Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Only Living Witness: The True Story Of Ted Bundy

The Story Page 7

Ted leaned forward in the tiny prison interview room, lit a cigarette, and grabbed my tape recorder, which he cradled in his lap. At first I didn't understand what he was doing. In an even, professorial voice, Bundy began to speak of themes in modern society violence, the objectification of women, the disintegration of the home, anonymity, stress. When I interrupted, he shushed me and told me to be patient. This was going to take a while.

Ted at last turned from sociology to specifics, and began describing the killer. Within "this individual,'' he explained, there dwelt a being Ted sometimes called it "an entity," "the disordered self,'' or "the malignant being." The story of it's beginnings came slowly, chronologically, a consistent tale of gathering sociopathy that nurtured itself on the negative energy around it.

Occasionally, Bundy would entertain a question, but for the most part I was there to pay for lunch, light his cigarettes, and change the tapes. He was chary on specifics, and skirted many cases where, I guessed, he feared that one slip could provide a vital link Bundy had no interest in being prosecuted for murder yet again. Yet, protected by his use of the third person, he forged ahead in detail to explain how thoughts on sex in general came to concentrate on sexual violence, how the "entity'' used pornography to shape and direct itself, how the sickness within drew Bundy toward ever-increasing shows of violence, and how the killer managed to mask his disordered self from his unsuspecting intimates.

As Ted familiarized me with his private bedlam, he took pains lest I develop overly simplistic impressions. He wanted me to understand to the extent that I could. The killer did not suffer from a split personality, or schizophrenia, he emphasized. "It is truly more sophisticated than that," Ted said.

He called it a "hybrid situation," a sociopathology in which the "entity" was both in and of the killer, not some alien presence or second self, but a purely destructive power that grew from within. The several psychiatrists for whom we later played these tapes unanimously agreed there was no doubt that Ted's descriptions were autobiographical. Critical elements of the third-person narrative could only have been drawn from first-person experience. Not trained to look for these keys, I still never doubted that Ted was telling me his story. When the hunchback emerged, the creature spoke directly to me.

Some of Ted's revelations came wrapped in metaphor. Others he described with clinical detachment. But the common thread was Bundy's own sense of discovery as he struggled to put the ineffable into words. It was as if in the telling that he, too, was seeing the hunchback's genesis for the first time. "How do you describe the taste of bouillabaisse?" he asked rhetorically. "Some remember clams, others mullet."

What a strange comparison.

He insisted that violence was never an end in itself, that the sex was almost perfunctory, and that to the extent it was possible the victims were spared pain. Not that the "entity" was moved by any humanitarian impulses; it was just that gratification lay not in the assault, but in possession the key to understanding Ted.

It was increasingly clear that a child's mind had directed this homicidal rampage. The fantasies he described were crude, more typical of what you'd expect from a misinformed twelve-year-old than an adult. There will always be a question as to how early in his life Ted actually became a killer. He did sustain several adult sexual relationships at the same years that he also was killing, but as Bundy explained to me, the disordered self, the thing inside Ted that impelled him to kill, knew his victims through a warp of twisted perception. Only by means of his astounding capacity to compartmentalize had Bundy been able to keep the hunchback from raging through the mask and destroying him. When at last it did, Ted became the hunchback. No longer its protector, he and the entity fused.

I felt I was encountering a wholly novel form of derangement. Rather than being overwhelmed, defeated by his illness, Ted appeared to be inhabited by it. The two, man and hunchback, interacted. Above all, I saw elements of will, conscious will, taking part in the creation of this entity, as if Ted had wanted to become a killer.

Seeing this, knowing this about him as he sat knee to knee in a cramped and sweltering cubicle buried in the middle of the prison, I myself began to dissociate. A wall, a necessary wall of dispassion, went up in front of me as Bundy spoke in a low voice, holding the tape recorder close to him and darting glances at the guards who periodically looked in on us through a glass pane in the door.

There were times of intense concentration when his features would freeze and a distant, stony quality came into his voice, as if the hunchback had taken corporeal form. More than once, a horizontal white line, like a welt, appeared across his right cheek. It fascinated me because it didn't follow the contour of his face at all. It was as if an invisible finger were digging a nail into his skin.

I was frightened at these moments, fearful for my own well-being, at least no more so than I am at the sight of a shark cruising around behind aquarium glass. Far more disconcerting were moments such as the time I pressed Ted for an explanation of how a victim was subdued. Bundy laughed heartily and remarked, "You, too, Steve, could make a successful mass killer. I really think you have it in you!"

Like it or not, I was bound to him, if for no other reason than Ted had allowed me to see the hunchback, taken me into his inner world. Such distilled horror, once seen, never leaves you.

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