Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Only Living Witness: The True Story Of Ted Bundy

The Story Page 8

After many weeks of this I could absorb no more. It was Hugh's turn. In the coming months, Bundy would edge closer to an outright confession than he did with me, but not before the two of them fell to snarling at each other.

My role had been to go easy on Ted, befriend him, let Bundy dictate the pace, maintain control. Hugh played hardball, and Bundy was not at all happy with Aynesworth's intolerance for elliptical thinking.

"What gratification would there be in having intercourse with a dead girl?" While a perfectly reasonable question, when Hugh posed it to Ted, who performed all sorts of sexual acts with dead girls, Bundy was manifestly displeased. Hugh, for his part, was constantly rankled by Ted's weary sighs meant to convey his lofty impatience with this plain vanilla gumshoe. He dogged Ted with questions derived from my interviews with Bundy, and Ted bridled. "I'm not going into that," he would say. "This is already too thinly disguised. I've gone further now than I wanted to."

But that was to come. On that steamy June day in 1980 we walked with our briefcases toward the main gate and under the gaze of a guard holding a rifle high above us in the watchtower. We passed through an external sally port, in which one gate must close before the second one opens. After the inner gate creaked open and rumbled shut, a concrete walkway led to the double doors of the prison entrance itself, and behind the doors to a small waiting area. There we were greeted by a man at a glass-enclosed control panel.

His name was John Boutwell, and he was a twelve-year veteran of prison employment. Mr. Boutwell was responsible for checking our briefcases and identification. Generally, this took about ten minutes time enough to adjust to the prison's incessant clangor and time enough to glance over the sports pages of the Gainesville Sun, which only rarely was not folded neatly on a shelf inside the booth.

John Boutwell was thorough. Routine had not dulled the sharp interest he took in our belongings, even to the point of politely asking to see the innards of our tape recorders. He always asked to see my private investigator's license, despite a first-name familiarity. Never did he fail to compare me with my license photo and physical description printed on the front of the card.

Next, we approached a third barred gate, and prepared to pass through Boutwell's metal detector. Change, pens, belts, keys, shoes, and even my glasses had to be removed. The aged machine could still be set fine enough to register the coin in a penny loafer.

Accompanied now by a guard, we walked through another clanging gate and proceeded down a long, yellowish-tan corridor with a linoleum floor waxed and buffed to a constant high gloss by the inmates. The walls were bare, and were it not for the constant sonic assault of banging metal gates echoing in every direction, this part of the prison could have been mistaken for some functional and well-maintained wing of a municipal building.

Up a few steps and through another gate controlled by yet another prison employee in another glass-enclosed booth and we arrived at the center of the prison a four-way intersection called Grand Central. To the right we could see through floor-to-ceiling bars at the cellblocks opening onto either side of a long spacious hallway. At the very end stood Old Sparky behind a locked door. Straight ahead was the prison laundry. And behind us were the five locked gates made of a specialty steel so hard and costly to manufacture that many states couldn't afford to use it in new prison construction.

A crowd of inmates, mostly blacks on their way to work in the prison laundry, walked past us in silence. None appeared older than twenty-one. A white prisoner who had killed a cop was led in manacles by a guard who seemed half asleep. We turned left toward The Colonel's office, a suite of rooms (also protected by steel gates) from which The Colonel oversaw prison security. Two of these rooms, each fitted with glass windows so that their occupants could easily be observed, were set-aside as conference areas for inmates and their attorneys and/or investigators. It was necessary to reserve these rooms days in advance.

Outside The Colonel's office stood a bright yellow wire cage. Seated within it were seven inmates. Six were young blacks wearing blue prison-issue dungarees, which signified they were from general population and would not necessarily be spending the rest of their lives in this place. The white inmate wore blue dungarees, too, but also an apricot T-shirt over a gray sweatshirt. He was accustomed to the Florida heat. On his sockless feet were green plastic thongs.

"Hey, home boy!" Ted called to me as usual. "Where've you been?" He was affecting a heavy southern black accent. Ted had been waiting in the cage for more than two hours.

Generally I could tell within a few minutes whether it was going to be a productive day with Bundy. Any of a number of things might be going on with him. He could be depressed, stoned, angry, distracted or simply dull. This morning Ted was listless and grouchy; it was not likely to be a good day.

"Have you seen Carole?" he asked.

This was a recurring sore point among us. Ted's wife lived on the edge of poverty in Gainesville, from where she and her teen-aged son Jamey drove to the prison each weekend to visit husband and stepfather. Bundy nagged at us constantly to stay in touch with Carole, and to keep her informed of our progress. While Boone could be good company she had a very quick wit Bundy was creating a difficult situation: Carole, who was sustained by her faith in Ted's innocence, didn't know the content of our discussion. She did know that Hugh and I believed Ted was guilty, which could make our meetings uncomfortable. Carole thought us to be contemptible fools, no better in her view than the police and prosecutors who had put her beloved Bunny on Death Row.

As it happened, that day I had a two-day-old note to Ted from Carole, which I handed over. He glanced at it, smiled briefly, and inquired as to my health. Consigned to his last address with three death penalties over his head, Bundy nevertheless concerned himself with what he regarded as my poor diet and drinking habits. We once wagered which of us would expire first. Ted owes me $50.

I allowed that I was fine, all things considered, and the three of us settled into a desultory chat that ranged from Ronald Reagan's presidential campaign to Ted's concerns over the moral climate in which his stepson Jamey was being raised. In this way we chewed up our two allotted hours, and then rose to leave. Ted was now Hugh's responsibility; I had a head full of impressions to sort out, and scores of tapes to transcribe before I could start sketching out this difficult saga.

I did take one last look at Ted's hands as we departed. They were thin, almost delicate, with slender tapering fingers and well-kept nails. Ted had recently broken himself of the habit of biting them. I wondered again at the frightening strength it had taken to bind ligatures so tightly that the rope and victim's skin fused together. Where in Ted was the power behind those enormously damaging whacks of his oak club?

He had introduced the entity to us, tried to explain it, and then would finally collapse (or better, be transformed) under the pressure of confronting himself. But he would never be able to take Hugh and me that final step to comprehension of murder so grotesque as to defy imagination. We could never know the hunchback, and both of us like to think the limitation was ours. I heard all about it again and again and again as I transcribed those prison tapes. In time, we could retell it. We could give it context. But we could not get our minds around it. It was like the taste of bouillabaisse.

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