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“Ted Bundy” is a name that has become synonymous with acts of extreme sexual violence. Before he was executed in 1989, Bundy engaged in a terrifying killing spree that spanned years and states, torturing and murdering at least 30 women before he was caught in 1978. Many have wondered over the years what may have inspired his reign of terror, but a look back at his upbringing raises even more unanswered questions.
The recently debuted Netflix docu-series, “Conversations With a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes,” features taped interviews with Bundy conducted by journalists Stephen G. Michaud and Hugh Aynesworth in 1980, when Bundy was a death row inmate. Despite having been convicted of numerous violent crimes and admitting that he first discovered a fascination with violent pornography as an adolescent, Bundy claimed that his childhood was normal and in no way linked to the many sadistic acts he would go on to commit as an adult.
Watch Snapped: Notorious Ted Bundy on Oxygen, Friday, Jan. 25 at 9/8c
But Bundy’s true history — specifically, his parentage — may have been more complicated than even he knew.
Bundy discovered his illegitimacy as a young man
Bundy was born in 1946 at an unwed mother’s home in Burlington, Vermont to Eleanor Louise Cowell. Growing up with his mother, aunts, and grandparents in Pennsylvania, the young Bundy believed that his grandparents, Samuel and Eleanor Cowell, were his mother and father and thought that his actual mother was his sister. As a young child, Bundy moved to Tacoma, Washington with his birth mother, who went on to marry Johnnie Bundy, a man who would legally adopt Bundy and raise him as his own.
Bundy was a young teenager when he found out that he was illegitimate, according to Al Carlisle, Ph.D.. Carlisle, a prison psychologist who once interviewed Bundy. He claimed during Netflix’s “Conversations With a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes” that Bundy found out he was born out of wedlock by chance.
“When he was about 14 years old, in an old trunk, he found his birth certificate, and in the spot where it says, ‘Father,’ it said, ‘Unknown.’ So that’s how he found out that he was illegitimate,” Carlisle said.
However, crime writer Ann Rule presented a different story as to how Bundy came to discover his roots. As an adult, he traveled to the place where he was born — Burlington, Vermont — to find a copy of his birth certificate, Rule wrote in her book, “The Stranger Beside Me: The True Crime Story of Ted Bundy.” The word “illegitimate” was stamped on his birth certificate, and a man named Lloyd Marshall, a salesman and Airforce veteran born in 1916, was listed as his father, Rule said.
In their book “The Only Living Witness: The True Story of Serial Sex Killer Ted Bundy,” journalists Stephen Michaud and Hugh Aynesworth instead pointed to a “Jack Worthington,” a war veteran, as a man Louise claimed was Bundy’s birth father.
Who Bundy’s father actually was may never be known. His mother had only ever claimed that it was a “sailor” who had impregnated her, and said little else beyond that, according to Rule.
Was Bundy's grandfather actually his father?
After Bundy’s mother, Louise, gave birth to Ted (or “Theodore”) at the unwed mother’s home, she initially returned to her family home without him, Michaud said during “Conversations With A Killer.” She had no plans of keeping the child, but ultimately went and retrieved him at her father’s insistence, according to Michaud.
Michaud said that Bundy’s grandfather — the man he thought was actually his father during the beginning of his life — had a “violent streak” and may have abused Bundy as a child. More troubling still, some believe that Bundy’s grandfather was actually his biological father, Rule wrote in “The Stranger Beside Me.” There is no proof as to the legitimacy of the theory; it was never scientifically tested, as DNA testing was not yet available, Rule explained.
Bundy’s parentage seemed to go largely unaddressed by the people in his life. Bundy’s mother never even admitted to being his mother, according to the Deseret News.
Bundy routinely denied that his upbringing was to blame for his crimes
Bundy’s true paternity remains unclear to this day, but throughout his life, Bundy seemed to view that fact as insignificant.
“This, of course, this illegitimacy issue is, for the amateur psychologist, it’s the thing,” Bundy said during an interview featured in “Conversations With A Killer.” “I mean, it’s so stupid. It just bugs the s--t out of me. I don’t know what to do about it.”
“How many people are in fact, find out that they are illegitimate, or even adopted, at a later age? It’s normal,” he said.
Bundy grew up in a Christian household, “in a wonderful home with two dedicated and loving parents,” he once said, according to the Los Angeles Times.
As an adult, Bundy seemed intent on painting an idyllic picture of his childhood. He told death row interviewers that he spent his youth engaging in totally normal activities: playing football with classmates, going fishing with friends, and catching frogs. But others interviewed for the Netflix special told a different story; Bundy was bullied for a speech impediment as a child, and as a teen, “wanted to be something that he wasn’t,” one childhood acquaintance recalled.
But Bundy always held fast to his invented narrative. As he said in one of the taped interviews in Netflix’s recent special, “There’s nothing in my background which would lead one to believe that I was capable of committing murder.”
“Absolutely nothing,” he insisted.
[Photo: Getty Images]
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