Welcome to the Tell-Tale Crimes, the crime column of the QC. Tell-Tale Crimes will aim to provide a look at both local and national crimes and cases that are sometimes interesting, sometimes relevant, and sometimes both, from the perspective of a true crime enthusiast. So here I am writing scary stories, both local and national, and true ones at that. Be forewarned, the pieces published in this column will contain descriptions of violent crimes or crime scenes. Thank you for reading.
The dreary landscape of Washington State has been home to many dark happenings. In 1980, Mt. Saint Helens violently erupted — killing 57 people — and the resulting cloud of ash decimated the surrounding wilderness and blanketed the eastern cities. Between 1982 and 1988, Gary Ridgway, better known as the Green River Killer, prowled the highways of western Washington and killed 48 vulnerable women, including sex workers and runaways. In 1950, a four-year-old Ted Bundy moved to the city of Tacoma.
Though he probably didn’t know it then, Bundy would become one of America’s most prolific serial killers, second only to Ridgway. His murder spree would bleed across six states over the span of four years, and he would claim the lives of 30 women, not including the five survivors of his attacks — though the total number of victims still remains up for debate. Because of the sheer amount of victims, it will be impossible for me to give them all the time that they deserve; however, I will list them here.
In Washington and Oregon during 1974, Bundy murdered eight women: Lynda Ann Healy (21 years old), Donna Gail Manson (19), Susan Elaine Rancourt (18), Roberta Kathleen Parks (22), Brenda Carol Ball (22), Georgann Hawkins (18), Janice Ann Ott (23), and Denise Marie Naslund (19). During the same year in Utah, Colorado, and Idaho, Bundy murdered four teenagers: Nancy Wilcox (16), Melissa Anne Smith (17), Laura Ann Aime (17), and Debra Jean Kent (17).
In 1975 in those same three states, Bundy murdered five women and children: Caryn Eileen Campbell (23), Julie Cunningham (26), Denise Lynn Oliverson (25), Lynette Dawn Culver (12), and Susan Curtis (15). In Florida in 1978, Bundy murdered three more women and children: Margaret Elizabeth Bowman (21), Lisa Levy (20), and Kimberly Diane Leach (12). Five women survived Bundy’s crimes: eighteen-year-old Karen Sparks, Carol DaRonch (18), Karen Chandler (21), Kathy Kleiner (21), and Cheryl Thomas (21). There are 10 more unidentified victims that bring the total to 35.
I could give a detailed account of Ted Bundy’s early life in the hopes of finding some meaning to the murders that he committed, but that would be in vain. Ted Bundy had a childhood, as we all do, and he had family, as we all do. I can by no means claim that it was a normal childhood, because normal is a relative concept, and there is no singular standard. Our childhoods, our lives, and our experiences are no excuse for the bad things we do — or in his case, the heinous acts of violence we commit. Instead, we as readers will attempt to find meaning in the life of Ted Bundy, and there will be none. He was just an awful, sick man.
Bundy was born in a home for unwed mothers in Burlington, Vt., and was then raised by his grandparents for the first four years of his life, during which he believed them to be his real parents. By some accounts he had a happy childhood and adored his grandfather, and in other accounts, he told people that his grandfather was an abusive alcoholic who would swing neighborhood cats around by their tails. It doesn’t matter; Ted Bundy liked to lie.
In 1950, after discovering that the woman he believed to be his sister was actually his mother, he and his young mother moved to Tacoma, Wash. to live with family members. In 1965, he graduated high school, and after failing to make it to his top colleges, he attended the University of Puget Sound to study law. He then transferred to University of Washington (UW), where he met and fell in love with Diane Edwards, a fellow student. He dropped out of college to take on menial jobs, at which point Edwards left him because she was fed up with his immaturity and lack of ambition. After Edwards left, Bundy “reinvented himself” to study psychology, and, once he graduated from UW, he moved on to the political scene where he joined numerous campaigns in the Seattle area. I would love to say that this is where Bundy moved on to greater things, but alas, he was a vindictive piece of garbage who despised women and couldn’t figure out what to do about it besides murder them.
Bundy desired to possess women and to make himself powerful in a very particular way. He says it himself in Ann Rule’s book, The Stranger Beside Me, “. . . [M]urder is not just a crime of lust or violence. It becomes possession. They are part of you . . . [the victim] becomes a part of you, and you [two] are forever one . . . and the grounds where you kill them or leave them become sacred to you, and you will always be drawn back to them.”
We will never know Bundy’s true motivations for the 30 murders he confessed to, but this bastardized idea of sacrality and possession are probably at its roots, and most likely fueled his attacks, like when he abducted and murdered his first confirmed victim, Lynda Ann Healy.
Healy was a psychology student and announced ski forecast reports on the local radio. She worked with disabled children and sang beautifully as a hobby. On the last day of her life she went to class, had a normal day, and wrote a letter to a friend that she was planning on having her parents over for dinner the next day. She went to bed early that night. The next morning, Healy’s alarm woke her roommates and wasn’t turned off. The roommate entered Healy’s room to turn the alarm off and, according to murderpedia.org, she noticed that Healy’s bed was immaculately made, which was odd because she usually didn’t do that until she came home from work. Later that same day, Healy’s parents arrived for a dinner that was never made. Concerned, they called police, and police found blood stained sheets and Healy’s blood stained nightgown in her closet. A year later — once Bundy was captured — Healy’s skull was found at his dump site.
Bundy continued to murder women for the next four years. Within four hours of each other, and at the same crowded lake, he kidnapped and murdered Janice Ott and Denise Naslund. He seemed to snatch women out of thin air, like Caryn Campbell, who disappeared on a walk back to her hotel room in Aspen, Colo.. He got angry if his plans didn’t work, which is evidenced by the kidnapping and murder of Debby Kent mere hours after Carol DaRonch escaped from Bundy’s VW Bug. As time went on, his victims seemed to get younger, as seen in the kidnapping and murders of Lynette Dawn Culver in 1975 and Kimberly Diane Leach in 1978, both 12 years old.
Luckily, Bundy was apprehended, albeit several times after several escapes. But his bloodstained legacy lives on. He was the first serial killer of his kind and shocked the nation with his charm, wit, and good looks. His trial was the first nationally televised trial in American history, and the country looked on as he tried to talk his way out of murder convictions. Obviously, that didn’t go well, and he was put to death by electric chair on Jan. 24, 1989.
There has been concern in the media that the recent rise in Bundy media is problematic in nature — that we are glorifying him in a way that he would have immensely enjoyed and showcasing his talents as a sociopath and a con man. And I agree; the way we are telling these stories is problematic. To some of us, he is a con man, but to others, he seems like a seductive evil genius. But we need to tell this story anyway, because we need to learn what Bundy’s “evil genius” actually was: a facade put up by a sick and angry man.
When Bundy died, Ann Rule received many letters from “sensitive, intelligent, and kind” young women who lamented his death. They all had corresponded with him, believing that they were the ones who were special in his eyes. Rule mused on this in her book on Bundy, The Stranger Beside Me. “Even in death, Ted damaged women,” she wrote. “To get well, they must realize that they were conned by the master con man. They are grieving for a shadow man that never existed.”