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

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7,800 thoughts on “1989: Ted Bundy, psycho killer”

  1. morph says:

    thanks, kevin, for your thoughts.

    so, having weighed up all the above then I think we can see how the mall incident really played out.

    Bundy wanted a child that day.

    1. He only used the “authority figure” ruse with children.

    2. The “substation” story is only workable with children in mind … adults would be super-suspicious of that (even daRonch was)

    3. He had already researched the school he would visit afterwards.

    4. Ted’s outdoor strategy with adults was always back to his car asap. He had not planned for adults that day and so the DaRonch thing was a frustrated improv. And Ted makes mistakes when he is frustrated (Chi Omega, 2nd Lake Sam visit, etc).

    5. (This is total speculation) His strange return to the school play after already getting Debra Kent was because he really wanted a child.

    1. Kevin M. Sullivan says:

      Actually, morph, I don’t think he wanted a child that night. I think he wanted a young woman when he went to the mall.
      And, I think his police cover was designed to work with young females and it worked with DaRonch. Indeed, he was still playing cop at Viewmont High, and I did not find anything in the record that when Bundy asked the teacher to come out “and identify a car” for him, that she suspected he wasn’t a police officer. In other words, it wasn’t an issue. So Bundy could use that cop ruse on anyone; although, to my knowledge, he used it very sparingly. It wasn’t his regular MO, but he did use it.

      Also, I don’t consider Debra Kent a “child”, but she was younger than Carol DaRonch. Real children that Bundy killed would be Lynette Culver and Kim Leach. There were other children, of course, but we don’t know their names.

  2. Bob Roberts says:

    Hi all, Happy New Year and all the best for 2016. Thanks for another year of Bundy facts and speculation. Look forward to your new book Kevin. I’m about to re-read your book again. Regards, Bob.

    1. Kevin M. Sullivan says:

      Hi Bob, and a Happy New Year to you!

      Tentative publication date for the new Bundy book is around late February or perhaps March. I’ll let everyone know more as we draw closer to it.

      And enjoy that second read of The Bundy Murders!

      1. Bob Roberts says:

        I may even write a review this time (a few years late I know).

        1. Kevin M. Sullivan says:

          Yes, Bob, please do write a review, as every good review helps!



  3. Steve says:

    I have always, like many, wondered about the true victim count.

    I do not believe it’s anywhere near as high as 100, like Bob Keppel likes to claim. But I wonder what someone like Bill Hagmaier thinks. Considering they did go over an actual number.

    I don’t think it’s actually the 30 that he went over with Bill. But I don’t think it’s a super high number either. He became distracted by the killing in 74. I would assume he would’ve became distracted much earlier if he were killing like that in years previous to ’74.

    I feel he killed sporadically. Starting, possibly in the late 60’s. Then the compulsions took over by ’74, and he became the full blow killer he was known to be.

    1. Hal says:

      Steve, I’d go along with all of that. I think it’s somewhere between 35-50 (a staggering amount as it is, every one an apocalypse for the family concerned). And until it became his ‘thing’ circa ’73-4, you can probably count his victims on your fingers, maybe even on one hand. And I’d agree that the best professional guess would come from Hagmaier.

      Even if he killed Ann Burr at 14 as many believe, his final count could still be under 40. Remember Dahmer killed someone at 15, then was dormant till a similar age to Bundy when his ‘run’ began.

      As for the Burr killing… let me throw out a piece of circumstantial evidence that puts me in the ‘he did it’ camp. That Bundy mugshot during the original investigation (white T shirt) shows a young man with a ridiculous amount of wrinkles. I believe this is down to his obsession and possible sleep deprivation over years. It’s very unusual for someone in their twenties… but mid-teens?

      Check out that high school yearbook shot, Bundy in semi-profile sitting at a desk. Look at his forehead. This is a teenager already submerged in murderous fantasy, I reckon. It hardly proves he killed someone, obviously, but for me is a puzzle piece which indicated his obsession was already in place at the time of the Burr disappearance. And with that, I’m inclined to think he did it. And if he did, I think a handful of others might lie between Burr and Healy.

      1. Kevin M. Sullivan says:

        Interesting post, Hal. Thanks.

      2. Bob Roberts says:

        Hi Hal,

        Which Bundy mugshot are you referring to (please link)?

        Incidentally I have had insomnia for years. No wrinkles though.


        1. Steve says:

          50 and below is fully reasonable. I’m in the “He didn’t do it” camp, on the Burr murder.

          He was capable of committing murder at 14. Many have done it earlier than that. But would he really have the intelligence to know where to put the body, so that it couldn’t be found?

          I do not think so. Remember Ted wasn’t anywhere near as smart as he has been made out to be.

          Wrinkles mean little at that age. Remember, Ted changed his look a billion times.

          They were always there.

          Just went back and looked at his high school yearbook pic. They’re missing there.

          I’m sure he had violent sexual fantasies from the time he hit puberty. But I really doubt they caused him much stress at that age.

    2. Kevin M. Sullivan says:

      Hey Steve,

      Yes, I too don’t believe the higher numbers (100 in my view is absurd). But 40 plus victims? Yes, it’s quite possible.

      1. Steve says:

        O, I agree. I just think the high numbers are about as possible as Ottis Toole and Henry Lee Lucas. And we all know they lied. Ted killed more than them. Yet never approached a mind boggling number.

  4. Shelley says:

    Apparently bite marks as evidence are being increasingly questioned. A podcast. Of course, they mention the Bundy case.


  5. Kevin M. Sullivan says:

    Hi all…

    Apparently, the audio edition of The Bundy Murders is on sale at Amazon for just $3.99. Follow the link:


    Also, my new Bundy book (the companion volume) is set to be released next month as well.

  6. Sandy says:

    Mr. Sullivan,

    I’ve read your book and I loved it! Thanks for writing it. I have a question, please. I know Bundy had an icepick in his car when he was pulled over that fateful night. As far as you know, did he use the icepick on any of his victims? I am asking because it was one of the items he carried in his “kit,” but also because the picture on the cover of your book is an icepick! Yet I cannot recall ever reading of an injury to any victim that would have been caused by an icepick.

    Thank you,


    1. Kevin M. Sullivan says:

      Hi Sandy…

      Well, this is weird: I posted a reply to you a couple of hours ago from my IPhone, and it’s not here. After i posted it, it showed it being there, but not now. Oh well lol!

      Anyway, thank you so much for the good comments about my book! I very much appreciate them!

      Bundy did puncture one of his victims in the abdomen with his ice pick. Now, the girl was no doubt already dead, so this must have been done to satisfy one of Bundy’s secret desires. The guy was always doing strange things to the dead bodies.

      As to the cover of my book, McFarland, the publisher didn’t consult me in the matter. Most publishers do not ask the writer about design features per the front and back covers, or internal design. The writer is responsible for the manuscript and the picture captions, but that’s about it.

      Of the four publishers I have, three asked for my feedback of the covers they were thinking of using on my upcoming publications. Now, I happened to like what they were doing and said so. However, I’m sure I didn’t have the final “say” in the matter, but at least they asked. But my Bundy book publisher did not. Personally, I haven’t had a problem with it, but it’s not what I would have done if it was my call. And I’m sure Bundy NEVER used the ice pick as a weapon.

      And say, Sandy, since you enjoyed the book so much, could you possibility write a review for it on Amazon, or wherever you received it? If you read it from the library or borrowed a copy, you can still leave a review at Amazon. Anyway, all reviews help, so thanks in advance for the review if you decide to write it. :)

  7. Kevin M. Sullivan says:

    Thanks Brad. :)

  8. Kevin M. Sullivan says:

    Hi May!

    Thanks for the kind words about my book. I really appreciate them!

    My new book is a companion volume to The Bundy Murders. And in this new book there will be testimonies from those who knew Bundy very well, and most of not all of these have never been in print before. I’m very pleased with how the book has turned out, and it will be finished in less than two weeks!

    Very often Bundy would hit his victims a second time in the head. This was the case with Georgann Hawkins, and then he strangled her to death. But this is important: Had Bundy NOT strangled Hawkins to death, she may have died anyway.

    When people are struck in the head with a heavy blunt object, like a crowbar, a tremendous amount can occur, and can be fatal, anywhere from 6 hours after the event, to several days later. This happened to a friend of mine who was punched in the face, was knocked out, but regained consciousness rather quickly, only to die two only three days later.

    I would doubt that Bundy would have kept any women in his apartment unless they were completely unconscious. It would have been just too risky. That’s just my opinion, however, lol!

    Yes, I’m aware of the “visual compendium”, and have corresponded with the author many times.

    As to Caryn Campbell, she was not strangled. According to her autopsy report “The cause of death was blows to the back of the head with a blunt object combined with exposure to sub zero weather.”

    Personally, I don’t believe Bundy was being honest with Polly Nelson when he talked about the killing of the Idaho hitchhiker. Why he would lie to her, I don’t know, but I believe he did. However, I absolutely believe Bundy was completely truthful in his end-of-life confession with Idaho investigator (along with Bill Hagmaier) Russ Reneau, and this is why I use that story.

    Anyway, I know you’ll love the new book too!

    I’ll talk to you next time…


  9. Headsman says:

    For the record, I haven’t forgotten about consigning these disobediently persistent comments to their right place in the chronological history … I have merely been defeated by them so far.

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