Serial killers captivate the imagination for a number of reasons. There is a certain unique horror in learning about someone who revels in the death and slaughter of innocents, and Ted Bundy is perhaps the most notorious serial killer of the modern period. Bundy holds the imagination of entire generations because is it incredibly fascinating to learn about someone who, on the outside, exhibited all the traits of a successful, attractive, and charismatic man, yet on the inside was a brutal murderer and rapist.
This sample criminal justice essay explores Bundy’s charismatic personality and his killing sprees that lasted several years.
Ted Bundy: The first post-modern serial killer
Some of the most frightening individuals the world has to offer are those that have been linked to the murders of multiple individuals. Society is so fearful of these individuals because they defy common logic; who would want to murder in the beginning, and why would killing more people become more and more exciting for the killer? It would seem that the mind of a serial killer is made up of something that is entirely different than the average human being, which makes those who have been caught and convicted appear to be almost alien to the majority of society.
But, it is more than just this difference in the rationale of minds that make serial killers so interesting to many people. It becomes even more interesting, yet disturbing, to recount and hear the killer’s perspective on the way in which they carried out their crimes and the reasoning behind why the did what they did. Such is the case for Theodore Robert “Ted” Bundy. What makes Bundy such a unique example of a serial killer is not the number of victims that he has been linked to, over 30, but the time period in which he became infamous.
Bundy is often called the first postmodern serial killer, as he grew infamous for his actions in the later 1970s. The case example of Bundy serves two distinct roles when examining his particular brand of criminal intent.
- The seriously deranged mental state of the individual and the apparent link that has to his crimes.
- The means by which many of the postmodern serial killers have attracted their victims and carried out their own gruesome crimes.
Before elaborating extensively upon the case of Bundy, it is important to have a broader understanding of the term serial killer and what it entails. When one speaks of either serial killers or serial murder, it is assumed that they are defining the crime loosely as:
“The killings of multiple victims spaced over time,” (Keeney Heide).
What is important to note is that the time period that links these killings has no real limitation or boundary, meaning that a serial killer could, if they remained uncaught, strike and wait days, months, or even years between their kills. For the Bundy case, this definition holds true, and the time between his murders varies over a four-year period. Another important issue to examine about the serial killer in general is the six dimensions that the killer will usually fall under in the way in which their crimes were carried out.
The motives for serial killers vary but have broadly been narrowed down into six categories. The six categories can also have overlap between them, meaning that the killer is not bound to be placed within a single category and can exhibit multiple facets of motives.
The categories are:
- Power and/or control over the victim
- Personal pleasure or gain
- Destruction of established society
- Sexual satisfaction
- No apparent motive
What is more interesting still, is that Bundy can trace elements of his crimes to basically every category that defines the usual motives for serial killer crimes. Not only can Bundy be called the first postmodern serial killer, but it appears that he also can be called the most motivated, or versatile, serial killer as well.
Bundy clearly exhibited signs that would point to mental distress. As a psychotic murderer, it is not unfair to label him as an individual who:
“Suffers from a mental illness such that he has a complete break with reality,” (Leibman).
As with many other serial killers, the stranger part about the actions, apart from the kills themselves, is that Bundy felt a sense of rationale and acceptance for his actions. It was as though he felt what he had done was somehow justified and acceptable.
This display of clear ego harmonious is seen with many serial killers and is a clear sign of mental issues occurring within the mind of the individual, as they appear to have no real concept of why their actions were wrong in the first place (Leibman). Regardless of the feelings that Bundy himself felt about his murders, the fact remains that he will be remembered as one of the most ruthless, calculating, and cold-blooded individuals that have ever lived.
As noted, Bundy’s case is unique and falls in a time period when serial killings were not a common occurrence. Compared to today, where 20 percent of all murders appear to have no real motive, the late 1960s and early 1970s saw a percentage of only 6 for murders with no real motive (Holmes DeBurger). This is the time frame in which the killings of Bundy occurred. His murders can be called influential for those that followed him because they occurred during a time when the media did not cover stories of individuals that murdered multiple victims.
Research into the sociology of serial killers tells us Bundy’s case was unique and received more media attention than usual. There was no real public concept placed for such an individual and to have the story of Bundy go public was a major event for both the general population and the media (Vronsky). This was only furthered when Bundy was brought to the public spotlight and had his crimes made known and his character revealed.
The personal charisma of Ted Bundy
Bundy did not have the typical look about him that one would associate with a criminal and far be it from that of a serial killer.
He was described as “a handsome, athletic, well-spoken young man,” (Vronsky) who was both extremely polite and gave the appearance of being both caring and concerned about those around him.
He was not a loner, who kept to himself and stayed out of the public’s attention; rather, he was well educated and popular and was considered a trusted friend and confidant by both men and women that knew him (Vronsky).
He even went as far as to be hired by the state government as a “crime-control consultant” and had been admitted into law school in Seattle.
Yes, on first glance, no one would ever have suspected Bundy to be anything but a model citizen. Unfortunately, beneath this exterior of the model citizen lurked something much darker and deranged.
Bundy’s brutal crimes
Ted Bundy was a murderer. He was a necrophiliac. He was a rapist. He, in cold blood, murdered twenty young women in a period of just sixteen months and mutilated their bodies upon the completion of his acts. He kept four human heads in his apartment. He burned body parts in his girlfriend’s fireplace. Bundy was a monster (Vronsky). Some say his crimes represented the most severe murders until the Charles Manson serial murders several years later.
His case is the perfect example of not being fooled by outward appearances. In fact, he used his charming, unsuspecting demeanor as a means of attracting his potential victims. He relied upon it really. Ted Bundy would lure his victims in as a down to earth, good individual and then reveal his true intentions and nature only when it was too late for his victims. Mary Osmer is one of the few individuals that had direct interactions with Bundy and, through pure luck on her part, was able to be spared a gruesome fate.
Osmer was approached by Bundy in a park and engaged him in casual conversation as she was waiting to meet up with her family. As a young newlywed women, Osmer got a detailed look at the way in which Bundy approached and attracted his potential victims and had a direct, almost fatal interaction with him. He attempted to draw her in with promises of taking her sailing, and being an attractive, mysterious, and exciting stranger, Osmer was intrigued.
However, when Bundy revealed they would have to leave the park to get to his apparent boat to go sailing, Osmer declined and claimed that she had to wait for her family. By doing this, Osmer not only saved her own life but was given a front row seat to Bundy’s next performance (Keppel).
Disappearance of more women
A quick learner, Bundy realized that he would have to be up front with the notion of leaving the park to get to his “sailboat” in order to attract a female to be all right with the idea of leaving with this stranger. Bundy approached several new women, all under the intent of befriending them and inviting them to either go sailing with him or to help him with the boat because he had a lingering injury.
Learning from his mistake, Bundy was always up front that the boat was off site from the park, but he would be more than happy to drive the two to go retrieve it. He acted, as another individual recalls, as a perfect gentleman and was a bit disappointed in not having him come up and talk to her (Keppel). Osmer recalls seeing Bundy attracting, mildly seducing, and then leaving with Janice Ott from the same park on that day.
She remembers thinking, “boy, it didn’t take him long to find someone else,” (Keppel).
That was the last time anyone ever saw Ott again.
Ted Bundy’s crime spree
As it can plainly be seen, Ted Bundy never really knew whom he would next kill; he left it to chance, which added to the thrill in his actions.
These are classic examples of the power/control serial killer in which, “the killer receives gratification from the absolute power he has over the destiny of another human being,” (Holmes Holmes).
Self-described, Bundy openly admitted, “I just liked to kill, I wanted to kill,” (LaBrode).
What this reveals is the strangeness and instability that plagued the mind of Bundy regardless of how he appeared on the surface.
As stated earlier, the real lure of the serial killer to the average individual is the distinct separation of their motives to that of the normal member of society. They intrigue us because:
“The average person cannot fathom committing such a heinous crime and never showing any remorse,” (LaBrode) such as with Bundy.
Not only did he admit to enjoying his killings, he calmly and coolly stated to the police in Florida, “I’m the most cold-blooded son of a b**** you’ll ever meet,” (Michaud, Aynesworth, Bundy).
This statement speaks volumes of the character of Ted Bundy. The results of which, show the complete disregard he felt towards other humans and the position that he held himself within.
What is the most troubling about a statement such as the ones that Bundy have made are that they appear to have some contradiction within them. By openly admitting that he enjoyed killing and killed to satisfy that lust, Bundy showed that he possessed clear signs of being a psychopath. This idea is further backed by the lack of remorse that Bundy exhibited towards the killings that he carried out and the crimes he was convicted of. However, statements such as the ones that he made to the police suggest that he realized that the actions that he carried out were indeed the wrong choices to make.
In fact, his statement seems to suggest that he is somehow in a position of elevation above the rest of society because he was able to perform the actions that he did while fully being aware of the consequences and moral dilemmas that followed from them. In a sense, this goes to further the notion that Bundy was considered to have a mental illness for possibly believing himself superior to others, but it also casts doubt onto his actions of that of a single crazed lunatic. It opens the door to the possibility that Bundy, albeit a mentally disturbed individual, was in his own way a genius that planned out exactly how and when he would strike and simply left the aspect of who his victim would be to chance, which only added to the excitement that he would feel before, during, and after the kill.
Constant need to control
One of the most prominent traits of Bundy, as well as many other killers, is the constant need to be in complete control of every situation. Even from his prison cell in Florida on death row, Bundy still attempted to control those around him such as the authors from a biography he asked to help write about his life. As Michaud and Aynesworth openly admit, the most annoying and self-righteous claims that Bundy made were in the asking for the two to write about him.
They felt as though he acted as if, “as journalists, we were ready to act as his tools,” (Michaud, Aynesworth, Bundy).
The interviews that Bundy gave spelled out the same story as that of the eyewitnesses and acquaintances of Bundy before and during his conviction.
He appeared to be intelligent to the point of arrogant, charming, and had a strange aura about him that was both compelling and somewhat repellent (Michaud, Aynesworth, Bundy). Obviously, this perspective was a bit skewed as it came from after Bundy’s conviction, so he had the stigma of committing over two dozen murders hanging over him. But, it remains relevant to show that throughout the course of his life, Bundy was never on the surface associated with the common attributes that one would see in the stereotypical serial killer.
To further the notion of being a control freak and egomaniac, Bundy had made very few claims about the writings about him so long as two criteria were met. He adamantly demanded that the information that was published about him be correct, and he wanted to ensure that what was written about him would sell.
In his letter to the authors of the interviews with him, he blankly states, “I don’t care what you write just so you get it right and just so it sells,” (Michaud, Aynesworth, Bundy).
Statements such as these reveal one more important piece to the Bundy story: his want to be remembered.
Mental disorders as a cause?
The motives of Bundy can be traced to multiple elements including mental disorders, lust, to even no motives at all. But, it would appear that to Bundy, there may have been one more reason for why he had to kill so many individuals in the way in which he did. After living the better part of his life as a model citizen that was well received and enjoyed by many, Bundy may have, through the inner workings of his mind, come to the conclusion that what he was doing would never leave a lasting legacy of who he was. Research into the psychology of serial killers refers to this as thoughts of grandeur.
For all of his accomplishments, Bundy was on track to become a typical individual that lived a productive life and stayed the course of success. This thought was rejected by Bundy; he wanted more. As an employee to a crime related job, Bundy may have seen that it was the criminals that got much of the public’s attention and through his observations come to his final solution. In order for people to always remember the name Ted Bundy and the man he was, he would have to strive to become one of the most notorious criminals the world had ever known.
From here, Bundy, a quick learner and intellectual individual, could have weighed his options and realized that by his skill sets and natural attributes, it would be easy to attract a certain type of victim, and then all he would have to do was to kill again and again. It is unclear that Bundy ever really turned to murder for this exact line of reasoning, however, the theory does fit much of the evidence about Bundy that has been presented. Unfortunately, the truth behind why Ted Bundy performed the actions that he did died with him, as he was sentenced to death and executed by the state in 1989.
His life may have ended with the death penalty, but Bundy’s case and legacy will always live on. The interest in a killer such as him will always be there, especially because of the uniqueness of the situation that led to Bundy’s actions based upon his character. Bundy defied the general assumption that the deranged killer would be an individual that was shunned by society and, therefore, acted out as a means of vengeance. Instead, Bundy’s case is one of an individual that appeared to be normal and a productive member of society that turned out to be the most disturbed of criminals. What Bundy did was establish a new precedent about what a serial killer could be.
By the time that he was caught and convicted, he had committed over 30 murders in a time where serial killers were relatively uncommon and not usually depicted by the media. The Bundy case also serves as an example of a true sadistic sociopath. Beneath his almost charming exterior lived a criminal with the darkest, most evil intents. Bundy’s case shows two major points for many serial killers to follow his ways: the disturbed and damaged mental state of the killer and the process by which these individuals can attract and carry out their crimes against others. Bundy did accomplish one thing for certain, he will never be forgotten and will always live in infamy.
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Holmes, Ronald M., and Stephen T. Holmes. Contemporary Perspectives on Serial Murder. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications, 1998. Print.
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Keppel, Robert. The Riverman: Ted Bundy and I Hunt for the Green River Killer. New York City: Pocket Books, 1995. Print.
LaBrode, Rebecca Taylor. “Etiology of the Psychopathic Serial Killer: An Analysis of Antisocial Personality Disorder, Psychopathy, and Serial Killer Personality and Crime Scene Characteristics.” Oxford Journal. 7.2 (2007): 151-160. Web. 16 Apr. 2013. http://btci.edina.clockss.org/cgi/content/full/7/2/151/.
Leibman, Faith H. “Serial Murderers: Four Case Histories.” Atlantic County Jail Department of Criminal Justice. 53.41 (1989): n. page. Print.
Michaud, Stephen G., Hugh Aynesworth, and Ted Bundy. Ted Bundy: Conversations with a Killer. Irving, Texas: Authorlink Press, 2000. Print.
Vronsky, Peter. Serial Killers. New York City: The Penguin Group, 2004. Print.