Ted Bundy was an American serial killer, kidnapper, rapist, burglar, and necrophile who assaulted and murdered numerous young women and girls during the 1970s, and possibly earlier. Shortly before his execution—after more than a decade of denials—he confessed to 30 homicides committed in seven states between 1974 and 1978.
Let’s find out some facts about him!
1. Theodore Robert Bundy was born November 24, 1946 in Burlington, Vermont.
2. He was born to Eleanor Louise Cowell (1924–2012)—known for most of her life as Louise—at the Elizabeth Lund Home for Unwed Mothers (now the Lund Family Center).
3. His father’s identity has never been determined with certainty. His birth certificate assigns paternity to a salesman and Air Force veteran named Lloyd Marshall, but Louise later claimed that she had been seduced by “a sailor” whose name may have been Jack Worthington.
4. Years later, investigators would find no record of anyone by that name in Navy or Merchant Marine archives.
5. Some family members expressed suspicions that Bundy might have been fathered by Louise’s own violent, abusive father, Samuel Cowell, but no material evidence has ever been cited to support or refute this.
6. For the first three years of his life, Bundy lived in the Philadelphia home of his maternal grandparents, Samuel and Eleanor Cowell, who raised him as their son to avoid the social stigma that accompanied birth outside wedlock at the time.
7. Family, friends, and even young Ted were told that his grandparents were his parents and that his mother was his older sister. Eventually he discovered the truth, though his recollection of the circumstances varied.
8. He told a girlfriend that a cousin showed him a copy of his birth certificate after calling him a “bastard”, but he told biographers Stephen Michaud and Hugh Aynesworth that he found the certificate himself.
9. Biographer and true crime writer Ann Rule, who knew Bundy personally, believes that he did not find out until 1969, when he located his original birth record in Vermont.
10. Bundy expressed a lifelong resentment toward his mother for never talking to him about his real father, and for leaving him to discover his true parentage for himself.
11. Bundy spoke warmly of his grandparents in some interviews, and told Rule that he “identified with”, “respected”, and “clung to” his grandfather; but he and other family members told attorneys in 1987 that Samuel Cowell was a tyrannical bully and a bigot who hated blacks, Italians, Catholics, and Jews, beat his wife and the family dog, and swung neighborhood cats by their tails.
12. He once threw Louise’s younger sister Julia down a flight of stairs for oversleeping.
13. He sometimes spoke aloud to unseen presences, and at least once he flew into a violent rage when the question of Ted’s paternity was raised.
14. Bundy described his grandmother as a timid and obedient woman who periodically underwent electroconvulsive therapy for depression and feared leaving their house toward the end of her life.
15. Ted occasionally exhibited disturbing behavior, even at that early age. Julia recalled awakening one day from a nap to find herself surrounded by knives from the Cowell kitchen; her three-year-old nephew was standing by the bed, smiling.
16. In 1950 Louise abruptly changed her surname from Cowell to Nelson, and at the urging of multiple family members, left Philadelphia with her son to live with cousins Alan and Jane Scott in Tacoma, Washington.
17. In 1951 Louise met Johnny Culpepper Bundy, a hospital cook, at an adult singles night at Tacoma’s First Methodist Church.
18. They married later that year and Johnny Bundy formally adopted Ted.
19. Johnny and Louise conceived four children of their own, and although Johnny tried to include his adoptive son in camping trips and other family activities, Ted remained distant. He later complained to his girlfriend that Johnny wasn’t his real father, “wasn’t very bright”, and “didn’t make much money.”
20. Bundy’s Tacoma recollections varied from biographer to biographer: To Michaud and Aynesworth he described roaming his neighborhood, picking through trash barrels in search of pictures of naked women.
21. To Polly Nelson he spoke of perusing detective magazines, crime novels, and true crime documentaries for stories involving sexual violence, particularly when illustrated with pictures of dead or maimed bodies; yet in a letter to Rule he asserted that he “… never, ever read fact-detective magazines, and shuddered at the thought [that anyone would]”.
22. To Michaud, he described consuming large quantities of alcohol and “canvass[ing] the community” late at night in search of undraped windows where he could observe women undressing, or “whatever [else] could be seen.”[
23. Accounts of his social life also varied: He told Michaud and Aynesworth that he “chose to be alone” as an adolescent because he was unable to understand interpersonal relationships.
24. He claimed that he had no natural sense of how to develop friendships. “I didn’t know what made people want to be friends,” he said. “I didn’t know what underlay social interactions.”
25. Classmates from Woodrow Wilson High School told Rule, however, that Bundy was “well known and well liked” there, “a medium-sized fish in a large pond”.
26. Bundy’s only significant athletic avocation was snow skiing, which he pursued enthusiastically using stolen equipment and forged lift tickets.
27. During high school he was arrested at least twice on suspicion of burglary and auto theft. When he reached age 18 the details of the incidents were expunged from his record, as is customary in Washington and most other states.
28. Bundy was regarded by many of his young female victims as handsome and charismatic, traits that he exploited to win their trust.
29. He typically approached them in public places, feigning injury or disability, or impersonating an authority figure, before overpowering and assaulting them at more secluded locations.
30. He sometimes revisited his secondary crime scenes for hours at a time, grooming and performing sexual acts with the decomposing corpses until putrefaction and destruction by wild animals made further interaction impossible.
31. He decapitated at least 12 of his victims, and kept some of the severed heads in his apartment for a period of time as mementos. On a few occasions, he simply broke into dwellings at night and bludgeoned his victims as they slept.
32. Initially incarcerated in Utah in 1975 for aggravated kidnapping and attempted criminal assault, Bundy became a suspect in a progressively longer list of unsolved homicides in multiple states.
33. Facing murder charges in Colorado, he engineered two dramatic escapes and committed further assaults, including three murders, before his ultimate recapture in Florida in 1978. He received three death sentences in two separate trials for the Florida homicides.
34. Bundy died in the electric chair at Raiford Prison in Starke, Florida, on January 24, 1989.
35. Biographer Ann Rule described him as “a sadistic sociopath who took pleasure from another human’s pain and the control he had over his victims, to the point of death, and even after”.
36. He once called himself “the most cold-hearted son of a bitch you’ll ever meet”.
37. Attorney Polly Nelson, a member of his last defense team, agreed: “Ted”, she wrote, “was the very definition of heartless evil.”