Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Theodore Robert Bundy (November 24, 1946 – January 24, 1989) was an American serial killer who between 1974 and 1979 killed numerous young women in Washington, Utah, Colorado and Florida. His total number of victims is unknown. Bundy confessed to 30 murders; estimates run above 100.
Bundy is believed to have been a sociopath. He was intelligent, educated, personable, handsome, and charming, but nevertheless regularly brutally murdered women and girls, usually with a blunt instrument, sometimes by strangulation. He would also often sexually assault his victims before and after death.
Bundy was born Theodore Robert Cowell, the illegitimate child of Louise Cowell and an unknown man. The 21-year-old Cowell contemplated putting her newborn son up for adoption, as it was scandalous at the time to have a child out of wedlock. She eventually reconsidered, however, and eventually changed her and Ted's last name to Nelson, hoping that she would pass as either a divorcee or a widow.
In his adolescence, Bundy seemed, outwardly, to be a happy, normal child. He kept his grades up throughout his schooling and was active in church and Boy Scouts. However, he admitted in an interview shortly before his death that he had always experienced confusion when it came to "normal" people: "I didn't know what made people want to be friends. I didn't know what made people attractive to one another. I didn't know what underlay social interactions." Bundy's criminal impulses soon manifested when he began peeping into women's windows and shoplifting. He kept up his outward appearance, however, and graduated from high school in 1965, earning a scholarship to the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington. University lore states that Bundy buried his first murder victim under the Thompson Fountain.
The extroverted Bundy did charity work and campaigned for the Republican Party as an adult. He also worked as a volunteer at a Seattle rape crisis center, alongside fledgling crime reporter Ann Rule who, ironically, wrote articles on the "Ted" murders that, unbeknownst to her, her young friend was committing. Years later, Rule would write the definitive biography on Bundy, The Stranger Beside Me.
Possible environmental factors
While he was a young child, Bundy's mother moved in with her parents. He was told that his grandparents were actually his parents, and that his mother was an older sister. His grandfather was very violent, described by family members as the kind of man who swung cats by their tails and kicked puppies for fun. When Bundy was three years old, his "sister" (his biological aunt) woke up to a bed full of knives, all pointed in towards her body. The boy was standing next to her bed, grinning. It is thought that Bundy began killing as early as the age of fifteen, when a twelve-year-old neighbor vanished from her house.
At about the time his first love (a college freshman named Stephanie Brooks) broke up with him for not being ambitious enough, he discovered that his "parents" were really his grandparents, and that he was illegitimate. Bundy changed his personality, studying psychology, getting involved in politics and creating a new persona. Eventually, this new persona swept Stephanie off her feet, and she agreed to marry him. Two days later, he dumped her and shortly afterward began a rampage that lasted three years.
Over the next six months, from February to June 1974, he murdered approximately 10 victims in Oregon, Utah and Washington. Bundy had a remarkable advantage as his facial features were charming, yet not especially memorable. He would be later described as a chameleon, able to look totally different just by changing his hair style, for example.
Bundy also claimed in an interview in prison that he was raped by an older woman as a young man, "relieved of his virginity" while he was passed out at a friend's house.
First trial and Bundy's escape
In Murray, Utah, on November 8, 1974, Carol DaRonch narrowly escaped abduction by Bundy. Bundy posed as a police officer and lured DaRonch into his car, where he then attempted to slap a pair of handcuffs on her. Fortunately for DaRonch, he only got one wrist. She wrenched her door open with the other hand, rolled out of the car onto the highway, and escaped. Bundy was later captured and convicted of DaRonch's kidnapping on June 30, 1976. He was sentenced to one to 15 years in Utah State Prison. Colorado authorities, however, had discovered Bundy's numerous murders up to this point and were already preparing to press murder charges against him.
On June 7, 1977, in preparation for a hearing in his murder trial, Bundy was transported to the Pitkin County, Colorado, courthouse. During a court recess, Bundy was allowed to visit the courthouse's law library. Bundy then jumped out of the building from a second story window and escaped. He wandered around the area before being recaptured a week later. However, while in jail awaiting the start of his trial, Bundy escaped again. He somehow acquired a hacksaw and, over time, sawed a square hole in the ceiling of his cell. On the night of December 31, 1977, Bundy climbed out the hole, managed to reach the main hallway, and (because the jailer was out for the evening) was able to walk right out the jail's front door. Bundy stole a car in the parking lot and drove off into the night.
Bundy goes to Florida
After stopovers in Michigan, Chicago, Illinois, and Atlanta, Georgia, Bundy made his way to Tallahassee, Florida, home of the Florida State University campus. Bundy, over the next month, would proceed to commit some of the most infamous murders in American history. He murdered two college students and seriously wounded two others at their Chi Omega sorority house. The two murdered women, Margaret Bowman and Lisa Levy, had both been bludgeoned. Levy had also been raped and sodomized with an aerosol hairspray can and had been bitten on various parts of her body. Her right nipple had been bitten almost completely off, only connected to her breast by a thin strand of tissue.
On February 9, 1978, Bundy traveled to Lake City, Florida. While there, he abducted and murdered 12-year-old Kimberly Leach. She would be Bundy's final victim. Shortly after 1 A.M. on February 15, Bundy was stopped by a police officer in Pensacola, Florida. When the officer called in a check of Bundy's license plate, the car came up as stolen, and Bundy was taken into custody. Before long, Bundy was identified and taken to Miami to stand trial for murder.
Conviction and execution
After being convicted, Bundy was sentenced to death by judge Edward Cowart. While under sentence of death, he was tried again and handed another death sentence by Judge Wallace Jopling. During this second trial, he married Carole Ann Boone, a former coworker and admirer; during his incarceration Bundy received hundreds of fan letters from female admirers.
Judge Edward Cowart said, when sentencing Bundy to death:
- "It is ordered that you be put to death by a current of electricity, that that current be passed through your body until you are dead. Take care of yourself, young man. I say that to you sincerely; take care of yourself. It's a 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'd have loved to have you practice in front of me, but you went the wrong way, partner. Take care of yourself. I don't have any animosity to you. I want you to know that. Take care of yourself."
In October 1982, his wife gave birth to their only child, a girl, whom Bundy adored. Eventually, however, Boone moved away, divorced him, and changed her and her daughter's last name. Apparently, she somehow discovered that Bundy was guilty—meaning that she had previously believed that Bundy was innocent, yet another testimonial to his unique ability to charm women.
In the years Bundy was on death row, he was often visited by Special Agent William Hagmaier of the FBI's Behavioral Sciences Unit. Bundy would come to confide in Hagmaier, going so far as to call him his best friend. Eventually, Bundy confessed to Hagmaier many details of the murders that had until then been unknown or unconfirmed.
In 1984, Bundy contacted King County homicide detective Robert Keppel and offered to assist in the ongoing search for the Green River Killer by providing his own insights and analysis. Keppel (who had also investigated the original "Ted" murders in Washington state) and Green River Task Force detective Dave Reichert traveled to Florida's death row to interview Bundy. Both detectives later stated that these interviews were of little actual help in the Green River investigation; they provided far greater insight into Bundy's own mind, and were primarily pursued in the hope of learning details of Bundy's crimes.
Apparently based on the rapport established during their 1984 interviews, Bundy contacted Keppel again in 1988. With his appeals exhausted and execution imminent, Bundy seemed to wish to unburden himself by confessing to his crimes, which included eight officially unsolved murders in Washington State for which Bundy was the prime suspect. Bundy might also have hoped to manipulate the confessions into another stay of execution, as Keppel reported that he frequently gave scant detail and promised to reveal more if he were given "more time", but the ploy failed and Bundy was executed on schedule.
The night before Bundy was executed, he gave a television interview to Dr. James Dobson, head of the Christian organization Focus on the Family. Bundy explained how his consumption of violent pornography helped "shape and mold" his violence into "behavior too terrible to describe". Ted Bundy explained that he felt that violence in the media, "particularly sexualized violence", sent boys "down the road to being Ted Bundys". It has been noted that Bundy had never blamed pornography until this interview, and that no pornographic materials were found at his home when it was searched.
According to Special Agent Hagmaier, Bundy also contemplated suicide in the days leading up to his execution, but eventually decided against it.
At 7:06 A.M. on January 24, 1989, Theodore Robert Bundy was put to death by the State of Florida, by method of electrocution. His last words were, "I'd like you to give my love to my family and friends." Then, an electric charge of over 2,000 volts was applied across his body for ten minutes. He was pronounced dead at 7:16 A.M.
Dramatic portrayalsA TV movie based on his life, The Deliberate Stranger, aired in 1986. Mark Harmon played the lead role as Bundy. Another film about Ted Bundy's life, directed by Matthew Bright, entitled The Story of Ted Bundy, was released in 2002. It starred Michael Reilly Burke as Bundy. 2004 the A&E television network aired a movie adaptation of Robert Keppel's 1995 book The Riverman, starring Cary Elwes as Bundy.
In his novel The Silence of the Lambs, Thomas Harris based the character of Jame "Buffalo Bill" Gumb in part upon Bundy. (His other inspirations were Gary M. Heidnik and Ed Gein.) Like Bundy, Bill would put his arm in a sling, approach the women he intended to murder by asking for their help carrying something, and then incapacitate them.
- The Stranger Beside Me, Ann Rule, W.W. Norton, 2000, hardcover, 456 pages, ISBN 0393050297 Updated 20th anniversary edition
- Bundy—The Deliberate Stranger, Richard W. Larsen, 1980, hardcover, ISBN 0130891851
- The Riverman: Ted Bundy and I Hunt for the Green River Killer, Robert Keppel, 1995, hardcover, 448 pages, ISBN 0094722102
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