Five Forensic Firsts Inspired by Ted Bundy’s Killings

Bundy in the dentist’s chair, Tallahassee, FL

People have been drawn to the life and crimes of Ted Bundy for many reasons, but seldom are they aware of the various ways in which those prosecuting and containing Bundy have changed the world of forensics. Here are five ways in which Bundy’s case influenced change:

  1. Robert Ressler, one of the FBI profilers involved with investigating the 1974 “Ted Murders” both coined the term “serial killer” and applied that term to Ted Bundy after his Washington state victims began disappearing. Previously, the titles of “mass murderer” or “multiple murderer” might have been applied to Ted, but when Ressler came along, the term stuck. Now “serial killer” refers to anyone who kills two or more victims with a cooling-off period in between the murders. Often times, this term refers to lust killers whose motives, like Bundy’s, are often sexually-based.
  2. The Bundy investigation was the first time a computer was used in the collating and indexing of suspects in a murder spree. The Washington state investigation team used the King County (Seattle) payroll computer in an effort to whittle down the suspects who were not only named “Ted” but who also may have owned a VW Bug. This tactic was used after Ted was witnessed using his real first name at Lake Sammamish in July of 1974.
  3. Bundy’s trial was the first trial to ever be televised. Though it may seem strange, before Ted’s 1979 Miami trial for the Chi Omega/Thomas attacks, crime TV was nothing like it is today. Ted and his attorneys fought to keep the cameras out of the courtroom, but they were unsuccessful. Of course, for those of us interested in his trials, it’s certainly a good thing that the proceedings were filmed, though Bundy – ever the media darling – was not amused.
  4. Though the science has been pretty much debunked in this era, and there are other modes of science available, Bundy’s case represented both the first time bite mark evidence was used in court and the first time a search warrant was approved for a suspect’s mouth. Though this type of forensics is no longer used, it’s difficult to dispute that the double bitemark found on the buttocks of one of the victims did not match Bundy’s unusual teeth. In fact, several forensic dentists testified to the fact that they matched and this piece of evidence ensured that Bundy received two death penalty sentences.  
  5. Before Bundy’s first trial began, the judge refused to allow Bundy to appear in chains as it might prejudice the jury. Leon County Sheriff Ken Katsaris knew that if he didn’t do something to ensure that Bundy would have limited movement, that his department might have another escape on their hands. Thinking outside of the box, Katsaris reached out to a specialist who helped him design a spring-loaded orthopedic device that would lock Bundy’s leg when he walked. If he wanted to flex his legs, he would have to hold the brace or walk with his legs locked. This brace satisfied the judge because it couldn’t be seen when Bundy entered the courtroom. Interesting to note, the “Bundy brace” is still in use today.

There are many ways in which Bundy changed the course of American forensics, but these are the five most notable firsts of his investigations. It’s important to note that Bundy was arrested during a time of change and innovation in the criminal justice field. Thanks to the science-minded and highly-trained people of the time, Bundy was caught and removed from doing any further harm to the public, and in the process, several changes were made for the better.

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