Even Ted Bundy described himself as “the most cold-hearted son of a bitch you’ll ever meet.” His crimes certainly prove that statement true.
During the spring and summer of 1974, police in the Pacific Northwest were in a panic.
Women at colleges across Washington and Oregon were disappearing at a rate of about one a month, and police had few leads as to who was behind it.
In six months, six women had been kidnapped, and several other women had reported attempts to lure them away from a crowded beach at Lake Sammamish State Park, before two women, Janice Ann Ott and Denise Marie Naslund, did, in fact, disappear from that location.
The only description police had was that these women were approached by an attractive young man with his arm in a sling who tried to draw them towards his brown Volkswagen Beetle. He identified himself as Ted.
After releasing this description, the police were contacted by four people identifying the same Seattle resident: Ted Bundy.
These four people included his ex-girlfriend, a close friend of his, one of his co-workers, and a psychology professor who had taught Bundy.
Despite these warnings, the police dismissed Bundy as a suspect, thinking it unlikely that a clean-cut law student with no adult criminal record could be the perpetrator.
These types of judgments benefitted Ted Bundy numerous times throughout his murderous career — which saw him kill at least 30 victims across at least seven states for the better part of the 1970s — and preconceptions like these allowed him to become one of the most infamous serial killers of all time.
He may have fooled everyone — the cops who didn’t suspect him, the prison guards whose facilities he escaped from, the women he manipulated, the wife who married him after he was caught — but he was, as his final lawyer said, “The very definition of heartless evil.”
As Bundy himself once remarked, “I’m the most cold-hearted son of a bitch you’ll ever meet.”
Ted Bundy’s Childhood
Ted Bundy was born in Vermont, across the country from the Pacific Northwest, where he would commit his first murders.
His mother was Eleanor Louise Cowell, and his father was unknown. To avoid a scandal, he was raised by his grandmother and his abusive grandfather as their own child and believed his mother to be his sister.
His grandfather would regularly beat him and his mother, causing her to run away with her son to live with cousins in Tacoma, Wash. when Bundy was five years old.
There, Eleanor met and married hospital cook Johnnie Bundy, who formally adopted the young Ted Bundy and gave him his last name.
Bundy disliked his step-father and would describe him to a later girlfriend disparagingly, saying he wasn’t very bright and didn’t make much money.
Little else is known for sure about the remainder of Bundy’s childhood, as he gave conflicting accounts of his early years to different biographers, but the picture that can be gleaned is a one of an ordinary life — with a current of dark fantasies flowing underneath it.
Though he described himself as a loner who would stalk the seedy streets at night looking to spy on women, many people who remember Bundy from high school describe him as reasonably well-known and well-liked.
College Years And His Initial Attack
Ted Bundy graduated high school in 1965, after which he enrolled in the nearby University of Puget Sound, before transferring to the University of Washington to study Chinese.
He dropped out briefly in 1968, but quickly re-enrolled as a psychology major. During his time out of school, he visited the East Coast, where he likely first learned that the woman he believed to be his sister, but who had raised him like a mother, was actually his mother.
Then, back at UW, Bundy started dating Elizabeth Kloepfer, a divorcee from Utah who worked as a secretary at the School of Medicine on campus. Later, Kloepfer was among the four people who would report Bundy to police as a suspect in the Pacific Northwest murders.
Also among those four people was former Seattle police officer Ann Rule, who met Bundy at around this same time while they were both working at Seattle’s suicide hotline crisis center. Rule would later write one of the definitive biographies on Bundy.
In 1973, Bundy was accepted into the University of Puget Sound Law School, but after a few months, he stopped attending classes.
It was around that time that the first disappearances began.
Ted Bundy’s first known attack, in January of 1974, was not an actual murder, but instead an assault on 18-year-old Karen Sparks, a student and dancer at UW. He broke into her apartment and bludgeoned her unconscious with a metal rod from her bed frame before sexually assaulting her with the same object. His assault left her in a 10-day coma and with permanent disabilities.
Ted Bundy’s First Murders
Ted Bundy’s next victim, and his first confirmed murder, was Lynda Ann Healy, another student at UW.
A month after his first assault on Karen Sparks, Bundy broke into Healy’s apartment in the early morning, knocked her unconscious, then clothed her body and carried her out to his car. She was never seen again, but part of her skull was discovered years later at one of the locations where Bundy dumped his bodies.
Afterward, Bundy continued targeting female students in the area. His common tactic was to pick up young student hitchhikers or to approach the women while wearing a cast and ask them to help him put something in his car.
He would then bludgeon them unconscious before binding, raping, and killing them, and finally dumping their bodies in a remote location in the woods. Bundy would then often revisit these sites to have sex with their decaying corpses. In some cases, Bundy would decapitate his victims and keep their skulls in his apartment, sometimes sleeping with them.
“The ultimate possession was, in fact, the taking of the life,” Bundy once said. “And then … the physical possession of the remains.”
“Murder is not just a crime of lust or violence,” Bundy also explained. “It becomes possession. They are part of you … [the victim] becomes a part of you, and you [two] 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.
Over the next five months, Bundy abducted and murdered five female college students in the Pacific Northwest: Donna Gail Manson, Susan Elaine Rancourt, Roberta Kathleen Parks, Brenda Carol Ball, and Georgann Hawkins.
Responding to this rash of disappearances, police called for a major investigation and enlisted a number of different government agencies to help look for the missing girls. One of these agencies was the Washington State Department of Emergency Services, where Bundy worked throughout these murders. There, Bundy met Carole Ann Boone, a twice-divorced mother of two who he would date on and off for years as the murders continued.
Relocation And Capture
As the manhunt for the abductor continued, more and more witness descriptions pointing to Ted Bundy arose. But as some of his bodies were being discovered in the woods, Bundy was accepted to law school in Utah and moved to Salt Lake City.
There, he continued to rape and murder young women, including a hitchhiker in Idaho and four teenage girls in Utah.
Learning of these murders, as well as Bundy’s relocation to the area in question, Kloepfer called the police a second time to reaffirm her suspicion that Bundy was behind the murders.
While this second warning did not directly lead to Bundy’s arrest, when investigators compiled data related to the Northwestern killings, Bundy’s name came up as one of the prime suspects.
Nevertheless, Bundy continued his killings, journeying to Colorado from his home in Utah to kill more young women there.
Finally, in August 1975, Bundy was pulled over while driving through a Salt Lake City suburb, and police discovered masks, handcuffs, and blunt objects in the car. While this was not enough to arrest him, a police officer, realizing that Bundy was also a suspect in the earlier killings, put him under surveillance.
The officers then found his Beetle, which he had since sold, where they discovered hair matching three of his victims. With this evidence, they put him in a lineup, where he was identified by one of the women who he had attempted to abduct.
He was convicted of kidnapping and assault and sent to prison while police attempted to build further murder cases against him.
Ted Bundy’s Escapes And Trial
However, this was not the end of Ted Bundy’s murders.
He was soon able, for the first of two times in his life, to escape from custody. In this first instance, in 1977, he escaped from the law library at the courthouse in Aspen, Colo. (he had been allowed into the library, without shackles, because he was serving as his own lawyer during his trial). He was soon recaptured nearby after six days of being on the run.
Bundy’s next escape would have far worse consequences. Six months after his first escape, he escaped again (this time via a crawl space in the ceiling he’d created with a saw) and made his way down to Florida.
There, on Jan. 15, 1978, two weeks after his escape, Bundy broke into a Chi Omega sorority house on the Florida State University campus.
Within the span of just 15 minutes, he sexually assaulted and killed Margaret Bowman and Lisa Levy, and assaulted Kathy Kleiner and Karen Chandler, who both suffered horrific injuries.
Still on the run, on Feb. 8, Bundy abducted 12-year-old Kimberly Diane Leach from her middle school and murdered her.
A week later, he was caught by police, who found physical evidence linking Bundy to the FSU crimes, in a stolen car. “I wish you had killed me,” he said.
Throughout his ensuing trial, Bundy sabotaged himself by ignoring the advice of his lawyers and taking charge of his own defense. Even those associated with that defense would later reveal their true thoughts about Bundy.
“I would describe him being as close to being like the devil as anyone I ever met,” said defense investigator Joseph Aloi.
He was ultimately convicted and placed on death row at Florida’s Raiford Prison, where he suffered abuse from other prisoners (including a gang rape by four men, some sources say) and also conceived a child with Carole Ann Boone, who he’d married while his trial was happening.
Bundy was finally executed, by electric chair, on Jan. 24, 1989. Hundreds of people gathered outside the courthouse to celebrate his death.
“For everything he did to the girls — the bludgeoning, the strangulation, humiliating their bodies, torturing them — I feel that the electric chair is too good for him,” said Eleanor Rose, the mother of victim Denise Naslund.
Though he confessed to many of his murders before his death, the complete victim count remains unknown. Meanwhile, Bundy denied certain killings, despite physical evidence tying him to the crimes.
Ultimately, all of this has led to victim counts ranging between 30 and 40. However many people he did kill, Ted Bundy remains one of the most infamous and terrifying serial killers in American history to this day — and perhaps “the very definition of heartless evil.”
Next, learn how Ted Bundy helped catch Gary Ridgway, perhaps America’s deadliest serial killer. Then, read the story of serial killer Edmund Kemper, whose story seems almost too gruesome to be true.