Millions of Americans were first introduced to Ted Bundy through a television screen. Described by those who knew him as charming, intelligent and handsome, Ted Bundy appeared to be the all-American man. He attended law school, volunteered at a suicide prevention hotline, and worked for a campaign to re-elect a Republican governor. No one seemed to notice that he was also a murderer. By the time the images of his televised trial invaded living rooms across America, Bundy had murdered dozens of young women during his years as one of history’s most prolific serial killers. In the age of modern media, Bundy played for the cameras and enjoyed the attention. Despite his brutal crimes, pop culture recast Bundy as a two-dimensional villain, a brilliant monster who seduced women and fooled investigators. The popular image of Bundy endures but the facts tell a very different story.
Ted Bundy was a successful serial killer who eluded authorities and even escaped from jail to kill again. The crimes undoubtedly required a certain level of intelligence, and the long list of victims attests to his abilities as a murderer, but the story of his crimes reveals that Bundy was often incompetent, intoxicated, desperate, reckless and extremely lucky.
No one knows when Bundy killed for the first time. According to one theory, Bundy was fourteen years old when he killed a young girl near his neighborhood. Other theories dated his first attack in 1966, at the age of nineteen, when two women were bludgeoned as they slept in their apartment. By the time he was twenty-seven, Bundy entered a woman’s apartment, beat her over the head, put her body in his car and drove away. This new method of operation allowed Bundy to have extended privacy with his victims. At some point, Bundy drastically changed his methods. He approached women in public areas, engaged them in conversation, and used various ruses to lure the victims into his trap.
Over the years, Bundy left behind dozens of victims, many witnesses, and a trail of evidence. Bundy was arrested three times, and in each instance, he attracted police attention by driving erratically. According to his confessions, Bundy took unnecessary risks and made choices which later came back to haunt him. He lied even when the evidence easily proved he was dishonest and he often taunted investigators. He once claimed to have “a P.H.D. in serial murder,” and he viewed himself as a criminal genius. Ted Bundy did not behave like an innocent man.
Bundy used crutches to appear helpless and then asked women to carry his books to his Volkswagen Bug. Several women declined to help him. After he abducted a young woman, Bundy returned to the area and searched for any potentially incriminating evidence. He returned to the same area even though some of the women could tell police about him, his vehicle, and his methods. He told one potential victim that he lived in Olympia and worked in the university district. Bundy noted, “How many people could that apply to?”
Some of the women who escaped Bundy’s traps later came forward with similar stories about an attractive young man with crutches who needed help getting his books to his Volkswagen Bug. The details became significant later when investigators noted similarities including the ruse and VW.
Bundy’s increasing need for greater thrills led him to take greater risks. He reportedly kept four severed heads in his apartment and later claimed that he had burned one severed head in the fireplace at his girlfriend’s home. Bundy managed to avoid detection while he spent many hours transporting bodies in his car. According to his confessions, Bundy was often intoxicated during his crimes and his drunken state most likely impaired his ability to drive. Even a minor accident or traffic violation could have exposed his gruesome cargo.
In his final confessions, Bundy admitted that he kept Polaroid photographs of some victims in a shoe box. After he became a suspect, Bundy transferred the box from his apartment to the laundry room shared with other tenants. A curious neighbor, landlord, or handyman could have discovered this damning evidence which directly linked Bundy to many missing women.
Unlike most serial killers, Bundy was known by his name long before he was actually identified. In the summer of 1974, Bundy appeared at Lake Sammamish park near Seattle, Washington. Wearing a cast on his arm, Bundy approached a woman and introduced himself as “Ted.” He explained that he needed help loading a sailboat onto his car. She declined and later saw Bundy approach another woman who then disappeared. A few hours later, Bundy returned to the park and kidnapped another woman.
The women who encountered Bundy told police that his name was “Ted.” Other witnesses overheard Bundy introduce himself as “Ted.” Police released a sketch of the “Ted” suspect, and newspapers published stories about the attractive “Ted” killer and his Volkswagen Bug. The details of the name “Ted” and the VW Bug narrowed the list of suspects and caused some people to make the quick connection between Bundy and the crimes.
Media coverage about the “Ted” case created problems for Bundy. He moved to Utah and continued trolling for new victims. He met a young high school student and introduced himself as “Ted.” Bundy then began stalking the girl and she soon disappeared. Several friends later told police about “Ted” and his odd behavior. These witnesses could easily identify Ted Bundy as the man who had been following and harassing the victim shortly before her death. By the time Bundy became a suspect, all of the evidence was lost when the local sheriff’s office moved to a new building. Once again, Bundy avoided capture by sheer luck. Or was he a super genius?
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