Why are serial killers so fascinating to the average person? We invest so much of our time watching movies, documentaries, or reading article after article about serial killers, but why? “I don’t think anybody doubts whether I’ve done some bad things. The question is what, of course, and how and, maybe even most importantly, why?” (Ted Bundy). The question we always ask when something unfortunate happens or when someone does something horrible is why? We try to look inside the mind of serial killers like Ted Bundy because we want to understand them, we want to know what drives them to do these inhuman things. The specific reason Ted Bundy, one of America’s most notorious serial killers, murdered multiple women is unknown. In order to understand why Bundy did what he did we must look back into his childhood.
Theodore Robert Cowell was born on November 24, 1946 in Burlington Vermont. Bundy was born out of wedlock in a home for unwed mothers. Ted grew up in what he knew was a normal upbringing. Having a father, Sam, mother, Elenor and an older sister, Elenor Louise. It wasn’t until Ted’s college years that he later discovered that he had been living a lie his whole childhood. Bundy found out through research that his father and mother were in fact his grandparents and his sister was actually his mother. Finding out your whole life has been a lie can mentally affect a person. Although in many interviews Bundy denies having a dysfunctional family had anything to do with who he turned out to be as a person, that is hard to believe. That type of betrayal can plant a seed of anger in a person that can later create aggressive behavior.
At the age of three, there were incidents manifesting Ted’s uniqueness. On one occasion, while his teenage aunt was taking a nap, he grabbed all the knives from the kitchen and rearranged them around her body with the blades pointing directly towards her. Startled by this, Ted’s mother assumed that her son was picking up these disturbing habits from his grandfather, Sam, who was known to have a bit of a temper. She decided it would be in the best interest for Ted if they moved to Tacoma, Washington. Additionally, Elenor Louise, hoped that relocating to Washington would put miles between them and his high-tempered grandfather in hopes that these disturbing acts of Ted would stop.
In Tacoma, Ted’s mother married John Culpepper Bundy a year after meeting him and Ted carried the last name Bundy for life. Over the next ten years of being together, Ted’s mother and stepfather added two brothers and two sisters to the family. Ted had little connection with his family and little connection with peers at school. Classmates of Bundy described him as shy and was known for his stuttering problem. Having this early disabilty of stuttering resulted in Ted being bullied.
During his teenage years Bundy became an expert shoplifter by the age of fifteen and was a suspect in two burglaries. Ted also became a “peeping tom” looking into young girls windows invading their privacy. From a young age the signs of Ted’s special character were shown. Bundy was introduced to pornography at an early age. Ted Bundy himself said “pornography made me do it”. Bundy’s addiction to pornography lead him to rape and kill multiple women. “Like an addiction, you keep craving something which is harder, harder, something which gives you a greater sense of excitement. Until you reach the point that pornography only goes so far…” (Ted Bundy). Pornography was not giving him the complete satisfaction he wanted, he needed more. It can not be known to what extent pornography impacted his life, but it is known it was one of the factors that caused Bundy to rape and kill.
Dr. Stone, a forensic psychiatrist at the University of Columbia, explains how most serial killers like Ted Bundy himself meet criteria for Psychopathy. Mostly all serial killers are sadist, which means they enjoy the suffering of others(Stone). Not only was he a sadist he was also very narcissistic. In his court cases he carried himself in a way in which he was the most important person in the room. His personality is was lead him get away with his acts over and over again. In Jeffrey Jerome Cohen’s Monster culture, thesis 2, he says The Monster Always Escapes, “..the monster itself turns immaterial and vanishes, to reappear someplace else” (Cohen, pg.4). . Bundy escaped prison two different times and continued to murder women.
So what made a law student become a serial killer? Was he born that way or was he made? The debate of are serial killers born or are they made is still ongoing, is it nature or nurture. When we look into Ted’s biological line we can see how biology plays a role in his personality and temperament.
Antisocial personality disorder is defined as ” a personality disorder characterized by persistent antisocial, irresponsible, or criminal behavior, often impulsive or aggressive, with disregard for any harm or distress caused to other people, and an inability to maintain long-term social and personal relationships. ” Ted Bundy suffered from this mental illness. I believe that Ted’s diagnosis was one main factor that contributed to his criminal acts. According to Faith H. Liebman, there are three primary psychological elements contributing to motivation for murder (Abrahamsen, 1973; Holmes 1988). These three elements are frustration, fear and depression.
The exact reason Ted Bundy murdered 30 plus women is unknown. His mental illness, narcissism, sexual desires and finding out his childhood was a lie, gives us a better idea of what was going through Bundy’s mind. Although there may be other factors that contribute to his inhumane acts, these are the ones that make the most sense. The question still stands, are serial killers born or created?
Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes. Dir. Joe Berlinger, Jon Doran, Jon Kamen,
and Justin Wilkes. Perf. Stephen Michaud, Bob Keppel, and Kathleen McChesney. Netflix,
Vronsky, Peter. Serial Killers: The Method and Madness of Monsters. Penguin books, October 5,
Dr. Stone. Inside the minds of serial killers.Big think. June 10, 2011
Psychology In Seattle, The Psychology of Ted Bundy. April 15, 2019.
Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. “Monster Culture: Seven Thesis.” From Monster Theory: Reading
Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996. 3-25
Leibman, F. H. (1989). Serial murderers: Four case histories. Federal Probation, 53(4), 41-45.