Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Only Living Witness: The True Story Of Ted Bundy

The Story Page 9

No one noticed that he was different, not like other children. His aunt Julia would later report some scary episodes with knives, but otherwise he looked and acted like other children. He believed in Santa Claus, hated vegetables, and sometimes-imagined ogres and scaly things crouching in his closet, waiting for night to fall.

But he was haunted by something else: a fear, a doubt sometimes only a vague uneasiness that inhabited his mind with the subtlety of a cat. He felt it for years and years, but he didn't recognize it for what it was until much later. By then this flaw, the rip in his psyche, had become the locus of a cold homicidal rage.

He was born to a prim, modest department store clerk, the eldest of three daughters in the family of a Philadelphia nurseryman. Her story has always been that in 1946, fresh out of high school, she was seduced by Jack Worthington, a rakish veteran of the recent war, who hinted to her of an old-money pedigree. At least that's what she claimed. Much later, family members would express open doubts about this story, directing a defense psychiatrist's attention to Louise's violent, possibly deranged, father, Samuel Cowell.

Whatever the truth, Louise was pregnant in an era not congenial to single young women in such a predicament. Nor was she insulated from her problem by family means. She braved her way through the first seven months of her term, before traveling north to the Elizabeth Lund Home for Unwed Mothers in Burlington, Vermont. On November 24, 1946, she gave birth to her love child. Louise called him Theodore. She had always liked that name.

Just before his fourth birthday, Teddy and his mother left Philadelphia to join her uncle and his family in Tacoma, Washington. Ted told us that the move upset him. Either as a deliberate falsehood, or due to some trick of memory, he described his early days in Philadelphia as an idyll, saying he loved his grandfather Cowell and the comfortable old house where the family all lived together. He said he didn't understand why he and Louise had to go live with great-uncle Jack, why Louise needed to get away, to start a new life. In light of what the family would later disclose, Ted's recall becomes a mystery in itself.

He hated Tacoma at first. After Philadelphia, the Puget Sound mill town seemed raw and impermanent to him just a jumble of ugly brown and gray buildings on a hillside jutting out into the frigid salt water of Puget Sound. Ted would outgrow his initial distaste for his new home, but he never got over an arrogant disdain for anything he regarded as common. This attitude was linked to how he felt about himself, his deep self- doubt, and also to his later conviction that life had wronged him.

Jack Cowell was only a few years older than his niece, Louise, and Teddy always called him uncle. A music professor at Tacoma's College of Puget Sound, Uncle Jack was a man of both accomplishment and refinement. His gleaming dark piano, the classical music that filled the house, his air of cultivation, drew Teddy to him. Early on, he decided to pattern himself on Uncle Jack.

Louise went to work as a secretary at the Council of Churches office in downtown Tacoma. There she was befriended by a female coworker who coaxed the tentative newcomer into attending young adult nights at the First Methodist Church. One evening, Louise was introduced to John Culpepper Bundy, known as Johnnie, a soft-spoken native North Carolinian who recently had mustered out of the Navy in nearby Bremerton.

Johnnie's drawl made him seem a little slow, a serious drawback as far asTeddy would be concerned. He was unlettered, and his prospects in life were those of a modest southern country boy. With his Navy hitch over, Johnnie had decided to stay in the northwest. He found a job as a cook in a Veterans Administration hospital a few miles south of Tacoma. It turned out to be his life's work.

From the start, Johnnie and Louise saw something special in each other. Johnnie was steady and uncomplicated, and he fulfilled Louise's first and ultimate requirement by accepting both her and her son. She was also drawn to his mild disposition, although her son Teddy would later learn the consequences of provoking his quiet stepfather.

For Johnnie, Louise was a gentle, God-fearing woman whose history began on the night they met. He didn't ask questions, and Louise did not go into details. From what Ted told us of his boyhood, he seems to have tried to block Johnnie, the interloper, from his mind. Clearly, Johnnie's presence upset him. Ted remembered staging a scene in a Sears store parking lot and wetting his pants. He conceded that this tantrum and others probably were a result of his jealousy over Louise, and his fear that Johnnie's advent would further disrupt his world.

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