In 2019, Netflix subscribers were hit with a lot of content about one man: Ted Bundy. The streaming service released Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes and Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile in the same year. The former was a limited series that documented a journalist’s desire to dive deep into the mind of one of the country’s most notorious serial killers. The other was a film, starring Lily Collins and Zac Efron. Efron was cast because of his good looks and charm - two things that many claimed made Ted Bundy the name that he is in true crime.
This isn’t the only content made about Bundy. A documentary about him had been on Oxygen the year before. In 2021, another fictionalized movie was released with Chad Michael Murray as the notorious serial killer. There are countless podcasts that you can listen to on the subject of Ted Bundy, his victims and survivors, and the story of his arrest and death. It appears that people cannot get enough of Ted Bundy content.
Well, here’s some more. If you’re looking for the basics on who this man is and why he’s become such a “famous” serial killer, you’re in the right place. Let’s break down the story of Ted Bundy, a name that is now basically equated with the term “serial killer.”
Who Is Ted Bundy?
Ted Bundy was born on November 24, 1946, in a home for unwed mothers. He never knew his father, only finding out the real location of his birth when he was 25. His family had told him, up until that point, that his mother was his older sister and that his grandparents were his real parents. (Some believe that his abusive grandfather was his actual father, but we may never know that for sure.)
Although Bundy was never very social, he was well-liked and made his way through school without much drama. No one paid too much attention to his interest in true crime. At the age of 18, his small criminal record (which included arrests for burglary and alleged auto theft) was expunged.
Bundy graduated with a degree in psychology from University of Washington shortly before he started committing his first known murders. While in college, Bundy had one girlfriend that eventually dumped him. Many claim that this one break-up might have sent Bundy over the edge, and that his later victims resembled his ex-girlfriend for a reason.
About Ted Bundy’s Victims
Ted Bundy’s first victims may never be known for sure - some believe that he was responsible for murders of hitchhikers and other women between the years of 1969 and 1974. (Bundy even admitted or hinted to some of these crimes himself.) But one of Ted Bundy’s first known victims was attacked by him in 1974. He didn’t murder Karen Sparks. He beat and sexually assaulted her with a metal rod, but the incident left permanent damages.
During that time period, Ted Bundy volunteered for a sex crimes hotline. He soon dropped out of law school and started working for the Republican Party.
Shortly after this attack, the state of Washington started to notice that young women were disappearing left and right. These women all had a similar look: they were white, usually with long, straight hair and a center part. Many of Ted Bundy’s victims were college students, and they all lived in the Pacific Northwest. Their bodies couldn’t be found.
Ted Bundy took six victims in the first seven months of 1974. Bundy’s next victim was 23-year-old Janice Ott. She encountered Ted Bundy at Lake Sammamish outside of Seattle. Bundy was wearing a sling and asked Ott for some help with his car. A few hours later, he performed the same routine with 19-year-old Denise Marie Naslund. Both were killed.
Lake Sammamish was a pretty popular spot for Seattle locals at the time - and many people witnessed Ted chat with these two women before they were never seen again. Police knew that a man named Ted who owned a VW Volkswagen was responsible for their deaths, and possibly the deaths of other women in the Seattle area. A sketch of his face was put on the local news. People from all over the area called in to report tips about Teds they knew with Volkswagens. Included in those tips were phone calls from Ted Bundy’s girlfriend at the time, Elizabeth Kloepfer. Kloepfer’s phone call, and a few others who pointed fingers at Ted Bundy, were not taken seriously. After all, why would a former law student and rising star in Republican politics be responsible for the disappearance of eight women?
Two months later, police investigating the disappearance found the remains of Bundy's victims from Lake Sammamish and other incidents. This really kicked the case into gear. But as they searched for their “Ted,” he continued committing murders in Utah. He killed two young women and attempted to kill one more - Carol DaRonch. While DaRonch was telling police about the attempted murder, Bundy killed yet another woman. Bundy moved down the West Coast, claiming a total of 15 victims in 1975. Since DNA testing had not been developed yet, state authorities didn’t even know if the cases were connected.
Ted Bundy’s Arrests
Bundy was able to evade trial for many years, but he was arrested in the middle of his killing sprees. He was first arrested in August 1975 in Utah. Police pulled Bundy over, searched his car, and found various items used in vicious attacks. They quickly sent over the information to police in Washington, and the connection was finally made between his victims in Utah and his victims in Washington. Bundy was arrested on the suspicion of 19 disappearances.
Unfortunately, law enforcement was not able to use DNA or surveillance to pin the murders on Bundy. Carol DaRonch was the only victim who could stand witness to his crimes, and she did. In February 1976, Bundy was convicted for the kidnapping and assault of DaRonch. He was sentenced to one- to 15-years in state prison.
During this time, Ted Bundy gave interviews and denied all of the suspicions against him. People, especially colleagues and family members of Bundy, believed him. Police scrambled to collect evidence against him, but they couldn’t find enough to charge him with all of the murders quite yet. They did charge him with one murder, and he was transferred to a higher-security prison in January 1977. But they ran out of time - because Ted Bundy escaped from prison in June 1977. He jumped out of an open window, and although he injured his ankle, he was able to break into an isolated cabin and steal a car.
Six days later, Bundy was captured and put back in prison. Very quickly, he found another route to escape - through a light fixture in the ceiling. Although prisoners told guards that Bundy had been crawling around in the ceiling, nothing was done to prevent his second escape in January 1978. He escaped to Florida; more specifically, Florida State University.
Florida State University had a “sorority row.” On January 15, the sorority row was ravaged by Ted Bundy. He took a log from the yard and started to smash women on the head until he heard a woman come back into the house in the middle of his rampage. Bundy did not realize that the woman saw him, and he also didn’t realize that he hadn’t killed all four women who he had attempted to kill in the house. He killed two of them, but the other two were simply left unconscious.
That same night, Bundy went back to the campus and attacked a woman in a house close to the Chi Omega sorority house. Two other women were in the house at the time, and they called 911, not knowing who was in the house with them and what he had done to their roommate, Cheryl Thomas. Thomas was not killed, but she suffered permanent injuries. Her jaw and skull were fractured in five places. (She and her roommates sat down for an interview with Oxygen in 2018.)
After the murders, Bundy was a fugitive traveling throughout Florida, committing one more murder before he was finally caught by police. His last victim was 12 years old. When Budny was caught, police found the IDs of FSU students and multiple stolen credit cards in the car.
After he was caught, he stood trial for the victims at the Chi Omega sorority house. At the last minute, Bundy decided to reject a plea deal by pleading not guilty.
But there was another element to his trial that contributed to the story that we know of Ted Bundy today. Bundy’s trial was one of the first criminal trials to be televised. Before OJ, before Casey Anthony, before Michael Jackson - there was Ted Bundy. The case was also covered by reporters from five different continents.
Not only did the shock and evil of his crimes catch America’s attention, but the man himself also stunned America. Bundy didn’t look like someone who could commit such ghastly murders and crimes. He looked trustworthy. Media outlets described him as attractive and charming. They highlighted the fact that he was eloquent, had an education, and was smart enough to get away with so many crimes over such a long period of time. Coverage of his trial included interviews with women who came just to get a look at the guy. Everyone was enraptured by the idea that someone so conventionally attractive could actually be the face of evil.
Ted Bundy played into this story when he represented himself at his own trial. He did attend law school at University of Utah for a short period of time, although many people claim that his connections, rather than his so-so LSAT scores and grades, was the reason he was accepted. Bundy never graduated and never became a practicing lawyer, although that didn’t stop him from believing that he could act as one. Even during his first murder charge, Bundy was allowed to prepare for his defense and even spent time alone in the law library to do so. (No wonder he escaped!)
But the spectacle didn’t work. Eyewitness testimony and bite marks from one of the victims was enough evidence to prove that Bundy was guilty. He was convicted and given the death penalty.
Less than a year later, Bundy stood trial for the murder of his final victim. In an odd twist of events, Bundy also got married during that trial. Once again, he represented himself, putting his girlfriend, Carol Ann Boone, at the time on the stand as a character witness. In the presence of the judge, Bundy used his questioning to ask his girlfriend to marry him. Despite this stunt, Bundy was convicted and sentenced to death once again.
The couple divorced in 1986 after Bundy began to give interviews and confessed to multiple killings. The conversations he had with reporters included great details about how Ted Bundy murdered his victims, where he buried them, and how he would go back to their bodies multiple times to commit heinous sex acts. Boone had believed that Bundy was innocent up to that point. But the couple did not divorce before having a child together. Rose Bundy was conceived during Boone’s conjugal visits while Bundy was on death row. She, not surprisingly, stays out of the public eye, along with her mother.
Ted Bundy was executed in the electric chair on January 24, 1989. He has since been the subject of seven books, nine movies, and at least five television series. And at the center of many of these stories is the question: Was Ted Bundy a smart, sly killer, or was he just a guy who didn’t “look” like a criminal? Many law enforcement experts point to the latter. His notoriety doesn’t just come from the horror of his crimes, but also how that horror directly contrasts with the image that we have of well-educated, attractive, white men in America.