Some people believe that Florida has a reputation of allowing killers to go free. It could be argued that carrying out the death sentence on Ted Bundy in 1989 was one of the last things Florida got right. In this week’s True Crime Corner, after the jump, Ted Bundy…
Theodore Robert Cowell was born to Eleanor Louise Cowell at a home for unwed mothers in Burlington, Vermont, on November 24, 1946. Ted never knew the true identity of his biological father, a fact which plagued him his entire life. He was never close to the man his mother would later marry, Johnny Bundy. Out of wedlock pregnancies were so taboo at the time that young Ted was raised to believe that his grandparents were his parents and that his mother was his older sister.
Following his birth, mother and son returned to the Philadelphia area to live with the boy’s grandparents. Louise and her toddler son relocated to Washington, where it is believed Ted started killing as a young man.
Ted Bundy was an attractive, charming law student with an interest in politics. He was comfortable on college campuses, which became his hunting grounds. He used his good looks and charisma to his advantage to lure young women to his car, often appearing physically impaired and in need of assistance. He would approach potential victims with his arm in a sling or cast, or sometimes he would be on crutches. Once the women agreed to help the seemingly helpless man, he pounced. Bundy would knock them on the head with a crowbar, rape and strangle them. It’s unclear how many women lost their lives to this madman. The killer confessed to between twenty and thirty murders, but authorities believe that number could be much higher.
He terrorized coeds in multiple states including Washington, Utah, Idaho, Colorado, and Florida. In Utah he was detained by Salt Lake City police for reckless driving. Further inspection of his Volkswagen Beetle revealed items that could be used in connection with burglaries, including a ski mask, crowbar, and handcuffs. Ted Bundy was arrested. However, he found himself returned to Colorado facing a more serious charge of murder.
Once held in Colorado, he escaped and was loose for over a week before being recaptured. Not one to be deterred, he slipped from custody again, this time getting as far as Florida. Once there his rampage continued. He victimized several women at the Chi Omega sorority house at Florida State University, killing two students. It was for those two murders that he was convicted and sentenced to death, although he was later convicted of a third and final killing in the same state.
Bundy may have been a notorious killer, but he had no shortage of misguided female groupies. He managed to marry longtime admirer Carole Ann Boone during his trial in Florida, on February 9, 1980. Their union would last only a few years, but a child was allegedly born to the couple. After the split, Carole and her daughter disappeared, their whereabouts unknown.
How does a serial killer get married during his murder trial? Bundy sometimes acted as his own attorney, and took advantage of an unusual Florida law that allowed couples to marry by declaring their intent to do so before a judge in court. Carole was a character witness for Bundy, who proposed to her while she was on the stand.
Even though Bundy was executed twenty-seven years ago, he is often the first person to come to mind when the subject of serial killers is brought up. Why is he still a fixture in pop culture?
Like other murderers, his crimes are recorded in books and movies. Legendary true crime author Ann Rule wrote her bestseller The Stranger Beside Me about Bundy. She worked with him at a suicide crisis hotline, when her handsome young friend was as interested in saving lives as he was in taking them.
The most recent Bundy mention I heard was in Magic Mike XXL. The movie is set in Florida, and one character comments about another male character that it’s always the pretty ones you have to watch, like Bundy. The killer’s good looks appealed to many love-struck females.
His notorious 1968 Volkswagen bug can still be found. I’ve seen it at the now-shuttered National Crime Museum in Washington, D.C. The car has been moved to the museum’s newest incarnation, Alcatraz East, a crime museum located in Tennessee. This car was the last ride for many of Bundy’s victims, the passenger seat removed to conceal the women he kidnapped. It was in this car where his murder kit was found.
Bundy had the opportunity to avoid the death penalty, but he declined. He had the chance to plead guilty to three murders, receiving 3 sentences of 25 years each, essentially life in prison. He thought he could represent himself and beat the charges, but he was mistaken. He took his chances with a jury of his peers and lost. In the end he blamed alcohol and pornography for his downfall. The killer thought he should be spared so that he may be further studied. While that sounds fascinating, it was hard to tell when Bundy was lying or telling the truth. Seeing no merit in the killer’s idea, the State of Florida ordered him executed in the electric chair. However, he did prove useful to the investigation of Gary Ridgeway, The Green River Killer. He provided valuable assistance to the authorities, and this story can be found in Robert Keppel’s book The Riverman: Ted Bundy and I Hunt for the Green River Killer. A 2004 movie titled The Riverman tells a similar tale, with Cary Elwes playing Ted Bundy.
Bundy’s depravity and brutality were shocking to many people. Whatever your thoughts on capital punishment are, there is no doubt that Ted Bundy needed to be removed from society. He managed to escape from prison twice, so perhaps the death penalty was the only way to be sure he couldn’t hurt anyone else again. People may disagree on how the monster paid for his crimes, but everyone can agree that the world is a safer place without Theodore Robert Bundy.