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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7,436 thoughts on “1989: Ted Bundy, psycho killer”

  1. Kevin M. Sullivan says:

    Hi ET guys and gals…

    I recently received this very nice review of my audio book, The Bundy Murders…

    “Since I usually reserve my ‘reading’ via audiobooks to my daily commute to work (listening is safer), I can honestly say that this book temporarily took the grind out of it. No it’s not ‘In Cold Blood’ but not since I experienced that level of writing have I been able to enjoy an author as much…if not the content which IS harder to comprehend when expressed so well. I recommend this to anyone who likes to be captivated enough to look forward to Monday morning. … Great writer, and a narrator who didn’t distract from or spoil it.”

    Check out the FREE audio sample at the link below:

    https://mobile.audible.com/pd/Nonfiction/The-Bundy-Murders-A-Comprehensive-History-Audiobook/B00OG5UV8Q?s=s

  2. Kevin M. Sullivan says:

    And remember, if you own THE BUNDY MURDERS on Kindle you can get the audio book through Amazon for only $3.99. It’ s also available on iTunes and Audible.

    :)

    1. Arnar Þór says:

      It is truly a terrific listen.

  3. Kevin M. Sullivan says:

    Thanks Arnar!

  4. Peter Henderson Jr. says:

    Hi all,

    Its interesting to note that three of Utah’s unfound but confessed victims, (Nancy Wilcox, MP # 27747, Susan Curtis, MP # 27748, and Debra Kent, MP # 27776) have just been added to NamUs in February of 2015.

    I agree with Kevin up to recently Utah showed no interest in investigating the cases after Bundy confessed and they looked but did not find any remains.

    The exception being Debra Kent, who police believe found her knee cap. However investigators has never used DNA to confirm that fact as far as I know. On Debra’s page they now include a thumbnail photo of her coat or sweater.

    Susan and Debra’s pages currently say DNA sample: Sample submitted – Test not complete. Nancy’s page says DNA sample is currently not available, but its clear for the resent news report her mother is alive and could.

    I wonder if they are going to give it one last shot at finding their remains, or comparing their DNA with unidentified Jane Doe’s?

  5. Kevin M. Sullivan says:

    Hey Peter,

    I’ll be surprised if Utah does even one thing officially pertaining to these cases. The interest just isn’t there as they know Bundy killed them. of course, if they find remains, at that point they would be very interested in closing out whatever case that is.

    Yes, Mrs. Kent is alive (and maybe Dean, her ex husband too), but I don’t believe they were ever really concerned about doing any tests on it as they believe the portion of the knee cap belongs to their daughter.

    Thanks for posting the info, Peter.

  6. Ken says:

    I have no problem with an individual being put to death who has done a crime such as these, but we forget that there is evil in the justice system, also, in the form of planted evidence, lying, etc. Since over 100 people have been released from death row through the innocence projects with DNA testing in states across the country, I have no idea how people can’t see that we are no better than the serial killer when we kidnap a human being and force him to await his death……and he has done nothing.

  7. Ken says:

    Bundy is absolutely guilty, I am talking about the death sentence in general, from a comment I read above, by the way. Just realized I should make that clear.

  8. Kevin M. Sullivan says:

    Hi Ken…

    Well, no system is perfect, but the criminal activity that you speak of “lying, planting of evidence”, has nothing to do with the need for the death penalty. The death penalty is a just tool to use against the killers of innocent people.

    Sometimes, anything other than death will be a travesty of justice, where justice is not served at all. Just ask the surviving families as they contemplate the killers of their loved ones who are still eating, watching TV, and being feed and cared for 24/7.

    It is not morally wrong to put certain people to death, and that includes Ted Bundy and all others like him. If they’re going to do these terrible things they need to pay the ultimate price fore the crime.

    Take care,

    Kevin

  9. Kevin M. Sullivan says:

    Or, “for the crime” (I’m playing editor now, lol!)

  10. Hal says:

    It’s easy for a non-American to say, but if you draw two lists of Death Penalty countries and non Death Penalty countries, those lists alone will tell you everything you need to know about whether it has any place in civilised society. America is keeping the worst company in the whole world on this issue. You literally couldn’t make America look any more morally backwards if you made the lists up yourself just for that purpose. And it’s all down to America being the only civilised power left whose population still believe in morally bankrupt, scientifically and historically laughable, plagiarised fairy tales.

    Bringing it back to Ted, I wonder if during his last interview, Ted ‘that’s the irony’ Bundy had worked out the real irony, that his fellow ‘Christian’ actually had the value system of a medieval tyrant and wanted to see him die that very night. I can’t think of any member of society other than Christian, who could visit a ‘friend’ in prison and wish for his immediate death.

    If US Netflix carries similar content to the UK site, check out a movie called For The Bible Tells Me So, which features NO non-Christian content whatsoever (and therefore makes no claims against the religion) but also makes it abundantly clear that James Dobson is responsible for as many needless deaths as Ted was. And not only that, but he couldn’t care less.

  11. So, Kevin, you must believe there should be two classes of surviving families, those who are worthy of justice and those who are not, based upon the arbitrary criteria, “sometimes.”

    If you’re talking about killing “certain” people, you should be willing to specify exactly by what criteria you are identifying them. “Ted Bundy and all others like him” is not sufficient. And you should also be willing to explain why only some families are worthy of justice.

    1. Kevin M. Sullivan says:

      Richard:

      If you’re referring to the families of the killers, well, it’s regrettable they are in the position they’re in. But let’s hope they can and will understand when the state executes their loved one. It’s not the same for the families of the murdered.

      If you’re not referring to the above, you must be wondering why I said “certain” folks need to be put to death. I would think you could figure this out on you own, based on our laws and previous statements I’ve made3 on this site. That said, I will explain what L meant:

      Those who commit premeditated, cold-blooded murder (think Bundy here and most serial killers) should be put to death. Bottom line. This is my view.

      Those who commit premeditated murder but have had previous existing circumstances which may have led to it, that is a different issue and at the trial such a sentence can be considered. Maybe, maybe not. Again, my feeling about what the law should be.

      A guy finds his wife in bed with another man, he whips out a gun and kills him. Should he face the death penalty? No, absolutely not. That would clearly be a case of someone losing it and such a terrible action should not be a death penalty case.

  12. “Sometimes, anything other than death will be a travesty of justice, where justice is not served at all. Just ask the surviving families as they contemplate the killers of their loved ones who are still eating, watching TV, and being feed and cared for 24/7.”
    – Kevin M. Sullivan 28 March, 2015 at 4:08 pm

    This argument has strong emotional appeal but, as a rational argument in support of the death penalty, it has no basis.

    First, it does not represent all of the families. Most recently, the Richards family, who lost their 8-year old son on the Boston Marathon Bombing, have asked that the death penalty be taken off the table since it will only extend and exacerbate their pain.

    Second, in order to achieve this goal in all first-degree murder cases, there must be a prohibition on plea-baraining and a mandate for summary execution upon conviction. Otherwise some families will be forced to suffer a “travesty of justice.”

    This argument does a disservice to the families by using our sympathy for them to promote a political agenda with which they may not necessarily agree.

  13. Tony says:

    Agreed, more or less.

    The death penalty as it stands is subjectively and inconsistently applied. A black kid who shot one person gets the needle while a white nurse who gassed 15 babies gets institutionalized, etc. I can understand dismissing the “What if an innocent man gets executed?” argument on the basis of “hey, no system is perfect,” because there you’re talking about something that MIGHT happen. This DOES happen, period.

    In order for the death penalty to possibly be applied fairly, it has to be applied according to some kind of objective standard… that is, we as a society have to identify the type of situation where it is warranted and apply that standard fairly, consistently, and dispassionately. You can’t kill one perp because the judge doesn’t like black people, but spare another because the judge (or the jury) can’t countenance killing a woman.

  14. Kevin M. Sullivan says:

    You’re walking in circles Richard.

    If a family doesn’t want the death penalty applied to the killer of their loved one, fine. But that still doesn’t mean that the prosecutor has to go along with their wishes. It may depend on other factors as well (information given by the killer which results in the return of the remains of the loved one, for example). So everything can be on the table.

    That said, most families of the murdered do believe in the DP being used in these cases, and their wish should trump all others, in my view.

    If anti DP folks will be honest (and it’s difficult during a debate to get them to be honest), they have a moral objection ton the DP and it begins and ends here. They may use other arguments, but it all goes back to that.

    The DP is an excellent and a justified tool of our justice system, and I hope that we don’t become so weak like other western nations and ban it. It is not immoral ton put these heinous folks to death. The world became that much better, and justice was served, when they pulled the switch on Ted Bundy.

  15. Kevin M. Sullivan says:

    I don’t know how I managed to write “ton” for “to” twice above but I did, lol!

    Change to “to” :)

  16. Disproving your statement is not walking in circles. You said one simply needs to ask surviving families. Well, someone did and the answer was not what you said it would be. it’s far more complicated than that.

    Now you seem to believe that only those families who agree with your philosophy deserve justice.

  17. Kevin M. Sullivan says:

    If particular families of murdered loved ones believe it to be just to allow them to live, that’s okay with me? I have no problem with that. If they want to exchange the killer’s life for the location of their loved one, that’s great too. But by and large, most folks with murdered loved ones want the killer to die, and that, in my opinion is one (and there are others!) good reason to have the DP.

    The death penalty is, in my opinion a just tool of the justice department. It rids the earth of the most heinous and diabolical among us who have committed the most egregious of crimes.

  18. L.A. says:

    Lots of unseen footage of Bundy’s trial has been uploaded to youtube, about an hour’s worth. Check out this channel:

    https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCcea0cfahdmh8wpudYqss0Q

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