Ted Bundy

Ted Bundy

America's Most Iconic Serial Killer

Even if you’re not into true crime, you probably think of Ted Bundy when you think of serial killers. This charming psychopath preyed on women between 1974 and 1978, often pretending to be injured or disabled to lure his victims into his trap before kidnapping, raping, and strangling them. After they were dead, he would commit necrophilia with their corpses. He confessed to 30 murders, but authorities believed that there could be many more women who fell prey to Bundy’s charms.

Ted was born Theodore Robert Cowell on November 24, 1946. His mother was a 22-year-old woman named Eleanor Louise Cowell (she went by Louise) who gave birth at the Elizabeth Lund Home for Unwed Mothers in Burlington, Vermont. It’s never been confirmed who his father was – some accounts state that his birth certificate lists an Air Force veteran named Lloyd Marshall as his father, while others say that his father is listed as “unknown” on the certificate. Louise claims that she was seduced by a war veteran named Jack Worthington, and the Cook County Sheriff’s Office lists Worthington as Bundy’s father in their files. Some family members were suspicious that Ted was actually the product of incestuous rape by Louise’s violent father, Samuel Cowell, but there is little material evidence for this.

For the first few years of his life, Ted was raised by his grandparents, Samuel and Eleanor Cowell at their home in Philadelphia. His grandparents told everyone, including Ted himself, that they were his parents and that Louise was his older sister, presumably to avoid the social stigma that would result from harbouring a child that had been born out of wedlock. Ted eventually found out the truth; he told a previous girlfriend that his cousin had shown him his own birth certificate after calling him a “bastard”, but he told multiple biographers that he simply came across his birth certificate himself. Notably, Ann Rule, a true-crime writer who was a personal friend of Bundy, believes that he didn’t find out the truth about the circumstances of his birth until 1969 when he located his original records in Vermont.

Ted Bundy as a child

Ted Bundy as a child.

Ted’s relationship with his grandparents is also murky – he talked about them with fondness in a few interviews, and he told Ann Rule that he “clung” to his grandfather. However, he and other members of the Cowell family told lawyers in 1987 that Samuel had been a tyrant and a bully who was violent with everyone within his reach. He was a bigot who hated Blacks, Italians, Catholics, and Jews. He was known to beat Eleanor, their children, and even the family pets. He was witnessed swinging neighbourhood cats around by their tails on more than one occasion. If that weren’t enough, he was known to speak aloud to unknown presences. As for his grandmother, Ted recalled her as an anxious woman who obeyed his grandfather to a fault and occasionally underwent ECT treatments for her depression.

In 1950, Louise decided to change her last name from Cowell to Nelson and move to Tacoma, Washington, taking 4-year-old Ted with her. The very next year, she met a man named Johnny Culpepper Bundy at a church single’s night. Within a few months, they were married, and Johnny officially adopted little Ted. According to most accounts, Johnny tried his best to be a good father figure to Ted, including him in activities with him and Louise’s other four children, but Ted didn’t like him. Ted would later complain that Johnny wasn’t his real father, and further that he wasn’t very bright and didn’t make a lot of money.

As a child, Ted was already exhibiting signs of the monster he would become. Even before he moved to Tacoma at the age of 4, he was exhibiting strange and alarming behaviour. His aunt Julia (Louise’s sister) recalled waking up from a nap one day surrounded by all the knives from the kitchen. She saw Ted standing over her, grinning. Later, he told biographers that he would often wander his neighbourhood in Tacoma, picking through the trash to find discarded pornography. He said that he liked detective magazines, crime novels, and documentaries that contained sexual violence and that he especially liked when there were photos of the bodies accompanying them. He would later deny this fascination in a letter to Ann Rule, stating that he “shuddered at the thought” that anyone would read detective magazines in the first place.

Ted Bundy in primary school

A portrait of Ted Bundy taken while he was in primary school.

His rummages through the trash escalated – he stated to a biographer that he would drink heavily and wander late at night, searching for windows whose blinds weren’t drawn so that he could peep on women undressing. He also began forays into other petty crimes. He loved downhill skiing, and pursued it avidly, but only using stolen equipment and lift tickets that he had forged. He was arrested at least twice for burglary and auto theft while in high school; the details of these crimes were expunged from his record when he turned 18. 

Socially, Bundy remains an enigma. He himself claims that he was a self-styled loner who didn’t understand relationships. “I didn’t know what made people want to be friends. I didn’t know what underlay social interactions.” However, classmates from Woodrow Wilson High School, where he attended, told Ann Rule that he was “well known and well-liked”, aligning with the charming persona that he would use to commit his crimes.

Ted Bundy in high school

A portrait of Ted Bundy in high school.

Bundy graduated high school in 1965 and attended the University of Puget Sound for a year before transferring to the University of Washington to study Chinese. He dropped out in early 1968 and was working a series of minimum-wage jobs while simultaneously volunteering at the Seattle office for Nelson Rockefeller’s presidential campaign. He would also become Arthur Fletcher’s driver and bodyguard while he was campaigning to become the Lieutenant Governor of Washington State.

Arthur Fletcher

Arthur “Art” Fletcher, who had Bundy as his driver for a short period.

In 1968, a girl that Bundy had been romantically involved with dumped him and went back to her family home in California; this girl has never been identified by her real name and is usually known under the pseudonym “Stephanie Brooks”. According to later accounts, Brooks was frustrated because Bundy was “immature” and “lacked ambition”. Bundy was devastated and travelled east to Colorado and on to Arkansas and Philadelphia to visit relatives. A psychiatrist named Dorothy Lewis would later assert that this period was a “pivotal time in his development”. Many of his later victims would closely resemble Stephanie Brooks.

In the fall of 1969, Bundy returned to Washington and began his now infamous relationship with Elizabeth Kloepfer (she has been named in the literature under the pseudonyms Meg Anders, Beth Archer, and Liz Kendall). They would date far into his crime spree, and even after his incarceration.

Ted Bundy and Elizabeth Kloepfer

Ted Bundy and Elizabeth Kloepfer

In mid-1970, Bundy apparently got his second wind in the academic department and re-enrolled at the University of Washington, under a Psychology major this time. He was an honour student, and he was considered intelligent and well-liked by his professors. In 1971, he began working at a Suicide Hotline Crisis Center in Seattle, where he met Ann Rule. In her later biography of him, she said that nothing about him seemed amiss – she said he was “kind, solicitous, and empathetic.”

After he graduated from the University of Washington in 1972, he began a period of intense activity in the political sector. He joined the re-election campaign of Governor Daniel J. Evans. He was assigned to follow Evans’ opponent, Albert Rosellini, and record his stump speeches so that Evans’ team could analyze them. In return, Evans appointed Bundy to the Seattle Crime Prevention Advisory Committee – a decision that would become incredibly ironic, given Bundy’s later crime spree. After Evans was successfully re-elected, Bundy was hired as an assistant to the Chairman of the Washington State Republican Party, Ross Davis. Davis liked Bundy and described him as “smart, aggressive… and a believer in the system.”

In 1973, Bundy was accepted into the law schools of both the University of Puget Sound and the University of Utah – this was mostly because he had recommendation letters from Evans, Davis, and multiple psychology professors from the University of Washington because his scores on the LSAT were mediocre at best.

While in California on business for the Republican Party in 1973, Bundy looked up Stephanie Brooks, and the two rekindled their relationship. Note that he was still dating Elizabeth Kloepfer at the time, keeping her in the dark about his activities with Stephanie. She was floored by his transformation into a serious, professional man who had a lot of potential as both a politician and a lawyer. He courted her throughout 1973, even introducing her to Ross Davis as his fiancee. 

In January 1974, he cut off all contact with her, refusing to return any phone calls or letters she sent him. In their final conversation a month later, she demanded to know why he had ended their relationship without explanation. He flatly said, “Stephanie, I have no idea what you mean,” and hung up on her. She never heard from him again, and later came to the conclusion that he had planned the entire thing as revenge for their breakup in 1968. Ted would later say, “I just wanted to prove to myself that I could have married her.” But by that point, his killing spree had already begun.

Bundy is deliberately vague about the circumstances of his first murders, and no one knows for sure where or when he killed his first victim. Unlike his later murders, which he would confess to in gory detail, he refuses to divulge many details about his earliest crimes, or what drove him to begin committing them.

According to a conversation he had with attorney Penny Nelson, he said that he first attempted to kidnap a woman in Ocean City, New Jersey in 1969, but he did not successfully kill anyone until sometime in 1971 while in Seattle. However, he told a psychologist named Art Norman that he had killed two women in Atlantic City in 1969 while he visited his family in Philadelphia. He hints at, but refuses to elaborate on, two murders in 1972 and 1973 – the first in Seattle, and the other involving a hitchhiker near Tumwater, Washington. 

Both homicide detective Robert D. Keppel and writer Ann Rule believe that Bundy began killing as a teenager, much earlier than he has ever claimed. Some believe that he abducted and killed an 8-year-old girl named Ann Marie Burr in Tacoma in 1961 – he would have been 14 at the time. He has repeatedly and vehemently denied this allegation, but there is circumstantial evidence to support the theory.

Ann Marie Burr

Ann Marie Burr, an 8-year-old girl who vanished from Tacoma, Washington in 1961. Many believe that she could have been murdered by Ted Bundy, who would have been 14 at the time.

His first documented attack occurred on January 4, 1974 – note that this was the same time that he broke off his relationship with Stephanie Brooks. Bundy broke into the basement apartment of 18-year-old Karen Sparks (who has been identified under the pseudonyms Joni Lenz, Mary Adams, and Terri Caldwell in various contemporary sources). He beat her with a metal rod that he took from her bed frame, and then sexually assaulted her with a metal object, either the rod he had used to bludgeon her or a metal speculum. Her internal injuries were horrific, and she was in a coma in the hospital for 10 days after the attack. Despite all this, she survived, albeit with permanent mental and physical damage. 

Karen Sparks

Karen Sparks around the time of her attack in 1974.

Karen Sparks Epley

A screenshot of Karen Sparks speaking about her attack in a 2020 docuseries.

His first murder occurred the next month, on February 1, 1974. He broke into another basement apartment, this time occupied by Lynda Ann Healy. He beat her until she was unconscious, dressed her in blue jeans, and a white blouse, and boots, and carried her out of the apartment to perform his nefarious deeds elsewhere. Bundy’s first murder spree continued throughout the first half of 1974, with college students disappearing at a rate of approximately one per month.

Lynda Ann Healy

Lynda Ann Healy

March 12, 1974 – Donna Gail Manson (19): She left her dorm to attend a jazz concert on the campus of Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, but she never arrived. 

April 17, 1974 – Susan Elaine Rancourt (18): She disappeared while on the way back to her dorm from an advisor’s meeting on the campus of Central Washington State College in Ellensburg, Washington. Later, two female students would report encounters with a man with his arm in a sling, asking them to help him carry a load of books to his brown or tan Volkswagen Beetle – this man is assumed to have been Ted. 

May 6, 1974 – Roberta Kathleen Parks (22): She left her dorm at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon to have coffee with her friends at the Memorial Union. She never arrived.

June 1, 1974 – Brenda Carol Ball (22): She disappeared after leaving the Flame Tavern near the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. She was last seen in the parking lot, talking to a man with brown hair and his arm in a sling.

June 11, 1974 – Georgann Hawkins (18): She vanished while walking down an alleyway between her boyfriend’s dorm and her sorority house. Three Seattle homicide detectives and a criminalist combed the alley on their hands and knees for evidence but found absolutely nothing. Witnesses would later say that they saw a man in the alley that night. He was on crutches with one leg in a cast and was struggling to carry a briefcase. One witness recalled that he asked her to help him carry the briefcase to his car, a Volkswagen Beetle. Bundy would later say that he lured Hawkins to his car and hit her on the head with a crowbar, knocking her unconscious. He handcuffed her, drove her to Issaquah, and strangled her before spending the entire night engaging in necrophilia with her body. He would later admit to revisiting her body three separate times.

First 6 Victims

Bundy’s first six victims

Police were becoming increasingly concerned as more and more college students went missing. They hadn’t found any useful physical evidence (DNA wouldn’t be available to them until 1986) and the victims weren’t connected by anything other than their physical appearance. All of them were young, pretty college students who wore their dark hair long and parted in the middle. They had all disappeared at night, usually while walking near active construction sites. During many of the investigations, sightings emerged of a man with brown hair with his arm in a sling or his leg in a cast, who drove a Volkswagen Beetle. Meanwhile, Bundy was working as the Assistant Director of the Seattle Crime Prevention Advisory Commission – he even wrote a pamphlet for women on how to protect themselves against rape. Later on, he worked at the Department of Emergency Services, an agency that was involved in the search for his victims. 

His murder spree in Washington and Oregon came to an end when he abducted two women in broad daylight from a beach at Lake Sammamish State Park in Issaquah. Five women witnessed an attractive man in a white tennis outfit with his arm in a sling. They said that he introduced himself as “Ted” and spoke with a light British or Canadian accent. He asked if they would help him unload a sailboat from his Volkswagen Beetle. Four of these witnesses refused to help, and the fifth followed him as far as his car before seeing that he did not have a sailboat and leaving. Three more witnesses saw him talking to Janice Anne Ott, a 23-year-old probation caseworker for the King County Juvenile Court. He asked her to help him with the sailboat, and multiple people watched her leave the beach with him.

Four hours later, 19-year-old Denise Marie Naslund left a picnic at the same beach, saying that she needed to use the restroom. She never returned to the picnic, and it’s uncertain how Bundy lured her. He told two of his biographers that Janice Ott was still alive when he abducted Naslund and that he forced one of them to watch while he raped and strangled the other. However, he denied this in an interview just before he was executed. 

Denise Naslund and Janice Ott

After these kidnappings, the King County police published a detailed description of the man that witnesses saw, as well as his tan or bronze Volkswagen Beetle. Elizabeth Kloepfer, Ann Rule, one of Bundy’s coworkers at the DES, and a psychology professor from the University of Washington all recognized the composite sketch as Ted Bundy, and all reported him to authorities. In an infuriating twist, the detectives ruled Bundy out as a suspect despite these reports, because they just didn’t believe that a clean-cut law student who had no criminal record could have killed nine college students. Bundy got away with it and would go on to commit 21 more confirmed murders.

Later that year, on September 6, a pair of grouse hunters came across the skeletonized remains of Janice Ott and Denise Naslund near a service road 2 miles east of where they were abducted. Authorities also found an extra femur and several vertebrae that Bundy would later state belonged to Georgann Hawkins. In March 1975, Bundy’s other dumping ground was discovered on Taylor Mountain, where he was known to hike frequently. Forestry students from Green River Community College found skulls and mandibles that were identified as belonging to Lynda Ann Healy, Susan Elaine Rancourt, Roberta Kathleen Parks, and Brenda Carol Ball. Donna Gail Manson’s remains have never been recovered. 

In August of 1974, Bundy was accepted to law school at the University of Utah for a second time and moved to Salt Lake City. He left Elizabeth Kloepfer behind in Seattle, and while the two continued their relationship, Ted stated that he cheated on her with “at least a dozen” other women. He said that he found his classes “completely incomprehensible” and was disappointed that he did not find them easy. In September 1974, he began his second series of murders. 

September 2, 1974 – Jane Doe: This woman has still not been identified by authorities. All we know is that she was hitchhiking in Idaho when Ted picked her up and that he raped and strangled her before disposing of her in a nearby river. There are some reports that he returned to her body the next day to photograph and dismember her, but that remains uncertain. 

October 2, 1974 – Nancy Wilcox (16): Bundy kidnapped her in Holladay, a suburb of Salt Lake City. He buried her remains near Capitol Reef National Park, but she has never been found.

Nancy Wilcox

October 18, 1974 – Melissa Anne Smith (17): Melissa was the daughter of a police chief from Midvale (another suburb of Salt Lake City). Ted kidnapped her as she left a pizza parlour. Her nude body was found nearby nine days after she disappeared. Her autopsy indicated that Ted could have kept her alive for up to seven days before killing her. She had been beaten, raped, sodomized, and strangled with a pair of nylon stockings.

October 31, 1974 – Laura Ann Aime (17): She was kidnapped after leaving a cafe in Lehi just after midnight. Her body, also nude, was discovered by hikers in American Fork Canyon on Thanksgiving Day. During his confessions, Bundy would lay out his rituals with both Smith and Aime, shampooing their hair and putting makeup on their faces.

November 8, 1974 – Debra Jean Kent (17): She was a student at Viewmont High School. She disappeared after she left a school theatre production to pick up her brother. Later, witnesses including the school’s drama teacher indicated that they’d seen a strange man pacing around the back of the auditorium and that he’d asked several students to come with him to the parking lot to identify a car. When police searched outside of the auditorium, they found a key to a pair of handcuffs that had been taken off of a girl that Bundy had attempted to abduct earlier that day, Carol DaRonch. She had escaped after he attacked her in his car, but accidentally attached both of the handcuffs to the same wrist. This was Bundy’s last crime in Salt Lake City before he began to commit murders in Colorado instead.

January 12, 1975 – Caryn Eileen Campbell (23): Caryn was abducted while walking down the hallway between the elevator and her room at the Wildwood Inn in Snowmass Village, Colorado. Her nude body was discovered next to a dirt road just outside the resort where she’d been staying. She had been killed with blunt force trauma to her head from an instrument that left distinctive marks in her skull. 

March 15, 1975 – Julie Cunningham (26): She disappeared while walking home from a dinner date with a friend in Vail, Colorado. Bundy later confessed that he approached her while on his crutches and asked if she could help him get some ski boots into his car before clubbing her on the head, handcuffing her, and taking her to a secondary location near Rifle, Colorado to assault and strangle her. Weeks after he killed her, he made the six-hour drive from Salt Lake City just to visit her body. 

Julie Cunningham

April 6, 1975 – Denise Lynn Oliverson (25): She disappeared while riding her bike to her parents’ house in Grand Junction, Colorado. Her bike and sandals were later found in a viaduct near a railroad bridge.

May 6, 1975 – Lynette Dawn Culver (12): Bundy lured her from Alameda Junior High School in Pocatello, Idaho. He took her back to his hotel room and drowned her before sexually assaulting her corpse. He disposed of her body in a river north of Pocatello.

June 28, 1975 – Susan Curtis (15): She disappeared from the campus of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. Her murder was Bundy’s last confession, caught on tape mere moments before he walked into the execution chamber. Her body, as well as the bodies of Wilcox, Kent, Cunningham, and Oliverson, have never been recovered.


Some of the victims that Bundy killed before being caught the first time.

Unlike his spree in Washington and Oregon, Bundy was less effective at evading authorities in these cases. Partially, it was because his girlfriend, Elizabeth Kloepfer, had reported her suspicions about Ted to authorities two more times. The first time, she reported him to the King County Police and was extensively interviewed by Detective Randy Hergesheimer. Authorities were starting to look a bit more closely at Bundy, but the witness from Lake Sammamish that they considered the most credible did not identify him when they conducted a photo lineup, so Ted flew under the radar for the time being. The second time, Kloepfer reported her suspicions to the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office, but succeeded only in getting them to add Ted’s name to their list of suspects; after all, there was no concrete forensic evidence to link him (or anyone) to the crimes. 

Meanwhile, in Washington, authorities were struggling to make sense of the murder spree that had abruptly ended in August 1974. They had a huge amount of data, including the hundreds of tips they’d received from the public. They decided to employ a creative strategy – using the King County payroll computer, they input every list that they had compiled. Lists of the victim’s associates, of known sex offenders, of people mentioned in tips – they input all of the scraps of data they’d collected and queried the computer for connections and coincidences. Out of the thousands of names they’d collected, only 26 of them showed up on four lists – one of these was Ted Bundy. He also appeared on the list that detectives had manually compiled of their 100 best suspects. According to detectives, he was “literally at the top of the pile.” By coincidence, he was just about to be arrested in Utah. 

On August 16, 1975, a Utah Highway Patrol officer named Bob Hayward saw Bundy driving suspiciously in a residential area in the early morning hours; upon seeing the police car, Bundy sped away. Officer Hayward caught up to him, pulled him over, and noticed immediately that the front passenger seat of Bundy’s Volkswagen had been removed and was sitting on the rear seats. He used the oddity as probable cause to search the vehicle, and he found a number of alarming items – a ski mask, another mask made from pantyhose, a crowbar, a pair of handcuffs, a length of rope, an ice pick, and various other items that Hayward assumed were tools for committing burglary. Little did he know, he had just found Ted’s murder kit. Bundy tried to explain that he had a ski mask because he had been skiing, that he’d simply found the handcuffs in a dumpster, and that the rest were common household items and that this was all a big misunderstanding.

Bundy's murder kit

The items were discovered in Bundy’s car upon his arrest.

Fortunately, a shrewd detective named Jerry Thompson remembered that a man matching Ted’s description and the description of his Volkswagen from his attempted kidnapping of Carol DaRonch in November 1974, and that the same description had come up in Elizabeth Kloepfer’s tip to police in December 1974. Police obtained a warrant to search Bundy’s apartment, and they found a few pieces of odd circumstantial evidence. There was a guide to Colorado ski resorts with a checkmark next to the Wildwood Inn where Caryn Eileen Campbell had gone missing, and he also had a brochure for the play at Viewmont High School that Debra Kent had disappeared from. However, police missed a crucial piece of evidence – Ted later confessed that they had not found his collection of Polaroid photographs that he had taken of his victims after he’d killed them. He destroyed these photos after being released from custody because the evidence that the police did find was not enough to detain him.

The Salt Lake City Police Department put Ted on 24-hour surveillance (and still missed him destroying his Polaroid collection) while Jerry Thompson flew to Seattle to interview Elizabeth Kloepfer. She confessed that she had started finding odd things in her house and in Bundy’s apartment in the year before he moved to Salt Lake City. Things like crutches, a meat cleaver that they never used for cooking, surgical gloves, an Oriental knife in a wooden case that Bundy supposedly kept in his glove box, and a large bag of women’s clothing. Kloepfer assumed that Bundy was a kleptomaniac because he was constantly in debt and she suspected him of stealing almost everything that he owned. When she confronted him about a stolen TV and stereo, he threatened to “break [her] fucking neck”. 

There were other strange things with Ted. She said that he would become upset whenever she thought about cutting or changing her hair, which she wore long and parted in the middle – just like all of his other victims. She would sometimes wake up in the middle of the night to find Ted under the covers with a flashlight, just staring at her body. She also said that she could not provide an alibi for him on any of the nights that the victims vanished, or on the day when he abducted Janice Ott and Denise Naslund. During these interviews and interviews with Seattle Police, Kloepfer was informed about Bundy’s relationship with Stephanie Brooks, including their engagement around Christmas in 1973.

In September 1975, Ted sold his Volkswagen Beetle to a teenager from Midvale, Utah. Police took their chance and impounded the car, turning it over to FBI technicians who dismantled it, searching for evidence. They found hairs matching samples from Caryn Elaine Campbell and hairs that were “microscopically indistinguishable” from the hair of Melissa Smith and Carol DaRonch, the girl that Ted had attempted to abduct in November 1974. An FBI specialist named Robert Neill said that the presence of three hair strands matching three victims who had never met was a “coincidence of mind-boggling rarity.”

Bundy's VW Beetle

The Volkswagen Bug that Bundy was caught driving when he was arrested.

On October 2, 1975, detectives detained Bundy and placed him into a photo lineup, where he was recognized by the girl he’d attempted to abduct and witnesses from the Viewmont High School auditorium. They had plenty of evidence to indict him on the kidnapping and aggravated assault of Carol DaRonch. He was arrested, but his parents paid his $15 000 bail and he spent the time between his indictment and trial living in Seattle with Elizabeth Kloepfer. The Seattle Police Department didn’t have enough evidence to charge him with the nine murders in their jurisdiction at the time, but that didn’t mean that they were going to let Ted get away. They kept him under intense surveillance – Elizabeth Kloepfer later recalled, “When Ted and I stepped out on the porch to go somewhere, so many unmarked police cars started up that it sounded like the beginning of the Indy 500.”

While Ted was awaiting trial for his kidnapping charges, investigators were having a meeting. Jerry Thompson (Utah), Robert Keppel (Washington) and Michael Fisher (Colorado) met up in Aspen, Colorado, along with 30 detectives and prosecutors from five different states. They exchanged information about the murder sprees, and all agreed that Ted was most likely their man. However, they would have to gather more evidence if they ever hoped to charge him.

In February 1976, Bundy’s trial for the kidnapping of Carol DaRonch began. On the advice of his attorney, Bundy opted for a bench trial. The four-day trial was presided over by Judge Stewart Hanson Jr., and after a weekend of deliberation, he found Bundy guilty of kidnapping and assault. In June 1976,  he handed down a one-to-15 year sentence, to be served at the Utah State Prison. In October of that year, Ted was caught hiding in a bush on the grounds of the prison with a kit meant to help him escape – he had road maps, airline schedules, and a fake social security card. He spent weeks in solitary confinement for this.

Shortly after his failed escape attempt in October 1976, authorities in Colorado charged Bundy with the murder of Caryn Eileen Campbell in 1975. He originally resisted extradition but was eventually convinced to waive proceedings. He was transferred to the Garfield County Jail in Glenwood Springs, Colorado in January 1977. 

On June 7, 1977, he was transported to the Pitkin County Courthouse in Aspen for a preliminary hearing. He was acting as his own attorney at the time, and the judge excused him from having to be handcuffed or shackled during proceedings. While the court took a recess, he asked to be taken to the courthouse’s law library to work on his case. He slipped out of his guard’s view behind a bookcase, opened a window, and jumped out. It was a second-story window, and he injured his ankle when he landed, but he nonetheless managed to escape after removing the outer layer of his clothing and walking out of Aspen just as the roadblocks were being set up. 

Ted hiked up Aspen Mountain, where he broke into a hunting cabin to steal food and clothing, alongside a rifle. He apparently was trying to head towards the nearby town of Crested Butte, but he got lost on the mountain and wandered aimlessly for two days. On June 10, he stumbled upon a camping trailer on Maroon Lake and stole more food and a ski parka. Instead of continuing southward, he decided to go back north towards Aspen, being careful to elude the search parties and roadblocks that the Aspen Police Department was setting up to catch him. Three days after that, he stole a car near the edge of the Aspen Golf Course. By this time, he was freezing, sleep-deprived, and in constant pain due to his injured ankle. 

He drove the car back into Aspen, where he was noticed by two police officers who saw his car weaving in and out of lanes and pulled him over, arresting him on the spot. He had been on the run for six days. When police searched his stolen car, they found maps of the mountains around Aspen that prosecutors had been using to demonstrate the location where Caryn Campbell’s body had been found. As his own attorney, Bundy had the right to see all of these maps, and they were later used as evidence that he had planned his escape in advance.

Despite advice from attorneys and friends that it would help his case if he stayed put in jail, Bundy hatched a new escape plan. Through other inmates, he acquired a detailed floor plan of the facility where he was held and a hacksaw. He had visitors smuggle him over $500 in cash. While other prisoners showered in the evenings, he sawed a one square foot hole into the bars in the ceiling of his cell. He lost 35 lbs so that he could wiggle into the crawl space above his cell through this hole, and he conducted multiple practice runs at night, moving around in the ceiling above the cells.

In late 1977, Bundy’s trial was big news in Aspen, and Bundy decided to file a motion to have his murder trial moved to Denver. On December 23, the court granted his request, but they moved it to Colorado Springs, a place that was known for hostile juries in murder trials. On December 30, Ted decided that it was time to act. Many of the guards were on Christmas break, and prisoners who were nonviolent had furlough with their families. Ted piled books and other objects in his bed and covered them with a blanket to look like he was asleep and climbed up into the crawl space. He broke into the chief jailer’s apartment – the jailer was out with his wife – stole clothing from the man’s closet, and walked out of the prison. 

Ted stole a car and drove away from Glenwood Springs, but it broke down on Interstate 70. He hitchhiked into Vail, then caught a bus to Denver and hopped on a plane to Chicago. Meanwhile, the few staff that were still in the jail in Glenwood Springs didn’t discover that he’d escaped until 17 hours later, giving him a healthy head start. Ted Bundy was a free man, and he would go on to commit 6 more confirmed murders before he was caught again. 

Bundy hightailed it across the US after escaping from Glenwood Springs. From Chicago, he travelled to Ann Arbor, Michigan before moving on to Atlanta Georgia. He took a bus to Tallahassee, Florida, and rented a room under the alias Chris Hagen at a Holiday Inn on January 8, 1978. Coincidentally (or maybe on purpose) he had chosen a hotel that was very close to the campus of Florida State University. 

Bundy would later say that he originally intended to lay low, find legitimate employment, and refrain from committing more crimes. He knew that he could stay in Florida undetected for a long time if he managed to keep the police from noticing him. If this really was his plan, then he didn’t try too hard to keep to it, because he only applied for one job at a construction site, and abandoned the process when they asked him for identification. He went back to his old ways, shoplifting and stealing credit cards out of women’s wallets that had been left unattended in shopping carts. 

Ted was back on the hunt for victims – he was only in Tallahassee for a week before he committed his 19th and 20th murders. On January 15, 1978, he entered the Chi Omega sorority house on the Florida State University campus, breaking into a back door that had a faulty lock. He began his massacre at around 2:45 am, bludgeoning 21-year-old Margaret Bowman with a piece of firewood as she slept before garroting her with a nylon stocking. Once he had killed Margaret, he went on to 20-year-old Lisa Levy’s room, beat her unconscious, and strangled her to death. He then brutalized her body, tearing off one of her nipples and biting her left buttock so deeply that he left an impression of his teeth in her skin. He sexually assaulted her with a bottle of hair mist.

Chi Omega House

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Mark Foley/AP/REX/Shutterstock (6611998a)
An unidentified woman peers through drapes on the 2nd story balcony of the Chi Omega sorority house at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Fla. Two sorority sisters, Margaret Bowman and Lisa Levy, were brutally beaten to death with the assailant leaving 3 others injured early Sunday morning
Ted Bundy Victims 1978, Tallahassee, USA

Bundy’s rampage in the Chi Omega house wasn’t over – he entered the bedroom adjoining Lisa Levy’s and attacked Kathy Kleiner and Karen Chandler. Kleiner suffered a broken jaw and a deep laceration in her shoulder, while Chandler sustained a concussion, broken jaw, a crushed finger, and lost several teeth. Both survived, and would later say that headlights from a car illuminated their room and spooked Ted before he could kill them. Detectives would later find that all four attacks took place within less than 15 minutes and that they had been within earshot of over 30 witnesses, all of whom said they heard nothing.

Apparently not satisfied with the attacks at Chi Omega, Bundy located a basement apartment eight blocks away and broke in. He attacked another FSU student, Cheryl Thomas. He beat her so badly that he dislocated her shoulder and fractured her skull and jaw in five places. She survived, but was left permanently deaf and had damage to her equilibrium that crushed her dreams of being a dancer. On her bed, detectives found a semen stain and a mask made from pantyhose that contained two hairs that microscopically matched Bundy’s. 

On February 8, 1978, Bundy stole a van from the FSU campus and drove to Jacksonville. He approached a 14-year-old girl named Leslie Parmenter in a parking lot, claiming that he was a man named Richard Burton from the Jacksonville Fire Department. Fortunately for Leslie, her older brother showed up and challenged Bundy, scaring him off. He left Jacksonville shortly after this failed kidnapping and drove to Lake City. He abducted a 12-year-old girl named Kimberly Dianne Leach, who had been called out of class to her homeroom to retrieve a purse that she’d forgotten. It’s uncertain how Bundy lured her, but her body was discovered seven weeks later in a pig farrowing shed close to Suwannee River State Park. She was likely raped, and her underwear contained semen. She had been killed by a combination of strangulation and stabbing.

Kimberly Leach

12-year-old Kimberly Leach.

On February 12, 1978, Bundy found himself without enough cash to pay his overdue hotel bill and paranoia that the police were closing in. He stole a car (ironically, a Volkswagen Beetle) and fled Tallahassee, moving west across the Florida Panhandle. He was on the run for three days before Pensacola police officer David Lee pulled him over near the Alabama state line. He had conducted a “wants and warrants” check on the Beetle and discovered that it had been reported stolen. When Lee told Bundy that he was under arrest, Bundy kicked Lee’s legs out from under him and sprinted away. Lee fired a warning shot at him, followed by a second shot that missed, before chasing Bundy down and tackling him to the ground. They struggled over Lee’s gun for a bit before Lee finally managed to subdue and arrest Ted Bundy.

When police searched the car, they found ample evidence of Ted’s crimes while he was on the run. He had three ID cards that belonged to female students at FSU, 21 stolen credit cards, and a stolen TV. He also had a disguise consisting of a pair of dark-rimmed glasses and plaid slacks – Leslie Parmenter would later identify this outfit as what “Richard Burton” had been wearing when he attempted to lure her in Jacksonville. As Lee took Bundy to jail, as yet unaware that he had a man on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List in custody, he heard Bundy say, “I wish you had killed me.”

In June 1979, Ted went on trial for the murders and assaults that he had committed in the Chi Omega sorority house. His trial had been moved to Miami due to publicity, but it was still a media circus. 250 reporters from five different continents were present, and his trial was the first to be nationally televised in the US. Ted had five court-appointed attorneys for this trial, but he handled a lot of his own defence at his own insistence. One of his attorneys, Penny Nelson, wrote that Ted did this less out of legal interest and more because he wanted to run the show. 

“[He] sabotaged the entire defence effort out of spite, distrust, and grandiose delusion. Ted [was] facing murder charges, with a possible death sentence, and all that mattered to him apparently was that he be in charge.” – Penny Nelson on Ted Bundy in court

Originally, a plea deal was negotiated for Ted before his trial – it stipulated that Bundy would plead guilty to killing Lisa Levy, Margaret Bowman, and Kimberly Dianne Leach in exchange for 75 years in prison. Prosecutors were willing to cut Bundy a deal because they knew that the trial would not be easy and that it was entirely possible that Bundy could be acquitted. According to his lawyers, Bundy was also originally on board with the deal, partially because he wanted to avoid the death penalty, and partially because he wanted to wait until the evidence against him deteriorated before filing a post-conviction motion to set his plea aside and secure a retrial that would end in an acquittal. At the last minute, however, he decided to reject the plea and go to trial. 

“It made him realize he was going to have to stand up in front of the whole world and say he was guilty. He just couldn’t do it.” – Mike Minerva, one of Ted’s attorneys

The trial went forward, and the evidence against Ted was damning. Two members of the Chi Omega sorority testified to seeing him the night of the murders – one saw him lurking around the house before the murders, and one saw him leaving the house afterwards, clutching the piece of firewood that he used to bludgeon Margaret Bowman. Bundy was also one of the first murderers ever to be convicted on the basis of bite mark impressions. Forensic odontologists Richard Souviron and Lowell Levine had made casts of Bundy’s teeth and matched them to impressions of the bite marks found on Lisa Levy’s buttocks.

Dental Impressions

Bundy having his dental impressions taken for his trial.

It took the jury less than seven hours to convict him of the murders of Lisa Levy and Margaret Bowman on July 24, 1979, as well as three counts of attempted murder in the first degree for the assaults on Kathy Kleiner, Karen Chandler, and Cheryl Thomas. He was also convicted on two counts of burglary. For the murder convictions, Judge Edward Cowart handed down two death sentences.

Six months later, another trial went forward, this time in Orlando. Ted was on trial for the abduction and murder of 12-year-old Kimberly Leach. He was found guilty mainly on eyewitness testimony from someone who saw him leading Kimberly into his stolen van from the schoolyard. Authorities had also found unusual clothing fibres in the van and on Kimberly’s body that matched the jacket that Bundy had been wearing when David Lee arrested him. The jury took less than eight hours to find him guilty. 

In the penalty phase of this trial, Bundy decided that he would take advantage of a Florida law that made a marriage declaration that was made in court in the presence of a judge a legal marriage. He asked to question one of his character witnesses, a woman named Carole Ann Boone, who he had been involved with since meeting her while working with the Washington Department of Emergency Services in 1974. He proposed to her while she was on the stand; when she accepted, Bundy declared to the court that they were legally married.

Carol Boone

Carol Boone in court.

After his “unconventional” marriage to Carol, Ted was sentenced to death for a third time on February 10, 1980. As his sentence was announced, he leapt from his seat and shouted, “Tell the jury they were wrong!” Despite his protestations, the verdict stood, and this would be the sentence that would be carried out nearly a decade later.

After his initial trials had ended, Ted initiated a relationship with two biographers, Stephen Michaud and Hugh Aynesworth. Speaking in the third person to avoid “the stigma of confession”, he started talking to them about the details of his crimes and his motives behind them for the first time. According to Ted, his motive for everything from the shoplifting to the murders was possession.

“The big payoff for me was actually possessing whatever it was I had stolen. I really enjoyed having something… that I had wanted and gone out and taken.” – Ted on his motives for the shoplifting

He stated that sexual assault satisfied his need to completely control and dominate his victims. Originally, he said that he killed his victims out of need so that they couldn’t identify him and lead to his capture, but he grew to regard it as “part of the adventure” and later revelled in taking their lives and “possessing” their bodies. 

“He said that after a while, murder is not just a crime of lust or violence. It becomes possession. They are part of you… [the victim] becomes a part of you, and you are forever one… and the grounds where you kill them or leave them become sacred to you, and you will always be drawn back to them.” – Special Agent William Hagmaier from the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit, speaking about Bundy

Bundy hinted that he committed more murders to Hagmaier, stating that he was an “amateur” in his early years before entering his “prime” around the time he killed Lynda Healy in 1974. Lynda Healy is his first confirmed murder, so Hagmaier believes that he was killing long before then.

In October 1981, Carol Ann Boone gave birth to a baby girl, who she claimed had been fathered by Bundy. Conjugal visits aren’t officially allowed at Raiford Prison where Ted was held, but there have been cases where inmates bribed guards to allow them to be intimate with their female visitors.

In July 1984, Bundy was up to his old tricks. Guards at Raiford found two hacksaw blades in his cell and discovered that he had been sawing through steel bars on the windows of his cell. He had sawed almost completely through one bar on the top and bottom and had glued them back into place with a makeshift adhesive to hide his work. Several months after he was caught with this, guards found a contraband mirror in his cell, forcing them to move him again.

In October 1984, Ted contacted Robert Keppel and offered his “expertise” in the psychology of a serial killer to assist in the ongoing Green River Killer investigation in Washington. Keppel, accompanied by Detective Dave Reichert from the Green River Task Force, went to interview Bundy, but he failed to provide anything useful, and the Green River Killer, Gary Ridgway, would remain uncaught for 17 more years. Bundy’s only useful tidbit was a nickname he coined for the killer, “The Riverman”, which Keppel would later use for the title of his book about the case. 

Gary Ridgway

Gary Ridgway, AKA The Green River Killer.

In early 1986, death was fast approaching for Bundy. His original execution date for the Chi Omega murders was May 4, but it was rescheduled after a brief stay. In April, the new date of July 2 was announced, and Ted decided that it was time to start confessing. 

The confessions he provided to William Hagmaier and Penny Nelson are the most complete he ever produced, and they included a lot of previously unknown details about what he did to his victims both before and after their deaths. He told them that he would revisit the bodies to have sex with them until putrefaction made the acts impossible. In a few cases, he would drive hours to do this and remain with the body for an entire night before returning home. Melissa Smith and Laura Aime were particular favourites of his; he would put makeup on them and wash their hair. “If you’ve got time, they can be anything you want them to be,” he said. He also said that he had decapitated approximately 12 victims with a hacksaw and that he’d kept a group of heads (most likely those of Rancourt, Parks, Ball and Healy) in his apartment for a while before finally dumping them.

Less than 15 hours before he was due to be executed on July 2, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals stayed his execution indefinitely so that they could review the Chi Omega murder case on a variety of technicalities, including but not limited to Bundy’s mental competence to stand trial and issues with the jury’s tied vote during the penalty phase. A stay on his death sentence for Kimberly Leach’s murder was issued on November 17. These stays would remain in place until mid-1988 when the Eleventh Circuit court ruled in favour of upholding Bundy’s death penalties, and that December, the Supreme Court denied reviewing this ruling. Notably, Bundy’s interactions with the higher courts were unusually fast; even as people were upset that he was still alive, the courts were moving him through as fast as possible.

Appeals exhausted, Bundy agreed to continue his series of confessions to investigators. He told Robert Keppel that he was indeed responsible for the eight murders in Washington he was suspected of, and described three additional victims, though he did not identify them (either because he didn’t know who they were in the first place or because he wanted to toy with investigators). He also told investigators what happened to Donna Manson’s body – he said that he’d left her body up on Taylor Mountain with the others, but that he had incinerated her head in Elizabeth Kloepfer’s fireplace.

“[It was] like he was seeing everything. He was infatuated with the idea because he spent so much time there. He is just totally consumed with murder all the time.” – Robert Keppel, speaking of Ted’s description of the Issaquah location

Bundy also agreed to speak to detectives from Idaho, Utah, and Colorado, but an ulterior motive was present in these interviews. He did divulge details of bringing the victims back to his apartment before disposing of them, but he withheld a lot of information from them in an attempt to get his execution stayed again. Very little information could be extracted from him during these interviews; a detective from Colorado named Matt Lindvall thought that this was because of a conflict between Ted’s desire to continue to postpone his execution and his need to remain in total possession of his victims, as the only person who knew where they were buried.

Bundy was executed via electric chair at 7:16 am (Eastern standard time) on January 24, 1989. Hundreds of people showed up to Raiford for the event, singing, dancing, and setting off fireworks to celebrate Ted’s demise. They cheered for the hearse that carried his body away. He was cremated in Gainesville and had his ashes scattered in the Cascade Mountain Range in Washington State in an undisclosed location.

Due to his prolific crimes, dashing persona, and twisted psychology, Ted Bundy remains one of the most recognizable serial killers in United States history. As such, he has inspired hundreds of books, films, documentaries, and even other serial killers such as Dennis Rader (BTK). His infamous Volkswagen Beetle was purchased and displayed by the National Museum of Crime and Punishment in Washington, DC until it was closed in 2015, and now resides at the Alcatraz East Crime Museum in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. The objects that he had with him during his original arrest in Utah – now dubbed his “murder kit” were purchased by Zak Bagans in 2019, who acquired them from the wife of one of the detectives.

The first film based on his crimes was The Deliberate Stranger (1986), in which Bundy was portrayed by Mark Harmon. Ann Rule published her now-famous book about Bundy, The Stranger Beside Me, in 1980, and a film based on the book was released in 2003 with Bundy played by Billy Campbell. 

Rule isn’t the only person associated with Bundy to write a book – Elizabeth Kloepfer, publishing under the alias Elizabeth Kendall, wrote The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy in 1981. The most recent dramatization, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (2019) appears to be based on her experiences with Bundy, who is portrayed by Zac Efron. 

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile

Zac Efron as Ted Bundy and Lily Collins as Liz Kendall (Elizabeth Kloepfer) in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (2019).

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