March 29, 2016

Why Ted Bundy Continues to Fascinate Us

Some of Ted Bundy's victims

I recently read Kevin Sullivan's second book on Ted Bundy (review to follow shortly) and while reading it I started to contemplate why we are still fascinated with a serial killer who was executed twenty-seven years ago.  Okay, maybe it's just me.   (It helps too that Mr. Sullivan broached that very topic by the end of his companion volume.)

Ted Bundy wasn't the showiest serial killer although he did enjoy the spotlight when he was on trial in Florida.  The FBI doesn't consider him the most prolific, although I think their count of thirty-six victims is conservative and low.  And while he was smart  (scoring above average in IQ), he wasn't the only intelligent killer out there.   But Ted Bundy preys on the conscious - - I think of his victims often, although I have no connection to any of them.  None of them would have been my contemporaries although I have outlived them all.  What I find interesting about the "phenomenon" of Ted Bundy is that he is one of the few killers that is often referred to by his first name, as if we know him.  We don't refer to Richard Ramirez or John Wayne Gacy or Jeffrey Dahmer that way and Ted was just as egregious a killer as they were.  So why? 

And while the crimes of Ramirez, Gacy and Dahmer were just as horrific as those Ted committed, those killers have been relegated to the annals of crime without as much interest.  Again, why?  All of them, including Bundy himself, are dead.  Bundy, in fact, was the first to die out of them.  So why hasn't Bundy faded off into obscurity?

Like Bundy himself, I think the answer is multifaceted and complex. 

Maybe because he's the killer that shouldn't have been, at least per the logic we utilized before Ted began speaking about his career in murder.   He was raised in a good, solid home with a loving mother and caring stepfather.  Neither abused him, alcohol or drugs.  He had brothers and sisters, who would speak of him in glowing and loving terms after he was convicted of kidnapping in Utah.  He had a long term relationship with a girlfriend whose daughter he appeared to dote on.  He was a law student, an employee and was looked upon favorably by most coworkers, students and teachers. He didn't fit the mold of the serial killer as we knew it back then.

Some of his crimes were audacious - - Ted appeared to operate at will, with impunity and utterly impervious to danger.  Even while Seattle and its environs were giving a nervous eye to shadows and well aware that a coldly efficient killer was in its midst, he still managed to lure victims away.  One college student was abducted from the basement room where she slept, in a home with five other roommates, and carried out the front door; two young ladies were abducted from the same state park within four hours of each other on a day when the local police were having a picnic; he returned to the site of yet another college student's abduction the following day to retrieve one of her shoes and her earrings, items unwittingly left behind after he knocked her unconscious with a crowbar, while the area was teeming with police (and successfully rode by them on a bicycle and picked up the items).  Ted left nothing of himself behind, other than a somewhat vague description and a name authorities thought surely could not be his own.  Even then he was assured and cocky enough to use his own first name when striking up necessary conversation with a potential victim.

Some victims were never found; for the "luckier" ones that were it was too late to determine anything about their killer. The full truth of what they had been subjected to would stay hidden for many years (and I believe some truths accompanied Ted to the grave.)  These unknowns - - the true number of victims and their identities, where Ted buried them and hid their belongings - - helped to solidify a mystique of sorts about Ted Bundy, the same mystique that surrounds the notorious Jack the Ripper.  Jack the Ripper didn't operate for long - - only four months, as far as we know - - and had five official victims - - a paltry number by serial killer standards - - and yet he remains one of the most researched, talked about and written about criminals to this day.  The question of the Ripper's identity, how he operated and the true victims keep the story alive, much as they keep Ted Bundy's story alive. 

Unlike Jack the Ripper, though, Ted Bundy spoke of his crimes; first, in an obtuse third person dialogue.  Stephen Michaud and Hugh Aynesworth were able to get him to talk about the abductions and murders in a "what if" type scenario, stroking Ted's ego by claiming that only Ted could adequately explain to those of us less intelligent and in such close quarters with the criminal justice system how "the killer" could have managed to abduct and kill so many females at his leisure.  Reading Bundy's own words in their book is both chilling and insightful.  His victims - - lovely young women who were beloved daughters, sisters and friends - - were "cargo" to Bundy, "possessions" and playthings to be done with as he pleased until he temperamentally decided he no longer wanted to play with them.  He felt as much empathy and concern for them as he would a potted plant. 

Ted also spoke quite a bit with Bob Keppel, the King County detective who spent many years on his tail.  Despite Keppel's desire to find and incarcerate Bundy, Ted had a grudging sort of respect for Keppel because Keppel never lied to him.  Ted, the self-professed expert on serial murder, offered his services to Keppel in the mid-80s in order to help find and identify the then unknown Green River Killer.  True to form, such "help" would allow Bundy to exercise his vast knowledge on the killing of females while also perhaps keeping another killer from nabbing his prime serial killer status in the state of Washington.  Serial killers certainly aren't above such competition.

Bundy did provide Keppel with some helpful tips and Keppel managed to question Bundy about his own crimes and a fuller, more grim picture of exactly what atrocities he engaged in started to emerge, although it wouldn't be until after his 1989 execution that details began to be released. If law enforcement and/or families of the victims hoped that Bundy's deeds would be as dead as Bundy himself, it was a forlorn wish. 

Bundy's last interviews, those he gave in the days and hours before dying, revealed the full depth of his depravity.  Whispers of necrophilia, of keeping victims after death turned out to be true.  It was reported that he had admitted all of his murders and yet . . . there are still questions. 

How did Ted Bundy manage to kill so effortlessly, so easily for so long?  How did he manage to grab victim after victim, while rarely being seen?  How did he have this homicidal part of him coexisting (at least for a time) with what appeared to be a relatively normal part of him? How did those closest to him never see it? 

Bob Keppel once said that the "why" doesn't catch anyone.  True, but "why" still weighs heavily on my mind.  Perhaps Ted Bundy himself answers this best.  When asked why he had committed these terrible murders, his answer was painful and abrupt in its simplicity.  "Because I liked it."

And perhaps this, most of all, is why Bundy continues to fascinate us.  For those of us who don't fantasize about murder, who are without the constant urge to harm others, we cannot contemplate enjoyment in taking the life of a stranger, much less reveling in it.  Ted Bundy could and did; fifteen years after some of his murders, he could still remember exacting details of where he abducted his victims, what they wore and where he left them.

Bundy left an ugly, gruesome odyssey behind him but he also left us with a legacy of better understanding people like him. 

Looking back now it's interesting that my bizarre journey through Bundy's crimes started when I was a teenager - - his preferred victim age and close to the age of many of the young girls that had the terrible misfortune to cross his path.  Being that young and na├»ve, it was hard for me to conceive that this well educated and clean cut man could do the horrible things he was accused to have done (don't get me wrong, I absolutely believed in his guilt.)  Something about Bundy and his crimes stuck with me, leading me to read and re-read every book I could find on the subject and driving me into the study of psychology.  I even dreamt of chasing after Bundy - - with him running away from me - - telling him "But I want to talk to you!"  (This dream led my father to tell me that perhaps I should change my choice of reading material.)

In the end, once again, I am left with sadness for his victims - - the young women and girls who lost their lives to him, the families of the victims who were left with the unbearable grief of losing a loved one to a human monster, his family who believed up until the very end that he was not capable of such terrible acts, the friends who supported him for many years and felt guilt over that and Liz, the girlfriend who endured so much and received pain in return.  As I said above, I think about Ted Bundy's victims a lot.   Most of them were young, college age girls whose lives had not really begun when Ted snatched them away.  What might they have accomplished had Ted allowed them to live?  How would the world be different if they had?   


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