Ted Bundy, the serial killer who murdered over 30 women in a terrifying multi-state serial crime spree in the 1960s and 1970s, spent much of his life consumed with trying to appear more successful, professional, and established than he was. Bundy grew up in a happy but non-affluent household, and his status was always something he resented. He always wanted to be part of the upper class, especially after dating and then being rejected by his first girlfriend, who happened to be wealthy.
She was less than impressed by his lack of ambition, and after their breakup, he vowed to make something of himself, as documented in the new Netflix docuseries “Conversations with A Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes,” which was released on the anniversary of Bundy’s death this week.
Which, for better or worse, he did.
And Bundy often did appear quite educated. He even represented himself at his own murder trials. As he was being sentenced to death in 1979, presiding Judge Edward Cowart commended Bundy for his ability to represent himself in the courtroom.
“It is an utter tragedy for this court to see such a total waste of humanity as I’ve experienced in this courtroom,” he said. “You’re a bright young man. You’d have made a good lawyer and I would have loved to have you practice in front of me, but you went another way, partner.”
Bundy may have appeared bright, and he was. In fact, he reportedly had an IQ of 136, but was he a good student?
Not always. As his former girlfriend once pointed out, he lacked motivation. He also apparently had trouble making up his mind about what he wanted in life.
After graduating from high school in 1965, he immediately enrolled at University of Puget Sound, a private liberal arts college in Tacoma, Washington. A year later, though, he transferred to the University of Washington and enrolled in an intensive Chinese language program, according to Ann Rule’s 1980 true crime novel about Bundy entitled “The Stranger Beside Me: The True Crime Story of Ted Bundy.”
"He felt that China was the country that we would one day have to reckon with, and that a fluency in the language would be imperative," Rule wrote.
He didn't stick with it, and it's not clear how much of the language Bundy learned to speak. By 1968, lost interest in Chinese and started taking classes in both urban planning and sociology at the University of Washington instead. Then, he dropped out of school and began working multiple minimum-wage jobs. Meanwhile, Bundy's first girlfriend, the one who said he lacked motivation, graduated from University of Washington with her degree, something that was not in the immediate future yet for Bundy.
He wasn't without aspirations, though. He did begin his political career in 1968 by volunteering for the Seattle office of Nelson Rockefeller (a Republican who later served as Vice President under Gerald Ford). That same year, he attended the 1968 Republican National Convention in Miami as a Rockefeller delegate.
In 1969, he moved around the country a bit, and Rule believes he may have visited Vermont at this time to get information about his birth. Bundy also took another crack at school, this time at Temple University in Philadelphia, but only for one semester.
After traveling around, Bundy re-enrolled at the University of Washington after he decided to major in psychology. This time, he stuck with it, and he got his undergraduate degree in the major in 1972. He liked studying psychology and he enjoyed talking about it, his long-time girlfriend recalled. A year before graduating, he even began working at Seattle's Suicide Hotline Crisis Center where he helped people in crisis. It was there he met Rule, his coworker who became his friend for many years and the woman who wrote a book about his many murders.
After obtaining his undergraduate degree in psychology, Bundy wanted to go to a prestigious law school, as prestige and image were of utmost importance to him.
He applied to several of them, “but he was devastated when he LSATs came back and he was mediocre. They weren’t very good at all. So, he was not going to get into a great law school,” Michaud said.
Instead, he went back to the University of Puget Sound School of Law for night classes three days a week. He carpooled to the classes with a car filled with other students, according to Rule's book.
Bundy wasn’t too proud of that.
“I felt like I’d failed not only myself but even my teachers and instructors at the university," Bundy admitted to Michaud.
By 1973 though, he was able to get into the University of Utah Law School, but only because of his political connections, according to Business Insider. Then-Washington Governor Daniel Evans, who Bundy worked for, helped put in a good word for him.
But Bundy dropped out of the school after about a year.
Watch Snapped: Notorious Ted Bundy on Oxygen, Friday, Jan. 25 at 9/8c
At times it seemed that Bundy could have had a promising future in politics. While working for Evans, Bundy shined. The docu-series explains how Bundy would attend political events, full of “influential people” and he’d always fit in. He was able to make connections.
As Michaud explained, politicians were appealing to Bundy because they were all about image.
“That’s perfect for him because he doesn’t have to be real,” he said. At one point, Bundy even had aspirations to become the next governor of Washington, according to a Psychology Today report.
But in the end, there was one thing that motivated Bundy the most: murder.
“A lot of high people with high IQ in society seem to have a problem with motivation,” Jack Rosewood, author of “The Big Book of Serial Killers: 150 Serial Killer Files of the World's Worst Murderers,” told Oxygen.com last year, adding that Bundy might not have been successful in the eyes of society but that he was “certainly above average” in what motivated him: killing.
And it appears that his killing career likely benefited from his education. His stint in law school resulted in him representing himself at his own murder trial, and as for his education in psychology, well, it was likely used to prey on and manipulate his victims. Bundy was known for faking an injury in an attempt to look less threatening, sometimes even wearing a cast or carrying crutches, before approaching women and asking them for help. If they bought into his psychological trick, he'd beat them with a crowbar and abduct them. Then, he'd kill and rape them.
He also used his psychology degree to try to manipulate those assigned to analyze him.
Dr. Al Carlisle, a psychologist at the Utah State Prison, evaluated Bundy after his first arrest in 1975 for the court. At this point, nobody had a clue about the extent of Bundy’s crimes. As Dr. Katherine Ramsland, author and professor of forensic psychology, wrote in a Psychology Today report, “Having taken psychology courses, Bundy knew what Carlisle’s questions meant and disliked being on the receiving end.”
Searching for the best true crime podcasts? Subscribe to Martinis & Murder and join hosts Daryn Carp and John Thrasher as they chat about creepy crimes and unsolved mysteries... while sipping on killer drinks from our murderous mixologist Matt the Bartender. Each episode will focus on a new true crime, with all the gory details, and a cocktail recipe to get you through.