There is quite a buzz about Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, the soon to be released biopic about serial killer Ted Bundy starring Zac Efron. Oxygen has more information about the upcoming feature film. Will the movie do history justice? Without portraying the film in any sort of a negative light, it is hard to imagine how Ted Bundy’s unfathomable crimes would be accurately portrayed on screen without traumatizing the audience.
So, who was the real Ted Bundy? He remains one of the most depraved, savage and brutal serial killers and rapists of all time, whose campaign of animalistic violence gripped the country in a state of sheer terror between 1974 and 1978. Ted Bundy undoubtedly changed American society. He kidnapped, raped, tortured and killed over 30 young women, the majority of whom he ensnared by appealing to their good nature. Ted Bundy is one of the reasons why we no longer trust strangers.
Ted Bundy was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. He was young, handsome, smart, and had the ability to be charming. By all accounts, he seemed like a normal, motivated, nice person. Those who knew him, such as crime writer Ann Rule, author of The Stranger Beside Me, were shocked when his crimes came to light. It couldn’t be true. There must be some mistake. Ted would never commit such atrocities.
But he did.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Like Many Serial Killers, Ted Bundy’s Childhood Was Unstable & He Exhibited Violent Tendencies at an Early Age
Ted Bundy was born Theodore Robert Cowell in Burlington, Vermont to 22-year-old Louise Cowell, an unwed mother from Philadelphia, reports biography.com. The identity of Ted’s father has never been confirmed, according to Serial Killers: The Method and Madness of Monsters by Peter Vronsky. The Cowells were devout Methodists and they were ashamed and embarrassed when they found out that Louise was pregnant outside of wedlock. So, they sent her away to a home for unwed mothers in Vermont so that she could give birth in secret.
A few months later, Louise returned to her family in Philadelphia. Her father, Sam Cowell, traveled to the home for unwed mothers to retrieve baby Ted. He and his wife pretended that they had adopted Ted from an orphanage. Ted grew up thinking that Louise was his sister and not his mother. Eventually, Ted found out the truth, but no one knows for sure how old he was when he learned his family secret. Some believe that this was the catalyst that caused Ted to become unhinged, but this theory is largely speculative, reports crimefeed.com.
When Ted was four, he and Louise moved to Tacoma, Washington, where Louise married John Culpepper Bundy, and Ted took on his surname. At this point, Ted was still referring to his grandparents as “Mommy” and “Daddy.” Reports on Ted’s life in Tacoma vary. He grew up in a working class household, and he reportedly missed living in Philadelphia with his “parents.” Louise claims that she doted on Ted, her first-born son.
Other accounts of Ted’s childhood are far more grim. One relative described Ted’s grandfather as a maniac with an explosive temper. He was a church deacon who was accused of being obsessed with pornography, and is rumored to have owned a large collection of it. It is believed that Ted was exposed to his grandfather’s collection of pornography as a young child, which some believe may have sparked his utter fascination and preoccupation with pornography and violent sex, thoughtco.com explains. Whether Ted was sexually molested as a child is unknown, though it has been rumored.
Ted’s grandfather was also said to be violent, often beating Louise in front of young Ted. In a particularly chilling story, Ted was staying with one of his aunts and while she was sleeping, he placed several butcher knives under the covers in the bed next to her. When she woke up and discovered the knives, young Ted could not stop laughing, writes author Peter Vronsky.
2. Ted Struggled to Be Someone Else in Order to Impress Others, Especially Women
Former high school classmates of Ted described him as being handsome, though Ted did not view himself that way. He was described as socially awkward; there was always something off about him, and he didn’t quite fit in. That said, Ted was always considered to be of above average intelligence.
While he was still a teenager, Ted began a life of crime. He was involved in a series of petty burglaries. He was also accused of forging lift tickets and stealing skiing equipment. Skiing was a particular interest of Ted’s, which became a passion of his. He enjoyed it and was quite good at it.
Those who knew Ted in high school and college stated that he was embarrassed by his working-class background and always strived to better himself. He wanted to improve his social standing, wear expensive clothes, earn a lot of money, land a prestigious job and, above all, find a beautiful young woman to exert complete control over.
In college, Ted became romantically involved with a young woman named Stephanie Brooks, a pseudonym used to protect her identity. It is rumored that Stephanie’s real name is Diana Edwards, but this has not been definitively confirmed. He was said to be infatuated with her as she represented everything he wanted in life. She was wealthy, beautiful, from a good family and going places in life.
Eventually, Stephanie broke up with Ted, stating that he was immature, unmotivated and not husband material. Being rejected by Stephanie greatly affected Ted, and he worked hard to win her back. Eventually, he rekindled his relationship with her, even becoming engaged. Once he won her back, he completely lost interest, and ceased all contact with her. He eventually took a phone call from her and she demanded to know where he’d been and why he hadn’t been answering her calls. He responded with “I have no idea what you’re talking about” and hung up. Ted later explained that he just wanted to prove to himself that he could have married her if he wanted to, according to History Collection.
One last thing to note about Stephanie Brooks is her appearance. Many of Bundy’s future victims were said to resemble Stephanie; they were young, beautiful, with fair complexions and typically had long, dark hair parted in the middle, just like Stephanie. An image purported to be that of Diana Edwards/Stephanie Brooks is available on History Collection.
3. Ted Bundy Made Various Attempts to be an Upstanding Citizen, Including Volunteering at a Suicide Hotline and Working With The Young Republicans
Whatever his motivations might have been, not everything Ted Bundy did in his life was bad. He briefly worked as a lifeguard and while he was on duty, he spotted a young boy flailing in the water. Bundy immediately jumped into the water, swam out to the boy and brought him to shore, saving his life. Perhaps Bundy wanted to know what it was like to save a life, before he began taking them. Regardless of his motives, he saved the little boy’s life, as author Peter Vronsky writes in his book Serial Killers: The Method and Madness of Monsters.
Bundy volunteered with the Young Republicans, possibly planning on pursuing a career in politics. He was described by his coworkers as hard working, passionate and devoted. With his rugged handsomeness and ability to seem charming and friendly, perhaps Bundy might have been a successful politician if his utter psychopathy hadn’t gotten the better of him. He even was accepted into law school in hopes of becoming an attorney. While he did not complete his J.D., Bundy proved to be intelligent, and his law school education would later come into play during his criminal hearings, as crimemuseum.org explains.
Finally, Ted Bundy volunteered at the Seattle Suicide Hotline. He worked alongside Ann Rule, who would go on to become an acclaimed true crime author. Rule, like many of the other volunteers, was in complete shock when she learned of Bundy’s crimes. He seemed absolutely committed to helping people, and would spend hours on the phone with the callers in crisis. Rule also stated that Bundy seemed very concerned about her safety and well-being. He would often escort her to her car and remind her to lock her doors, as The Washington Post reports. Bundy’s behavior defies logic and does not make sense to a rational mind.
4. Bundy Would Go On To Commit at Least 30 Homicides in 7 States Between 1974-1978
Ted Bundy traveled across the United States, starting in the Seattle area, slaying at least 30 young women after sexually brutalizing them. He drove a VW Bug and traveled from place to place, searching for pretty, young, vulnerable targets. He had various methods of ensnaring his prey. Sometimes, his good looks and charm were all he needed to get a young woman into his car.
Other times, Bundy would wear a sling and pretend to have a broken arm. He would ask a girl for assistance with loading something into his vehicle. Trying to be kind and helpful, his good-natured victims had no idea that they would soon be trapped in Bundy’s car, with hours of sexual battery, torture, and ultimately death ahead of them. Do you remember that famous scene from Silence of the Lambs where Buffalo Bill is wearing a sling, pretending to be struggling to move a couch into his van and traps Catherine Martin? There is no doubt that that scene was inspired by none other than Bundy himself. He sexually ravaged and mutilated his victims, biting and disfiguring them, degrading and humiliating them in every way possible, Crime Museum explains.
Later in his life when Bundy finally admitted to his crimes, he made a shocking admission. He stated that there was nothing as exhilarating and thrilling as strangling a person and watching the life leave their eyes. Nothing made him feel more powerful. Bundy seemed to derive satisfaction from saving the little boy from drowning when he was a lifeguard, just as he derived pleasure from watching his many victims die. Nothing made him feel more powerful, according to Peter Vronsky.
Another tactic of Bundy’s was to pretend to be a police officer. It might sound strange that so many young women were quick to believe Bundy that he was a member of the police force simply by flashing a fake badge. However, we are programmed to trust (and often fear) authority figures. Bundy was manipulative, convincing and conniving.
How did he evade capture for so long? Ted was masterful at disguising himself. He used fake names, changed his hairstyle, and masked his one identifying mark; a mole on his neck, which was easily hidden by wearing a turtleneck. Bundy had a sort of “everyman” appearance that made it easy to blend in just about anywhere. He didn’t stand out, and he knew how to keep a low profile.
After slaying his victims, Bundy would often dump their bodies in a certain location in the woods. He would revisit their corpses; sometimes to shampoo their hair, sometimes to apply makeup to their faces. He would routinely commit necrophilia until putrefaction set in.
At least 12 of his victims were decapitated. Sometimes, Bundy would keep the severed heads in his apartment as trophies, reports Crime Museum..
5. Following His Arrest, Bundy Opted to Be His Own Attorney & Was Able to Escape From Prison, Allowing Him to Commit More Murders
After a failed kidnapping attempt, Bundy was finally apprehended by the authorities. He later admitted that he had become so confident in his abilities, so unafraid of being caught and so brazen that he became careless and sloppy. He was charged with kidnapping and multiple charges of aggravated rape and murder, he opted to act as his own attorney. This allowed him to have access to the prison law library. While supposedly preparing for his trial, Bundy jumped out of an open window in the library, injuring his ankle but ultimately escaping. He was apprehended a few days later and transferred to a different facility. The complete FBI filed on Ted Bundy can be found here.
Remarkably, Bundy was able to escape from this facility as well. He traveled all the way from Colorado to Florida, where he entered a sorority house on the FSU campus, brutally attacking and sexually brutalizing four of them. Two of his victims did not survive. In a particularly gruesome detail, he shoved a can of hairspray up one of his victim’s vaginas, just one example of his depravity and animalistic violence. Bundy’s final victim is believed to be Kimberly Leach, who was only 12 years old, Britannica.com reports.
Finally, Bundy was apprehended and returned to police custody. His brutal, graphic and horrific crimes were detailed during his trial. Crime scene photos shocked the jury, including photos of his the bodies of his mutilated victims, and bite marks he left on them.
While Bundy did his best to defend himself, stating that his early exposure to pornography was to blame for his obsession with violent sex, prosecutors had an ironclad case against him and a preponderance of evidence.
He faced trial and received three death sentences.
During his trial, many women became interested and infatuated with Bundy, as if they were his fans. Bundy would wind up marrying a woman he met while he was incarcerated, Carol Ann Boone, with whom he fathered a daughter. Ted’s daughter, reportedly named Rose, has changed her name and lived a life hidden from the public eye.
It was only just before his execution that he confessed to his crimes. He admitted to killing 30 women and girls, but the authorities believe his actual victim count may be much higher.
Bundy’s final prison interview can be viewed here:
Ted Bundy was executed by the electric chair on January 24, 1989 at Florida State Prison. He is said to have died with a smile on his face.