Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Only Living Witness: The True Story Of Ted Bundy

Prologue

I last saw Ted Bundy on a miserable day in early June. The Florida sun came up hot in the morning; there was a feel of bloat in the air, a rank sponginess that shortens the breath and makes the skin feel dirty, prickly.

Hugh and I drove southeast from the Quality Inn in Lake City along State Highway 100 toward the maximum-security prison near the remote hamlet of Raiford. It is a thirty-five mile trip through the middle of north-central Florida, a flat, unrewarding stretch of scraggly pine trees and truck farms. This is not the Florida of Art Deco South Beach, Disney World and orange groves. This landscape is rural and mostly poor and has much more in common with the backwaters of southern Georgia than it does with the tourist country that begins farther down the Florida peninsula toward Orlando.

We passed a convenience store that serves free coffee to highway patrolmen. A bit further along the straight, two-lane highway is the town of Lulu with its tiny post office and well-attended Baptist church. A good deal of praying and singing (and stomping and hollering) in the name of the Lord goes on in this part of Florida. On the car radio that morning there was a choice of farm reports, country music and gospel hours.

A massive semi zoomed by. Around Lulu, the country people are accustomed to the roar of the big rigs as they barrel up and down Highway 100. They are also accustomed to the splotches of fur, feathers, and spines squashed flat into the pavement under the truckers' wheels. Buzzards and nimble crows work Highway 100 like so many Eighth Avenue hookers, with one eye on their business and the other on the lookout for The Man. As a car or truck approaches, the scavengers fly straight up and just high enough to clear the vehicle's roof. Then they alight again on the roadway. Once in a while, the slower birds will misjudge a truck's height, or fail to notice another tall truck just behind it.

It was only eight-thirty in the morning, but already waves of heat shimmered up from the highway. We turned, and the road opened up onto a broad plain. To the right is the Union Correctional Institution, which is in Union County, and then the Florida State Prison itself, just a rifle shot away across the New River in Bradford County. Prison cattle stood motionless along the roadside, stupefied by the heat and the humidity. Their milk, which the prisoners consume, is often redolent of soil. Interspersed with the cows were inmate work gangs out with their uniformed guards, who cradled shotguns and wore sunglasses that coruscated in the bright morning light.

It was a banal vision of purgatory; the sullen, shuffling cons toiling under a heavy sun that glinted hard at them from their keepers' shielded eyes. Stasis and timeless futility are common to all prisons; it only seemed more pronounced that day because of our mood. Hugh was hacking and wheezing from a respiratory infection. My brain was cottony from a hangover, and my stomach was sour from too much black coffee and aspirin.

When we arrived at the prison itself, both my hands were cramped and sore from clutching the steering wheel, as if I'd been hanging from it.

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