Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Only Living Witness: The True Story Of Ted Bundy

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Bundy was taken to Death Row that summer after he was convicted in a Miami courtroom for the "Chi Omega killings.'' It was a sensational trial, the first on national television. Two hundred and fifty reporters with an audience on five continents applied for credentials to cover the trial.

 Above Judge Edward D. Cowart's fourth-floor courtroom in the Dade County Metropolitan Justice Building, an elaborate media center was established to handle the crush of newspeople. ABC News underwrote a special satellite hookup that brought the trial into an estimated forty million American homes.

Center stage was the defendant himself arguably the most profound enigma in the history of U.S. criminal justice. Handsome, arrogant, and articulate, he drew scores of rapt groupies to the jammed courtroom each day. Some were cookie-cutter blondes desperate to catch Ted's eye. Then there were the blue-haired and dewlapped geriatrics come over from their retirement bungalows along the lower stretches of Collins Avenue, hoping to catch a glimpse of the young man whom the newspapers were calling the "Love-Bite Killer.''

Here was no two-bit loner or galumphing yokel with a mean streak. Ted was the mediagenic 32-year-old former law student from Tacoma, Washington, his mother's darling, and a Republican of faintly liberal stripe whose confident manner and political acumen, some thought, might have taken him to the governor's mansion and beyond. Yet locked within him or so the state contended, was a depravity off the scale of human understanding. And he was on trial for the sickening penultimate spasm of an alleged four-year cross-country murder binge that had left dozens of young women violated, mangled and dead.

Bundy, charged prosecutor Larry Simpson, had come silently in the early morning hours of Super Bowl Sunday 1978 to the upstairs bedrooms of the Chi Omega sorority house on the campus of Florida State University in Tallahassee. There, with the agitated purposefulness of a shark in feeding frenzy, he hunted from room to room with an oak club.

He fled before the urge was spent, but in a scant few minutes two girls were murdered and two others lay battered senseless. One victim was found with her brain exposed from a blow to her forehead. He had sodomized the other dead girl with a Clairol hair spray bottle. Evidence showed that at the moment of her death, he bit at her right nipple, nearly tearing it from her breast. Then he rolled her over and sank his teeth twice into her left buttock, leaving a jagged wound.

Paramedics led one of the stunned survivors from her bed holding a plastic pail beneath her chin to catch the gush of blood from her shattered mouth.

Then, as the police arrived at this scene of carnage, there came a report from less than three blocks away; another sleeping coed had been savaged in her duplex apartment. She would survive, but only because the furious thumping of her attacker's club had been loud enough to awaken her neighbors, who frightened the assailant away.

A month later, on February 15, 1978, Ted Bundy was captured in Pensacola, Florida. He was charged with the Chi Omega slaughter, and subsequently also indicted for the kidnap and murder of 12-year-old Kimberly Diane Leach, a Lake City, Florida, schoolgirl, whom he'd abducted six days before his arrest.

A jury would conclude that Ted killed her and then dumped her partially clad body under an abandoned hog shed, where it was found nearly two months later. It was the unofficial surmise of some forensic experts that Kimberly's throat had been slit and that a knife had been taken to her genital organs.

The man who committed these outrages had been regarded by those who believed they knew him as sincere, bright, often courtly around women. He had a high intelligent forehead and a straight patrician nose inherited from his mother. Under even brows that he sometimes plucked, his expressive eyes could be a gentle blue. Together with a sensitive mouth, they created the illusion of depth to his nature. More than once a woman used the term "beautiful'' to describe Ted Bundy.

Ted's male friends admired him; they detected a power in him. Older men marked Bundy for his solid, conventional turn of mind, and his look of purpose. Several of them treated Ted as if he were a likable and deserving nephew or a younger brother.

His case or cases shocked these people terribly. Long before a national audience was fascinated and mystified by Bundy's story, Ted's friends in Washington State, and then Utah, were incredulous at local news reports alleging that he was a serial killer, an incubus who alone and undetected had murdered untold numbers of innocent girls.

At first his supporters clung to the belief that some dreadful error had been made. Yet an unmistakable pattern finally did emerge, a pattern of sudden death and sorrow wrought by a man of outward gentility and hideous covert longings.

So diabolically crafty had he been in his first years of killing that what was known of the deaths was more guess and inference than anything else. From the few bones that were found, it appeared that the girls had been strangled or bludgeoned, or both. They were all young, and most of them were college girls. He often stalked them first, and then approached them on a pretext. In a matter of seconds, they were gone. Only one young woman was known to have escaped him, and the circumstances of that assault suggested he silenced his prey quickly once they were within his power.

He often drove hundreds of miles with their dead or unconscious bodies in his car, and then stripped and dumped the girls at pre-selected forest sites. Sometimes he returned several times to visit their remains and to relive what he'd done to them. By the time most of them were found, they were totally decomposed. Their skulls (if he didn't keep them as souvenirs) as well as their skeletons some showing telltale striations left by animal teeth were often strewn for several hundred yards. What little soft-tissue evidence was left suggested rape and mutilation. The victims' caved-in skulls attested to his incredible fury.

Had Ted Bundy fit the public's sex-killer stereotype, the readily identifiable lunatic, these tragedies might not have provoked the terror that they did. But as one of Bundy's friends later explained to me, "Ted was one of us.'' He shattered the comfortable preconceptions about the sort of person capable of such monstrosities, presenting the world a figure both gross to contemplate and wholesome to behold; a likable, lovable homicidal mutant.

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