Was Ted Bundy Diagnosed With A Mental Illness?

Many have claimed that Ted Bundy, a man responsible for the horrific deaths of at least 30 people, was a psychopath, but he was also diagnosed with a different mental illness before he died.

By Sharon Lynn Pruitt

Ted Bundy is one of the most well-known serial killers in the history of America. Known as much for his horrific crimes — he killed more than 30 people that investigators know of — as his allegedly charming demeanor, Bundy remains an oft-examined figure in the world of true crime.

During the '60s and ‘70s, Bundy stalked the streets and killed dozens of women across the country, all while leading a double life as a perfectly ordinary, upstanding man. In the years since his execution, experts have continued to ask: What was the driving force behind Bundy’s crimes? Some have theorized that Bundy was a narcissist. Others have labeled him a psychopath. But what was Bundy actually diagnosed with, if anything at all?

In Netflix’s recently released docu-series, “Conversations with A Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes,” those intimately involved with Bundy’s trials and who were with him during the last years of his life, recounted the discussions that were had about Bundy’s mental health as his execution neared.

Bundy was diagnosed as manic-depressive

For many of his appearances in court, Bundy famously chose to represent himself. However, when he was on death row in a Florida prison in 1986, Polly Nelson, an attorney brought in to serve as his post-conviction counsel, called in an expert to gauge if Bundy was competent enough to stand trial.

Dr. Dorothy Lewis, a Yale psychiatrist who specialized in “understanding the brain chemistry of violent men,” was brought in to perform neurological tests on Bundy, Nelson recalled during the “Ted Bundy Tapes.” Soon enough, Lewis called her with the news: She’d concluded that Bundy was manic-depressive.

“That was the first that we’d heard of any kind of actual diagnosis of a mental illness with Ted,” Nelson said.

Manic depression, sometimes known as bipolar disorder, is a mood disorder characterized by bouts of mania alternating with depressive episodes, according to WebMD. People suffering from bipolar disorder have been known to experience hallucinations and psychosis.

“[Bundy] talked in terms of a voice in his head. And this voice would start saying things about women,” Nelson explained. “Dr. Lewis realized that this was during the down phase of his manic-depression, and Ted controlling his own defense was just a sign of his manic episodes. And he also started talking about that he did not feel empathy. He did not feel love.”

Did Bundy have a brain tumor that affected his ability to feel empathy?

During her examination of Bundy, Dr. Lewis also theorized that Bundy may have had an issue with his physical health, perhaps a neurological impairment, that affected his mental health and ability to behave and live normally, Nelson said during the Netflix special.

“Dr. Lewis was extremely confident that there was something unique about Ted’s brain that had led to this,” she said. “Some unique brain chemistry or even a tumor in a critical location that blocked his empathy.”

Lewis’ observations were enough to secure a stay of execution for the convicted murderer mere hours before he was to face the electric chair in 1986. What followed was a series of appeals and stays of execution that would keep Bundy out of death’s reach for years, until he was finally executed in January 1989. There have been no reports of any brain tumor being found following his death.

Experts seem to be largely divided on what conditions Bundy might have suffered from. Dr. Al Carlisle, a psychologist who once interviewed Bundy when his crimes first began to come to light, described Bundy as a “pretty strong psychopath” during an interview with A&E in April 2018.

Ann Rule, a crime writer who befriended Bundy before his crimes came to light, theorized in her book, “The Stranger Beside Me: The True Crime Story Of Ted Bundy,” that Bundy was “probably narcissistic.”

“Ted, I believe, was a sadistic sociopath who took pleasure from another human’s pain and the control he had over his victims, to the point of their death, and even after,” Rule wrote. “He was a child, an adolescent, a young man who never felt much power over his life. He chose a hideous path as he sought power over his life.”

Was pornography to blame?

Before his execution, Bundy pointed to his pornography addiction as a factor which led him to violence. While he specified that he was “not blaming pornography,” he did say that his obsession with it birthed in him “a compulsion... a building up of this destructive energy,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

Dr. Victor B. Cline, a psychologist at the University of Utah, theorized that Bundy exhibited signs of a sexual homicidal addiction, a condition that was fueled by pornography, the Deseret News reports. Without access to pornography, Bundy’s obsession may not have escalated to violent ends, Cline believed, according to the outlet.

Dr. Emanuel Tanay, a Detroit psychiatrist who served as an expert witness during Bundy's trial, described Bundy as a “deformed” person after his death, but he did not believe that pornography was to blame for Bundy’s horrific crimes.

“I consider that to be one last-ditch manipulation by Mr. Bundy, who is the great manipulator,” Tanay told the Deserert News. “I think pornography did not give us Ted Bundy.”

Bundy resented any diagnosis

Bundy, for his part, did not seem willing to adopt any specific label, as revealed during “The Ted Bundy Tapes.”

“I knew I wasn’t crazy, insane, or incompetent, or anything else,” Bundy said in one interview. “I was insulted by even the suggestion by my attorneys that we should consider the defense. They knew damn well I wasn’t crazy.”

[Photo: Getty Images]

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