When young Theodore Robert Cowell was first born in 1946, nobody could have possibly predicted the monster he would grow up to be, better known as serial killer and rapist, Ted Bundy. By the age of three, however, he did become fascinated by knives. (Biography.com) Around the age of 28, in 1974, he attacked his first confirmed victim, of more than 30 confirmed victims.
Many people have heard of the American serial killer, Ted Bundy, but nobody knows for certain what made him become the monster that he was. There was likely not just one thing that caused this, but many causes such as his childhood, which may have had an impact on his mental health and sexual desires, as well as the breakup between him and his college girlfriend, which could have led to his first act of violence. Upon realizing that he was able to get away with it the first time, he did it again. Eventually he was arrested, and convicted, but managed to escape on two separate occasions. Following his two escapes, he killed more women until he was caught again, and was connected to even more victims. He was sentenced to the death penalty multiple times for his crimes, and was executed on January 24, 1989.
There are numerous causes that played a role in the creation and existence of this horrifying monster, Ted Bundy. One of the possible contributing factors, that may have led to Bundy becoming a serial killer and rapist, was his birth parents. Bundy’s mother gave birth to him out of wedlock, which at the time was shameful to her religious parents. To keep shame from the family, his mother’s parents raised him as their son, and he was brought up thinking that the woman who was his mother was his older sister. His biological father on his birth certificate is listed as one man, while his mother said she fell in love with a sailor, not by that name. There are some who suspect that his father is actually his mother’s dad, though it remains unknown. He eventually found out the truth of who his real mother was, but finding out that he was lied to all of his life, most likely was difficult for him to process. That feeling of betrayal, and confusion likely added to his anger, and could have led to his committing these heinous acts.
When Bundy and his college girlfriend broke up, he was devastated. This is especially important because many of his victims were college students with long, dark hair, similar to hers. (Biography.com) This connection between the appearance of his college girlfriend and the appearance of his victims could potentially show a precipitating causal relationship, as it only added to the difficult things he had already faced earlier in life.
“In interviews he recalled being antisocial and wandering the streets looking for discarded pornography or open windows through which he could spy on unsuspecting women; he also had an extensive juvenile record for theft that was dismissed when he turned 18.” (Crimemuseum.org)
Bundy was a man with many sexual desires; he even claimed that an addiction to pornography was the thing that led to him attacking, raping, and murdering women. While this may be a contributing factor, an addiction to pornography is not likely always going to make someone become a serial killer and rapist. However, he was also a necrophiliac, according to various sources. Being a necrophiliac and being addicted to pornography isn’t a largely common thing, and this can be connected to Cohen’s fourth thesis, “The Monster Dwells at the Gates of Difference.” The thesis states on page seven, “for the most part monstrous difference tends to be cultural, political, racial, economic, sexual.” Clearly, his sexual interests, such as necrophilia are different from those of many other people, which is where part of his monstrous identity comes from.
Bundy was well educated, attending multiple universities, and studying psychology. His knowledge of psychology meant he understood the questions he was being asked by psychologist, Dr. Al Carlisle, in the Utah State Prison. (Ramsland, 2012) Because he understood the questions, he knew how to answer them in order for them to come out as they would for a mentally healthy person. As such, the tests appeared normal, but outside sources convinced Dr. Carlisle that Bundy was potentially dangerous, and he was put into a medium security unit, rather than being put on probation. (Ramsland, 2012) Still, managing to be a violent serial killer and rapist, while also still being able to appear as a normal person is cause for concern. It’s likely that he suffered from a personality disorder such as Antisocial Personality Disorder, based on his lack of guilt or remorse for his actions or victims, though this is not verified.
“[Ted Bundy] continued to elude investigators, assuming that by operating in different states the police would be unable to compare the cases. His behavior became increasingly bold and risky as he approached women. Those who escaped his advances would later recognize him and provide the police with valuable information.” (Faye, 1995)
This quote makes it somewhat easier to understand the reciprocating causal relationship that exists between Bundy getting away with his crimes the first time and doing it again, getting more bold as he became more experienced in attacking victims. While he did become more bold, he also became more knowledgeable, especially when it came to evidence being left at the scene. “He was able to avoid detection even longer by learning how to leave virtually no evidence that could be traced by the still rudimentary forensics techniques of the 1970s.” (Crimemuseum.org) His gained knowledge from experience can be understood through Cohen’s seventh thesis, “The Monster Stands at the Threshold of Becoming.” It states that monsters return, which Ted Bundy did when he returned to visit corpses of those he’d already murdered. Cohen’s seventh thesis also states that when monsters return, “they bring not just a fuller knowledge of our place in history…” which Bundy did by not leaving traceable evidence for the technology at that time period. Unfortunately, he did leave bite marks on the body of one of the girls he killed from a sorority at Florida State University, near the end of his murder career. The bite marks were how he was definitively linked to the murders that he had committed there.
Because he did get away with attacking people at first, Cohen’s second thesis, “The Monster Always Escapes,” can also be useful for understanding Ted Bundy. It can be related to his two escapes after incarceration, though he did eventually serve time and die in the electric chair for his heinous crimes, so he didn’t escape for life. However, when he did escape, he would kill people. It’s unlikely that he enjoyed incarceration, therefore it’s possible that he was upset about having been caught. Another possibility, though not probable was that those attacks were influenced by excitement from him managing to escape.
There are most likely, many other contributing factors for how and why Ted Bundy became the monster that he was. His mental health having been impacted by his childhood and being lied to, combined with his charm, intelligence, lack of remorse, and sexual desires were only the beginning. After getting away with it once, he continued committing murder and rape. Studying Ted Bundy’s case can be useful in understanding why someone would do such horrifying things. It can also be useful in preventing the creation of someone like Bundy from happening again, or at least in treating someone like Bundy.
Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. Monster Theory: Reading Culture. University of Minnesota Press, 1997. This source contains seven theses that assist our understanding of monsters. I used this source to try to understand the causes of Ted Bundy becoming a monster. This source is scholarly and includes references.
Faye, Valentina. The Serial Killers. Nischal Hedge, 1995.
Ramsland, Katherine. “Imagining Ted Bundy.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 2012, http://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/shadow-boxing/201208/imagining-ted-bundy. This article discusses Ted Bundy from a psychological standpoint before going on to discuss Dr. Al Carlisle’s book related to Bundy. I used this source to gather information about his mental health. This source is reliable as it’s written by a forensic psychologist.
“Ted Bundy | Serial Killers | Crime Library.” Crime Museum, 2017, http://www.crimemuseum.org/crime-library/serial-killers/ted-bundy. This source contains information about the ways in which Bundy would capture victims and other aspects of his criminal career, as well as provides some biography. I used this source for quotes and to better understand him. This source is reliable as it is an organization focused on crimes.
“Ted Bundy.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 16 July 2018, http://www.biography.com/people/ted-bundy-9231165. This source discusses the life, death, and criminal activity of Ted Bundy. I used this source for quotes and for background information. This source is reliable as it has biographies for many people, and uses accurate information.