Theodore Robert Bundy (born Cowell; November 24, 1946 – January 24, 1989) was an American serial killer who kidnapped, raped, and murdered numerous young women and girls during the 1970s and possibly earlier. After more than a decade of denials, he confessed to 30 homicides, committed in seven states between 1974 and 1978. His true victim total is unknown, and could be much higher.
Bundy was regarded as handsome and charismatic, traits that he exploited to win the trust of victims and society. He would typically approach his victims in public places, feigning injury or disability, or impersonating an authority figure, before knocking them unconscious and taking them to secondary locations to rape and strangle them. He sometimes revisited his victims, grooming and performing sexual acts with the decomposing corpses until putrefaction and destruction by wild animals made any further interactions impossible. He decapitated at least 12 victims and kept some of the severed heads as mementos in his apartment. On a few occasions, he broke into dwellings at night and bludgeoned his victims as they slept.
In 1975, Bundy was arrested and jailed in Utah for aggravated kidnapping and attempted criminal assault. He then became a suspect in a progressively longer list of unsolved homicides in several states. Facing murder charges in Colorado, he engineered two dramatic escapes and committed further assaults in Florida, including three murders, before his ultimate recapture in 1978. For the Florida homicides, he received three death sentences in two trials. He was executed at Florida State Prison in Raiford on January 24, 1989.
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." He once described himself as "the most cold-hearted son of a bitch you'll ever meet". Attorney Polly Nelson, a member of his last defense team, agreed. "Ted," she wrote, "was the very definition of heartless evil".
Ted Bundy was born Theodore Robert Cowell on November 24, 1946, to Eleanor Louise Cowell (1924–2012; known as Louise) at the Elizabeth Lund Home for Unwed Mothers in Burlington, Vermont. His father's identity has never been confirmed. By some accounts, his birth certificate assigns paternity to a salesman and Air Force veteran named Lloyd Marshall, though according to others the father is listed as unknown. Louise claimed she had been seduced by a war veteran named Jack Worthington, who abandoned her soon after she became pregnant with Ted. Some family members expressed suspicions that Bundy might have been fathered by Louise's own father, Samuel Cowell, but no material evidence has ever been cited to support this.
For the first three years of his life, Bundy lived in the Philadelphia home of his maternal grandparents, Samuel (1898–1983) and Eleanor Cowell (1895–1971), who raised him as their son to avoid the social stigma that accompanied birth outside of wedlock. Family, friends, and even young Ted were told that his grandparents were his parents and that his mother was his older sister. He eventually discovered the truth, although his recollections of the circumstances varied. 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. Biographer and true crime writer Ann Rule, who knew Bundy personally, believed that he did not find out until 1969, when he located his original birth record in Vermont. 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.
In some interviews, Bundy spoke warmly of his grandparents and told Rule that he "identified with", "respected", and "clung to" his grandfather. In 1987, however, he and other family members told attorneys 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. He once threw Louise's younger sister Julia down a flight of stairs for oversleeping. He sometimes spoke aloud to unseen presences, and at least once flew into a violent rage when the question of Bundy's paternity was raised. Bundy described his grandmother as a timid and obedient woman who periodically underwent electroconvulsive therapy for depression and feared to leave their house toward the end of her life. Bundy occasionally exhibited disturbing behavior at an early age. Julia recalled awakening from a nap to find herself surrounded by knives from the kitchen, and three-year-old Ted standing by the bed smiling. These descriptions of Bundy's grandparents have been questioned in more recent investigations.
In 1950, Louise changed her surname from Cowell to Nelson, and at the urging of multiple family members, left Philadelphia with Ted to live with cousins Alan and Jane Scott in Tacoma, Washington. In 1951, Louise met Johnny Culpepper Bundy (1921–2007), a hospital cook, at an adult singles night at Tacoma's First Methodist Church. They married later that year and Johnny Bundy formally adopted Ted. Johnny and Louise conceived four children of their own, and though Johnny tried to include his adopted 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".
Bundy varied his recollections of Tacoma in later years. To Michaud and Aynesworth, he described roaming his neighborhood, picking through trash barrels in search of pictures of naked women.He told Polly Nelson that he perused detective magazines, crime novels, and true crime documentaries for stories that involved sexual violence, particularly when the stories were illustrated with pictures of dead or maimed bodies. In a letter to Rule, however, he asserted that he "never, ever read fact-detective magazines, and shuddered at the thought" that anyone would. He told Michaud that he would consume large quantities of alcohol and "canvass the community" late at night in search of undraped windows where he could observe women undressing, or "whatever [else] could be seen."
Accounts of his social life also varied. Bundy told Michaud and Aynesworth that he "chose to be alone" as an adolescent because he was unable to understand interpersonal relationships.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." 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."
Bundy's only significant athletic avocation was downhill skiing, which he pursued enthusiastically, using stolen equipment and forged lift tickets.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 many other states.