No one person is responsible for the capture and containment of Ted Bundy; rather, it was the effort of many professional women and men working in tandem to prevent a future crime spree. However, perhaps none of those people were as controversial as former Leon County Sheriff Ken Katsaris. His public indictment of Bundy before the media was viewed by some as an attempt at grand-standing. Despite this accusation, at the time of Bundy’s Florida arrest, Katsaris was an accomplished individual with a long history of police work. He was elected in 1976 to his role of sheriff. Having trained as an officer and later a teacher, he was skilled in forensics, with a particular focus in forensic odontology. He taught several classes discussing bite marks, but had never had a real life example with which he could put such theory into practice. That is, not until Ted Bundy fled to Florida.
A Convicted Killer Escapes
After being locked up for almost two years, Bundy was becoming restless. He had already been sentenced to one to fifteen years in prison for his attempted kidnapping of Utah resident, Carol DaRonch. He was awaiting trial on a murder charge in Colorado and had been considering absconding again ever since his first attempted escape in Aspen was thwarted in June of 1977. With razor sharp focus, he planned and bided his time carefully. On December 30, 1977, Bundy escaped from the Glenwood Springs jail in Colorado. This time, the results were deadly.
Ted Comes to the East Coast
Arriving in Tallahassee, Florida on January 8, 1978, Bundy was able to find lodging in a boarding house under an assumed name and settled in to plan his new life on the east coast. He just needed to stay under the radar. However, this was easier said than done. It only took a week before he felt the familiar urge to commit murder again. He had been stalking a dance student who lived on Dunwoody Street, close to the Florida State University campus. She lived alone in a duplex apartment and he believed he could quietly break in through her kitchen window without anyone hearing a thing.
Making his way to her home on the night of Saturday, January 14, 1978, he was furious that she was not home. Bundy craved the ‘sweet release’ that murder afforded, but ultimately, he refused to allow this setback to thwart his plans. He’d heard about a new bar opening close to the university where lots of students hung out. Wide-eyed and desperate, he quickly located Sherrod’s and began his hunt anew. Though he was able to convince at least one woman to dance, no women were interested in leaving the bar with him. His desperation was obvious and served to warn potential victims away from him, only deepening his intense rage.
Leaving the bar, he noticed the Chi Omega sorority house nearby. Watching various women enter through a side door, Bundy was elated to note that the door wasn’t locking once they went inside. An idea began to materialize.
A Sheriff and a Teacher
Katsaris began his work as a police officer in St. Petersburg in 1962 and eventually found his way into teaching as a part-time instructor at the Florida Highway Patrol Academy in 1968. Starting his work at the Tallahassee Police Department in 1975, it was natural for him to seek higher office within the department and was elected as sheriff of Leon County in 1976 for a four-year term. It was during that time that he would find himself involved in what he has described as the most complex case of his life.
Murder on his Mind
Bundy had been on the run for over two weeks when he found himself holding a piece of cut firewood outside the Chi Omega sorority house. After being locked up for two years, he was full of rage and that made him dangerous. His body twitched in anticipation of the release of all the anger he had accumulated from the time when authorities locked him up. He slowly opened the unlocked side door to the sorority house and faded into the darkness within, making his way to the second floor. His intent was to kill as many innocent young women as possible.
A Sheriff Takes on a Hardened Criminal
The early morning hours of January 15, 1978 are something that Katsaris will never forget. Walking deliberately through the sea of police cars, ambulances, and emergency medical technicians hard at work, he made his way to the front of the sorority house. The scene on the Florida State University campus took on the atmosphere of a macabre carnival. It was utter chaos. After authorities determined the status of the victims, deputies closed the sorority house to any further personnel. Katsaris stood in front of the house on Jefferson Street listening to the details of the unspeakable crimes which had taken place within. Officers described bloodied sheets and pillows, torn underpants, ripped pantyhose, streaks of what appeared to be blood on the walls, and tree bark everywhere. What he learned next stunned him: Someone had gone from room to room within the sorority house, beating young women while they were sleeping. Two had survived, two were dead.
Assessing the Damage
Early clues indicated a disorganized and frenetic attack. The killer left as quickly as he had come, leaving behind little physical evidence. There was a sexual nature to each attack as the two deceased women had been vaginally assaulted, but the crime scenes didn’t offer much more information. A sorority sister had seen an unfamiliar male leaving the house, suggesting just one perpetrator. The oak bark left all over the dorm rooms gave information about the weapon used, narrowing it down to the cut firewood located outside of the sorority house.
Evidence collection and further discussion was still taking place when Katsaris was alerted to another violent attack taking place approximately six blocks away on Dunwoody Street. Considering all of the police presence at the college, it didn’t seem logical for the same perpetrator to attack someone else in a nearby house. Had the same individual been in such a frenzy that he attacked women at two locations within just minutes?
The second crime scene nearby was similar to the one at Chi Omega. It was like a shark went on a frenzy. It was brutal, merciless, and destructive. The killer left his victim clinging to life, leaving only seminal fluid and a pair of pantyhose used for the attempted strangulation at the scene. It was clear he had come through the kitchen window. Luckily, he had been spooked by the telephone ringing during the commission of this crime and his victim would survive.
Katsaris understood more about forensic odontology than many elected officials, though there had never been a criminal case tried using bite mark evidence. It was an up-and-coming science, but it was still untested in the courts. He attended the autopsies on Margaret Bowman and Lisa Levy, the two young women who were killed in the Chi Omega sorority attack, and was surprised to discover a very clear double bite mark on Levy’s left buttock. He conferred with the medical examiner to ensure the mark was photographed properly. Adding a ruler to the bite mark picture was imperative so as to allow the photograph to be enlarged for court.
Washington Reaches Out
As the investigation in Florida progressed, Washington state authorities reached out to Katsaris and suggested that Ted Bundy could be the killer they were seeking. He was still on the loose in parts unknown and authorities hoped this would be their break. The sheriff took down his name, but he didn’t give it much credence because Bundy’s known crimes were completely different than the crimes in Tallahassee. Bundy was known for kidnapping one woman and attacking her in a different location. The Tallahassee killer attempted to kill multiple women within the same building. Katsaris couldn’t have known that Bundy’s early crimes involved breaking into his victims homes and attacking them while they slept. In the meantime, his forensic team continued focusing on other suspects in the area, unaware that their unknown killer was planning another disorganized attack and this time he was moving further east.
Ted Goes East Again
Lake City, Florida is a small town a little more than an hour and a half from Tallahassee. In February of 1978, Bundy stole a white van from the Florida State University campus and drove it to Jacksonville, where he botched a kidnapping attempt of a 14-year-old girl. As he drove back towards Tallahassee, he decided to stop in Lake City to hunt for a new victim. Waiting outside of Lake City Junior High, he abducted 12-year-old Kimberly Leach, and wreaked utter havoc on the young girl’s body in the back of the stolen van. He was careless when, during the struggle to control her, he left jacket fibers in the back of the van that later directly connected him to the murder.
Ted Turns West
Deciding that Florida was getting too hot for him, Bundy ditched the van and stole an orange VW Bug from the Florida State University with the intention of making his way to Mobile, Alabama. He was almost at the Alabama-Florida state line when he suddenly decided to stop in Pensacola, possibly for the purposes of committing another murder. While bumbling around in the early hours of the morning looking for something to steal, Bundy was spotted by Pensacola Officer David Lee and, after a scuffle, he was handcuffed.
Though initially reticent to give his real name to police, Ted finally admitted his identity two days after his Pensacola arrest. Once positively identified and directly connected to the Tallahassee area through twenty-one stolen credit cards in his possession, Katsaris immediately went to work to learn everything he could about Ted’s previous arrests, escapes, and charges. Though still wanted in Colorado for the murder of Caryn Campbell, Bundy was held in Florida to face his more recent crimes.
Meeting His Nemesis
Upon his arrival at the Leon County jail, Katsaris was waiting for him. Standing close in height to his new charge, he was surprised by Ted’s friendliness and charm. Had he not known about his violent and deadly criminal history, he might have even liked the guy. Of course, Katsaris recognized that Bundy would take advantage of any lenience shown in custody and determined he would never let that happen. He would do what Colorado could not: He would contain the notorious predator, at whatever cost.
While a guest of the Leon County jail, Bundy was kept in a cell with reinforced steel bars and three big locks on the door. Though cited by the Fire Marshall for the state of Bundy’s cell, Katsaris took it in stride, stating, “If he could do the impossible, what could I do to keep the impossible from happening?” The light fixture in Bundy’s cell was not removable and it only received light through slats cut in the ceiling. Katsaris knew that Bundy had escaped through the light fixture in his Glenwood Springs jail and refused to allow him the same opportunity for escape.
Katsaris considered ways of matching the double bite mark on Lisa Levy’s buttocks to their suspect. While in custody, Bundy was served cheese and various fruits with his meals in an attempt to obtain a solid bite mark. However, the attempts weren’t successful and Bundy eventually caught on when another inmate noted that he wasn’t receiving any fruit or cheese with his meals. Katsaris was determined to find another way to get the evidence required and requested a search warrant for Bundy’s mouth. This was the first time in history that a search warrant had ever been signed to search an inmate’s mouth and speaks to Katsaris’ progressive thinking concerning forensics. By procuring a dental cast of their suspect’s mouth, it could be matched to the photographed bite mark in court. Even more encouraging, the warrant allowed police to use force if Bundy resisted.
That night, Katsaris and several officers stopped by Bundy’s cell. He was startled because there was no reason for him to be removed from his cell at that hour.
Bundy seemed frightened, asking “Where are we going? It’s nighttime, there’s no court. Where are you taking me?” Katsaris said he had the distinct feeling that Bundy thought he was going to be harmed in some way that night. Instead, he was taken to Katsaris’ personal dentist’s office where his dentist and a surgeon were waiting. The sheriff wanted to make sure that more than one dental expert was available in case they had to use force or if there were issues with the dental cast. As they approached the building, Bundy stammered, “Why are we here? I don’t know this building.” Entering the main office, Bundy saw photos on the wall and nervously asked Katsaris, “Are you going to take one of you and I?” Instead, he was taken to an office with a dental chair and immediately became enraged, screaming, “You can’t do this! Where is my lawyer?”
Katsaris handed Bundy the warrant and told him that authorities had every right to have a cast of his teeth made. As Bundy stared wildly at the warrant, Katsaris added that they had been authorized to use force to get his teeth impressions if necessary. Bundy immediately grew calm and told the sheriff, “Do what you have to do, Ken. You know I’m not a violent person.” A decade later, Bundy would give details about so many murders that this comment would seem laughable.
Seeing the Real Ted Bundy
One of the most controversial events that took place during Bundy’s time spent in the Florida correctional system was his public indictment on July 27, 1978. Many of us have seen the clip showing Bundy walking out of the elevator at the Leon County jail to the sound of Katsaris’ voice asking him to step out. Katsaris has been accused of grand-standing and parading Bundy in front of the public in an attempt to have his charge tried in the media. However, the public didn’t have the whole story when this idea was initially circulating. As Katsaris was preparing to read the charges against Bundy in private to the defendant (two counts of murder, three counts of attempted murder, and two counts of burglary), a representative from the media threatened to file an injunction against the Leon County Sheriff’s Office unless Bundy was indicted in public.
Feeling conflicted, Katsaris spoke with Judge Edward Cowart and State Attorney Harry Morrison to discuss his options. Judge Cowart told Katsaris that it was his jail and he should read the indictment in front of the cameras and Morrison agreed. Reasoning that he would have to read the charges to Bundy either way, he agreed to the media’s request. If nothing else, it would give the public a glimpse of the “real Ted” right before their eyes, and true to form, Bundy did not disappoint.
During the media event, Bundy’s heightened energy gave Katsaris the ability to remain calm. He’d known Bundy for several months, long enough to know what he was like, and he sensed that Bundy was nervous. The sarcastic comments, his glaring at the cameras, and meandering aimlessly showed that he was concerned and angry. Certainly he never thought he would hear the words “The Grand Jurors of this county indict you for the murders of…” and it angered him. Like most organized serial killers, Ted was intelligent and arrogant, believing he would never be caught. He had been very careful to abduct women at one location, kill them somewhere else, and dump them in a third location. But during that moment, in front of the lights and cameras, he must have realized that he could no longer pull it off. His face was now internationally recognizable. Had he only been arrested in Utah and Colorado, he might have eventually been released from prison and might have continued his life of crime.
Bundy also realized that should he escape from custody again, he likely would not have been able to remain on the run without being instantly recognized. He no longer had anywhere to hide and it was killing him. The public humiliation was something he couldn’t abide.
Court Rules Enact Change
Judge Cowart deemed leg braces prejudicial to Bundy’s Tallahassee case, suggesting that jury members might assume he was guilty before hearing the evidence against him. With his history of escapes, Katsaris was determined to find a way to legally circumvent Cowart’s ruling. Working with a specialist, he designed a spring-loaded orthopedic device that would lock the wearer’s leg when walking. If Bundy wanted to flex his leg, he would have to hold the brace, made with a heavy-duty spring, or he would have to move with his legs locked. It made it very difficult to run, and likely was terribly uncomfortable. In time, this device came to be known as the “Bundy brace” and it is still used to this day.
A Reign of Terror Comes to a Permanent End
Despite Ted Bundy’s various efforts to escape and obfuscate, his capture, prosecution, and execution were inevitable once he was at the mercy of Florida authorities. He carelessly left evidence behind and police were savvy enough to locate it, finding new ways of presenting it to a jury of his peers. This guaranteed that Bundy would never leave Florida during his lifetime. Katsaris has a great deal to be proud about, but he remains humble and refuses the word “hero” as a descriptor. During the years after his encounters with Ted Bundy, he has taught numerous students about forensics and policing and has worked as an expert witness in various trials. He assisted in the publication of a book on forensics prior to being elected sheriff. Katsaris acknowledges his time in the limelight with Ted Bundy, but insists that he didn’t do what he did for fame or fortune. He simply wanted to do the best job he could for his community and to keep a violent criminal off the streets.
Author’s note: I would like to thank former Sheriff Ken Katsaris for taking the time to talk with me about his role in the Ted Bundy capture and containment. I have a great deal of respect for everyone involved in ensuring that Ted Bundy was kept from harming anyone else after his final arrest in Florida. – E.J. Hammon
Helling, Steve. “Sheriff Who Caught Ted Bundy Recalls Chilling Details of the Investigation.” People.com. 11 September 2015. https://people.com/crime/ted-bundy-sheriff-who-caught-killer-recalls-details-of-the-investigation/
Haley, Will. Youtube: “Ted Bundy Burns in Hell Because this Sheriff Caught Him!” https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=D8XOwAW0gLc