Profile of a Serial Killer: Research Paper Thesis

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Theodore Robert Bundy was born on November 24, 1946, to a single mother in Burlington, Vermont. At the age of three, his mother moved him to Philadelphia, where he was raised as the adoptive son of his maternal grandparents in a religious, working-class family (Kettler, 2020). As a child, Bundy struggled to fit in with his peers and was a frequent target of bullying due to his shy and introverted nature. He spent most of his time alone, looking at pornography and engaging in disturbing behaviors (Jenkins, 2022). However, it was not until his late adolescence that the darker side of his character began to emerge when he started engaging in other criminal activities such as peeping through windows and shoplifting (Kettler, 2020). Shortly after graduating from the University of Washington in 1972, Bundy began his murderous rampage across the western United States.

Between 1974 and 1978, Bundy kidnapped and sexually assaulted 36 young women across seven different states, including California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Oregon, Utah, and Washington. Bundy would approach his victims in public places and often lure them into his car by feigning injury, asking for their help, or impersonating an authority figure (Jenkins, 2022). He would abduct his victims and knock them unconscious. Once they were in a remote secondary location, Bundy would rape his victims and strangle or bludgeon them to death. Afterward, Ted Bundy would decapitate some of their heads and keep them as mementos. He would also mutilate decomposing bodies until putrefaction made any further sexual interactions impossible (Crime Museum, 2019).

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After his reign of terror across the United States, Bundy became one of the most infamous serial murderers in American history. He confessed to killing 36 women across seven different states over four years. Bundy was sentenced to death by execution in Florida and died on January 24, 1989 (Kettler, 2020). Decades after his death by execution in 1989, Bundy's gruesome crimes and staggering body counts continue to seize media attention, making him a well-known figure in popular culture today. He has been a recurrent subject of various true-crime-inspired movies, documentaries, and television shows each aiming to understand Bundy’s murderous mind and his motives. The most recent documentary series, Conversations With a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, directed by Joe Berlinger attempts to help viewers understand the mind of this notorious serial killer through the use of interviews, archival footage, and audiotape recordings made by Bundy during his death row sentence. The docu-series highlights how Ted Bundy exhibited several of the typical characteristics of a serial killer, including growing up in an abusive household, psychopathy-related personality traits, and organized crime-scene dichotomy.

Physical Child Abuse and Criminality

Growing up in an abusive household is one of the most common characteristics among lust serial murderers. In the article “A Behaviour Sequence Analysis of Serial Killers' Lives: From Childhood Abuse to Methods of Murder” by Abbie Marrano, researchers examined the relationship between the four serial killer typologies- lust, anger, power, and financial gain and the three categories of child abuse- psychological, sexual, and physical (Marrano et al., 2020). In a study of fifty serial killers, researchers found that those who were victims of physical childhood abuse were more likely to sexually assault their victims before murdering them (Marano et al., 2020). Additionally, researchers found that these serial killers' crimes most often fit the criteria for lust murder, which is the act of killing someone purely for sexual gratification. It includes the activities of rape, torture, insertion of objects into bodily orifices, cannibalism, and postmortem sex (Marrano et al., 2020).

In the documentary, viewers may notice many of the features of a lusty serial murderer present in Ted Bundy, starting with him being the victim of childhood abuse. For the first three years of his life, Bundy was raised as the adoptive son of his maternal grandparents in their Philadelphia home, where his grandfather was regularly physically violent towards his wife and children (Kettler, 2020). Like most lust serial murders, the early physical abuse Bundy suffered led him to develop an inclination for aggression and violence as he got older. Bundy’s childhood mistreatment may potentially explain why he was sexually violent toward his victims. For example, Bundy admitted to sexually assaulting his victims before murdering them on tape. After killing them, he stated that he would remove the clothes of his victims and occasionally insert foreign objects, such as hairspray bottles, into their bodily orifices (Berlinger, 2019, 52:48). Bundy also admitted to engaging in necrophilia on the tapes (Berlinger, 2019, 54:59). Days after the crime took place, he would revisit the site where he left his victim’s naked bodies and engage in postmortem sex with their corpses until putrefaction or animal activity made it impossible for him to do so any longer (Berlinger, 2019, 55:19). Bundy’s history of childhood abuse and patterns of sexual violence indicates that he shared some traits common to lust murders.

Psychopathy and Criminality

Several other factors can drive serial killer behavior besides childhood maltreatment. For instance, psychopathy-related personality traits, which are personality traits consistent with antisocial behavior, could influence criminality. Recent studies have begun trying to identify a correlation between psychopathy-related personality traits and criminal behavior. One study conducted by Elizabeth Cauffman and colleagues performed a psychiatric examination on 130 adult male offenders sentenced for serious crimes, including rape and murder, and compared them to non-criminal controls. The Karolinska Scales of Personality (KSP), a self-rating questionnaire, was used to measure three dimensions of personality: extraversion, neuroticism, and psychoticism in participants (Cauffman et al., 1999). The three dimensions of personality are defined as follows. Extraversion describes people who are dominant and assertive. Neuroticism describes people who struggle with low self-esteem and anxiety. Psychoticism describes people as aggressive, impulsive, and egocentric (Sinha, 2016). Researchers found that prisoners had higher scores for psychoticism and antisocial conduct compared to non-criminal controls (Cauffman et al., 1999). They were also more likely to show psychopathy-related personality traits such as superficial charm, aggression, manipulative behavior, inability to take responsibility for their actions, and lack of remorse. Furthermore, researchers also found that the vast majority of these psychopathy-related personality traits were common to serial killers suggesting that psychopathy is prevalent among that population of male offenders (Sinha, 2016).

Journalists Stephen Michaud and Hugh Ainsworth, who interviewed Ted Bundy during his murder trial, believe that Ted Bundy exhibited several psychopathy-related personality traits common to serial killers. Beginning in his early childhood, Bundy showed signs of antisocial behavior that persisted into his adulthood. At the age of three, Ted Bundy placed kitchen knives around his aunt's body while she was sleeping. When his aunt woke up from her nap, she recalls seeing her young nephew staring at her with a sinister smile on his face (Kettler). Although his aunt was frightened by his disturbing behavior, young Ted completely disregarded her feelings and did not feel remorseful about his actions while she was asleep. Instead, he displayed a sense of satisfaction from seeing his aunt fearful of him. Ted Bundy would also torture and kill small animals. The act of killing animals is another well-established sign of antisocial behavior among serial killers (Futterman, 2021). When he was eight years old, young Ted would kill animals, dismember their bodies, and set them on fire (Kettler, 2020). These childhood incidents suggest that Ted Bundy showed a lack of remorse and empathy from an early age.

As the interviews went on, the journalists realized that Bundy began to show more traits consistent with psychopathy during his criminal career. Like most psychopaths, he used his superficial charm to deceive and manipulate his victims (Berlinger, 2019, 25:15). The journalists believe that Ted Bundy often exploited his good looks and smooth-talking skills to lure many of his victims to their untimely deaths. For example, he would approach his victims in public places and feign injury by having his arm in a sling or using crutches to play into their emotions (Berlinger, 2019, 45:49). After Bundy asked for their assistance, he would use his winning smile to deceive his victims into thinking that he was trustworthy. Shortly after winning over their trust, he would rape his victims and strangle them to death (Berlinger, 2019, 14:12). In the final tape, Bundy said that he did not feel guilty about anything that he had done and that he ultimately felt sorry for people who feel guilt (Berlinger, 2019, 52:36). This statement further illustrates that Ted Bundy displayed the typical character of a psychopath because he saw no shame or guilt in his actions even though his antisocial behavior was harmful to the lives of his victims and their families.

Crime-scene Dichotomy

Moreover, psychopathy-related personality traits can influence the organized disorganized dichotomy profile of a serial killer. Sara Rodre and colleagues investigated this research question by studying a group of 72 male offenders who committed serious crimes such as rape and murder (Rodre et al., 2019). First, the subjects underwent assessment using the Psychopathy Checklist. Then, their crimes were categorized into two distinct categories, organized and disorganized crime. The researchers found that those who exhibited psychopathy-related personality traits were more likely to be classified as organized serial killers (Rodre et al., 2019). Organized serial murderers have an above-average level of intelligence, are socially adequate, and are methodological. They strategically plan their crime and maintain control over the scene by carefully getting rid of the murder weapon and body in an undisclosed location. This type of murder is much harder to catch because they are often successful at removing any evidence that can potentially link them to the murder (Ressler et al., 1985). By contrast, those who did not display psychopathic-associated personality traits were more likely to be classified as disorganized serial killers. The disorganized offender has a below-average level of intelligence, is socially inadequate, and is impulsive. They do not plan out their crimes and typically murder when the opportunity arises. As a result, disorganized serial killers leave the scene random and sloppy, with the murder weapon and body in plain view long after the crime took place (Ressler et al., 1985).

Taking a deeper look into the crime-scene behavior of Ted Bundy, we can see that he displayed the typical characteristics of an organized serial killer. For instance, the vast majority of organized serial killers have an above-average level of intelligence (Ressler et al., 1985). Ted Bundy’s IQ score was 136, indicating that his high level of intelligence may have played a role in helping him to outsmart his victims and the authorities. Not only was Bundy intelligent, but he was also methodical. When journalists asked him how he began organizing his crimes later in the docu-series, Bundy told them that he methodically planned out every detail of his crime well in advance, starting with determining who his next victim would be (Berlinger, 2019, 45:09). First, he would stalk his potential victim for several days to determine whether or not they were a good target. Then, Bundy would win them over with his good looks and superficial charm. As soon as he found the perfect opportunity to strike, Bundy would kidnap his victim and murder them in a remote location. Like most organized criminal offenders, Bundy buried bodies and disposed of any potentially incriminating evidence such as the murder weapon and bloody clothing in the woods (Berlinger, 2019, 57:04). Similar to other organized serial killers, Ted Bundy was a successful criminal because he left the crime scene virtually spotless, making it extremely difficult for authorities to find him for many years.


Commonly referred to as the Golden Age of Serial Murder, the 1970s is known as one of the deadliest decades in American history. During this time, American serial killer and rapist Ted Bundy went on a murderous rampage. He killed dozens of young women across seven different states over four years. Bundy was eventually caught and convicted for his crimes in 1978. Over the last few years, his murder case has gripped public interest, inspiring plenty of movies, documentaries, and television shows transforming Bundy from a criminal into a household name. The public was captivated by his violent crimes because the idea that an educated, handsome, and charismatic man like himself was capable of committing such unspeakable acts of violence against women was mind-boggling. Since he did not match the typical profile of a serial killer, it was hard for the general public to believe that Bundy had murdered anyone.

At first glance, Bundy did not appear to be a murderous monster. However, the documentary series, Conversations with a Serial Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, directed by Joe Berlinger, revealed that evil comes in many different forms. Behind the charming public image he put forth, Bundy displayed many characteristics common to serial killers. Based on the information provided in the documentary series and various criminal typologies, we can see that Ted Bundy did not deviate much from the standard typology of a serial killer. Like most serial killers, Bundy was the victim of physical childhood abuse, displayed psychopathy-related personality traits, and fit the organized dichotomy profile of serial murder. Therefore, one can conclude that Ted Bundy did share several of the typical characteristics of a serial killer.

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Profile of a Serial Killer: Research Paper Thesis. (2023, October 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 12, 2024, from
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