Happy Birthday Ted Bundy! Remembering America's Most Charming Serial Killer

"I'm the most cold-hearted son of a bitch you'll ever meet." -Ted Bundy

On November 24, 1946, one of the most notorious serial killers in American history was born. Leaving a lasting legacy on our nation's unconscious, Ted Bundy terrorized women accross the country. Although it's unknown how many victims he ultimately had, Bundy's memory has gained a strange cult following who remember the murderer as much for his charming demeanor as for his viscious crimes.

Theodore Robert Cowell was born to Eleanor Louise Cowel in Burlington, Vermont. The identity of his father is unknown. He was raised by his grandparents for his early life, later learning that the pair of them were not his actual parents. It's unclear if Ted faced abuse at the hands of his grandfather, who by some accounts was a misogynistic xenophobe.

The details of his teenage years are unclear. He told some biographers that he would watch women undress through windows in his adolescence. He told others that he frantically searched for pornography. He was arrested a few times for burglary.

Bundy went to college at the University of Puget Sound, Temple University, and the University of Washington. He had girlfriends. He was an honors student, occaisionally landing himself in jail for various unremarkable crimes. He studied psychology and volunteered at a suicide hotline, where he met Ann Rule. Rule would stay close to Bundy throughout his life. For a long time she had no idea that inside her friend lurked a murderer. Before she learned this information, she described Ted as "kind, solicitous, and empathetic." Much later, Rule would go on to write the most notorious biography of Bundy, The Stranger Beside Me. "Ted was never as handsome, brilliant or charismatic as crime folklore deemed him. But as I said before, infamy became him," she once commented.

Bundy eventually went on to law school. He got back with old girlfriends and then cut off contact with them. He never finished his graduate education. Later, when on trial, he would take the stand as his own legal representative to defend himself.

At some point, although it is unclear when, he began killing women. He told various doctors, lawyers, psychologists, and detectives vastly different stories on this subject. He was unusually smart about his misdeeds, leaving behind very little evidence and often meticulously planning each crime. He moved from city to city, in and out of law school and a handful of other jobs, making it difficult to track him down.

In August of 1975, Bundy was finally arrested after failing to pull over for a routine traffic stop. After being found guilty of kidnapping and murder, Bundy successfully escaped from jail a handful of times. He even managed to commit more murders while on the run.

After getting caught again, Bundy was sentenced to death by electric chair in 1980. It was only after this that he would confess (only in the third person, to avoid "the stigma of confession") to the multitude of crimes he had comitted. On top of the fact that he stole almost everything he had ever owned, more grizzly details about the various rapes, assaults, and murders emerged.

"He said that after a while, murder is not just a crime of lust or violence," recalled Special Agent William Hagmaier of the FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit. "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." It was also revealed that Bundy had an inclination towards necrophilia.

"It was the absolute misogyny of his crimes that stunned me," wrote biographer Polly Nelson, "his manifest rage against women. He had no compassion at all ... he was totally engrossed in the details. His murders were his life's accomplishments."

Bundy had even seduced women while in jail, convincing them through correspondences that they were in love. Some had nervous breakdowns after his death. "Ted lured females," wrote another biographer, Stephen Michaud, "the way a lifeless silk flower can dupe a honey bee." 

Ultimately, Bundy was put to death on January 4, 1989. He had confessed to 30 murders, but no one knows how many he actually killed.

[Photo: Wikimedia Commons]

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