Thanks to original streaming channels like Netflix, serial killers have been all the rage lately. Shows such as Mindhunter, The Ted Bundy Tapes and the most recent drop Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez have really been putting violent criminals in the forefront of public interest. And it’s understandable, right? Humankind has always been drawn to the things it doesn’t understand. We want to know how these people tick; why they choose to do the things that most people wouldn’t even consider. We constantly hear them described as masterminds – as geniuses who play people like a pack of cards, manipulating them into their lairs before tearing them to pieces. Because how could a killer possibly get away with their gruesome crimes for so long unless they knew exactly what they were doing, right? Unless they really were undetected geniuses?
Well, apparently not so much. In fact, some prove to be pretty much the opposite. With ridiculously witless moves and an over-the-top ego to boot, Ted Bundy proved to be hilariously dumb.
Theodore Robert Bundy
Theodore Robert Cowell was born in 1946 in Burlington, Vermont to 22-year-old Eleanor Cowell. Theodore – shortened to Ted – never knew his father and due to the shame that came with baring a child unmarried in the 1940’s, Eleanor and her parents made the decision to hide Ted’s true parentage. Eleanor was introduced as Ted’s sister, rather than mother, and Ted’s Grandparents took on the role of mother and father. It wouldn’t be until many years later, while Ted was well into his adulthood, that he would discover his true parentage. Ted’s Grandfather, however, had a mean streak, often physically abusing Eleanor and Ted alike. In fact, an old neighbour of Ted, Sandi Holt, went so far as to say that ‘[Eleanor] told [Ted] that yeah, her Dad had raped her’, leading to the belief that Eleanor’s father himself may have been Ted’s real father. Due to this abuse, Eleanor escaped the household with Ted, who was just 5 years old, to live in Tacoma, Washington, with some relatives. Although, strangely, Ted idolised his grandfather as an adult, never mentioning any abuse and never appearing to be upset by the decade-long deceptions by his mother.
ABOVE: A Photograph of a young Ted Bundy.
It was in Tacoma that Eleanor Cowell met Johnnie Bundy. Although Ted didn’t appear to be overly taken with Johnnie – calling him unintelligent and expressing his distaste towards Johnnie’s choice of low-income career – Ted still took Johnnie’s last name, turning from Ted Cowell into the now infamous Ted Bundy. It’s also here in Tacoma where a young girl, Ann Marie Burr, went missing in 1961, not too far from Bundy’s place of residence and the residence of his uncle, whom he often visited. This led to speculations that Bundy himself may have been responsible, making the poor 8-year-old Ann his very first victim. This would’ve made Ted only 14-years-of-age at the time.
ABOVE: Photograph of the Missing 8-year-old Ann Marie Burr
As an adult, Bundy went on to attend the University of Puget Law School with dreams of becoming an A-Grade lawyer. In his time studying, he was known for an involvement in local politics and spending his time working alongside the local police force, hence his knowledge of the uncoordinated nature of State Police Forces when it came to sharing knowledge across State borders. He was described as relatively popular, but his grades began to decline, leading to him no longer attending most of his Law classes. It is at University that Bundy also started a relationship with Diane Edwards, who later broke up with him because Ted had a lack of ambition. It is Diane, who many criminologists believe may have been the cause of Ted’s later crime spree due to her striking resemblance to his victims and the apparent devastation this break-up had on Ted.
ABOVE: Ted Bundy and once-girlfriend Diane Edwards
Bundy’s first confirmed victim was 18-year-old Karen Sparks, a student of the University of Washington. Sparks surprisingly survived the 1974 encounter, but unfortunately ended up with a range of injuries, including brain damage and memory loss after spending ten days in a coma. He struck again the next month, taking 21-year-old ski reporter Lynda Ann Healey from her home. This time, the victim wasn’t so lucky, as her skill and jawbone were later found about an hour away from her home in Taylor’s Mountain.
ABOVE: Photograph of Lynda Ann Healy, Bundy’s first murdered victim.
For almost every month that year, Bundy took another life. Donna Gail Manson in March, Susan Elaine Rancourt in April (taken from a University campus on the same day that a man in a sling named ‘Ted’ was reported approaching students), and Brenda Carol Ball (last seen talking to a man in a sling outside a local tavern) and Georgann Hawkins (last seen in the same area as a man on crutches, struggling with a briefcase) in June. In July of 1974, both Janice Ann Ott and Denise Marie Naslund were taken on the same day from the Lake Sammamish State Park in Issaquah Main, the same area that many reported a man in a sling named ‘Ted’ asking for help loading a sailboat onto his car.
ABOVE: The Sketch of Ted Bundy, composed after the murders of Denise Marie Naslund and Janice Ann Ott.
This was the event that began Bundy’s demise. Not only did he give his actual first name to his victims – something even rookie criminals would know to avoid – but he introduced many to his car as well, which was identified as a tan VW bug. Since he had approached many people throughout the day, the police were easily able to put together a sketch of the man named ‘Ted’, thrusting their investigation into full speed. It was this sketch that led to Bundy’s long-time girlfriend, Elizabeth Kloepfer, and workmate, Ann Rule (who later wrote the novel The Stranger Beside Me about her experiences with Bundy) to report him as a possible suspect.
ABOVE: Bundy’s tan VW Bug, now on display at the Alcatraz East Crime Museum.
Then followed the brutal murders of Nancy Wilcox, Melissa Ann Smith and Laura Aime in October 1974. The following month of November, however, marked another of Bundy’s downfalls, a woman named Carol DaRonch. Bundy had approached DaRonch in a shopping mall, pretending to be a police officer and informing her that her car had been broken into. DaRonch was sceptical, noting his lack of police uniform, and when he’d led her back to her car, asked to see the ‘officer’s’ ID. He flashed her his ID, barely enough to see, then asked her to ride in his car, a tan VW bug, back to his station. She never arrived at a police station. Instead, Bundy pulled the car over and handcuffed her. However, Bundy, no doubt caught up in his own ego, managed to place both handcuffs on the same hand, leaving DaRonch free to escape and track down a passing car, escaping with her life. A few hours later, he took the life of Debi Kent.
ABOVE: Photograph of key witness to Ted Bundy’s crimes, Carol DaRonch.
These mistakes apparently didn’t put Bundy off, leading to the January 1975 murder of Caryn Eileen Campbell, the March 1975 slaying of Julie Cunningham, Denise Lynn Oliverson in April, Lynette Culver in May and Susan Curtis in June.
ABOVE: Scene photograph of the tools found in the boot of Ted Bundy’s VW Bug.
It was August of 1975 that brought about Bundy by far dumbest mistake. On the 16th at about 2:30am, a police officer by the name of Sergeant Bob Hayward noticed a car slowly patrolling his street. The officer hadn’t seen the car before and thought it seemed suspicious, so turned on his lights to look at the car’s number plate. The Stanger Beside Me continues ‘suddenly the Volkswagen’s lights went out, and it took off at high speed. Hayward pulled out, giving chase. The pursuit continued through two stop signs and out onto the main thoroughfare, 3500 South. Hayward soon was just behind the slower car, and the Volkswagen pulled into an abandoned gas station and stopped. The driver got out and walked to the rear of his car, smiling. “I guess I’m lost,” he said ruefully.”.’ When the police officer checked the car’s boot, he found a range of incredibly suspicious items including hand cuffs, a ski mask, black bags and a range of blunt instruments. Turns out that high speed car chase didn’t exactly work out in his favour. If he hadn’t decided to speed away, it’s likely they never would’ve found those incriminating tools at all. Lucky for Hayward, Bundy wasn’t the brightest thinker.
ABOVE: Police photograph of lineup following Carol DaRonch’s attack (Bundy 2nd from the right).
Of course, these items led to a lot of suspicion among the police. They eventually linked Bundy to DaRonch, discovering that the handcuffs in the back of Bundy’s bug were the exact same type DaRonch had around her wrists when she escaped her attack. Bundy, asked to attend a line-up at the police station, attempted to change his appearance by cutting his hair to put off DaRonch. DaRonch, however, knew exactly who her killer was and identified Bundy, leading to Bundy’s first trial.
ABOVE: Ted Bundy on trial
Bundy was convicted of the crimes against DaRonch and was given a 1-15-year prison sentence in Aspen, Colorado. It was after Bundy’s capture, however, that the police began to link Bundy to other unsolved murders, and he was soon put back on trial for the murder of a Colorado woman. It was during this trial that Bundy, being Ted Bundy, decided that he was much more capable of defending himself on trial than any other professional lawyer. However, Bundy acting as his own lawyer allowed him provisions that normal prisoners were not given access to, such as the prison law library. It was from here that Bundy made his first – yes, first – escape. While a prison guard was distracted, he managed to leap out the library window, injuring his ankle on the way down. However, Bundy’s impulsive thinking yet again failed him. Realising he’d need resources to survive out in the woods, as he’d planned, and having none, he was left to travel around Aspen, leading to him getting caught after making an illegal U-turn in a stolen car. Yet again, Bundy’s driving had led to his capture.
ABOVE: Ted Bundy after his first escape.
After 6 more months on trial and a range of strange behaviour, such as sticking toilet paper in his cell’s lock so officers couldn’t take him to a court date, Bundy yet again escaped his cell. Trading with another prisoner for a hacksaw, Bundy had hacked at the paster surrounding a vent on his cell’s roof to provide an exit hatch. Spending weeks losing weight, he managed to slip through the hatch and crawl through the vent and into the jailer’s room, where he swapped his prison uniform for normal clothing and simply walked out the prison’s front door. This time, it appeared Bundy was more organised. Using money that his now-girlfriend Carol Ann Boone, Bundy took a flight to Colorado, then moved via a combination of taking the bus and stealing cars, managing to make it to Florida before he began to settle down. This, however, was where another of Bundy’s blunders appears. To everybody but Bundy apparently, Florida was known as the death-penalty capital of the United States. Since 1976, 97 known criminals had been given the death sentence in Florida prisons.
ABOVE: FBI Interstate Flight wanted poster of Ted Bundy
Bundy hoped to live the rest of his life out in Florida, however, he failed to realise just how difficult life hiding from the law really was. Without ID, Bundy was unable to find a job and without a job, the money he had saved was running out fast. This resulted in Bundy resorting to theft in order to keep up his lifestyle. Two weeks after his escape, Ted Bundy fell back into bad habits. On January 1978, Bundy broke into the Chi Omega Sorority House at the Florida State University Campus and attacked four women within the solitudes of their rooms. The lives of Margaret Elizabeth Bowman and Lisa Levy were brutally taken, and the two remaining victims, Karen Chandler and Kathy Kleiner suffered a range of injuries, but fortunately managed to survive the bludgeoning.
ABOVE: Chi Omega murder victims Lisa Levy (left) and Margaret Elizabeth Bowman (right).
Bundy’s last known victim also happened to be one of his youngest victims: twelve-year-old schoolgirl Kimberly Leach. This murder brought great sorrow to Florida communities, with the body of young Kimberly left dumped in an abandoned pig sty.
ABOVE: Photograph of Bundy’s last known victim Kimberly Leach.
Bundy was caught on February the 15th, 1978, after an officer noticed a car driving suspiciously Pensacola, yet a third time Bundy was caught purely due to his driving. The car was recognised as stolen and Bundy was brought into the police. Bundy did manage to provide identification, the problem, however, was that the identification was of a student named Kenneth from the Florida State University. Florida police obviously knew the ID was stolen – Bundy was significantly older than the man in the ID – but due to a lack of communication between the States as well as Bundy’s new dishevelled appearance, were unable to identify him as the man on the FBI’s top 10 most wanted list. After an unnecessarily long period of confusion, he was eventually identified as Ted Bundy, but due to not only committing crimes, but also getting arrested in the State of Florida, Bundy was kept in the Florida legal system rather than moved back to Colorado.
Eventually, Bundy was linked to both the Chi Omega brutalities and the murder of Kimberly Leach. Bundy decided to yet act as his own defence attorney during the cases, but of course failed in his attempts to acquit himself on his charges. Bundy was sentenced to be executed via the electric chair and after many attempts to halt the process, including confessing to the murders of thirty women, Bundy was put to death on the 24th of January 1989.
ABOVE: Ted Bundy on Trial.
Ted Bundy turned out to be not a genius with ill intentions, but rather an animalistic killer with far too much focus on the killings and too little focus on the consequences. From his hilariously bad driving, lack of forward thinking and an ego larger than life itself, it’s clear Bundy didn’t quite live up to the mastermind Brainiac he’d hoped to be. In the end, Ted Bundy will always be known as that guy who got caught not once, not twice, but three times for bad driving. Not the best way to go down in history.
Ted Bundy Takes the Stand – Trial Footage
Ted Bundy’s Final Interview
Who Was Ted Bundy – Inside Edition
Ann Rule – The Stranger Beside Me
Purchase on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com.au/Stranger-Beside-Me-Ann-Rule-ebook/dp/B07F5787CB