public domain
Source: Mugshot: public domain

This past week in the UK, The Sun and The Daily Mail reported on the legal proceedings of a 14-year-old girl who was fascinated with Ted Bundy and who’d allegedly made a hit list that included members of her own family. With the promise of a gift, she had lured a friend before school to a secluded spot and tried to stab her. The girl fled, escaping with just a puncture wound.

In court, the defendant denied everything, but people who knew her attested to her dark obsessions. She’d even revealed her murder plan to one. Among this girl’s Google searches prior to her act were “How to feel no guilt,” “How far in is the heart?” and “How to kill quickly with a knife.”

Unidentified due to her age, she reportedly told others she “wanted fame.” She also collected items about other headline-grabbing crimes, such as Jack the Ripper’s 1888 spree and several mass murders. Both news sources mentioned that this girl had made a “fashion project” based on Ted Bundy, but no details emerged as to its form. She apparently thought it would be “edgy.”

The defendant did admit to having thoughts about hurting people: “I wouldn’t really call it an urge,” she said. “Today [the incident] is the exception. It’s been thoughts, not like killing, but maiming them. I’m not sure why.” There was some suggestion that she heard voices, although a mental illness was not confirmed.

Similarly in Britain, convicted teenage killer James Fairweather was 15 when he stabbed James Attfield and Nahid Almanea to death in 2014. Attfield was stabbed 102 times. When caught wearing gloves and hiding in bushes near the second murder, Fairweather said he was waiting for a third victim. He referred to command hallucinations that urged him to do it, because “they needed another sacrifice,” but he was clearly fascinated with the idea of becoming a serial killer.

Fairweather’s defense attorney said he’d been bullied for years and suffered from paranoia, autism spectrum disorder, and auditory hallucinations. The prosecutor described Fairweather’s dark obsession, including his desire to murder his parents and a teacher. Ted Bundy was Fairweather’s alleged favorite, but he also had photos and documentaries related to Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe, Stockwell Strangler Kenneth Erskine, and Ipswich killer Steve Wright.

How does Ted Bundy still inspire copycats?

During the 1970s, he murdered at least 30 females in half a dozen states from the Pacific Northwest to Florida. He’d honed a double life, passing as a confident law student and an aspiring politician while stalking and killing pretty girls. In 1977, officials had transported Bundy from Utah to Colorado to face murder charges, but he escaped, adding to his mystique. At his final stop, Florida, he grew careless.

On January 15, 1978, Bundy attacked five women, killing two. A month later, he grabbed a twelve-year-old girl in broad daylight. Soon, he was caught in a stolen car. Convicted in Florida of three murders, he got three death sentences.

The narcissistic and charismatic killer tried to prove his worth as a “scientific specimen,” so he drew not just headlines but also the attention of the FBI. He sat for numerous interviews, admitting to many murders, but in the end, he couldn’t save himself. Bundy was executed.

His appeal continues, in part because he was slick, confident, good-looking, and sure of his own worth.

Among recent adult serial killers who were determined to be like Bundy was Israel Keyes. A 34-year-old construction worker from Alaska, he committed suicide in jail in 2012 as he awaited trial for the murder of Samantha Koenig. He’d also admitted to killing Bill and Lorraine Currier in Vermont, and said he’d killed as many as eight others.

Keyes had studied Bundy, paying special attention to Bundy’s errors, so he would not repeat them. Bundy had put a lot of miles on his own car as he drove around the Western states, and had used credit cards to pay for gas. This became circumstantial evidence against him. So Keyes had rented cars in various parts of the country that had no association with him, used false ID, robbed banks, and buried cash and murder kits in places to where he would later return. He avoided paper trails.

Getting away with murder due to his diligence made him feel powerful. But he got careless. Even in a rental car, far from Alaska, he got caught. He had evidence with him in the car. He was more like Bundy than he realized.

Murder mentors provide several things for those who seek to copy them: their MO offers ideas about how to carry out these crimes; their boldness is infectious; and their media attraction gives them an exciting aura. They’re somebody. They remain somebody, even decades later.

Those with dark impulses who also want to make a memorable impact will look to the kind of person who managed to do it. Bundy is likely to remain a prominent figure. Each time someone copies him, he gets more attention.

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