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 murdered 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 had 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 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 the 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 more afterward when investigators noted similarities including the ruse and VW.
Bundy’s increasing need for greater thrills led him to take bigger 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.
WEB OF LIES
Bundy’s luck ran out when he met eighteen-year-old Carol DaRonch at a shopping mall in Salt Lake City, Utah. Wearing a suit and a false mustache, Bundy approached DaRonch and identified himself as a police officer named “Roseland.” He informed DaRonch that someone had tried to break into her car and that she needed to accompany him to the police station to make a report. DaRonch asked for identification, and Bundy produced a fake badge. When they were driving in Bundy’s car, he suddenly pulled over and pointed a gun at her. He snapped a pair of handcuffs onto her wrist, but she fought back and escaped. Carol DaRonch provided a description of Officer Roseland and his Volkswagen Bug which created another apparent link between Bundy and the crime.
Hours after the failed abduction, Bundy appeared at a high school auditorium during the performance of a play. He approached some women and asked for help identifying a vehicle in the parking lot. Distraught parents then realized that a young girl was missing. Authorities searched the area and found a handcuff key which reportedly fit the handcuffs left on Carol DaRonch’s wrist.
Bundy continued killing until his erratic driving attracted the attention of a police officer. After a brief chase, Bundy lied to the officer and said that he had just been at a local theater to see the Irwin Allen disaster film The Towering Inferno. The film was not showing at that location, and the lie gave investigators reason to believe that Bundy had something to hide. The officer thought Bundy seemed suspicious and noted that the passenger seat of Bundy’s Volkswagen was missing. A search of the vehicle produced a “murder kit,” including a crow-bar, a flashlight, a pair of handcuffs, an ice pick, a pair of gloves, a pair of pantyhose fashioned into a mask, a ski-mask, several pre-cut strips of bed sheet, a length of rope, a pair of shoelaces, and a box of plastic trash bags. Bundy also carried a hacksaw in his car.
Bundy learned from previous experience and planning that he would need these items when he abducted, raped, murdered, dismembered and transported his victims. Bundy used the crowbar to ambush and subdue his victims. He used the flashlight to guide him as he prowled in the darkness and dragged his victims into his secluded dumping grounds. The killer used the rope to strangle the victims. He used the shoelaces and strips of bed sheet to bind and gag his victims. He used the gloves to avoid leaving fingerprints. He used the stocking mask and ski mask to conceal his face. He used the garbage bags to transport and conceal evidence and body parts. He used the hacksaw to sever the heads of several victims. Bundy apparently needed the ice pick for some unknown purpose.
Investigators noted that Bundy was driving a Volkswagen Bug and owned a pair of handcuffs just like the man who abducted Carol DaRonch. She identified Bundy as “Officer Roseland” even though he tried to alter his appearance.
Bundy’s friends and coworkers noticed the similarities between the Utah case and the Lake Sammamish abductions. Three essential details created an inescapable connection: a Volkswagen Bug, a young female victim, and a man named “Ted” who lured women with a ruse. Bundy’s girlfriend read about missing women in Utah and contacted police to report that her boyfriend Ted had moved to Utah shortly after the abductions of young women in the Washington area. The man at Lake Sammamish was wearing a cast on his arm, and Bundy’s girlfriend reported that he kept plaster of Paris and elastic bandages in his medicine cabinet.
Authorities linked Bundy to the cases of missing women in Washington, Oregon, Utah, Idaho, and Colorado. Bundy denied that he had ever been to the state of Colorado where a young woman was abducted from the Wildwood Inn. Police searched his home and found a map of Colorado with a mark next to the Wildwood Inn. Receipts for Bundy’s gas credit cards showed that he purchased gas at a station near the Wildwood Inn on the day of the abduction. A witness identified Bundy as a suspicious man seen at the Wildwood Inn.
Bundy behaved as if he enjoyed the attention and appeared to encourage speculation that he was a killer. In many media interviews, Bundy smiled for the camera and laughed as he discussed the accusations of murder. When asked if he was guilty, Bundy offered long-winded answers about the meaning of the word “innocent.” He was evasive and taunting in conversations with investigators. Bundy told detective Jerry Thompson, “Now you’ve got a straw. You’re trying to fill up a broom. Keep going and one of these days you might make it.”
During his trial for the kidnapping of Carol DaRonch, prosecutors argued that the facts were overwhelming and the odds pointed to Bundy’s guilt. His age, height, and weight-matched DaRonch’s kidnapper, he owned the same kind of car, and he owned a pair of handcuffs. DaRonch identified Bundy and even described a tear in the seat of his Volkswagen Bug.
Bundy waived the right to a trial by jury and instead chose to leave his fate in the hands of the judge who found the defendant guilty of kidnapping and assault. The verdict was followed by a prison sentence to last from one to fifteen years.