As the clock ticked past 7am on the morning of January 24, 1989, a surge of 2000 volts ended the life of evil serial killer Ted Bundy as he sat strapped to the electric chair inside Florida State Prison’s execution chamber.
Soon after, prison officials loaded the lifeless body of the man who had violently killed between 30 and 40 young women, and possibly as many as 100, into a white hearse.
Outside the front gates of the prison, a couple of hundred metres away, a crowd of revellers had gathered. For them, it was an execution party. Hundreds had parked their cars and sat in chairs. There was drinking and merriment. Some held signs reading ‘Burn, Bundy, burn’ and ‘Roast in Peace’.
A rising murmur spread through the crowd when a lone police car with a single light flashing appeared at the prison gate. It was the police escort for the hearse bearing Bundy’s body. Archive footage of that morning shows people cheering as the hearse slowly snaked by. Car horns were honked, and fireworks lit.
It has been 30 years since Bundy, aged 42 when he died, was executed but his legacy lives on. His crimes followed a gruesome pattern. He would often rape his victims before beating them to death. Bundy was also known to return to where he dumped his victims to have sex with the corpses. It was little wonder so many people waited outside Florida State Prison, wanting vengeance, wanting Bundy dead.
THE MURDERS BEGIN
The actual number of people Theodore Robert Bundy killed will never be known.
In 1974 women began to go missing in Washington and Oregon. They were pretty college girls. Police had few leads. Detectives believed a man was luring girls away to their horrible deaths.
Dark and handsome, Bundy’s charisma made him a formidable killer.
Bundy would approach a young woman and bait her to his vehicle, fooling her with some kind of lie. Then, in a heartbeat, he would go from seemingly affable stranger to murderous killer, often bludgeoning his victims over the head with a crowbar or heavy object.
“Bundy made us re-evaluate who we considered our monsters to be,” Amanda Howard, an Australian author who has written a number of books about serial killers, told nine.com.au.
“We expect serial killers to be these snarling madmen. Yet Bundy was an attractive young man who was highly intelligent. He was the antithesis of what we expect a serial killer to be.”
Bundy’s cool, Hollywood-like exterior hid his predilection for incredible violence.
“He made sure the women he killed were always beautiful, young and thin. They had absolutely no idea,” Ms Howard said.
“He would crush their skulls in, break bones and smash teeth and rape them and sodomise them. He did horrific things to his victims.”
Bundy was born in Vermont in 1946. His mother was Eleanor Louise Cowell but he never knew the identity of his father. To avoid scandal and social stigma, he was shipped off to live with his grandparents. The young boy was falsely told his mother was his older sister. There are some theories Bundy did not find out who his real mother was until he was 23, which he deeply resented.
Not a lot is known about Bundy’s childhood, though many books have been written about him. The Only Living Witness: The True Story of Serial Sex Killer Ted Bundy claimed Bundy’s grandfather Samuel Cowell was an abusive man. A bully and a bigot, Cowell beat his wife, the family dog and swung neighbourhood cats by their tails, according to the book.
When Bundy was four, he and his mother moved across the country to live in Tacoma, Washington. There she met and married Johnny Culpepper Bundy, a hospital cook, who later adopted Bundy as his son. As a teenager, Bundy wandered the streets at night, hoping to catch glimpse of women undressing in front of their windows.
It is uncertain when Bundy killed his first victim. One of Bundy’s biographers and a detective believed Bundy could have murdered an eight-year-old girl, Ann Marie Burr, when he was just 14. Bundy denied that allegation, and he appeared to enjoy toying with investigators with confessions and denials about unsolved homicides.
As a string of female university students in Washington state went mysteriously missing in 1974, a picture began to emerge of a possible suspect. At crime scenes, there were reports of a dark-haired man, going by the name of Ted, and a light brown Volkswagen Beetle.
In the second half of 1974, having killed at least six women, Bundy moved to Salt Lake City in Utah, accepting a place in law school. There, the killings continued, with Bundy targeting teenagers and hitchhikers. Sometimes Bundy would decapitate his victims and take their skulls back to his home, keeping it as a trophy. Bundy would later tell investigators he would shampoo the hair of women he killed, and apply make-up to their faces.
From Utah, Bundy would drive into Colorado in his Volkswagen Beetle, hunting for more women to kill. On August 16, 1975 a police officer pulled over Bundy, after he was spotted driving suspiciously in a Salt Lake City suburb.
Bundy’s Volkswagen Beetle was searched, and police found an array of items including a ski mask, another mask crudely cut from women’s pantyhose, a crowbar, handcuffs, trash bags, a coil of rope, an ice pick and other objects. Curiously, Bundy was not arrested but instead placed under surveillance.
The next month, Bundy sold his VW Beetle. Police pounced and seized the vehicle, and during forensic searches they found hair strands matching samples taken from missing women in some of the unsolved murder cases. Bundy was arrested and placed in a police line-up. A woman who had escaped his clutches immediately identified Bundy.
Incredibly, Bundy would twice escape from prison. The first time he stayed on the run for six days, before he was caught in Colorado. Six months later he escaped again, but this time there were terrible consequences.
SORORITY HOUSE TERROR
A fugitive in Colorado, Bundy moved fast. He stole a car and then booked a flight to Chicago. From there he stole another car and drove down to Georgia, and then pushed deeper south into Florida.
In the dead of night, Bundy entered a sorority house on the Florida State University campus. In 15 horrifying minutes he killed two students and brutally attacked two others. He escaped, and three weeks later he murdered a 12-year-old girl, Kimberly Diane Leach.
On February 15 1978 the serial killer was finally caught, intercepted by police as headed for Alabama. Bundy was found guilty and sentenced to death by electrocution over the three Florida murders. Once on death row, he confessed to other killings and abductions.
Serial killer researcher and Australian author Amanda Howard said that even on death row, with the horror of his crimes in full view, some women – “groupies” – were enamoured with Bundy.
“He had about 200 women in a rotation of pen pals … some had nervous breakdowns when he was executed ” Ms Howard said.
“Some of the serial killer groupies I have come across over the years are very disturbing.”
BUNDY’S LIFE EXTINGUISHED
Most of Bundy’s final hours on the morning of January 24, 1989 were spent talking and praying with a Methodist church minister, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
Little more than two hours from his scheduled execution, at 4:50am, Bundy refused a final steak and egg breakfast.
From the electric chair, Bundy’s final words were: “Give my love to my family and friends”.
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