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Examining Serial Killer Ted Bundy

A classic power/control killer

Salt Lake County (Utah) Sheriff's Department
Ted Bundy
Source: Salt Lake County (Utah) Sheriff's Department

Ted Bundy is perhaps the most infamous and oddly popular serial killer of all time. Millions of people are still fascinated by Bundy thirty years after his death by execution. This is due in no small part to the Conversations with a Killer: The Bundy Tapes documentary and the fictionalized Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile feature film about Bundy both on Netflix.

Bundy was a cunning and charming psychopath who kidnapped, raped, and murdered more than 30 women in seven states between 1974 and 1978. He would typically approach his victims in public places, feigning injury or disability, or impersonating an authority figure, before overpowering and assaulting them in secluded locations. He sometimes revisited his victims, grooming and performing sexual acts with their decomposing corpses until putrefaction and destruction by wild animals made any further contact impossible.

A cool and unemotional demeanor combined with keen intellect and charming personality makes a psychopathic killer like Bundy a very effective predator. He lacked interpersonal empathy and was unable to feel pity or remorse. He did not value human life or care about the consequences of his crimes. He was callous, indifferent, and extremely brutal in his interactions with his victims.

In terms of classification, Bundy was a so-called power/control serial killer. The primary motivation of such a killer is to dominate his victims. Bundy enjoyed torturing his prey and found it sexually arousing, but it was the act of murder that was his most satisfying and final expression of power and control over his victims.

Bundy was patient and he normally killed his victims slowly to prolong his own sadistic pleasure. Such behavior is empowering because Bundy got to decide when, how, and under what circumstances his victims would die.

Bundy sexually assaulted his victims but it was not motivated by lust. Instead, rape was another means of dominating and controlling his victims. Also, Bundy did not lose interest in his victims after they were dead. Sometimes, he would return to have sex with the decomposing corpse of a victim long after the murder to perpetuate his domination and control of the deceased.

Because necrophilia totally eliminates the possibility of unwanted rejection, a power/control killer like Bundy can return to violate the victim whenever he pleases. This afforded the psychopathic Bundy with a tremendous sense of empowerment while avoiding the disturbing prospect of rejection and disappointment by a living person.

Driven by obsessive homicidal fantasies, Bundy was compelled to murder repeatedly to satisfy his terrible desires. However, the brutal and messy reality of murder never completely fulfilled the promise of Bundy’s fantasy. In fact, the aftermath of murder usually resulted in an emotional letdown for him, yet the fantasy did not go away because it was too deeply ingrained in his mind and psyche.

Ted Bundy observed, “The fantasy that accompanies and generates the anticipation that precedes the crime is always more stimulating than the immediate aftermath of the crime itself.” When a serial killer like Bundy is disappointed by a failure to experience his ultimate fantasy in real life exactly the way he envisioned it in his mind, he will continue to kill in an attempt to achieve the ideal fantasy. Such is the obsessive, compulsive and cyclical nature of serial murder.

Bundy kept souvenirs or trophies from his crimes which served to sustain and refuel his violent and sexual fantasies. When Ted Bundy was asked why he took Polaroid photos of his victims he said, “When you work hard to do something right, you don’t want to forget it.”

The former FBI profiler John Douglas has said that keeping mementos from a victim such as a lock of hair, jewelry, ID card or a newspaper clipping of the crime helped to prolong and even nourish Bundy’s secret fantasy. In between his murders and while targeting future victims, Bundy would often take out his trophies to help him relive his past murders through fantasy. Trophies helped the prolific killer to recall each one of his many victims.

Bundy would sometimes give his trophies such as items of jewelry to a female friend or acquaintance. The recipient might be someone who was causing him psychological pain at the time the trophy was acquired. Like a cat that catches a mouse and gives the special item to its owner, Bundy liked to take a trophy home and present it to a significant other.

In particular, Bundy would give an item of jewelry to a woman in his life and say, “Look at what I found on the street. I want you to have it.” When Bundy later saw the trophy being worn by his female friend, it became part of his secret game. He would look at her wearing it and fantasize about the victim he raped and murdered to acquire it. Bundy said that in such moments he would think to himself with much delight, “If she only knew that the necklace she is wearing came from someone I murdered.”

After being arrested in Colorado in 1975, Bundy engineered two dramatic jail escapes and committed further assaults, including three murders, before his ultimate recapture in Florida in 1978. Bundy was executed in the electric chair at Florida State Prison on January 24, 1989.

His unique combination of charm, good looks, keen intellect, need to dominate and cold-blooded, psychopathic personality made Bundy a prolific serial killer—almost a perfect killing machine—who continues to fascinate and perplex us to this very day.

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