One of the more infamous psychopathic serial killers is Ted Bundy, brutal murderer of at least 30 young women across America in the 1970s, with possibly many more unidentified victims. He is notable for his good looks, charisma, intelligence and audacity which took so many people in and led to the familiar “I would never have thought he could do that” line from so many who knew him once he was exposed.
This is symptomatic of the very convincing persona or mask of sanity so many psychopaths are able to put up to a greater or lesser extent, portraying themselves as just like everyone else to all those they meet. Bundy is a standout just for how convincing and powerful this mask was; perhaps the most cleverly disguised and concealed serial killer there has ever been.
Many of those who knew him did not the faintest idea of there being anything seriously wrong with his personality. No signs, no clues, nothing. This is exemplified in the book The Stranger Beside Me by a close former friend and co-worker Ann Rule on Bundy. She worked with him on the suicide hotlines and the Ted she knew appeared to be the opposite of a serial killer – kind, caring, thoughtful.
The hidden side of Bundy was much darker – an predatory, evil character who used his intelligence, good looks and disarming nature to deceive and murder his his victims, often in broad daylight with others around. He also had sickening necrophilic fetishes and seemingly no limits to the depths of evil he would sink, murdering even a young schoolgirl towards the end of his run of killings.
The case of Ted Bundy is one of the more frightening ones because he was so well able to conceal himself, to the point where even when suspect sketches resembling him were released, his friends at the time noticed the similarity and still dismissed the possibility it could be him out of hand, so good was the act he put up.
However, if we look more closely at his documented history and character, there are always even the faintest glimmers of clues to suggest Bundy was not all that he seemed to others. Let’s look back over his known past as covered by the embedded documentary below to see what signs there were in retrospect of something being amiss in his character.
Click here to view The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule on Amazon.
The Most Convincing Mask Ever?
To repeat, Ted Bundy had what was probably the most cleverly constructed facade of normalcy or mask of sanity that has been been produced by a mass serial killer. In fact his mask was not just a facade of normalcy but a facade of exceptionality, which is what made it so powerful and convincing.
Far from coming across as just a normal, harmless, person, it appears Bundy came across as an extraordinary person, which made him even less of a suspect. he is reported by many who knew him to be handsome, charming, intelligent, well spoken and disarming. He did well at University, seen in many ways as a model student, though this academic success appeared in hindsight to cover up in internal emptiness he felt.
However, allied to all these qualities, Bundy also had a noticeable caring and thoughtful persona, even working on suicide hotlines with his friend Ann Rule. Rule reports him to have been great on the phone – caring and interested in the concerns of others – and undoubtedly saved lives on the job. He walked her to her car at night, imploring her to take care of herself. The total opposite of how he would behave in his hidden life as a killer.
This makes Bundy a standout in that many killers will seem normal on the surface, but not exceptionally gifted, caring or intellectual in the sense Bundy was. It is this air of exceptionality which so well concealed him, since he appeared to those around him not only as not a cold killer, but the very opposite to that – a caring, well spoken, articulate person.
The mask Bundy presented to the world of the charming, handsome, intelligent guy is completely at odds with the horrific sexually sadistic crimes he would commit in secret.
His Dream Girl
One thing which does stand out in the biography of Bundy’s life presented to us is his failings in a relationship with a particular girl he seems to have been infatuated by at University – Stephanie Brooks. She was his dream girl and he dated her for a year before she broke off with him, apparently eventually seeing past his charm, good looks and charisma to see there was nothing underneath.
This is one of the very faintest chinks in Bundy’s act that we can find, though again not enough of a chink to suggest he would go to the evil lengths he did in raping, beating and murdering others. The documentary details how he talked a good game but his girlfriend could see he wasn’t actually going anywhere in his life, wasn’t actually doing anything. He was “found out” by her and she moved on.
The rejection by this girl of his dreams seems to have devastated him. She saw the facade he had constructed – seemingly intellectual, intelligent, charming, but ultimately fake, with no action to back up the words.
Here again, as with two other psychopathic serial killers we have looked at – Dennis Nilsen and Harold Shipman – we see the same pattern of a traumatic event in early life or adolescence deeply affecting them and sowing the seeds in their mind for the way they would approach their killings later on in life.
In the case of Bundy, the rejection appears to have affected him deeply, perhaps because of pre-existing issues of rejection and abandonment. Crucially though, all the young women he targeting after that in his killings all physically resembled this girl who rejected him. As with Nilsen and Shipman, the traumatic event ingrains a certain perverted fetish that determines who they target and/or how they approach their killings.
This is an important pattern to investigate if we are ever to identify and stop these serial killers before they do the horrific things they do. If it is the case that having certain genetic markers for psychopathy, plus a certain traumatic life events, is what tips already troubled people over the edge into killing, then identifying these markers and life patterns can be crucial in saving lives in the future.
After much persuasion and wooing, Bundy actually got his dream girl back, but then abruptly broke off all contact with her. This is another red flag that something had gone seriously wrong with his character by that point, perhaps with the initial rejection tipping him over the edge. The wooing back and then the sudden rejection could indicate a number of things.
Firstly, it could be seen as a sign of increasing instability and volatility in Bundy’s psyche, with a conflict and dissonance inside him. Perhaps part of him wanted to get the girl back and “live happily ever after”, but perhaps a part of him also hated her for rejecting him and wanted to get even. Maybe the latter side of his personality won out and accelerated the decline of his character into evil.
Alternatively, it could just be seen as an act of control by the possibly already evil and manipulative Bundy, who just wanted to woo her back and then reject her so he could maintain control over the situation. In the first instance he didn’t have control; by getting her back and breaking off all contact he reworks the scenario so he is in complete control.
It depends on whether one looks at the formation of a psychopathic serial killer as an innate state where they are simply born with and always have within them a psychopathic personality, or whether it is viewed as a process where the psyche of someone who already has a genetic predisposition for psychopathy deteriorates and darkens through series of events in their life.
The latter interpretation also depends on Bundy only beginning his killings after this event. Unfortunately there is suspicion, although not proof, that he is reponsible for more killings even before 1974, which would make this interpretation less valid. It is difficult to be certain on this, since Bundy himself gave different answers to different people regarding the number of people he had killed.
The heartbreak Bundy suffered at the hands of his dream girl appears to have been the catalyst which tipped him over the edge into his serial killing behaviour.
However one chooses to view the rejection of Bundy and his subsequent rejection of his girlfriend, this event appears to have “taken the brakes off” him psychologically it is after this point that his confirmed killings appear to have started, although he may be responsible for more before this.
He began targeting young, female college students who resembled his former girlfriend, indicating a perverted desire at least at first to perhaps rework the rejection with a sense of power and control. All his targets were young, attractive women, indicating that there was indeed a fetish and hatred and rage in his psyche surrounding women. He never targeted men that we know of.
He would lure women to his car, often wearing a fake cast or crutches to pretend he was injured to elicit sympathy from them. He also used his good looks and surface charm to take them in and avoid arousing any suspicion.
Once inside his car he would assault and bound them and take them to remote locations and kill, sexually assault and butcher the bodies of the victims. Some of the sexual and necrophilic acts he committed are sickening and indicate that despite the mask of charm, he was one of the most deranged and sadistic killers that has ever existed.
As killings progressed so did his audacity, often walking into public places such as public parks on hot busy summers days and openly attempting to lure multiple women back to his car. This can be seen as symptomatic of the arrogance and sense of invincibility that many psychopaths develop, or else an addictive urge to kill that grew inside him and needed feeding no matter what risks he had to take.
Bundy abducted and murdered at least 6 young women in 1974, leaving police in several states on high alert trying to find the culprit. Bundy’s meticulous, controlling nature in cleaning up crime scenes meant that he evaded detection for a long time. In another demonstration of audacity he actually returned to a scene where he had abducted someone the previous day to retrieve incriminating items he had left behind.
He was eventually caught when an attempted kidnapping of a girl named Carol DaRonch went wrong and she was able to escape. Later the following year he was arrested for other reasons and DaRonch picked him out in an identity parade as the kidnapper. By this point police were closing in and already had strong evidence which implicated him in several of his other murders.
He was sentenced to 1-15 years for the attempted DaRonach kidnapping. Ha later escaped twice from custody and eventually fled to Florida, where he committed several more killings before finally being permanently apprehended. His final death toll stands at at least 30 over 7 states by his own admission, but is likely more.
He took a the seemingly unusual step of defending himself in his trials, although once we understand the self centred, egotistical nature of the psychopath, it becomes more logical. They always want to be the center of attention and this combined with his delusional and grandiose personality made him believe he could pull off his own defense.
His attempt failed, such was the overwhelming evidence against him. As one onlooker put it: “He was very sure of himself, he asked very good questions, but he never learnt the first lesson of law school…..you never represent yourself”. It was a miscalculation symptomatic of his arrogance and also of the fact that evil brings itself down in the end.
He was sentenced to death and despite several stays of execution, was finally put to death by electric chair on January 24th, 1987. Right until the end he showed no remorse or guilt for his actions, typical of a psychopath in that they lack any sense of moral barometer or conscience. They don’t “get” that they have done anything wrong. They don’t see what all the fuss is about.
There has been endless speculation on what truly motivated Bundy to commit the heinous crimes he did. Bundy himself offered many explanations, such as childhood, society, pornography and many other excuses and rationalizations. He never admitted any blame or fault himself, displaying the typical trait of psychopaths of the relentless and extreme projection of blame onto the outside world for his actions.
Another complication which makes it difficult to accept any of Bundy’s explanations is the incessant tendency towards dishonesty and lying apparent in all psychopaths and especially Bundy himself. See M Scott Peck’s People of the Lie on Amazon and also our article on psychopaths as compulsive liars. This tendency was apparent in Bundy from quite early on in his life.
Psychopaths lie when it is expedient to lie to cover their tracks, but they also lie when they don’t even need to. They appear to like lying just for the sake of lying, even when it serves no obvious purpose. They get a kick out of deceiving others even when they don’t need to; it is a deeply ingrained trait that just seems to be part of them.
Indeed Bundy only confessed his guilt even to those closest to him in the final few days of his life when execution was near certain. Up until that point he lied even to them in the face of overwhelming evidence he was guilty. He had to be in control the whole time.
With Bundy we have to be especially cautious of this dishonesty. Footage of his trials reveals he often has a smirk on his face evident of what is known as Duper’s Delight, a pleasure toxic characters get out of deceiving others. We must accept the possibility that perhaps much of what Bundy has admitted may be a lie unless confirmed by physical evidence, since psychopaths constantly lie just for the control factor of it.
Even when he is supposedly confessing to the number of victims he killed or how and where he carried the killings out, we still cannot take them to be definitive accounts unless confirmed through another source. Bundy appears to have been a compulsive liar and would have been very happy to even lie his way through an account of something he supposedly did just for the kick of staying in control the whole time.
The mask appears to have completely come off just before his execution, and there was no expediency left for any of the excuses or projections of blame. When asked why he did it, he simply responded “I liked it”. We are to take literally anything he said with a pinch of salt, but this is perhaps the closest to the truth we will ever get. He was simply a wilfully evil person who enjoyed killing and torturing people.
Was He Born or Made?
How he got to this point is another difficult question to answer. There are certainly things in his early life which did not help him and indeed cannot be put down to him. He was born out of wedlock and appears to have had a somewhat unstable early life with few connections.
Due to the social pressures at the time of having a baby out of marriage, Bundy was sent to live with his grandparents, under the illusion they were his actual parents, whilst his mother continued to live with him, under the illusion he was actually his older sister.
This was a crucial early mistake by his family, no matter the social pressures of the time, since the whole of Bundy’s early life was built on a lie. When he later found out the truth in his adolescence, the realisation that the entire foundation of his early existence was a total lie must have left him deeply distrustful of others and not even knowing who he was.
This was a mistake and it is never acceptable to lie to children in such a gross way about their upbringing, no matter how expedient it may seem at the time. It would have been better simply to tell the truth. His grandfather was also violent, and the young Bundy did also engage in odd behaviours at times.
Relatives also observed how his personality could suddenly “flip” or change, from a loving, harmless boy to something more vicious, perhaps symptomatic of multiple personality disorder even at an early age. He was also exposed to violent porn at an early age.
These are all early environment factors which are acting on the young Bundy to send him down the road towards psychopathy, although this would not become more obviously apparent until his twenties. But in someone who already perhaps has a genetic predisposition towards psychopathy, these early influences are not going to help.
He went into his university years with this sense of lack of connection or stability in his life, as well as a likely sense of bitterness and betrayal at being lied to about his parentage. Initially he appears to have done well, but then the aforementioned rejection by his dream girl appears to have been the real negative turning point for him, tipping him over the edge into psychopathic serial killer territory.
From that point on he is totally responsible for his actions and cannot blame anyone else. He chose to inflict the violence and suffering he did and we can never let the psychopath off from the sense of free will and choice we all have. However, we should also not ignore early factors.
Therefore it is much more sense on this level to believe that rather than “bad seeds” being turned out who are destined to be the way they are, people with certain proclivities or dispositions may be born who are then made into serial killers through misjudgements and maltreatment in childhood.
Of course from that point on there is still the issue of moral deviancy and free will on the choice of the killer. They are still 100% responsible for the murders they commit, whatever combination of genetics or trauma they have started off with. There are millions of people who go through trauma during their early life and don’t go on to become sadistic murderers.
However, if there is a predictable pattern of things a particular genetic dispostion PLUS certain things which go wrong to create a psychopathic killer, we must undercover these triggers to see the role society plays in creating these monsters. If there is a “formula” to what creates a serial killer, then uncovering it will save lives in the future. It is unlikely to be purely genetics.
Again and again we come back to this same general pattern of there being pre-existing problems in the person’s psyche, whether just slight glimmers or more obvious issues, combined with environmental factors and some traumatic life event which “finishes them off” psychologically and takes the brakes off any kind of morality and humanity.
From then on they appear to never be the same again and something shifts inside them which makes killing seem justified and, after a while, normal and even pleasurable. If we can stop potentially dormant psychopaths getting to this stage where the brakes are taken off, we might be able to limit the trauma and suffering and snuffed out opportunity they cause in the world.
Books on Ted Bundy – click to view on Amazon
Ted Bundy has also been the subject of many TV documentaries. Just a couple of them can be found here, here and here. Two more documentaries which also feature prolonged audio footage of interviews he conducted in prison can be found here and here.