1903: Arthur Alfred Lynch condemned 1795: Unspecified Robespierrists

1989: Ted Bundy, psycho killer

January 24th, 2009 Headsman

Qu’est-ce que c’est?

It was 20 years today that Ted Bundy, the signature sexual psychopath in a golden age of serial killers,* rode the lightning in Florida’s Starke Prison.

Executed Today is pleased to mark the occasion with a conversation with Louisville crime writer Kevin M. Sullivan, author of a forthcoming2009 book on Ted Bundy … and a man who knows how the world looks from inside Bundy’s ski mask.

Ted Bundy is obviously one of the most iconic, written-about serial killers in history. Why a book about Ted Bundy? What’s the untold story that you set out to uncover?

The desire, or drive, if you will, to write an article about Ted Bundy and then create a 120,000 plus word book about the murders, was born out of my crossing paths with his infamous murder kit. Had Jerry Thompson [a key detective on the Bundy case -ed.] left Bundy’s stuff in Utah that May of 2005, well, it would have been an enjoyable meeting with the former detective, but I’m certain it would have all ended quietly there. Indeed, I doubt if I’d even considered writing an article for Snitch [a now-defunct crime magazine -ed.], much less a book about the killings. But it was having all that stuff in my hands, and in my home, and then being given one of the Glad bags from Ted’s VW that made it very real (or surreal) to me, and from this, a hunger to find out more about the crimes led me forward.

Ted Bundy’s gear, right where you want it — image courtesy of Kevin M. Sullivan. (Check the 1975 police photo for confirmation.)

Believe me, in a thousand years, I never would have expected such a thing to ever come my way. I can’t think of anything more odd or surreal.

ET: You mentioned that you think you’ve been able to answer some longstanding questions about Bundy’s career. Can you give us some hints? What don’t people know about Ted Bundy that they ought to know?

I must admit, when I first decided to write a book about the crimes, I wasn’t sure what I’d find, so the first thing I had to do was read every book ever written about Bundy, which took the better portion of three or four months.

From this I took a trip to Utah to again meet with Thompson and check out the sites pertaining to Bundy and the murders in that state. Next came the acquisition of case files from the various states and the tracking down of those detectives who participated in the hunt for the elusive killer.

Now, no one could have been more surprised than me to begin discovering what I was discovering about some of these murders. But as I kept hunting down the right people and the right documents, I was able to confirm these “finds” at every turn. And while I cannot reveal everything here, It’s all in the book in great detail. Indeed, you could say that my book is not a biography in the truest sense, but rather an in-depth look at Bundy and the murders from a vantage point that is quite unique. I wish I could delve further into these things now , but I must wait until it’s published.

The Bundy story has a magnetic villain and a host of victims … was there a hero? Was there a lesson?

The real heroes in this story are the detectives who worked day and night for years to bring Ted Bundy to justice. And if there’s a lesson to be learned from all of this, it is this: It doesn’t matter how handsome or articulate a person might be, or how nicely they smile at you, for behind it all, there could reside the most diabolical person you’ll ever meet! We need to remember this.

But how can you act on that lesson without living in a continual state of terror? Bundy strikes me as so far outside our normal experience, even the normal experience of criminality, that I’m inclined to wonder how much can be generalized from him.

Actually, (and I might say, thank God here!) people as “successful” as Ted Bundy don’t come our way very often. I mean, the guy was a rising star in the Republican Party in Washington, had influential friends, a law student, and certainly appeared to be going places in life. Some were even quite envious of his ascension in life. However, it was all a well-placed mask that he wore to cover his true feelings and intentions. On the outside he was perfect, but on the inside a monster. He just didn’t fit the mold we’re used to when we think of a terrible killer, does he?

Now, there are those among us — sociopaths — who can kill or do all manner of terrible things in life and maintain the nicest smile upon their faces, but again, just beneath the surface ticks the heart of a monster, or predator, or what ever you might want to call them. Having said that, I’m not a suspicious person by nature, and so I personally judge people by their outward appearance until shown otherwise. Still, it’s difficult (if not impossible) to see the “real” individual behind the person they present to us on a daily basis.

You worked with case detectives in researching your book. How did the Ted Bundy case affect the way law enforcement has subsequently investigated serial killers? If they had it to do over again, what’s the thing you think they’d have done differently?

They all agree that today, DNA would play a part of the investigation that wasn’t available then. However, in the early portion of the murders, Bundy made few if any mistakes, as he had done his homework so as to avoid detection. As such, even this wouldn’t be a panacea when it came to a very mobile killer like Bundy who understood the very real limitations sometimes surrounding homicide investigations.

I can’t help but ask about these detectives as human beings, too. Clearly they’re in a position to deal with the heart of darkness in the human soul day in and day out and still lead normal lives … is a Ted Bundy the kind of killer that haunts or scars investigators years later, or is this something most can set aside as all in a day’s work?

They are, first of all, very nice people. And you can’t be around them (either in person, or through numerous phone calls or emails) for very long before you understand how dedicated they are (or were) in their careers as police officers. They are honorable people, with a clear sense of duty, and without such people, we, as a society, would be in dire circumstances indeed.

Even before Bundy came along, these men were veteran investigators who had seen many bad things in life, so they carried a toughness which allowed them to deal with the situations they came up against in a professional manner. That said, I remember Jerry Thompson telling me how he looked at Ted one day and thought how much he reminded him of a monster, or a vampire of sorts. And my book contains a number of exchanges between the two men (including a chilling telephone call) which demonstrate why he felt this way

How about for you, as a writer — was there a frightening, creepy, traumatic moment in your research that really shook you? Was there an emotional toll for you?

Absolutely. But the degree of “shock”, if you will, depends (at least for me) on what I know as I first delve into each murder. In the Bundy cases I had a general knowledge of how Bundy killed, so there wasn’t a great deal that caught me by surprise, as it were. Even so, as a writer, you tend to get to know the victims very well through the case files, their family members or friends, and so on. Hence, I’ll continue to carry with me many of the details of their lives and deaths for the remainder of my life. And so, lasting changes are a part of what we do.

However, I did a story a few years back about a 16 year old girl who was horribly murdered here in Kentucky, and this case did cause me to wake up in the night in a cold sweat. Perhaps it was because I have a daughter that was, at the time, only a few years younger than this girl, and that some of what transpired did catch me off guard, so to speak, as I began uncovering just what had happened to this very nice kid.

Watch for Kevin M. Sullivan’s forthcoming The Bundy Murders: A Comprehensive History from McFarland in summer or fall of 2009.

* In fact, the term “serial killer” was coined in the 1970′s by FBI profiler Robert Ressler, as an improvement on the sometimes inaccurate category of “stranger killer”.

Additional Bundy resources from the enormous comment thread:

Also on this date

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Electrocuted,Execution,Florida,History,Infamous,Murder,Popular Culture,Serial Killers,Sex,USA

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7,209 Responses to “1989: Ted Bundy, psycho killer”

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  1. 7201
    Kevin M. Sullivan Says:

    I’m giving away 25 audio books of my newest book, Death of a Cheerleader (written with Gregg Olsen), to the first 25 people who contact me at the email address below:


    And readers, all I ask is that you please leave an honest review of the book. Good reviews help a great deal, so if you like the book, please leave a review. Thanks!

  2. 7202
    Richard Duffus Says:

    In post 7090 page I asked “If Bundy didn’t willingly have them [his personal possessions] sent to me, how can one explain these objects being in my possession?”

    No one has offered an explanation.

    Since, at the time, I was someone Lewis barely knew and who had no idea who Ted Bundy was, if Lewis had received these objects by any other means he would have kept them for his own use. They had nothing to do with what was going on with me at the time. He would have no reason to give them to me.

    The only plausible circumstance under which Lewis would give them to me is if Bundy directed him to do so. In that case Lewis would be unable to keep them even if he wanted to because Bundy would be expecting an acknowledgment of their receipt from me.

    These objects were part and parcel of our communication and serve to prove that that communication existed.

  3. 7203
    Jutta Says:

    “Death of a Cheerleader?” — oh no not ANOTHER Bundy book? lol

  4. 7204
    Kevin M Sullivan Says:

    These are Kentucky murder cases. :)

  5. 7205
    Meaghan Says:

    Hi, I thought I’d pop in. Someone pointed out to me that the Flame, the nightclub Brenda Ball disappeared from, seems to be unlucky: another young woman vanished from it in 1977. Her name was Rhonda Burse: http://www.charleyproject.org/cases/b/burse_rhonda.html

    She was definitely not a Bundy victim as he was in jail at the time, but that is very strange all the same.

  6. 7206
    Kevin M. Sullivan Says:

    Hi Meaghan,

    I think The Flame had a bit of the unsavory to it, lol!

  7. 7207
    Tony Says:

    Well, as many on here have pointed out, the Pacific Northwest seems to have been a hotbed of serial killer activity during the 70′s (probably just owing to the fact that the media — and law enforcement — in the region became more sensitive to signs of such activity after a few high-profile cases came to light there). Add to that the fact that, if you’re a predatory guy looking for vulnerable women to prey upon, a popular nightspot where people are drinking is probably not the worst place to start, and well…

  8. 7208
    Jutta Says:

    Very pretty girl, Rhonda Burse. Wonder if she was an early victim of the Green River killer? Burien is next to Sea-Tac where he lived during his murder spree.

    BTW, here’s a list of serial killers with Washington ties. It just goes on and on and on:


  9. 7209
    Peter Henderson Says:

    Hi Tony,

    Most serial killer victims, (I believe the US Justice Department estimates around 70%) are women,
    sometimes men, who live a high risk lifestyle. We rarely hear anything about them till their bodies start turning up like so much discarded cord wood.

    The majority are very young. They feel that they are street wise, worldly, and tuff but in realty are poorly educated teens/young adults who are naive and overly trusting.

    In the state of Washington, according to a series of articles about the Green River killings done by the Seattle Times, this problem was compounded by late 70’s changes in the law

    The law — known as the Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 1977 — gave the responsibility to the courts, the Department of Social and Health Services and the police. Since the law gave juveniles much the same rights as adults, the police could no longer do much to either keep them off the streets or in custody. The Seattle Police and King County Sheriff’s Department, feeling it was a losing battle, didn’t even try.

    “They become non-persons,” said Debra Boyer, a researcher who had spent the ’70’s and 80’s working with prostitutes and prostitution issues in the Seattle area.. The end result – streets filled with potential victim’s – a killing ground constantly replenished with new prey. .

    The law has probably been amended by now, but sadly young girls with similar backgrounds are vanishing from the same streets today; over a decade after Gary Ridgway confessed to killing 50 to 80 of them. It doubtfully the current missing girls even know his name. Most were in kindergarten when he was arrested.

    And that’s just one city, one county. Washington and Oregon are large states connected by a number of interstates with miles of wilderness acres to dispose of bodies. Perfect hunting ground for serial killers.

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