Roy Crew and Bill Taylor were the first on the scene. It was 3:23 on the morning of Saturday 15 January 1978 when the Florida State University police officers entered the Chi Omega sorority house in Tallahassee, following a 911 call from a hysterical student who had claimed to see an intruder in their home. Waiting by the front door was twenty-year-old Nita Neary who had recently returned home from an evening with her boyfriend to witness a shadowy figure exiting through the back of the property. While Oscar Brannon of the city’s police department comforted the terrified young woman, Crew carefully stepped inside the house to find one of the sisters, Karen Chandler, nursing a bleeding head at the top of the stairs. Making his way up to the landing he found the first floor in a deathly silence. Directed to one of the bedrooms, he opened the door to see a shape lying under a bedsheet, carefully pulling it back to reveal the body of Lisa Levy, one of Neary’s thirty-eight housemates.
Accompanied by the housemother he proceeded to the next room where he found victim number two. Blood was spattered across the wall and once again the body obscured under a sheet. Brannon soon entered the house in order to witness the violence that had befallen the sorority. ‘There was a bark on the bed, on her face, in the pillow,’ he would testify under oath. ‘It looked like a log. Her palms were face-up on her back. There was no evidence of a struggle.’ Melanie Nelson, one of the coeds who had arrived less than two hours earlier, awoke to find a police officer in her room, reassuring that she was safe but needed to accompany him to the street below. Before long Chi Omega had become a crime scene and emergency medical officers entered the house to find the bodies of both Levy and Margaret Bowman, while Chandler and fellow sister Kathy Kleiner required urgent medical attention.
A few blocks away on Dunwoody Street twenty-one-year-old Cheryl Thomas, another student at the university, had returned from a night out with friends to her off-campus residence and had retired to her room with a sandwich. While the volume of her television set had irritated her housemates at such a late hour, she had intended on sleeping once she had finished her supper but at approximately 4:30am loud bangs and moaning sounds began to drift across the house, waking the other residents. Thomas’ phone rang, alerting the figure that stood at the centre of her room who, aware that her housemates were attempting to contact her, promptly made his escape out of the kitchen window. Minutes later William Dozier of the Tallahassee Police Department arrived at the house to find Thomas lying across the bed, a discarded pair of tights tossed aside on the carpet.
Thomas was barely conscious when she was discovered and would not be aware of her close fate until several days later when she awoke in the local hospital, surrounded by family. But for a moment it seemed that she was to have become the third victim of the same killer, a sexually-disturbed and physical intimidating figure that had already beaten two women to death less than a mile away. ‘She was in a semi-conscious state, she did not respond to any of our commands. There was blood about her body,’ explained Dozier. In an interview with ABC News more than forty years later Thomas would recall, ‘He had worn a hose over his face that had eye-holes cut in and a knot at the top. He pulled that off and that was dropped to my floor. If I did not have my neighbours right next door to hear something I don’t think I would have survived.’
For weeks later the suspect was apprehended by a patrolman following suspicious behaviour that had resulted in a high speed chase through the streets of Pensacola, a city almost two hundred miles south of Tallahassee. Despite resisting arrest and assaulting the police officer, the man was finally subdued and in the early hours of 15 February Ken Misner was booked into the local police station. He had no identity in his pocket and had provided a false address but within a few hours the authorities discovered that the man in their prison cell was a fugitive, one of the FBI’s most wanted who had escaped from Garfield County Jail in Glenwood Spring, Colorado shortly before New Year. At the time of his disappearance he had been facing multiple charges of kidnapping and murder but thanks to the actions of patrolman David Lee he would finally face justice. Misner’s real name was Ted Bunny and soon he would become the most notorious serial killer of all time.
Theodore Robert Cowell was born shortly after the ed of the Second World War on 24 November 1946 in the Elizabeth Hund Home for Unwed Mothers in the Vermont city of Burlington. With his mother unable to provide the support that the child would require. Ted was raised by his grandparents, spending both his childhood and adolescence believing that his mother was in fact his sister. It was later revealed following his incarceration that he had been the victim of physical abuse by his grandfather, while his mother Eleanor Louise had struggled with both mental illness and depression. Unable to handle the violent household any longer, she relocated with her son to Tacoma, Washington when he was four-years-old to start a new life with her extended family before falling in love with cook called Johnny Culpepper Bundy. They married soon afterwards but Johnny and his stepson would fail to bond, the young boy remaining introvert throughout his years at Woodrow Wilson High School.
One catalyst often used for justifying the crimes of serial killers, many of whose deeds are sexual in nature, is the abuse that the perpetrator suffered as a child. This is often used unintentionally to excuse the crimes of the culprit by portraying them as a product of their upbringing. ‘Trauma is the single recurring theme in the biography of most killers,’ claimed an article published by the Guardian. ‘To be sure, not every abused child grows up to be a psychopathic killer. But virtually every psychopathic killer has suffered extreme, often grotesque, mistreatment at the hands of his or her parents or guardians,’ noted author Harold Schechter in his book The Serial Killer Files. ‘In the language of logic, severe child abuse may not be a sufficient cause in the creation of serial murderers but it appears to be a necessary one. Based on their pioneering prison interviews with the likes of David Berkowitz and Edmund Kemper, John Douglas and his fellow ‘mindhunters’ in the FBI’s Behavioural Science Unit concluded that all serial killers come from dysfunctional backgrounds: ‘unstable, abusing or deprived family situations.’
The theory that my being born out of wedlock holds the key to the mystery
Yet Bundy, who prior to the murders that he would commit throughout the seventies had studied law at the UPS Law School in Seattle, Washington, attempted to discredit this theory during his defence. ‘So eager is everyone, both friend and foe, to get a solid handle on my psyche that they will advance all manner of superstitious poppycock,’ he wrote shortly after his arrest in 1978. ‘The police, for example, have purchased stock in the theory that my being born out of wedlock holds the key to the mystery, as if everyone who arrives in this world without benefit of married parents automatically qualifies as a psychopathic killer.’ In a letter to the New York Times he said, ‘I have never had the opportunity to address myself fully to all the accusations, inferences, innuendo, rumours and suspicion and nauseam. What has irked me in that everyone with a budge or a bachelor of arts degree is considered an expert on Theodore Bundy and what makes him tick.’
While he would later gain notoriety for his shrewd ways of abducting women from public areas, his first known attempt at committing murder had been something of a failure. On 4 January 1974 Bundy broke into the Seattle home of eighteen-year-old student Karen Sparks and savagely beat her before forcing a bed-frame into her vagina. Causing extensive internal injuries, Sparks survived the attack but would suffer from post-traumatic stress and epileptic fits for years to come. ‘Women like us, women that have been attacked, women that have been raped, women that are survivors, they keep their secrets to themselves,’ she would explain to Entertainment Tonight in 2020. ‘I don’t know why. We’re taught to get on with it.’ Sparks may have overcome her ordeal with Bundy would his next target would not be so lucky when, almost a month later, twenty-one-year-old Lynda Ann Healy disappeared from her house in the same University District region of the city where Sparks had been so violently attacked.
Half a decade later on 25 June 1979 the trial of Theodore Bundy began. He had first come to the attention of the authorities in August 1975 after he had been arrested by a state trooper who had discovered a ski mask and an assortment of other suspicious items but it was two months later, when identified by twenty-year-old Carol DaRonch for an attempted abduction the previous year, that he would finally be arrested. Yet Bundy was considered a respectable all-American young man and due to his charm and legal studies many refused to believe that he could be capable of such horrific acts of violence. It was somewhat ironic that a few years earlier he had written a pamphlet on rape, in which he detailed that, ‘A number of rape offenders do not seem to be ‘sick people.” One aspect of the case against Bundy that worked in his favour was that shortly after the attempted kidnapping DaRonch had viewed a line-up and had initially dismissed Bundy as the guilty party, allowing him to build a defence that would depict her as an unreliable witness. ‘I certainly thought it was a case of mistake identity,’ his lawyer Bruce Lubeck later admitted. ‘I think it’s fair to say my perceptions over time have changed.’
With his experience studying law Bundy chose to act as his own defence lawyer, a decision that would prove unpleasant for the witnesses who were called forth to testify in the Chi Omega murders. Officer Crew was among those cross-examined by Bundy, forcing the policeman to relive the massacre once again. ‘Officer, tell me step-by-step what you did when you entered the room,’ he asked. Crew took a moment to compose himself and then complied. ‘I was the first officer upstairs,’ he explained to the court. ‘I began a room-to-room search to see if I could find any additional victims or eyewitnesses, the housemother trailing behind me…The sheet was pulled up. I thought she was asleep and I attempted to wake her. The housemother told me her name. She said it was Lisa. I said, ‘Lisa, wake up.’ And I shook her.’ Among the others present at Chi Omega that were brought forward to testify were Officer Brannon and Bundy’s would-be victim Chandler, who due to head trauma had few recollections of the early morning in question.
Bundy’s greatest weakness had often been his arrogant confidence, a narcissistic trait shared by many serial killers and even when he had decided to represent himself in the attempted abduction of DaRonch his refusal to believe that he could fail would be his undoing. On 23 February 1976 he was found guilty and sentenced to fifteen years imprisonment. Late that year he was also accused of the murder of twenty-three-year-old nurse Caryn Campbell and was extradited to Colorado. During a recess from a preliminary hearing at the Pitkin Country Courthouse in Aspen, Bundy had retreated to the court library to study for his trial and, with his guard bestowing a certain amount of trust in the prisoner, Bundy seized the opportunity and jumped from the second-storey window, immediatley vanishing without a trace. The guard was suspended from duty and a manhunt was launched for the suspect but he was finally apprehended the following week. But on 30 December 1977 he escaped once again, leaving several bodies in his wake.
Having finally accepted that mounting evidence against him could result in a life sentence, Bundy had been masterminding his prison break for some time and in the months leading up to his disappearing act he had reduce his food intake in order to lose weight. Learning the schedule of each of the guards, he had removed a metal plate from the ceiling of his cell and carefully made his way along a crawl space until he reached a janitor’s room, where he climbed down, removed civilian clothes from a locker and walked out the front door of the prison. By the time that his escape had been discovered by the guards, Bundy was already in Chicago. Nine days later he arrived in Tallahassee and with the new student term having begun he easily blended in with the crowd of newcomers, eventually finding residence close to the university. Shortly after 2am on 15 January he left Sherrod’s, a local hangout for the city’s students and made his way next door to the Chi Omega sorority house, where he forced his way through the back entrance and proceeded to beat Lisa Levy and Margaret Bowman to death.
Ted Bundy had now become public enemy number one
These would not be the only murders that Bundy would commit during his brief time in exile, however, as one week before his apprehension, on 8 February, he approached fourteen-year-old Leslie Parmenter outside a KMart in Jacksonville under the pretence of being a firefighter. With her older brother Danny being characteristically late to collect her from school she felt somewhat unnerved by the stranger but when Danny finally arrived Bundy hastily made his escape. The following day he tried his luck again and approached twelve-year-old Kimberly Leach outside Lake City Junior High in Lake City, one of her best friends watching from a distance as she was helped into a white van. Eight weeks later on 7 April her body was discovered in an old shed and when Bundy entered the court in the summer of 1979 he would face charges for not only the murders of Levy and Bowman but also the tragic death of Leach. Ted Bundy had now become public enemy number one.
But even as the trial began and Bundy became a household name there were a record number of serial killers active in the United States. In fact, the term serial killer was not a regularly used description at the time of his arrest and would only be after FBI agent Robert Ressler first coined the phrase that it came to epitomise monsters such as Bundy. While Ed Gein had left his mark on popular culture through his influence on Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho many years earlier, during the seventies several murderers would terrorise the nation, from Berkowitz and Dennis Radar to lesser known psychopaths such as Rodney Alcala and Richard Caputo. Horror movies of the era would come to depict the unstoppable killer, from the Italian giallo to the American slashers, but in reality the notion of serial killers was still considered something of a fantasy. But as the gruesome crimes of Bundy were discovered he put an all-American face on the serial killer.
One aspect of the trial of Ted Bundy that was unprecedented was how the events unfolded for the whole world to see, the courtroom having opened itself up to news crews who documented the proceedings through every dramatic turn. With Bundy serving as his own attorney, thus being given the opportunity to interrogate the surviving victims in front of the cameras, this proved to be something of an unpleasant and twisted horror-show, Bundy clearly enjoying the performance. Fearing that his infamous reign of terror may have already caused the jury to convict him before he had even stepped into court the trial was relocated to Miami, where they hoped his lack of notoriety in the region would make the court impartial to pre-conceived prejudices. With much of the audience in attendance being young women, one of the more curious aspects was that despite the lurid details revealed by the witnesses, many of the female spectators became attracted to the charming-yet-dangerous suspect.
‘In July 1979 I watched Ted again as another verdict was read,’ recalled Bundy’s girlfriend Elizabeth Kloepfer, under the pen name Kendall, in her 1981 book The Phantom Prince. ‘This time the trial was in Florida and I was seeing it on TV. This time I was sure that Ted was guilty as charged: guilty of raping and beating to death two young women as they slept in their Florida State University sorority house and of severely beating three others. I knew he was guilty because of what he had told me in a 2am telephone call in February just after he was captured in Florida. The Florida prosecutes had visited me in Seattle and asked me to testify against Ted. I had at first agreed but the more I thought about it the more reluctant I became. I still care about him very much and I had worked very hard at putting my life back together. I was sure that the defence could make mincemeat of my testimony and me. I had never been named in the press and I valued my anonymity.’
Throughout the trial many witnesses were called forward to testify on the events that had taken place in January 1978 and one of the key witnesses for the prosecution was Neary, who had briefly observed the intruder from the shadows as he made his way from the sorority house. While his defence attempted to discredit her statement, the jury listened intently while Neary detailed the events of that morning. ‘I’ve had to go over this again and again and again in my mind,’ she insisted to the court, ‘and I feel positive of my identification.’ Due to several minor changes that Neary had made throughout the investigation, Bundy’s defence attorney Robert Haggard had intended to label her as an unreliable witness, but the trial would take a significant turn when one crucial piece of evidence was presented.
During the attack on Lisa Levy at Chi Omega the assailant had sunk their teeth into the victim, leaving clear bite marks that were later examined by forensic odontologist Dr. Richard Souviron. With the prosecution having obtained moulds of Bundy’s teeth, the crooked aspect of both were a perfect match and while much of the evidence in the case could have been dismissed as circumstantial, the bite marks were enough to condemn Bundy. ‘Using grotesque enlargements of Bundy’s teeth and the woman’s wounds, two dentists convinced the jury that only the defendant’s crooked teeth could have made the bites,’ revealed the New York Post. ‘It was the first time such evidence had been allowed in Florida…Although a suspect in thirty-four killings, he’s charged formally in only two, the murder of a nurse in Colorado and the slaying of the fourteen-year-old daughter of a Jacksonville policeman in a Florida state park.’
You’d have made a good lawyer
For almost six and a half hours the jury examined through dozens of exhibits, carefully deliberating whether the evidence was substantial enough to convict Bundy for the crimes that he had been accused. Shortly after 9:30pm on 24 Tuesday 1979 Bundy was found guilty of the charges of murder for both Lisa Levy and Margaret Bowman, as well as the attempted murders of Karen Chandler, Kathy Kleiner and Cheryl Thomas. After describing the crimes as ‘heinous, atrocious and cruel,’ Judge Edward Coward imposed the death sentence upon Bundy. ‘Take care of yourself, young man,’ he said in a sympathetic closing statement. ‘I say to you sincerely, take care of yourself. It’s a tragedy for this court to see such a total waste, I think, of humanity that I’ve experienced in this court. You’re a bright young man. You’d have made a good lawyer, I’d have loved to have had you practise in front of me but you went another way, partner.’
Allegedly smiling and winking at the crowd, Bundy was led from the courthouse as his mother protested his innocence. Despite already facing capital punishment for the crimes that he had committed in Tallahassee, on 1 February 1980 Bundy was once again found guilty of murder, this time for the death of Kimberly Leach two years earlier. Having already been sentenced to death, Bundy watched with indifference at the Orange County Courthouse as several witnesses testified that they had seen Bundy lead the teenager to his van and within just a few days he had once again been sentenced to the death penalty. While he maintained his innocence throughout the trial almost a decade later he was once again asked about the crime. ‘I can’t really talk about that right now,’ he insisted. ‘I would like to be able to convey to you what that experience is like but I can’t. I won’t be able to talk about that.’
On the morning of Tuesday 24 January 1989, two months to the day since his forty-second birthday, Bundy was taken from his cell at the Florida State Prison and led to the execution chamber, where he was strapped into an electric chair while a crowd of over two hundred spectators cheered outside. His trial had become a highly-publicised media circus and ironically so would his death. ‘Give my love to my family and friends,’ he asked the minister before two thousand volts of electricity charged through his body. At 7:16am Theodore Robert Bundy was dead. ‘Ted had been described as the perfect son, the perfect student, the Boy Scout grown to adulthood, a genius, as handsome as a movie idol, a bright light in the future of the Republican Party, a sensitive psychiatric social worker, a budding lawyer, a trusted friend, a young man for whom the future could surely hold only success,’ declared author and close friend Ann Rule in her text The Stranger Beside Me. ‘He is all these things and none of them. Ted Bundy fits no pattern at all; you could not look at his record and say, ‘See, it was inevitable that he would turn out like this.’ In fact, it was incomprehensible.’