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Crime News Serial Killers

Who Is Karen Epley, The First Known Victim Of Ted Bundy?

“She didn’t want him to take anything more from her," Trish Wood, producer and director of "Ted Bundy: Falling For a Killer" said of Karen Epley's decision to guard her privacy after the serial killer's brutal attack.

By Jill Sederstrom

It’s believed Ted Bundy killed at least 30 women—but his first suspected victim survived her brutal attack.

Karen Sparks Epley has kept silent about her connection to the prolific killer for years but decided to share her story in the new Amazon Prime docu-series “Ted Bundy: Falling For a Killer,” recalling the horrific and brutal assault that “left her for dead” as a young college student at the University of Washington.

Epley had been asleep in her room on Jan. 4, 1974—just weeks before Bundy is suspected of abducting and killing college student Lynda Ann Healy—when authorities believe Bundy broke into the room and attacked her.

“He came into my home took a bed frame off of my bed, and smashed my skull,” Epley said in the series, which premiered Jan. 31.

Bundy then used the portion of bed frame to viciously penetrate her, causing significant internal injuries.

With her roommate unaware of the attack, Epley lay in a pool of her own blood for somewhere between 18 and 20 hours before she was discovered.

“It was horrible,” she recalled.

She woke up in the hospital, unable to remember what had happened.

“I asked my father, I said, ‘Dad what happened?’ and he said, ‘Well, you had a little bump in your head,’” she said.

The brutal beating would leave her with permanent brain damage, a loss of 50 percent of her hearing, 40 percent of her vision and constant ringing in her ears, she said. She also suffered from epileptic fits but has overcome those over time.

For years, Epley has stayed out of the spotlight, preferring to live her “own life in privacy.”

“Women like us, women that have been attacked, women that have been raped, women that are survivors, they kept their secrets to themselves,” she said. “I don’t know why. We’re taught to just get on with it.”

Few details of what authorities believe was likely Bundy’s first victim have been publicly reported. The attack was described in Ann Rule’s book “The Stranger Beside Me,” but Epley was referred to as “Joni Lenz.”

“Detectives could find no motive at all; the victim was a friendly, shy girl who had no enemies,” Rule wrote of the assault.

Trish Wood, producer and director of “Ted Bundy: Falling for a Killer,” told Oxygen.com that much of what had been reported in the media about Epley’s assault had been inaccurate.

“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 said 'Yes, that’s me,' and sort of didn’t hang up but said 'Yes, that’s a worthy project and I will be part of it,' I was absolutely gobsmacked,” Wood said.

In reality, Epley had gone on to live a successful life, becoming an accountant and having a family of her own, Wood said.

“She just wanted to get on with it,” the filmmaker told Oxygen.com. “She didn’t want him to take anything more from her.”  

Epley made the decision not to let the brutal attack define her life.

“Even though I was victimized, I wasn’t a victim,” Epley said in the docu-series. “I mean my husband knows, but I never directly talked to my own children about it because, you know, I am mom.”

Instead, she chose to focus on the life before her and all that Bundy was not able to take away.

“You know, I just wanted to do normal things, be a normal person,” she said. “I didn’t want to be marked as a victim ever.”

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