Ted Bundy is a striking contrast to the general image of a “homicidal maniac”: attractive, self-assured, politically ambitious, and successful with a wide variety of women. But his private demons drove him to extremes of violence that make the gory worst of modern “slasher” films seem almost petty by comparison. With his chameleon-like ability to blend, his talent for belonging, Bundy posed an ever-present danger to the pretty, dark-haired women he selected as his victims.
Ted Bundy was born as Theodore Robert Cowell on November 24, 1946, in Burlington, Vermont, to Louise Cowell, age twenty-two. From birth Bundy was already in a category in which the FBI survey found 43 percent of sexual and serial killers: he had only one parent. The story of who the father was remained obscure. After giving birth to Ted in November, Louise returned to Philadelphia, leaving Ted behind in Vermont for three months. Back in Philadelphia, her father, Sam Cowell, pretended to adopt Ted as his son from some unknown orphanage. Louise, it is said, pretended to be his sister. Nobody knows for sure when Ted unraveled the mystery of his birth history because he gave conflicting stories about it afterward. When Eleanor married Johnnie Bundy on May 19, 1951, her son had finally had the name he would carry for life, Theodore Robert Bundy.
Though Bundy loved his grandfather, it is reported that the man had a volatile temper and a mild taste for pornography. Aside from that, no sign of serious instability seemed to exist in Bundy’s childhood. His step-father and he were never particularly close but no abuse was ever evident and Eleanor was devoted to her son, though he remained confused about their relationship. Bundy reportedly alternately referred to her as his sister and his mother.
His classmates from public school remember Bundy as an intelligent, happy, and popular child with many friends and a good academic record. Once in high school, people’s recollections of Bundy suddenly become more clouded. Bundy is said to have been withdrawn and his academic progress was mediocre. He no longer was as popular as in junior high school. His friend recalled that he lost his confidence and appeared tongue-tied in social situations, not only with girls but with meeting new people in general.
In the spring of 1966 Ted Bundy met the love of his life. Her name was Stephanie and she was older than him – a beautiful young woman who wore her long, dark hair parted in the middle. Her resemblance to Bundy’s later victims is striking. But, by the time she graduated she was starting to get bored with Bundy, feeling he was too childish and immature, so she broke up with him, and moved to San Francisco. Bundy’s lack of confidence and tendency toward manipulation had ruined the relationship. He soon dropped out of Stanford, reportedly devastated. Ted’s brother recalls that before the breakup with Stephanie, Ted was always in charge of his emotions. He had never seen his brother so upset and moody.
Bundy then waited until the fall and re-entered the University of Washington with a sense of purpose, turning form an average student into an honor student. He excelled at his studies and became increasingly involved in local politics, continuing to work on and off for political campaigns.
Around this time he met Liz Kendall, who would be a part of his life until well after his final incarceration. A divorced mother, with a three-years-old daughter, supported Bundy in every way possible and the two seemed a close couple – it looked like they were going to get married. Things seemed to stay relatively calm for the time being. Bundy graduated from Washington with a degree in psychology and in the summer of 1973 was accepted into the University of Utah Law School. Nobody will ever know what happened to set Ted Bundy off, but toward the end of 1973 he began murdering women at a frightening rate.