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Crime News Serial Killers

Ted Bundy’s First Known Victim Believes A Random Coincidence Saved Her Life

In January 1974, Ted Bundy snuck into Karen Sparks' bedroom, beat her with a metal rod and violently sexually assaulted her—but something unexpected apparently spooked the notorious serial killer.

By Jill Sederstrom

Karen Sparks is Ted Bundy’s first known victim, but unlike many of the women he murdered, Sparks survived her encounter with the notorious serial killer. And she believes she was spared for a surprising reason.

Sparks believes that it was her male roommate talking in his sleep next door that spooked Bundy and prompted him to flee before he took her life.

“I think that’s why he didn’t haul me away like the other girls, because Chuck talked in his sleep and I think that’s what saved me,” Sparks said in the REELZ special “Ted Bundy: The Survivors.”

But the assault Sparks endured was brutal nonetheless: she was badly beaten with a metal rod, sexually assaulted and left unconscious for hours before her roommates discovered her bloody body later that night.

Karen Sparks Reelz

Sparks had been asleep in her basement bedroom on Jan. 4, 1974 when Bundy snuck inside and viciously attacked her.

“He took some metal thing and he rammed it up my vagina and it split my bladder,” Sparks recalled of the horrific ordeal.

Before the attack, Sparks—at the time a student at the University of Washington—said she remembered seeing an older man staring at her at a nearby laundromat.

“I’d look at him, he’d look away,” Sparks said in the two-part special. “I didn’t really think too much about it.

In the early morning hours of Jan. 4, Sparks said she had been reading in her bedroom at the campus home she shared with three male friends at around 1 a.m. when she thought she saw a man peering into the bedroom window.

“I remember seeing some guy looking at me and I thought ‘Gosh, you know, maybe it was just a figment of my imagination because it was so quick,” she recalled. “It was just a flash. And I thought 'Well, no, nobody’s going to hurt me, you know. I am living with these guys, you know, I mean who’s going to hurt me?”

Police believe Bundy had likely been stalking her before he carried out the bloody attack.

Ted Bundy Reelz 2

“This guy above all things was a hunter and he chose his prey very carefully so this was not some random attack,” crime writer Shirley Lynn Scott said in the series.

Bundy snuck into the room after Sparks fell asleep, beat her and violently sexually assaulted her before her roommate Chuck began to talk in his sleep.

“This attacker hears a guy, hears him very close and runs,” Scott said.

Sparks was left unconscious and bleeding in the bed for hours until about 7 p.m. that night when her roommates came down to check on her.

“Bob came down and he saw blood on my pillow and he called 911 right away and then he called my mother and he told my mother, and he says ‘Oh you know, Karen must have fallen down the stairs. It’s bad you know,” Sparks said in the show.

It wasn’t until she had reached the hospital that her friends and family realized she had suffered a much more horrific incident.

Sparks remained unconscious for 10 days; when she awoke, she found her father and roommate Bob sitting around the hospital bed.

“I asked my dad, I said ‘Dad, what happened, what happened?” and he says ‘Oh you had a little bump in your head,’” Sparks remembered. “My dad just tried to keep it as upbeat as possible.”

She later learned the horrific truth, but had no memory of the attack and was unable to give investigators any clues about who had assaulted her.  

Just weeks later, another college student, Lynda Ann Healy, disappeared from her bedroom under eerily similar circumstances.

Investigators only found a bloody nightgown hanging in the closet and bloody sheets on the bed, but found no sign of Healy, who had been known for her job with Northwest Ski Reports announcing the weather.

Sparks said investigators were “kind of clueless at first,” but her father believed from the beginning that her attacker may have had multiple victims.

“My dad kind of figured it out after Linda Ann Healy, you know, he thought ... this was not a one-off and he thought this was just too similar,” Sparks said in the TV special.

Her father continued to collect newspaper clippings on other missing women as Bundy’s terrifying reign continued throughout the Northwest.

Bundy was eventually arrested in 1975, and after two escapes from jail landed behind bars for a final time in Florida in 1978. He was executed in 1989.

Sparks' father also became committed to his daughter’s recovery, helping her regain her ability to walk with slow strolls down the hospital hallways.

Sparks had suffered a 50 percent hearing loss 40 percent vision loss as a result of vicious attack, which had primarily been focused on the left side of her head. Although the doctors suggested the family send Sparks to a nursing home, her father insisted they bring her back home and nurse her back to health.

“I remember talking to my dad and I said ‘Gosh you know I am just not going to be the person that I used to be’ and he says ‘No, you are going to be even better,’” Sparks said.

For years, Sparks opted to stay out of the spotlight and never publicly talked about her brush with Bundy, but she decided to share her story for the first time in the Amazon Prime docuseries “Ted Bundy: Falling for a Killer” which was released earlier this year.

Trish Wood, producer and director of “Ted Bundy: Falling for a Killer” told Oxygen.com that much of what had been reported in the past about Bundy’s first victim had not been accurate.

“One of the stories about her was that she was so badly brain-damaged that she was institutionalized and incapable of even speaking about the events, so when she answered the phone from a number I thought was her and she said ‘Yes, that’s me,’ and sort of didn’t hang up but said ‘Yes, that a worthy project and I will be part of it,’ I was absolutely gobsmacked,” she said.

After her attack, Sparks—who was referred to in the Amazon series as Karen Sparks Epley—became an accountant and had a family of her own.

“She just wanted to get on with it,” Wood said of her desire not to be defined as a victim. “She didn’t want him to take anything more from her.”

Sparks said in the REELZ documentary that one of the silver linings that came from her experience is that she gained a more positive outlook on life.

“Another good thing that has happened to me is I have never had a bad day ever since, I mean I just, I live for the day,” she said. “I never did really did think of myself as a victim, per se. I mean, sure, I was victimized, but I am no victim. If you think of yourself as a victim, you’re a victim for the rest of your life and that’s the most crippling thing of all.”

“Ted Bundy: The Survivors” on REELZ is a two-parter with with the first installment, “Eyes of Evil,” which premiered Saturday, Oct. 3 at 8 pm ET/ 5 pm PT and the second part, “Ending the Evil,” premiering Saturday, Oct. 10 at 8 pm ET/ 5 pm PT.

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