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Crime News Serial Killers

What Did A Doctor Learn About Ted Bundy That Made Her Think He Isn't 'Pure Evil'?

Serial killer Ted Bundy revealed a secret about his childhood to Dr. Dorothy Lewis, who often questioned the concept of evil, one day before his execution.

By Gina Tron
Dorothy Otnow Lewis Ted Bundy Hbo G

Psychiatrist Dr. Dorothy Lewis was a major proponent of the argument that murderers are created and not born. In her eyes, this also applied to notorious serial killer Ted Bundy, whom she interviewed before his death.

Bundy admitted to killing more than 30 women — and only after multiple jail escapes and three dramatic trials. Generally, Bundy is known as a sadistic and vicious predator who used his good looks and charm to kill women and then have sex with their corpses. But after his convictions — and leading up to his execution in 1989 — he blamed an “entity” in his head that pushed him to commit violent acts, which he claimed was fueled by his pornography addiction. (A criminologist warned the public in a 1989 South Florida Sun-Sentinel op-ed not to blindly believe Bundy's claims.)

Just hours before Bundy’s execution, he was interviewed by Lewis, which led some to speculate that he was merely making a final attempt to have his life spared, the Washington Post reported in 1989. Lewis, however, saw it differently.

Lewis, who is the main subject of HBO’s new documentary “Crazy, Not Insane,” was one of the first public figures to argue that murderers are created and not born. She became a regular expert witness on a number of high-profile murder trials on behalf of killers, including Bundy. She did not feel it was right to execute people who were, in theory, the products of abuse and brain damage and argued for the idea that there is no evil — just products of trauma.

It appeared, at first, that Bundy defied Lewis' theory. He did not seem to be the product of either abuse or brain damage; he had always painted a warm picture of his upbringing.

That rosy image of Bundy's childhood was allegedly shattered when he asked Lewis to interview him the day before his execution. During their four-and-a-half hour long interview, he supposedly told her a disturbing tale of abuse from his childhood. On a recording included in the documentary, Bundy told Lewis that he had been harboring a secret for years, one he had promised himself he would never reveal. His lawyer asked if he wanted Lewis’ tape recorder shut off and he said yes.

“When the tape recorder was off, Bundy told me that he had had a sexual encounter with one of his sisters,” Lewis wrote in her research papers, included in the documentary. ”Later, his mother told me that Bundy had told his sister that she should be careful because there was someone out in the world that looked just like her. Bit by bit I was beginning to see a very different story in Bundy’s family life, one that would upend the myth of pure evil.”

Former FBI Special Agent Bill Hagmaier, who enlisted Bundy for help as the FBI compiled data on murderers, noted in the documentary that Bundy never talked badly about his family. 

“When we talked about it, he wasn’t telling the truth in all this, I know,” he told the producers. “Everything was cotton candy with his family. He didn’t want to say anything bad about his family at all, or his mother.”

Of course, there had been rumors that Bundy was the product of incest himself. Some have speculated that Bundy’s grandfather was actually his biological father, true crime author Ann Rule wrote in “The Stranger Beside Me: The True Crime Story of Ted Bundy,” but Rule stated there was no proof legitimizing that theory. In “Crazy, Not Insane,” Lewis claimed she got a sample of Bundy’s blood — though she did not specify from where and Oxygen.com's attempt to find the source has not been successful — and said a DNA test showed that he was not the product of incest.

Still, Lewis theorized that Bundy may have undergone some possible damage while he was still in his mother’s womb. She claimed that Bundy’s mom told her that while pregnant she was taken to a doctor who gave her pills to attempt to abort Bundy, but they didn't work.

"Things were horrendous for Bundy from conception on,” Lewis said in the documentary, adding that she felt as though he was treated as if he was unwanted by his family for his whole life.

There do not appear to be any other reports that verify that Bundy’s mom took pills for an abortion attempt. 

Lewis talked often about how much affection she had for several murderers, and the feeling was often mutual. Bundy trusted her so much, he even kissed her goodbye hours before his execution, according to the Yale School of Medicine. While Lewis' theories and her affection for the killers she studied were sometimes viewed as controversial, "Crazy, Not Insane" celebrates her compassion and curiosity for why people turn "bad." When it comes to the root of Bundy's true nature, however, the verdict is still out.