Getting a Life–Coming of Age with Killers
by Kirie Pedersen
64 Wei Chi
The superior person forgives
And thus bestows compassion
“He was always amazed and chagrined by the publicity generated by disappearances he thought would go totally unnoticed. … I mean, ‘There are so many people. It shouldn’t be a problem. What’s one less person on the face of the earth, anyway?’”
The Only Living Witness
“Ted got Brenda,” my sister said.
“What are you talking about?” Lisa is usually placid and calm. Now she sounded terrified. “Brenda who?”
“Brenda Ball. Ted got her. They found her body with some others on Taylor Mountain.” Brenda, my sister’s beautiful friend, often a guest in our family home, had vanished months earlier. Several from our high school crowd, including Lisa’s then-boyfriend Joe, last saw her in the Flame Tavern in Burien. Brenda asked around for a ride home. “Sure,” Joe said, but when he searched for her later, she was nowhere to be found. Joe figured Brenda must have caught a ride with someone else.
The south Seattle suburb where I grew up was a feeder community for the then-thriving Boeing complex, and our home, an old farm, lay just beneath the flight path of the Seattle-Tacoma Airport. To the east is the Kent Valley, once one of the richest farm valleys in the world, its rich alluvial soil left behind by the glaciers that carved parts of Washington into fjords. By the time I graduated high school, though, the valley was paved end to end with concrete parking lots and malls to serve the ravenous hunger of the area’s working and middle class.
As aircraft passed overhead, human speech drowned to the point where we lost an hour of class time every day, causing a sort of survival of the loudest in school. Just a few miles from my home, a boy my age was living a parallel life. A kid named Ted Bundy attended school in Tacoma, forty minutes down the Interstate. In those final years of the sixties, punctuated with public assassinations, this young future killer and I marched across the stage in our high school caps and gowns, ready to forge our ways in the world.
In the early seventies, Ted Bundy cast his victims along logging roads in the glorious Cascade Mountain Range that slices up Washington State, separating the lush green west from the dryer east. Sometimes Ted visited his discarded prey later on.
In my early twenties, every three or four weeks a peer in her late teens or early twenties disappeared. Brenda, a year behind me at Mt. Rainier High School, was number six. The women vanished from streets I’d walked that same day, from beaches where my friends and I sat to tan, from beds just blocks from my own, and from the campuses of the universities my sisters, friends, and I attended. The women were attractive. They were bright. Like many of us then, the vanished women were trusting and naïve, always ready to help a stranger.
As the number of victims increased, much was made of the fact that their hair was long and parted down the middle. The murderer must have a thing for girls like that, editorials claimed. In our huddled conversations about our vanished friends, my friends and I scoffed. Almost all of us wore our hair long and parted down the middle. Those faces looking out at us from the front pages of the Seattle Times or Post Intelligencer mirrored ours.
When the first teenager vanished from her basement apartment in the University District, the police labeled her a runaway. My friends and I were furious. Why would a runaway leave in her nightgown? Why was blood found on her pillow? As for Brenda, my sister and friends and I knew she’d never run away. Unlike the five who vanished before her, she wasn’t attending college. But she had dreams, worked hard, and always showed up when she said she would.
Now, my sister said, Brenda’s bones had been found on a hillside with those of other young women.
It was only after two women disappeared the same day from a crowded parking lot on Lake Sammamish that Ted became a household word. Feigning injury, a guy introduced himself by that name as he requested help lifting a boat onto his car. Several brushed him off, but Janice and Denise, strangers to each other but both beautiful and kind, evidently felt it couldn’t do any harm to help this good-looking guy in a crowded and sunlit parking lot.
“Watch out for Ted,” I warned my roommate as she left each day for work. “Lock the doors,” I instructed my younger sisters in the neighborhood where our house was never locked. As word about this “Ted” trickled out, we learned this guy might drive a tan or brown Volkswagen bug. He might wear a cast on his leg or arm or struggle along on crutches. He might approach young women in public places. “Can you carry my books for me?” he might say, dropping a few outside a university library. Although the grin on his boy-next-door face was charming, some women quickly fled.
One was my friend Karen, one of the few women then attending law school at the University of Washington. After earning his Bachelor’s in Psychology, Ted Bundy also enrolled there and used to sit down across from Karen in the law school library. She would look up from her books to find him staring at her.
“This guy gives me the creeps,” she told us, though it was a tragically long time before anyone put law student Ted, a member of Young Republicans no less, together with vanished girls. Sick of typing manuscripts for professors at the University of Washington, the only paid position I found just out of college, I applied for a job with Seattle’s Crime Prevention Advisory Committee. I was one of three finalists, but a guy named Ted Bundy was chosen for the job. At twenty-three, I had recently stopped drinking and was feeling a little lost. At Group Health Hospital on Seattle’s Capital Hill, I joined a support group facilitated by two psychologists. We were called Anybody’s Group, because we could be just about anybody, I suppose, young with vague and inchoate problems. According to the therapists, my main problem was that I was a perfectionist and “expected too much of myself.”
One young woman in the group, though, just about drove me crazy. Liz hunched in the circle of folding chairs furiously knitting. She rarely shared. If forced, she complained on and on about her boyfriend. One day I blew up. “Why don’t you concentrate on yourself instead of obsessing about your boyfriend?” I said. “Do something about your life!”
Afterward, I’d occasionally see Liz around the University of Washington campus, sometimes with the young daughter she was raising on her own. A few years later, in 1981, I was huddled in a tent at the foot of Washington State’s Olympic Mountain range, reading a book by someone named Elizabeth Kendall. It was The Phantom Prince, just published by Seattle’s Madrona Press, and I couldn’t put it down. From it, I learned a bit more about Brenda Ball’s final night. A few hours before Brenda vanished from the Flame Tavern in Burien, the hangout for so many from our loose-knit high school crowd, the author shared a pizza with her boyfriend Ted in the University District, as the area around the University of Washington campus is called. The following morning, Ted arrived late for the baptism of the author’s young daughter. The book also contained a description of a confrontation in a therapy group. Liz claimed the event altered the trajectory of her life. Chilled to the bone, I scrambled through my journal to check the date.
In 150 hours of taped conversations with Stephen G. Michaud and Hugh Aynesworth, some excerpted in their 1983 Only Living Witness, Bundy also detailed Brenda’s final hours. Referring to the serial killer in the third person, Ted Bundy described how “the killer” picked up Brenda outside the Flame Tavern and drove her to his University District apartment. He claimed, too, that he treated her gently, and she never knew what was happening when he strangled her.
According to Bundy’s narration and autopsy reports, Bundy often kept his victims for hours or sometimes days, sometimes washing and styling their hair and applying fresh make up to their faces after he killed them. At one point, he was even apprehended as he wandered the back roads along Taylor Mountain, where Brenda’s and several other bodies were found, but he had a good story and was let go. In the tapes, Bundy said “the cargo” was in some cases “damaged and sometimes it is not damaged.”
I knew Brenda as my sister’s fragile friend, one of the most beautiful girls in our school, and one of the sweetest as well. Ted knew Brenda as cargo he collected, killed, and dumped. I knew Liz as a young mother falling apart over her boyfriend and drinking too much. Ted knew Liz as a figure of nurturance, safety, and stability, the owner of the car he drove to pick up cargo and, perhaps, as cover. After some killings, Ted hurried to Liz, and often they shared a meal. After his sprees extended to Utah, Colorado, and, finally, to Florida, Ted continued to call Liz. Some said she and later Carol Boone, described by Richard W. Larsen in The Deliberate Stranger as Bundy’s “bizarrely selfless wife,” appeared to have a calming effect.
As young women in Seattle and elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest were starting to vanish, I volunteered in the University District’s Rape Relief, an advocacy and support service for sexual assault survivors. In 1973, it was a relatively new idea that women who were raped should have a peer nearby, someone just to talk with, or to support them if they chose to go to a doctor or, as rarely happened, to the police. To further demonstrate the innocence of the times, when I was on call and the buzzer rang in my Capital Hill apartment, I set off alone to meet the caller at her apartment or home, often the site of the crime and often in the middle of the night.
Of the fifty rape and assault survivors I worked with over a two-year period, only two women chose to report to the police. As I recall, in those same two years, only one case in the entire agency went to trial. I was not the victim’s original advocate, but was asked to sit in the courtroom to provide support. The case was “the one out of a thousand” for which the prosecutor believed he had sufficient evidence to win a conviction. The teenager, fifteen or sixteen years old, had been savagely beaten. Images of her bruised body were passed around the jury.
On the stand, the accused rapist presented his opinions about the victim’s reputation. Without being required to provide any evidence, he described her alleged contacts with other men. His attorney argued that these exploits proved she could not have been raped. During a recess, I overheard a woman mutter, “So who hasn’t been beat up a few times?” After the man was found innocent on all counts, a jury member told me, “The kind of girl she is, what difference does one more make?”
Another fifteen-year-old was raped by three acquaintances who offered her a ride home from school. The results were so grisly that during her medical exam, I briefly blacked out. I prided myself that to give her privacy, I was standing above her head and thus out of her line of vision. She never saw my moment of weakness, and I never let go of her hand. She chose to turn in a report. During the interview, the officer asked, “Why did you get into the car?”
In my only other case where a caller chose to report, the officer drove us up and down Broadway until the woman saw her attacker, a boyfriend she’d broken up with, standing on a corner. The officer stopped, took the man into custody, and forced the woman and me to ride crushed together in the front seat while the assailant screamed obscenities at us from the back.
“She’ll just go back to him,” the officer explained when we arrived downtown, and he barely bothered to take a report.
After Janice and Denise disappeared at Lake Sammamish, with witnesses able to describe the stranger who politely requested their help, composite drawings appeared in two Seattle newspapers, the Seattle Times and Post Intelligencer. We memorized the faces of his victims, because they were ours, and we tried to memorize his. We knew each woman’s name, her hobbies and hopes. We despised the theory that the killer was directing anger at an ex-girlfriend. After his arrest, this story gained more traction. Yes, a rich sorority girl had indeed jilted him. Poor Ted.
My friends and I at Rape Relief didn’t buy it. The papers at first labeled the vanished women as runaways. Why bother looking for them? Now, the narrative was that behind every sociopath lurks a woman. Never make your boyfriend mad, the not-so-subliminal message read. Never be too pretty or too powerful. The flip side of this, as we began to think, was that we shouldn’t be too nice, either. If the killer’s ruse was to drop his briefcase or books, and we reached out to help, a tire iron might come crashing down on our head.
Liz, of course, was neither rich nor cruel. Liz and a friend I’ll call Martha, who dated Ted in his final months at large, are two of the kindest people I know. Some have described Liz as “insecure,” but she seemed no more or less secure than many young women in the late sixties, particularly as an “unwed mother” raising a child on her own. Devoted mothers when their children were small, in later life Liz and Martha worked with the disabled. They provided Ted with love, emotional support, home-cooked meals, transportation, and money. Liz trusted Ted with her daughter.
The rich-bitch girlfriend was only one theory about how a woman caused Bundy’s rampage. After Ted was arrested, reporters filed into Louise Cowell Bundy’s humble Tacoma cottage to play Pin the Tail on the Mommy. Louise Bundy described her son’s all-American childhood and their good times as a family. One reporter traced similarities between the set of her jaw and that of her son. Domineering, another wrote. She doesn’t let her husband complete a sentence. The message: We know who wears the pants in that family, and what that can do to a man.
Ted Bundy targeted college campuses, high schools, and, for his final victim, an elementary school, places where students were trained to respect and even to fear authority. Bundy, the psychology major, used female trust and obedience to serve his goals. In trial and police interviews, I witnessed first-hand how young women were questioned. What in their behavior or appearance attracted the attack? Women asked themselves the same questions. One said, “I was wearing baggy jeans and a shapeless top. Why did he choose me?” Another said, “I’m a good girl, loving and kind to everyone. What did I do wrong?”
The week Ted Bundy was to be electrocuted in Florida, I was walking around Greenlake, a Seattle area popular for walking, running, skating, and riding bikes. The man I was with, father to a four-year-old girl, seemed loving and gentle. Then a jogger ran past. “Look at her waving her butt around,” the nice man said. “She’s just asking to be raped.” The following morning, again surrounded by joggers and women with baby strollers, I walked around Greenlake on my own. When I stopped at the public restroom, my Rape Relief training caused me to peer beneath the stall door before I went in.
On the toilet seat crouched a man, a motorcycle helmet clutched in his hands ready to crash down on my head. I shouted, and he ran out. Two women were entering the restroom, and one dialed 911. The three of us chased the man off the walking path and onto the street until the police arrived. Society, it seemed, hadn’t changed much, but our courage had. We weren’t going to let that one get away.
In early days, before Ted the courteous stranger at the beach became Ted the convicted killer, some men roundly defended him. When Ted Bundy was first arrested, my own father dismissed me from the dinner table when I said, “It’s him. I know he’s the one.”
“Ted’s a college graduate,” my father said. He was red-faced and furious. “He went to law school. They’re locking up an innocent man.”
Highly-placed men in Washington State’s Republican Party, for which Bundy had worked, likewise came to his defense. “Ted would never do that,” one said. When Liz approached the police to describe how her boyfriend borrowed her tan VW bug, sometimes removed the passenger seat, and kept a collection of baseball bats, crutches, and a tire iron in her apartment, they scoffed. “Jealous girlfriend,” they said. Her concerns about finding surgical tape and rubber gloves in his pockets and how he acted oddly the eve of a disappearance were the “ravings of a jealous, jilted gal.”
In a New Yorker cartoon, the judge gazes down at the suspect, a miniature version of the judge. “Surely not guilty,” the judge proclaims. “Case dismissed!” Although we now know that most serial killers are white and above average in intelligence, something in these men rebelled at the thought of a mass murderer who looked so much like them. Twice, Bundy escaped from jail and went on to kill again. Several of his jailors admitted they thought him innocent. Did this cause their carelessness?
According to the many books and articles about his life, Bundy’s path, including possible earlier killings, began long before he met the pretty sorority girlfriend who jilted him. As is a pattern with many serial killers, by junior high Ted may have wandered neighborhood streets to watch women undress. He craved violent pornography and shop-lifted compulsively. Another premonitory sign is an obsession with guns or knives. Ted’s aunt described three-year-old Ted creeping into her room at night to place butcher knives beneath her blankets. Grade school report cards revealed an unstable temper and inability to cooperate with other children.
In high school, academics became Ted’s saving grace, but although good-looking, he rarely dated. In college, he studied Chinese, architecture, theatre arts, and abnormal psychology, where he learned that if approached by a stranger in a cast or on crutches, people are more likely to offer assistance. Long prior to the first publicized disappearance, he collected a false moustache, eyeglasses, and medical supplies, including crutches and the plaster used to make casts. In the personal essay that accompanied his law school application, he wrote, “My lifestyle requires I obtain knowledge of the law and the ability to practice legal skills. I intend to be my own man. It’s that simple.” Law, Ted wrote, “fulfills a functional need which my daily routine has forced me to recognize.”
Ted’s early defenders lauded his volunteer and paid employment as signs of brilliance and promise. He delivered medical supplies, served as a night watchman, researched statistics on theft and rape, and took calls at Seattle’s Crisis Line. While campaigning for the Republican Party, he wore disguises and tailed opponents, producing innuendoes that led to a Democratic candidate’s political demise. Though his defenders claimed he could be a sensitive and compassionate listener, others said that he tended to berate Crisis Line callers or even shut off the phones so he could sleep.
After Bundy’s second escape, he careened toward more careless brutality, first killing two college students in Florida and severely injuring three more, and then raping and murdering a child the age of Liz’s young daughter after luring her into a van in front of her school. During the two periods he was at large, I suffered constant nightmares. I would awaken chilled to the bone with terror, screaming to my three younger sisters “Bundy!” as I warned them to flee. According to Margaret T. Gordon and Stephanie Riger in 1989’s Female Fear, roommates, friends, and family members of women who are raped experience the same or similar post-rape trauma as the victims, including nightmares, frequent moves, inability to sleep, depression, or weeping. Another form over-identification with the victim can take is denial.
“That didn’t happen,” family and friends told one survivor with whom I worked. As with the recently divorced or bereaved, friends may inexplicably turn away. The victim, perhaps, is a too-close reminder that loss could happen to them as well.
A decade following Ted’s murders and assaults in the Chi Omega sorority in Tallahassee, former classmates of the survivors exhibited many of the symptoms described by Gordon and Riger. One committed suicide. Others dropped out of college. Most suffered depression. The younger sibling of one victim stopped speaking, just as the mother of one victim in Seattle never again left her home.
In Eichmann in Jerusalem, A Report on the Banality of Evil, originally published in 1963, Hannah Arendt suggests that evil looks like nothing special. Evil looks like you, like me, like that pleasant-looking fellow down the street, his arm tossed casually over his girlfriend’s shoulder. “I’d say there are a dozen of me walking around Seattle right now,” Ted Bundy told Michaud.
For years, I sought a cause for Bundy’s craving to inflict terror. I clung to an account that he was, perhaps, abused by his grandfather or even the product of incest. Or that as a child Ted felt he was a failure or a mistake; he repeated what was done to him in an attempt to exorcise it. “Most victims of child sexual abuse,” survivor Truddi Chase says, “strive for perfection in the face of what they perceive as their constant failings.” Although some considered Bundy a perfectionist, even as he achieved success as a student, a Republican activist, a counselor, he sabotaged himself. Though he clung to girlfriends, he was unable to form intimate bonds.
If the fundamental core that enables us to develop emotion is destroyed in infancy, what chance does a child have? According to Swiss analyst Alice Miller, damages from subtle abuse are as severe as those from beatings. In Drama of the Gifted Child, published in English in 1981, Dr. Miller submits that children can be adversely impacted even by well-meaning parents. In For Your Own Good; Hidden Cruelty in Childhood and the Roots of Violence, Miller’s 2002 study of Adolf Hitler and other ritual murderers, Miller documents how repetition compulsion, the need to act out an earlier traumatic event, can serve as a form of documentation to what a child experienced in early life.
Louise Cowell, Ted’s mother, gave birth to her son in 1946, when she was twenty-two. In that era, three decades before legal abortion, women with so-called “illegitimate” babies were hidden. As was common then, Ted was born at a “home for unwed mothers,” something every girl from that era heard or knew about. Although she didn’t relinquish rights, Louise returned to her parents’ home without the infant. Three months later, although still ambivalent, she retrieved him. If the foundation for bonding is formed during the first months, it would seem that newborn Ted lacked sufficient touch or interaction with a parenting figure to form intimate bonds, to be able to trust, to feel, or to care.
Other reports were that the infant’s grandfather, Louise’s father, beat his wife. She was treated with electro-shock therapy for chronic depression and was said to rarely leave the house. It was also suggested that Grandfather Cowell tortured cats that defecated in his well-tended gardens, and that the toddler Ted might have witnessed this and other violence.
According to Alice Miller, family secrets adults swear are unknown to the child are often acted out in a child’s behavior. Children “read” adults in ways beyond language, and then re-enact, almost uncannily, what they have seen or heard. In the support group Liz and I attended in the early 1970s, the psychologist told us, “You’re only as sick as your secrets.” When asked about his early life by Dr. Dorothy Otnow Lewis, who testified in his trial, Ted professed amnesia or confusion. He described an “uneasiness” that accompanied him for as long as he could recall. Dr. Otnow Lewis testified in court that he may have witnessed and participated in traumatic events before he was three.
The child Ted was about that age when young Louise escaped as far from her parents’ home as possible. In the early fifties, when Louise arrived in Tacoma, Washington with toddler in tow, it was easy to blend into the endless and almost identical neighborhoods. Louise soon met and married the man who became Ted’s stepfather and father to Ted’s three half-sisters and a half-brother.
Reports about impacts of severe abuse on young children include accounts of “energy” malfunctions in the adult survivor’s life. A survivor of severe parental abuse, Truddi Chase, described such effects in her memoir When Rabbit Howls, published in 1987. When Chase’s therapist attempted to record interviews, the machines malfunctioned, even when the equipment previously functioned just fine. Batteries, light bulbs, and household appliances never lasted in her home. Her cars frequently broke down only to mysteriously re-start.
Similarly, when Michaud and Aynesworth interviewed Bundy as he recounted crimes in the third person, long prior to O.J. Simpson of “if he did it” fame, five recorders failed to work. Immediately following his arrest in Florida, when Bundy allegedly confessed to some of his crimes during an all-night interview, two tape recorders intermittently failed, and the results were ruled inadmissible. Joe Aloi, a private investigator who interviewed Bundy in 1979, observed changes in the color of Bundy’s eyes and the shape of his face when he talked about crime. Aloi described a sense of ‘electrical tension’ and a foul odor that accompanied these changes. Dr. Otnow testified that Bundy came close to what was then called a “multiple personality,” as Truddi Chase became as a way to close off her own childhood abuse, and Ted described an “entity” or “malignant being” within him. Stephen Michaud describes Bundy as a “diseased pre-adolescent mind directing the actions of an adult male body,” a description corroborated, in different words, by psychotherapists for whom Michaud and Aynesworth played their Bundy tapes.
What Alice Miller calls repetition compulsion is similar to what law enforcement calls modus operandi (MO), a sort of behavioral fingerprint criminals leave at a scene. Ted Bundy knew all about MO as a tool used to track and identify suspects. A decade before his taped “confessions” about “the killer,” Bundy was incensed when a murder in Washington was linked to another in Colorado. “That MO is nothing like the other,” Bundy was said to shriek, abandoning his usual patina of self-control. Yet although he varied his methods of abduction and attack from case to case, the length, depth, and location of the beatings on victims’ skulls remained the same from the first known assault in Seattle to the last in Florida.
The day following Bundy’s execution in 1989, I interviewed a man I’ll call Ned Jacobs, convicted of molestation of several neighborhood children. An educated and gentle-looking man, Jacobs scoffed at Alice Miller’s theories of early-trauma as being causative of sociopathy. “Evil is evil,” Jacobs told me. “Evil is arbitrary. It has no explanation.” Jacobs said the Ted Bundys “just happen.” Confronted about his own assaults, Jacobs looked away. “I never hurt them,” he said, and he shrugged. I couldn’t help remembering Bundy’s protests that he never mutilated his victims while they were alive. “I don’t see what the fuss is about,” Bundy once said about the vanished women.
Bundy denied anger or hostility toward women and told Stephen Michaud that the excitement resided not in the killing but the hunt. Once he captured his prey, the thrill was “possessing them physically, as one would possess a potted plant, a painting, or a Porsche. Owning, as it were, the individual.” Bundy claimed to feel sickened immediately following each murder, though not with remorse for the “potted plant,” but with fear he would be detected and thus stopped. He would vow to swear off. Within days, he said, the obsession began to build again until bursting out in the next attack three or four weeks later.
“Why did Bundy kill?” Ned Jacobs said. “He killed because he killed. Do you ask an alcoholic why he drinks? He drinks because he drinks. He denies he has a problem, or he’ll say he had a terrible childhood or a wonderful childhood. He’s handsome or not handsome enough.” Jacobs paused to take a drag on his cigarette. “Alcoholics say one drink is too many, and a thousand aren’t enough. For Bundy, one murder was too many, and a thousand weren’t enough. Simple as that.”
If, as a child or adolescent, Bundy had been allowed a chance to talk with a trusted adult, to express the inexpressible, would the thirty to eighty women he is said to have killed be singing and walking today? Might they be remembered as more than the yearbook photos that emblazoned the newspapers in ever-increasing rows when I was in my early twenties? Ted Bundy forced me to face my own notions of revenge, forgiveness, healing, and death.
As a teenager, I opposed capital punishment. After the horror of Bundy’s years at large, I imagined, briefly, that I could personally torture him and not feel a thing. In the days prior to his execution, reporters asked parents of his victims to speculate on their daughters’ final moments. The parents of Ted’s final victim, twelve-year old Kimberly Leach, asked journalist Richard Larsen, who’d known Bundy, the same question.
In the Meetings on the Edge, Conversations with the Grieving and Dying, published in 1989, Stephen Levine speaks with parents of a teenage daughter who was raped and killed. A person who is tortured, Levine suggests, enters a form of deep shock that provides a form of anesthesia. Other researchers appear to corroborate this theory, including Dr. Sherwin Nuland in his 1995 best-seller How We Die, Reflections on Life’s Final Chapter, when he describes the death of a child brutally knifed in the middle of a crowd on a bright sunny day. He suggests that after a period of confusion and fear, the child entered a sort of altered state that allowed her to slip away.
I can never deny or forget brutalities or cease to grieve for useless deaths. I can turn away from the facts or horror, but I can never ignore the pitch of the pain. From the day he began to kill, Ted Bundy impacted my life. He kidnapped my sister’s friend while other friends drank nearby, ready to give Brenda a safe ride home. He waited in the same interview room, looking so much more put together than I did, and he was selected for the position for which I was turned down. He haunted one friend in the University of Washington law library, and two women I know dated him. An acquaintance wrote one of the many books on Bundy, in which he anonymously quoted a journal I’d let him read, and a guy I dated read those books with a fascination that causes me to shudder still.
Once denial wore off that a killer was at large in Seattle, a young detective named Robert Keppel contacted us at Rape Relief to set up something called Third Party Reports. I remember him as a nice young man, unlike the officers I’d dealt with on my two cases who reported to the police. Keppel knew that most survivors of rape and assault do not go to the police but wondered whether women would be willing to talk to us, their peers and advocates, and provide information to profile the killer. This was not too long after Denise and Janice disappeared from Lake Sammamish, and we women called the killer Ted. Detective Keppel went on to became an expert on serial killers and even interviewed Bundy on death row to seek information about how to track down another serial killer still at large.
As I remember, Detective Keppel also asked us how officers could be more sensitive to women who did report, but perhaps that’s a euphoric recall. It’s a euphoria I want to embrace in the face of too-ample evidence that almost half a century later not that much has changed about sexual assault.
When I first read Hannah Arendt in college, I refused to believe in evil. It was as if, if I refused to name it, evil did not exist. For years, I believed that within every adult is a small child waiting to be discovered and loved. I refused to look at killers as Ned Jacobs did, something that “just happens,” an aberration of nature to be put to sleep, as a dog might be, once its danger is irrefutably proved.
On the day of Ted Bundy’s execution, my sister Lisa called from Singapore, where she lived with her husband Joe and their two young children. “Pornography is against the law here,” Lisa said. “Maybe here Ted would never exist at all.” Those of us in our early twenties during the Bundy years, our long hair parted down the middle, knew his victims could be any of us. We brushed shoulders with Ted in cafes, and the tan VW with its tire irons, handcuffs and baseball bats passed us on the street. We knew, as Ted did, that he could and would happen again.
Even now, violence against women and children continues to increase, and the response remains, mostly, silence. “Let’s talk about something else,” people continue to say, if they respond at all. As Gordon and Riger state in Female Fear, as long as abuse is viewed as a private experience, we can continue to believe it will cease if victims and aggressors change their behavior. Yet rape and murder are a collective experience, and only when addressed at a societal level will the statistics that rate the United States high in the number of rapists and serial killers be altered. Fear of rape and murder, say Gordon and Riger, is not “idiosyncratic private emotion, but a social fact.”
For me, as for my sisters and friends and thousands more, Ted Bundy’s life and death caused a permanent loss of innocence. “The idea of Ted Bundy preys upon the mind,” writes Stephen Michaud. “He is his own abstraction, a lethal absurdity masquerading as a man.” At Ted Bundy’s final hour, two hundred cheered outside his cell. I, too, wanted Bundy to die, not because one death can right fifty or fifty thousand, but because I feared he might escape yet once again. But spare me even a well-lit alley with those who danced for his death, because I watch them waving their arms, shouting their glee, and dancing still. Ted Bundy’s spirit, even now, passes silently in the night.