Biography of Ted Bundy, Serial Killer

Ted Bundy in court
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Theodore Robert Bundy (November 24, 1946–January 24, 1989) was one of the most prolific serial killers in U.S. history, who confessed to kidnapping, raping and murdering over 24 women throughout seven states during the 1970s, although the actual count of the people he murdered remains a mystery. 

Fast Facts: Ted Bundy

  • Known For: Confessed serial murder of over 24 people
  • Born: November 24, 1946 in Burlington, Vermont
  • Parents: Eleanor “Louise” Cowell, Johnnie Culpepper Bundy (adoptive father) 
  • Died: January 24, 1989 in Raiford, Florida
  • Education: Woodrow Wilson High School, University of Puget Sound, University of Washington (BA Psychology, 1972), Temple University, University of Utah
  • Spouse: Carol Ann Boone (m. 1980)
  • Children: Rose, by Carol Ann Boone

From the time of his capture up until his death in the electric chair became imminent, he proclaimed his innocence and then began confessing to some of his crimes to delay his execution. The actual count of how many people he murdered remains a mystery.

Early Life

Ted Bundy was born Theodore Robert Cowell on November 24, 1946, at the Elizabeth Lund Home for Unwed Mothers in Burlington, Vermont. Ted’s mother Eleanor “Louise” Cowell returned to Philadelphia to live with her parents and raise her new son.

In the 1950s, being an unwed mother was scandalous and illegitimate children were often teased and treated as outcasts. To avoid having Ted suffer, Louise's parents, Samuel and Eleanor Cowell took on the role of being Ted’s parents. For several years of his life, Ted thought his grandparents were his parents, and his mother was his sister. He never had any contact with his birth father, whose identity remains unknown.

According to relatives, the environment in the Cowell home was volatile. Samuel Cowell was known for being an outspoken bigot who would go into loud rants about his dislike of various minority and religious groups. He physically abused his wife and children and brutalized the family dog. He suffered hallucinations and would sometimes talk or argue with people who were not there.

Eleanor was submissive and fearful of her husband. She suffered from agoraphobia and depression. She periodically received electric shock therapy, a popular treatment for even the mildest cases of mental illness during that time.

Tacoma, Washington

 In 1951, Louise packed up and, with Ted in tow, moved to Tacoma, Washington to live with her cousins. For unknown reasons, she changed her surname from Cowell to Nelson. While there, she met and married Johnnie Culpepper Bundy. Bundy was an ex-military cook who was working as a hospital cook.

Johnnie adopted Ted and changed his surname from Cowell to Bundy. Ted was a quiet and well-behaved child although some people found his behavior unsettling. Unlike other children who seem to thrive on parental attention and affection, Bundy preferred isolation and disconnection from family and friends.

As time went on, Louise and Johnnie had four more children, and Ted had to adjust to not being an only child. The Bundy home was small, cramped, and tense. Money was scarce and Louise was left taking care of the children without any additional help. Because Ted was always quiet, he was often left alone and ignored while his parents dealt with their more demanding children. Ted’s extreme introversion and any developmental issues went unnoticed or were explained as a characteristic based on his shyness.


Despite the circumstances at home, Bundy grew into an attractive teenager who got along with his peers and who performed well in school.

He graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School in 1965. According to Bundy, it was during his high school years that he began breaking into cars and homes. Bundy said the motivation behind becoming a petty thief was partially due to his desire to go downhill skiing. It was the only sport he was good at, but it was expensive. He used the money he made off of stolen goods to help pay for skis and ski passes.

Although his police record was expunged at the age of 18, it is known that Bundy was arrested twice on suspicion of burglary and auto theft.

After high school, Bundy entered the University of Puget Sound. There he scored high academically but failed socially. He continued to suffer from acute shyness, which resulted in social awkwardness. While he did manage to develop some friendships, he was never comfortable with participating in most of the social activities that others were doing. He rarely dated and kept to himself.

Bundy later attributed his social problems to the fact that most of his peers at Puget Sound came from wealthy backgrounds—a world that he envied. Unable to escape his growing inferiority complex, Bundy decided to transfer to the University of Washington in his sophomore year in 1966.

At first, the change did not help Bundy’s inability to socially blend, but in 1967, Bundy met the woman of his dreams. She was pretty, wealthy, and sophisticated. They both shared a skill and passion for skiing and spent many weekends on the ski slopes.

First Love

Ted fell in love with his new girlfriend and tried hard to impress her to the point of grossly exaggerating his accomplishments. He downplayed the fact that he was working part-time bagging groceries and instead tried to gain her approval by boasting about a summer scholarship that he won at Stanford University.

Working, attending college, and having a girlfriend was too much for Bundy, and in 1969, he dropped out of college and began working at various minimum-wage jobs. He devoted his spare time to doing volunteer work for Nelson Rockefeller's presidential campaign and even worked as a Rockefeller delegate at the 1968 Republican National Convention in Miami.

Unimpressed with Bundy’s lack of ambition, his girlfriend decided that he was not husband material and she ended the relationship and moved back to her parent’s home in California. According to Bundy, the break up broke his heart and he obsessed over her for years.

At this same time, whispers about Bundy being a petty thief began to spread among those who were close to him. Stuck in a deep depression, Bundy decided to do some traveling and headed to Colorado then on to Arkansas and Philadelphia. There, he enrolled at Temple University where he completed a semester then returned to Washington in the fall of 1969.

It was before his return to Washington that he learned about his true parentage. How Bundy dealt with the information is not known, but it was obvious to those that knew Ted that he had experienced some kind of transformation. Gone was the shy, introverted Ted Bundy. The man that returned was outgoing and confident to the point of being seen as an extraverted braggart.

He returned to the University of Washington, excelled in his major, and earned a bachelor's degree in psychology in 1972.

Life Gets Better for Bundy

In 1969, Bundy became involved with another woman, Elizabeth Kendall (the pseudonym she used when she wrote The Phantom Prince My Life With Ted Bundy. She was a divorcee with a young daughter. She fell deeply in love with Bundy, and, despite her suspicions that he was seeing other women, showed continued devotion toward him. Bundy was not receptive to the idea of marriage but allowed the relationship to continue even after reuniting with his first love, who had become attracted to the new, more confident, Ted Bundy.

He worked on the reelection campaign of Washington's Republican Governor Dan Evans. Evans was elected and appointed Bundy to the Seattle Crime Prevention Advisory Committee. Bundy's political future seemed secure when in 1973 he became the assistant to Ross Davis, chairman of the Washington State Republican Party. It was a good time in his life. He had a girlfriend, his old girlfriend was once again in love with him, and his footing in the political arena was strong.

Missing Women and a Man Called Ted

In 1974, young women began vanishing from college campuses around Washington and Oregon. Lynda Ann Healy, a 21-year-old radio announcer, was among those who went missing. In July 1974, two women were approached at a Seattle state park by an attractive man who introduced himself as Ted. He asked them to help him with his sailboat, but they refused. Later that day, two other women were seen going off with him and they were never seen alive again.

Bundy Moves to Utah

In the fall of 1974, Bundy enrolled in law school at the University of Utah and moved to Salt Lake City. In November, Carol DaRonch was attacked at a Utah mall by a man dressed as a police officer. She managed to escape and provided police with a description of the man, the Volkswagen he was driving, and a sample of his blood that got on her jacket during their struggle. Within a few hours after DaRonch was attacked, 17-year-old Debbie Kent disappeared.

Around this time, hikers discovered a graveyard of bones in a Washington forest, later identified as belonging to missing women from both Washington and Utah. Investigators from both states communicated together and came up with a profile and composite sketch of the man named "Ted" who approached women for help, sometimes appearing helpless with a cast on his arm or crutches. They also had the description of his tan Volkswagen and his blood type, which was type-O.

Authorities compared the similarities of the women who had disappeared. They were all white, thin, and single with long hair that was parted in the middle. They also vanished during the evening hours. The bodies of the dead women found in Utah had all been hit with a blunt object to the head, raped, and sodomized. Authorities knew they were dealing with a serial killer who had the capability to travel from state to state.

Murders in Colorado

On January 12, 1975, Caryn Campbell vanished from a ski resort in Colorado while on vacation with her fiancé and his two children. A month later, Caryn's nude body was found lying a short distance from the road. An examination of her remains determined she had received violent blows to her skull. Over the next few months, five more women were found dead in Colorado with similar contusions to their head, possibly a result of being hit with a crowbar.

Ted Bundy's First Arrest

In August 1975, police attempted to stop Bundy for a driving violation. He aroused suspicion when he tried to get away by turning his car lights off and speeding through stop signs. When he was finally stopped his Volkswagen was searched, and police found handcuffs, an ice pick, a crowbar, pantyhose with eye holes cut out, and other questionable items. They also saw that the front seat on the passenger side of his car was missing. Police arrested Ted Bundy on suspicion of burglary.

Police compared the things found in Bundy's car to those DaRonch described seeing in her attacker's car. The handcuffs that had been placed on one of her wrists were the same make as those in Bundy's possession. Once DaRonch picked Bundy out of a line-up, the police felt they had enough evidence to charge him with attempted kidnapping. The authorities also felt confident they had the person responsible for the tri-state murder spree that had gone on for more than a year.

Bundy Escapes Twice

Bundy went to trial for the attempted kidnapping of DaRonch in February 1976 and after waiving his right to a jury trial, he was found guilty and sentenced to 15 years in prison. During this time, police were investigating links to Bundy and the Colorado murders. According to his credit card statements, he was in the area where several women vanished in early 1975. In October 1976, Bundy was charged with the murder of Caryn Campbell.

Bundy was extradited from the Utah prison to Colorado for the trial. Serving as his own lawyer allowed him to appear in court without leg irons, plus it gave him an opportunity to move freely from the courtroom to the law library inside the courthouse. In an interview, while in the role as his own attorney, Bundy said, "More than ever, I am convinced of my own innocence." In June 1977 during a pre-trial hearing, he escaped by jumping out of the law library window. He was captured a week later.

On Dec. 30, 1977, Bundy escaped from prison and made his way to Tallahassee, Florida, where he rented an apartment near Florida State University under the name Chris Hagen. College life was something Bundy was familiar with and one he enjoyed. He managed to buy food and pay his way at local college bars with stolen credit cards. When bored, he would duck into lecture halls and listen to the speakers. It was just a matter of time before the monster inside Bundy would resurface.

The Sorority House Murders

On Saturday, Jan. 14, 1978, Bundy broke into Florida State University's Chi Omega sorority house and bludgeoned and strangled to death two women, raping one of them and brutally biting her on her buttocks and one nipple. He beat two others over the head with a log. They survived, which investigators attributed to their roommate Nita Neary, who came home and interrupted Bundy before he was able to kill the other two victims.

Nita Neary came home at around 3:00 a.m. and noticed the front door to the house was ajar. As she entered, she heard hurried footsteps above going toward the stairway. She hid in a doorway and watched as a man wearing a blue cap and carrying a log left the house. Upstairs, she found her roommates. Two were dead, two others severely wounded. That same night, another woman was attacked, and the police found a mask on her floor identical to one found later in Bundy's car.

Arrested Again

On February 9, 1978, Bundy killed again. This time it was 12-year-old Kimberly Leach, who he kidnapped and mutilated. Within a week of Kimberly's disappearance, Bundy was arrested in Pensacola for driving a stolen vehicle. Investigators had eyewitnesses who identified Bundy at the dorm and Kimberly's school. They also had physical evidence that linked him to the three murders, including a mold of the bite marks on the flesh of the sorority house victim.

Bundy, still thinking he could beat a guilty verdict, turned down a plea bargain whereby he would plead guilty to killing the two sorority women and Kimberly LaFouche in exchange for three 25-year sentences.

The End of Ted Bundy

Bundy went on trial in Florida on June 25, 1979, for the murders of the sorority women. The trial was televised, and Bundy played up to the media when on occasion he acted as his attorney. Bundy was found guilty on both murder charges and given two death sentences by means of the electric chair.

On January 7, 1980, Bundy went on trial for killing Kimberly Leach. This time, he allowed his attorneys to represent him. They decided on an insanity plea, the only defense possible with the amount of evidence the state had against him.

Bundy's behavior was much different during this trial than the previous one. He displayed fits of anger, slouched in his chair, and his collegiate look was sometimes replaced with a haunting glare. Bundy was found guilty and received a third death sentence.

During the sentencing phase, Bundy surprised everyone by calling Carol Boone as a character witness and marrying her while she was on the witness stand. Boone was convinced of Bundy's innocence. She later gave birth to Bundy's child, a little girl who he adored. In time, Boone divorced Bundy after realizing he was guilty of the horrific crimes he had been charged with.


Ted Bundy was executed on January 24, 1989, at Raiford Prison in Starke, Florida. Before being put to death, Bundy confessed to the murders of more than two dozen women across several states.

The serial killer's death was highly anticipated. Bumper stickers and placards reading, "I'll buckle up when Bundy does," and, "More power to you," could be seen across the state of Florida and even on the site of the electrocution itself. On the day he was to be put to death, 42 witnesses gathered to watch the historic execution of a fearful Bundy. Several news and media outlets covered the story for days.

In conversation with radio show host James Dobson not a day before being electrocuted, Bundy pointed not to his upbringing but to exposure to alcohol and violent pornography as the sources of his evil actions. He then stated that he didn't want to die, but did believe that he deserved "the most extreme punishment society has."

Eyewitness accounts report that when the serial killer was asked for his last words, his voice broke as he said, "Jim and Fred, I'd like you to give my love to my family and friends." James ("Jim") Coleman, his lawyer, and Fred Lawrence, the reverend with whom Bundy cried and prayed all night, nodded.

Eyes forward, Bundy prepared for his execution. A black hood was placed over his head and an electrode affixed to his scalp before 2,000 volts at 14 amps were sent coursing through his body. Bundy stiffened and his fists clenched. After roughly one minute, the power was shut off and a paramedic took the killer's pulse. Ted Bundy was declared dead at 7:16 a.m. amidst a cheering crowd of watchers.

Additional References

View Article Sources
  1. "Part 3: Ted Bundy's Campaign of Terror." Serial Killers. Federal Bureau of Investigation, 15 Nov. 2013.

  2. "The Very Definition of Heartless Evil: Ted Bundy in Colorado." Denver Public Library Genealogy, African American & Western History Resources. 25 Mar. 2019.

  3. Saltzman, Rachelle H. “‘This Buzz Is for You’: Popular Responses to the Ted Bundy Execution.” Journal of Folklore Research, vol. 32, no. 2, May 1995, pp. 101–119.

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Montaldo, Charles. "Biography of Ted Bundy, Serial Killer." ThoughtCo, Jan. 26, 2021, Montaldo, Charles. (2021, January 26). Biography of Ted Bundy, Serial Killer. Retrieved from Montaldo, Charles. "Biography of Ted Bundy, Serial Killer." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 19, 2021).