The man who violently stole the lives of more than forty women, Ted Bundy, does not easily fit into any compartment of criminal theory. Bundy’s killing spree went unchecked for a period of years because his personality and lifestyle did not fit any previously established profile of a serial killer. In fact, Bundy’s life story could have provided a fascinating and valuable resource for criminal and psychological studies today and had he lived out his life in prison, may have provided the world with extraordinary insights into one of the most perplexing criminal minds in American history. Regardless, since his death in 1989, the fields of science, medicine and psychology have made astonishing progress in the understanding of criminal behavior, as well as in methodologies of reprogramming and healing mental illness. Finally, his death by electrocution is regrettable, and makes a profound statement for the elimination of capital punishment.
Born in Burlington, Vermont in 1946, Bundy was the illegitimate child of a woman whose family was so ashamed of his mother’s unmarried status that when she gave birth his grandparents claimed him as their own. They led Ted and others to believe that his mother was his older sister. It was not until he was thirteen, that a cousin proved to Ted that his “older sister” was actually his mother. As a result, Ted later admitted to being angry at his mother for withholding the truth all of those years, however, if he experienced or was imprinted with the deep shame that was extended toward her in his infancy, one will never know. What is known is that he experienced a deep confusion as a small child with respect to his identity. Moreover, one can assume that Bundy’s mother, having to play the role of an older sister, was more emotionally removed from him than she might have been if she had openly been able to mother him. As a result, perhaps this had an impact in building his serial killer characteristics.
This could be so because as the The Swiss Criminal Profiling Scientific Research Site, that studied characteristics of a number of serial killers, indicates:
From birth to age 6/7, studies have shown, the most important adult figure in a child’s life under traditional circumstances is the mother, and it is this period that the child learns what love is. Relationships between the researched subjects and their mothers were uniformly cool, distant, unloving, neglectful, with very little touching, emotional warmth – the children were deprived of love.
As a small child, the grandfather who served as his father figure was Ted’s beloved role model from whom he was involuntarily separated when his mother moved him to Washington State. Being torn from this father figure he loved at the young age of four, may have affected Bundy’s ability to socialize properly. This quote suggests that:
From ages of 8 to 12, all the negative tendencies present in their early childhoods were exacerbated and reinforced. In this period, a male child really needs a father, and it was in just this time period that the fathers of half the subjects disappeared in one way or another. Potential murderers became solidified in their loneliness first during the age period of 8 to 12; such isolation is considered the single most important aspect of their psychological makeup. (Swiss Criminal Profiling, Childhoods of Violence?)
Although Ted focused on his love for his grandfather, the family’s church described him as an “extremely violent man who generally terrorised everyone he lived with” (libertus.net). But it was not until his incarcertaion, that Dr. Dorothy Lewis found, through interviews with the Bundy family, that Ted’s grandfather may have influenced Bundy far more than Ted ever realized.
Grandfather was an extremely violent man who tortured animals and behaved brutally to family members. The little boy who would become a serial murderer began sticking butcher’s knives into his bed and demonstrating other behaviour that worried some family members enough for them to think he should be removed from the environment. (lilbertus.net)
Bundy’s stepfather, with whom he spent the majority of his childhood, was not known to be violent and was fond of and supportive of his stepson, but Bundy never felt a close connection with him. Perhaps what happened at a very early age had more of an impact on his development.
Bundy was not insane, nor was he evil. In fact, Anne Rule, who had met Ted while they were operating a suicide hotline system in Seattle, stated that she watched Ted “save” lives, and describes him in glowing terms as a responsible, caring young friend. This good friend of his, for years prior to his arrest, went on to further say that: “Ted seemed to embody what was young, idealistic, clean, sure, empathetic” (Rule, 396).
In fact, Bundy, after learning of his mother’s true identity, had made the decision to be the best, to achieve everything he could, so that she could be especially proud of him. She had remarried Johnnie Bundy and had several other children, and Ted grew to feel that he needed to stand out among his siblings for her sake. Now, a person who is criminally insane is generally incapable of fitting into society, however, Ted maintained a high grade point average in college, socialized with some of the wealthier and more influential people in his community, skied, and pursued politics and the arts. In a sense, he wrote his own role and cast himself as the actor in the chosen play of his life. He wanted to become wealthy and hold status among his peers, and carefully studied the traits of those whose characteristics he would emulate.
Ted Bundy was also not biologically inferior, at least to the extent that it could be measured at the time. He was physically fit, his body toned and athletic. He was extraordinarily handsome, and did not outwardly fit into William Sheldon’s criminal body-type theories. Bundy was gregarious, not particularly depressed (although he occasionally cried when he was sad), and seemed to love good food, affection and being with people. He was fairly even-tempered, although extremely shy. However, it became clear in later interviews that Bundy was not capable of feeling love toward people, but could only relate well to things; but, his well-practiced behaviors belied that. Similarly, his crimes cannot be written off to anomie. Bundy knew, to an extreme degree, exactly what was expected of him and what to expect from others. Finally, Bundy does not fit Enrico Ferry’s four positivist categories of insane, born criminal, occasional criminal and criminal by passion.
Bundy knew the difference between right and wrong. In fact, Bundy told his girlfriend, ‘I don’t have a split personality. I don’t have blackouts. I remember everything I’ve done. The force would just consume me.I’d try not to, but I’d do it anyway” (Kendall 176). However, one would argue that Bundy’s crimes, still, were not done on his own free will, but were almost epileptic responses to the residual forces of shame, rage and guilt born in his childhood, and persisting throughout his life. Thus, positivism, is a theory that could be applied to Ted Bundy’s criminal behavior. This force is the missing element in the conclusions that have been drawn about Ted Bundy.
Another potentially drastic problem for Ted was that he felt that he was personally more sophisticated, genetically, than his stepfather. He was not willing to surrender to a life of financial or social mediocrity, which was how he perceived his stepfather. Hence, it was neither a relative deprivation nor poverty, but a social inequality force that drove Ted Bundy to steal luxurious possessions and to act out violently upon victims who resembled a well-to-do woman who at one time rejected him.
Now, if Emile Durkeheims’s concepts and ideas were to be applied to Ted Bundy, then it would have been important to preserve his life in an ongoing attempt to understand him and in order for Bundy’s crimes to provide any redeeming value to society. This is so because, Emile Durkeheim felt that crime provided an “indirect utility” for understanding the need for changes in our laws and values. Durkeheim proposed that, “If there were no crime, it would be evidence that change was not possible: To make progress, individual originality must be able to express itself” (Durkeheim 874).
Today, literature on Ted Bundy and his crimes is widely available. In addition to the true-crime narrative written by Anne Rule in 1980, other crime writers investigated the murders and Bundy’s life in detail. Meg Anders, who uses the alias of Elizabeth Kendall in her book entitled The Phantom Prince, provides an insider’s look at Bundy’s nature, the face he showed to the world and the occasional private tears he shed in her presence. Other books, such as True Crime, published by Time Warner, give an overview of the facts that have already appeared in numerous articles in the press.
I do not include details from Bundy’s last interview, granted to the extreme evangelist, James Dobson, for several reasons. Bundy, in his self-fabricated personality, appeared to love the limelight and was a charismatic, charming personality. Bundy used the interview with Dobson to blame pornography for his deeds, still unable to track within himself the psychological demons that led him to do what he did. From serving as his own attorney and playing legal games with the Court, to planning elaborate cat-and-mouse prison escapes, Bundy was a brilliant actor. Watching violent pornography may have provided Bundy with ideas about how to perform his vicious acts, but the self-professed pornography “addiction” was simply another symptom of the pain Bundy carried with him from childhood, and it provided the evangelist with fuel to further his own personal beliefs. In fact, Bundy’s demeanor during that interview was one of a polished, skilled and sophisticated performer, pulling the wool over the eyes of his curious followers just one more time, and giving his fans what they wanted. Again, Bundy was lost in the roles he created, and he played them to the hilt. The personality that he had painstakingly crafted for himself was debonair and smooth, and he was loath to abandon that personality, even when his life was literally on the line. This interview clarified, again, that the true cause of Bundy’s mental illness was buried so deeply in his psyche that it was never excavated.
The only obvious mention of Bundy’s state of mind when he made the decisions to murder his victims was when he told his girlfriend, in a conversation he later refuted, about the force that overtook him when he went on a killing spree. I am inspired to learn what cutting edge conclusions the field of criminology has uncovered about dissociative personality disorders and childhood post-traumatic stress disorders, and their consequences in connection with the profiling of murderers. New therapies using ancient techniques are now addressing the damage done to our physiological and electromagnetic bodies as children, and are discovering effective methods for healing from early childhood trauma. People who would have otherwise been morally and emotionally crippled throughout their lives are being helped to become productive citizens. Ted Bundy was brilliant and vivacious, and did show a great deal of compassion and love. The positive aspects of his personality showed through his selfless work on the suicide hotlines, saving a little girl from drowning and chasing a purse snatcher. His final words expressed love to his family and friends, and, according to his former girlfriend, he loved and cared for her deeply. His hidden demons and their consequences presented a puzzle that would have been worth solving had he been allowed to live.