Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile: What the new Ted Bundy movie got right and wrong

Movie poster

Over the past two years, since crime fans were made aware that a new Ted Bundy movie was forthcoming, we have been waiting for it with bated breath. There was debate over whether Zac Efron had the acting chops to truly possess the mindset and mannerisms of Bundy or if his good looks would detract from the seriousness of the film. Readers of Liz Kloepfer’s book, “The Phantom Prince,” were ready to see just how close to the book the script came and whether the facts of the cases were portrayed correctly. Personally, I had certain expectations for the film, hoping to see a new side to the Bundy myth and for a light to be shone on his deeds once and for all.

Sadly, I was mostly disappointed. Most of the scenarios in the movie, though based on reality, were distorted to make the story more watchable and exciting. Characterizations of detectives and police officers were exaggerated to make Ted seem more sympathetic that he actually was. The majority of the murders and violence were glossed over and viewed only in hindsight. That isn’t to say that the movie got everything wrong. I also understand that some of the actions by individuals were supposed to have been seen from Bundy and Liz’s points of view. However, that wasn’t made truly obvious. I wasn’t completely disappointed by the movie, just underwhelmed.

Florida victims Lisa Levy & Margaret Bowman

I appreciated that they actually used the real names of his victims, survivors, and detectives on the storyline. Often, names are changed to protect the identity of certain players in a crime drama. Since all of the names in the movie were of people listed in public record, there was really no need to change them. I liked that some of the actual footage of news stories was used. It lent to more of a feel of the era in which these crimes occurred. Actual pictures of the victims helped lend a feeling of truth to the story-telling as well.

Ken Katsaris reading Bundy’s indictments before the press in Florida

What I didn’t like was the portrayal of Ken Katsaris, sheriff of Leon County, Florida, as a cowboy of sorts. Though responsible for noting and preserving the bite marks on Lisa Levy’s buttocks, he didn’t waltz into Ted’s cell with random people to take pictures of his teeth. Casts of his Ted’s teeth were taken against his will (under a warrant), the photographs and casts were taken by a qualified dentist in a dental chair. There are pictures of Ted having the procedure done. Despite his anger in his eyes, he wasn’t in any physical pain during the process. I was also disappointed that the final scene between Ted and Liz never happened. She didn’t visit him in Florida, though he called her various times from prison there. There is no evidence that he wrote “Hacksaw” on the visiting room window to anyone visiting him. This was merely a part of the script meant to ratchet up the drama. Finally, the timing of Carole Boone’s pregnancy was wrong. She didn’t give birth to their daughter Rose until October 1981, several months after Bundy was found guilty a second time. The movie shows only his first Florida trial and Carole was definitely not pregnant during that time.

In the dentist’s chair

In conclusion, though an exciting film, it is still mostly fiction, despite being drawn from Liz Kloepfer’s book. Director Joe Berlinger had the chance to dispel a great deal of Bundy myths in the making of his film, but he chose to romanticize him instead. Unfortunately, that makes it harder for writers and others in the media to present a true picture of a killer who was less charm than violence, less pretty boy than monster. Ironically, Berlinger directed the Netflix documentary about Bundy, “Confessions of a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes.” This film is actually very well done and factual and I would recommend it over “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile” any day.

Did Ted Bundy Want To Get Caught?

Sigmund Freud once speculated that most criminals wanted to get caught because they experienced an overwhelming sense of guilt. Despite the popularity of this theory, there is overwhelming evidence that people who consistently skirt the law do not want to be caught. In the case of psychopaths, Bundy included, they do not possess a sense of guilt, throwing Freud’s analysis out of orbit. Bundy made some major mistakes that brought him the authorities’ attention and once he was on their radar, he couldn’t shake their accusations. If estimates of his killings are correct, he only murdered women between 1974 and 1978, a relatively short amount of time for an organized serial killer. However, one cannot but imagine that by avoiding several errors, he may have been able to continue killing indefinitely.

Bundy in black & white

Bundy’s first mistake was underestimating how police would perceive his car randomly idling on nights when he was trolling for victims. He was arrested in both Utah and Florida when he was hanging out in his car, smoking marijuana. In truth, he was probably just trying to determine where else he could find women in the middle of the night before being noticed by police. By slowly cruising through residential neighborhoods, he drew attention to himself even more. In Florida, Bundy stole a car and was stopped at one A.M. by a Pensacola, Florida officer. After running the plate and realizing the vehicle was stolen, Bundy was pulled over. He kicked Officer David Lee’s feet out from under him and ran. The officer had to fire a warning shot and tackle the suspect.

Blatantly lying to the police might have worked if he’d used better lies. When he was pulled over during the early hours of the morning August of 1975, Officer Bob Hayward asked Ted what he was doing all the way out in Granger when he lived in Salt Lake City. Ted gave the cop a ridiculous excuse about seeing the film “The Towering Inferno” in the nearby theater. However, the officer knew that the film wasn’t playing, catching him in his first lie. Noticing the front passenger seat missing in Bundy’s VW Bug, Hayward had probable cause to search further. Bundy’s burglary tools (aka “kill kit”) were discovered and he was promptly handcuffed and booked at the local police station. The charges just piled on after a local detective remember a description of his car and tools from Carol DaRonch’s attempted kidnapping.

Finally, something that would have helped Bundy continue his freedom and/or avoid the death penalty would have been by pleading guilty to the kidnapping and murder charges against him. To assume that Bundy would do what was best for himself was to not realize he was a true psychopath. Grand standing and narcissism prevented him from listening to reason when considering how to handle the charges against him. His appeals attorney, Polly Nelson, later wrote that he “sabotaged the entire defense effort out of spite, distrust, and grandiose delusion.” It became more important to showboat and be the center of attention rather than to be strategic about his pleas. It has been theorized that had he pleaded guilty on his original charge of attempted kidnapping, he would have been paroled quickly and probably wouldn’t have been charged in Colorado for the January 1975 murder of Caryn Campbell due to lack of direct evidence. If Bundy had plead guilty to murdering the Chi Omega sorority victims in 1978, he could have avoided the death penalty in that case. Even so, Bundy realized he would have to admit guilt in public and he would never voluntarily admit that, at least not until his final execution date was imminent.

Bundy declaring his innocence to Leon County Sheriff, Ken Katsaris

In summary, Bundy never wanted to be caught, regardless of what Freud or his followers may have suggested. In fact, Bundy once told Stephen Michaud and Hugh Aynesworth, “Guilt. It’s this mechanism we use to control people. It’s an illusion. It’s a kind of social control mechanism and it’s very unhealthy. It does terrible things to our body.” That hardly sounds like the words of a person who felt remorse or sorrow over all of the horrible things he did. If he had been smarter about hunting for victims, it’s possible he could have continued killing for decades, much to the detriment to women everywhere.

Other resources:

Samenow, S.E. (2016, August 4) Do Criminals Desire to Get Caught? Another myth with roots in Freud. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/inside-the-criminal-mind/201608/do-criminals-desire-get-caught-0

Killer Celebrity

A poem by E.J. Hammon

He slayed with wild abandon,
Killing women from coast to coast;
But what Ted Bundy did best,
Was to brag and to boast.

His braggadacio lured in his victims,
His cunning hid them away;
He caught them and he killed them,
And he watched their blood spray.

But what he didn’t count on,
What he couldn’t see;
Was those victims would return,
And Bundy couldn’t flee.

His trials were a farce, he said,
He wasn’t defended well;
And what the public wanted, he cried,
Was to send his soul to Hell.

Hell was what they wanted, he screamed,
And Bundy was getting scared;
Until Ted Bundy’s jailers,
Walked him to Florida’s Chair.

He waited for the warden,
He knew he’d make that last minute call;
But before the sun rose that day,
The lady killer was covered in his death pall.

c. 2019

Bundy and the 1970’s investigation

During an era where serial killers were emerging as a phenomenon in the United States, police departments throughout the country were finding it difficult to identify them. Serial killers are known for primarily murdering strangers and having few ties to their victims. This makes it a very difficult job for investigators who are accustomed to following up on connections between perpetrators and their prey. Police were able to gradually follow the few clues that Ted unwittingly left behind, but it took time and a great deal of manpower to catch the man behind the madness.

Bob Keppel, King County (WA) Investigator

During the 1970’s when Ted was on the prowl, lack of communication between law enforcement officials made it difficult to connect the crimes of serial offenders. Often times, personnel in various police departments refused to cooperate with those in other locations, leading to a great deal of hostility and animosity. To their detriment, criminals were able to benefit from the oversights between jurisdictions. Ted was known to travel a great deal so that his crimes weren’t connected. In fact, until the famed “Aspen Summit” in November of 1975 where Robert Keppel, Jerry Thompson, Michael Fisher, and thirty other investigators met and compared notes on each area’s crime sprees, very little sharing had occurred to connect Ted Bundy’s crimes.

Just a normal guy
Serial killing differs greatly from other types of murders in that most serial killing victims are strangers to their killers. Therefore, investigators had no links to follow to quickly suss out their culprit. Ted didn’t know any of the women he killed and because he left little forensic evidence behind, wearing gloves and a ski mask, detectives had little to go on. In fact, when investigators searched his room at a Salt Lake City rooming house, no usable fingerprints were located, not even prints belonging to Bundy. This truly shows the lengths to which Bundy would go to avoid capture.

Something notable about the “Ted Murders” investigation (so named after Ted used his real name when abducting women at Lake Sammamish) was the use of a computer in collating suspect names and vehicles. By the 1970’s, computers had come a long way from their preliminary origins, but they were still rudimentary compared to today’s technology. Washington state police had a large amount of data they needed to collate. Rather than taking the time to manually separate the various names and vehicle information, they turned to the King County payroll computer. It was a mechanical behemoth by today’s standards, but it served its purpose and compiled several lists, one of which compared local residents named Ted to those who also owned VW Bugs. Ted’s name was on that list along with 25 other men who matched the criteria. This was later determined by the time he had become an official suspect after his arrest in the attempted kidnapping of Carol DaRonch.

Carol DaRonch, Ted’s only known Utah survivor
Something else that benefited Bundy was that he didn’t look like a killer. He was clean-cut, wore nice clothing, and appeared to have a great deal of ambition. Some people even thought he was good-looking. He certainly never had problems getting dates with women once he became an adult. Ted was a dedicated Republican and his ambition to become a lawyer made him seem motivated and intelligent to outsiders. He was able to dress the part because he was an expert thief and stole most of the clothing he owned. It has also been suggested that police thought it was highly unlikely that someone who looked like Ted would be a serial killer.
For all of the limitations that science provided during Bundy’s active killing spree, he was eventually linked to several murders through small things that built up slowly over time. Ted was identified in a police line-up by attempted kidnapping victim, Carol DaRonch, the handcuffs that were linked to DaRonch’s kidnapping was tied to Debi Kent’s murder, he used his real first name at the Lake Samammish abduction site around crowds of people, his girlfriend Liz reporting him to both Utah and Washington state police, among other connections. Despite the lack of sophisticated forensics and technology, Bundy’s mistakes and cockiness were what eventually got him caught and ended his brutal killing spree. It wouldn’t have been possible to tie him to the crimes without the dedication and hard work of the detectives and officers who worked tirelessly to bring him to justice.

Criminology Podcast Season 3: Teddy B. Edition

When I attended CrimeCon this past May, the last thing I expected was to meet and collaborate with the hosts of the Criminology Podcast. Mike Morford (aka “Morf”) & I met through Twitter prior to the trip, so meeting him in person was a no-brainer. In fact, he was the first familiar face I saw when I arrived. Next to him sat Mike Ferguson (“Ferg”) of True Crime All The Time and True Crime All The Time Unsolved fame. Morf introduced me to Ferg as the host of this blog and a true Bundy fanatic. This lead to a conversation about working on a script for Season 3 of their joint podcast because they wanted to discuss Ted Bundy.

In thoroughly researching Bundy, I drew a great deal of information from this blog, but also from various other books about Bundy’s life. A few include: “Ted and Ann,” “The Only Living Witness,” “The Phantom Prince,” and “The Stranger Beside Me.”

Mike Ferguson (far left), Mike Morford (center), me, and Mike Gibson (right) of True Crime All the Time fame.

Now that you know the story behind the story, click below and dive into the details of a killer who continues to actively live in on in the media.


Bundy’s 1975 Arrest

On August 16, 1975, Ted Bundy was arrested in Granger, Utah for evading capture from a local police officer. In the police report listed below, Robert Hayward explains details of Bundy’s capture, including the “burglary tools” found in his car. Mention of this his missing passenger seat is also included.

“UTAH Highway Patrol Incident Report

Type of Incident: Attempt to Evade

Reporting: Sgt. Robert A. Hayward

Division: Special Operations

At about 2:30 A.M. on Saturday morning, August 16 [1975], a gray Volkswagen went by me while I was sitting in my patrol car in front of my house. I looked at the license plate and did not recognize it.

About ten minutes later…as I was going up Brock Street in Granger, a car took off north bound on Brock Street at a high rate of speed…I was in pursuit…at a high rate of speed. We ran the stop sign at Brock and LeMay and again at the entrance to the 35th South off Brock Street…I had the red spotlight on him when he ran the stop sign at Brock and LeMay, but he just went as fast as possible.

Bob Hayward, Utah State Trooper

…I pulled up on him fast, and he pulled over into a gas station. He produced his drivers license which identified him to be Theodore Robert Bundy, 565 1st Avenue, Salt Lake City, Utah, dob 11/24/46. The man wearing dark pants, a dark turtle neck with long sleeves, and sneakers. He stated that he was lost in the subdivision, but he had been there and again came back in about ten minutes…

I looked in the front seat and there was not a seat on the passenger side, so I looked a little closer and discovered the front seat was lying in the back seat on its side. On the floor were some tools such as a jimmy bar about 14 inches long…

I called for a County car to come over and they sent a Deputy and a Sergeant. They talked to Mr. Bundy and he told them he had been out west to the drive-in theater to see “The Towering Inferno.” We checked at the theater and that movie was not playing, so he just said he was lost.

The deputies looked in the car and asked if there was a gun in it. I said not to my knowledge, but that I had not looked that closely and perhaps we should check farther. After that, they came up with a few other items of interest that a person coming from a movie normally would not carry such as an ice pick, a pair of handcuffs, silk stockings with holes cut in for the eyes and nose, and other items that a burglar might carry.

Ted’s “burglary kit” found during the search.

They called for a detective car and Deputy Ondrak came over and took the items into custody. We impounded the car and I took Mr. Bundy to the County Jail and booked him on the charge of ‘Attempting to Evade a Police Officer.’ The time of booking was approximately 3:30 A.M.”