for when a highway patrolman in Granger, Utah, noticed an unfamiliar man in a VW bug. When the officer turned on his spotlight to look at the plate, the driver sped away. A chase ensued, but after just a few blocks the VW pulled off to the side of the road. When the officer asked the driver for identification, he was given a driver's license with the name Theodore Robert Bundy. Suspecting the man was up to no good, the officer searched the vehicle, discovering a pair of handcuffs, a length of rope, a crowbar, a ski mask, an ice pick, and a nylon stocking. Bundy was placed under arrest for suspicion of burglary.
It did not take long for investigators to notice the physical similarities between Bundy and the suspect wanted in the attempted kidnapping of Carol DaRonch. However, they knew that they would need more evidence to support their suspicions. Shortly after Bundy's arrest, Carol DaRonch and several other witnesses were able to pick Bundy out of a police line up. Although he denied having any knowledge of the attempted kidnapping or murders, police were convinced they had their man and launched an extensive investigation into his background.
Over the course of the next several weeks, several witnesses from Lake Sammamish Park came forward and identified Bundy as the man named Ted that they had seen walking around the area in an arm or leg cast. During a subsequent search of Bundy's apartment, investigators discovered plaster of Paris, a substance used in the making of casts. It was also learned that Bundy was very familiar with the Taylor Mountains, where several bodies of victims had been found and that he had used his credit card to purchase gas in the towns where some of the victims had initially disappeared. The evidence against Bundy was mounting up, but he continued to claim his innocence.
As Bundy went to trial on February 23, 1976, for the attempted kidnapping of Carol DaRonch, investigators scrambled to link him to the murders. According to the book The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule, the 29-year-old Bundy, always the polite and handsome charmer, made a great impression on the Utah courtroom. He was confident, unnerved, and apparently highly offended by the charges against him. While he denied ever meeting DaRonch, he was unable to provide a solid alibi of his whereabouts the day of the attack. Even though Bundy was confident he would beat the charges, the judge found him guilty of aggravated kidnapping, sentencing him to one to 15 years in prison.
On Oct. 22, 1976, Colorado police charged Bundy with the murder of 23-year-old Caryn Campbell. Her raped and battered body had been found on Feb. 17, 1975, and investigators felt they had sufficient evidence to link him to the crime. During April of 1977, Bundy was extradited to Colorado and placed in the Garfield County Jail in Colorado, to await trial for Campbell's murder, which was scheduled for Nov. 14, 1977. Faced with prison time already, Bundy had no desire to sit through another trial and began planning his escape. Having been given special privileges to use the Pitkin County Courthouse library in Aspen, Bundy waited until no one was looking and jumped out a second story window on June 7, 1977. He was recaptured eight days later while trying to leave town in a stolen car.
Almost seven months later, on December 30, 1977, Bundy would escape again. In the intervening months he had eaten very little food and had shed 30 pounds, enough to allow him to shimmy through a small light fixture hole in the ceiling of his cell at the Garfield County Jail. Once inside the ceiling, Bundy made his way through a crawl space and into the closet of his jailer's apartment. He waited until all was quiet and then casually walked out the front door. It took jailers nearly 15 hours to realize he was gone. After making his way to Chicago, Bundy boarded a plane for Florida. Investigators were stumped and had no idea where he had gone.
By January of 1978, Bundy had acquired an apartment near Florida State University. He supported himself by committing petty thefts. He went by the alias Chris Hagen, and grew a beard in order to change his appearance. According to the book The Only Living Witness by Stephen G. Michaud, Bundy was not content with his newfound freedom and was unable to control his murderous impulses. On the night of Saturday Jan. 14, 1978, he entered the Chi Omega House and attacked four sleeping coeds one at a time by sneaking into each victim's room and knocking the victim unconscious. Two of the young women suffered such severe injuries that they died as a result, while the other two survived the brutal attack. The pathologist who performed the autopsies discovered that one of the coeds had been beaten with a club, raped, and strangled. He also discovered bite marks on her buttocks and nipples. In addition, she had been sexually assaulted with a metal hair spray can. The autopsy on the other victim showed that she had also been beaten with a club and strangled.
Bundy waited less than a month before striking again. On Feb. 9, 12-year-old Kimberly Leach was reported missing by her parents. Even though police were quick to launch an extensive search, they were unable to locate her.
Just six days after Kimberly's disappearance, a Pensacola police officer, patrolling a residential area, noticed a man who seemed to be casing the neighborhood in an orange VW bug. The officer ran a routine check on the plates and discovered that the plates had been stolen. The officer quickly turned on his lights and moved in. The suspect sped away but after a brief chase, pulled off to the side of the road. The officer ordered the driver out of the car and instructed him to lie down on the ground. As the officer attempted to apply handcuffs, a brief scuffle ensued and the suspect attempted to run off. The officer fired one shot at the suspect and the suspect fell to the ground. As the officer approached, the suspect jumped up and attacked him. Another brief scuffle took place, but this time the officer was able to subdue the man and handcuff him.
Once the Pensacola police were able to identify the suspect as Theodore Robert Bundy, Florida investigators immediately ordered impressions of his teeth, to compare with bite marks on one of the Chi Omega victims. The match was indisputable and would seal Bundy's fate once and for all.
On July 23, 1980, Bundy was convicted on two counts of murder and sentenced to die in Florida's electric chair. Subsequently, a third conviction and death sentence was also obtained in the case of 12-year-old Kimberly Leach, whose body had been discovered just weeks after his arrest.
Following Bundy's arrest, authorities in Seattle were convinced that Bundy's first victim was 15-year-old Kathy Devine, who had disappeared on November 25, 1973, and whose mutilated corpse was found less than a month later. While Bundy freely confessed to every murder prior to his death, he always maintained his innocence in that particular case. Regardless, authorities labeled the girl a "Bundy victim" and gave it little more thought. However, on March 8, 2002, a man named William E. Cosden, Jr., 55, was arrested for the murder after DNA evidence, which had been preserved from Devine's body, linked him to her murder. Cosden has subsequently been tried and found guilty of the crime.
After nearly 10 years of appeals, Bundy was executed on Jan. 24, 1989. During his final interview, he confessed to a total of 40 murders. One of Bundy's most famous quotes regarding his crimes can be found in Dr. James Dobson's book, Life on the Edge: "We serial killers are your sons, we are your husbands, we are everywhere. And there will be more of your children dead tomorrow."
Following Bundy's execution, in an unusual twist, his remains were cremated at the request of his family and spread over the mountains in Washington State, where the bodies of several of his victims had been discovered.