Inside The Mind Of Ted Bundy, World’s Sickest Serial Killer
Born: 24 November 1946
First crime: 4 January 1974
Executed: 24 January 1989
We’ll never know exactly how many women Ted Bundy murdered. His shocking crimes spread across the United States, from Seattle to Florida. The charming psychology student may have committed his first murder as early as the late Sixties, but his first documented crime was an attack on UW student Karen Sparks. She survived, but scores of others would not be so lucky. Bundy was finally caught on 15 February 1978 and was given three death penalties for his crimes in Florida, finally being sent to the electric chair on 24 January 1989.
On Death Row, he was an outspoken personality, constantly seeking headlines and a way out of the electric chair by seeking to help police with open serial killer cases, and even his own murders. As his January 1989 execution date neared, he tried to stall for time by claiming to remember the locations of more victims. It didn’t work, and Bundy was running out of time to tell his stories.
On the day before he was sent to the electric chair, the convicted murderer and rapist sat down with evangelical Christian preacher Dr James Dobson. The topic of the conversation? How hardcore violent pornography shaped his fantasies and led to his later monstrous behaviour. “The most damaging kind of pornography – and I’m talking from hard, real, personal experience – is that that involves violence and sexual violence,” Bundy explained to the attentive Dobson. “The wedding of those two forces – as I know only too well – brings about behaviour that is too terrible to describe.”
While Dobson pushes Bundy about the issue of responsibility and remorse, the killer strikes a convincingly contrite figure while mourning for the part of himself that pornography took away. “I’m not blaming pornography. I’m not saying it caused me to go out and do certain things. I take full responsibility for all the things that I’ve done. That’s not the question here. The issue is how this kind of literature contributed and helped mould and shape the kinds of violent behaviour.” When Dobson asks about the building desire within him, and describes it as a sexual frenzy, Bundy responds, “That’s one way to describe it – a compulsion, a building up of this destructive energy. Another fact I haven’t mentioned is the use of alcohol. In conjunction with my exposure to pornography, alcohol reduced my inhibitions and pornography eroded them further.”
“That’s an example of ‘This isn’t my fault, this is down to this stuff that society has put in front of me,’” explains Dr Elizabeth Yardley, Director of the Centre for Applied Criminology at Birmingham City University. “It’s diverting attention away from themselves and their own process of choices, because violence of this magnitude, it’s always a choice. What they’re trying to do when they’re saying ‘It was the pornography’ or ‘it was this’ or ‘It was that,’ it is trying to distract us away from them.”
Yardley tells us that serial killers like Bundy will always be aware of ways that they can pass the blame for their actions away from themselves, using hot-button issues of the day or the latest medical or psychological research. “They’re very good at picking up on particular trends and fashions for particular types of thought in society,” she explains. “So if there’s a massive problematisation of pornography going on or there’s a big policy drive against particular drugs or alcohol, they’re very quick to pick up on that and say ‘Well, that’s part of the reason why…’ That enables them that kind of distancing. They’ll adapt their narrative to suit whatever circumstance they’re in at that time.”
Indeed, as the interview with Bundy progresses, he and Dobson cover a number of issues from alcohol to slasher movies (“What scares me, Dr Dobson, is when I see what’s on cable TV, some of the movies … I mean, some of the violence in the movies that come into homes today, with stuff that they wouldn’t show in X-rated adult theatres 30 years ago.”) What’s also worth noting with the Bundy interview in particular is that Bundy understands exactly whom he’s talking to. He understands that Dobson has come in with an anti-pornography agenda that suits him very well indeed, and shapes his story accordingly.
“The big thing for serial killers is power, essentially, so when they get caught they know that the game is up, but they still want to exert some kind of power and control over the people around them,” Yardley tells us. “So often they will hold back bits of information, or they’ll trot out particular narratives, particular explanations at particular times, that will get them more attention or something that they think might get them more favourable conditions in prison, so they’re always using that kind of power play and their understanding of other people’s emotions as well, they know exactly what buttons to press.”
“There are forces at loose in this country, particularly, again, this kind of violent pornography, where, on the one hand, well-meaning decent people will condemn the behaviour of a Ted Bundy while they’re walking past a magazine rack full of the very kinds of things that send young kids down the road to be Ted Bundys… there are lots of other kids playing in streets around this country today who are going to be dead tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day and the next month, because other young people are reading the kinds of things and seeing the kinds of things that are available in the media today.”