Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Only Living Witness: The True Story Of Ted Bundy

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For months, I had been coming to the prison to see Ted. Each time I drove up, I would be accosted by a blue-clad trusty, leaning on a rake in the parking lot, wanting to know if I was an attorney. This day, to my surprise, the importuning felons were missing. And gone, too, were the raucous seagulls that in the springtime wheel and screech above the prison kitchens, or stand nattering at one another under the guard towers. Many inmates will swear that they are served creamed chicken with suspicious frequency during seagull season.

The tedium of prison life and prolonged isolation's regressive effect on personality are in large part responsible for such fears. Many convicts retreat into juvenile narcissism; they will exercise their bodies with monkish devotion, immerse themselves in dietary and nutritional literature, and spend hours in careful, loving scrutiny of their hair, their skin, their teeth, their hands and feet.

Ironically, this neurotic self-absorption is fostered by an environment which apart from the threat of violence and the influence of drugs and alcohol is physically the healthiest that most prisoners have ever known. In some respects, a prison is a hothouse. The inmates vegetate like exotic flora. They lead orderly lives, consume a balanced diet, and are protected in their isolation from many contagious diseases and the majority of the modern world's everyday threats to psychic well being. Much more sinister forces shape them.

Convicts generally do not age as quickly as do people on the outside. Nevertheless, their health is a constant preoccupation. Some inmates at the Florida State prison are persuaded that beef liver from the prison slaughterhouse, freshly butchered and stuffed hot from the animal into plastic bag, is a favored masturbatory vessel among the kitchen workers. As a result, many prisoners refuse to eat the beef liver on psycho-hygienic grounds.

More feared and gossiped about than the food, however, is the prison medical staff. One story widely credited inside the walls has an inmate being given an injection for an abscessed tooth. The needle misses, and he develops an ear infection. After surgery, he goes deaf in that ear as the infection spreads to his other ear. During a second operation, the doctor fumbles with his scalpel and puts out the prisoner's eye. Eventually, the man is returned to his cell; he is deaf, blind in one eye, and missing one arm due to complications following an improper administration of anesthetics.

The swamp thrum of a billion insects greeted Hugh and me as we walked from our rental car toward the prison itself. Ahead was a pastel lime-colored structure enclosed by a double row of high cyclone fences topped with razor wire. Between the two fences is an open area once patrolled by guard dogs. The fearsome-looking Dobermans and German shepherds have been retired ever since a pair of the animals accompanied a group of prisoners on an attempted escape.

Theodore Robert Bundy was among the more than 1,400 felons then housed at the Florida State Prison. He and 180 or so other inmates were kept in Q, R, S and T wings, the lock-down blocks of the longest Death Row in the United States. These men do not mingle with the general population of the prison; in Ted's case, that would mean almost certain assault by fellow inmates whose rough notions of justice prescribe no mercy for so-called baby rapers.

Instead, Ted and the rest of the men on The Row spent almost all their time alone in individual cells, awaiting the day when, as the story had it, a guard would place a taut rubber band around the condemned man's penis, pack cotton wadding up his rectum, and lead him down to Old Sparky for electrocution.

John Spenkelink was executed at Florida State Prison (Ted later would occupy his cell in the spring of 1979). The day Spenkelink was put to death, a popular Jacksonville disc jockey aired a recording of sizzling bacon and dedicated it to the doomed killer.

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