Clinical Psychology Curious Reads

Ted Bundy: Justifiable Death Penalty Case

Evil, deceptive, and manipulative.

Former social worker and political campaign activist. On the FBI’s most wanted list.

Convicted of dozens of sex killings in Washington State, Utah, Colorado, and Florida. More than 20 young women beaten, strangled, abducted, bludgeoned, raped, sexually mutilated, and sexually molested.

Serial killer.

Ted Bundy.

The FBI defines a serial killer as a person who murders three or more people over more than a month with an emotional cooling off period in between.

But Ted wasn’t any serial killer. As a good looking, articulate, and young intelligent law student, nothing in his daily life hinted that he was a violent man capable of doing something like murder. He was considered a friend and a very nice person, someone who is empathetic and ambitious. 

Bundy had a distinct character, one that would make him a person fathers would like their daughters to date or a person that high-end firms would love to hire. He had a fairly stable life and was in a long-term relationship with a woman called Elizabeth. He was a B+ student in college and reportedly loved children and poetry. He was a devoted Christian, as he was a member of the Mormon church in Utah and attended the meetings.

Ted’s education may have helped him in his killing spree; studying psychology and the human mind might have helped him to understand his victims in such a way that he was able to isolate and manipulate them, and studying law allowed him to represent himself in court which created an opportunity to escape custody. Yet Bundy’s education didn’t keep him from paying the highest price for his crimes.

Bundy’s ability to live a double life continues to be puzzling. How did he attend college, build a political career, and have a long-term relationship all while secretly assaulting and murdering at least 30 women between 1973 and 1978?

a crowbar, handcuffs, rope, a ski mask, and another mask

How The Story Unfolds

Ted Bundy was sadistic. His source of pleasure was the pain of another human and the control he had over his victims. He was necrophilic. He was ruthless. It was not until 1975, after Bundy moved to Utah for law school, that that he was pulled over for speeding and arrested. His car contained what appeared to be burglary tools.

He was already a suspect of a number of abductions and murders. Responding to alarming rate of disappearances, a major investigation was called by the police. As the manhunt for the abductor continued, more witnesses produced descriptions that matched Ted Bundy and his car. Just as some of his victims’ bodies were being discovered in the woods, Bundy was accepted to law school in Utah and moved to Salt Lake City. While living there, he continued to rape and murder young women, including a hitchhiker in Idaho and 4 teenage girls in Utah.

After being sent to prison due to a conviction of kidnapping and assault, he escaped from the law library at the courthouse in Aspen, Colorado. He stole a car to distance himself from the prison he was fleeing, but the reckless speed with which he left Aspen made him conspicuous, and police officers spotted him. He was recaptured after six days of being on the run.

Bundy’s next escape took place just six months later. After carefully studying a map of the prison, Bundy realized that his cell was directly beneath the living quarters of the prison’s chief jailer; the two rooms were separated only by a crawl space. Bundy worked away at the ceiling. The crawl space he made was very small that he began cutting back on meals to lose weight. After escaping, he stole a car immediately and got out of town, making his way to Florida.

2 murders, 2 assaults, and an abduction later, once again, his reckless driving caught the attention of the police. When they realized that his plates belonged on a stolen car, they pulled him over and found the IDs of three dead women in his vehicle, linking him to the FSU crimes.

Throughout his ensuing trial, Bundy sabotaged himself by ignoring the advice of his lawyers and taking charge of his own defense. He unnerved even those assigned to work with him. Bundy was ultimately convicted and placed on death row at Florida’s Raiford Prison, and conceived a child with Carole Ann Boone, whom he’d married while he was on trial.

In 1980, Ted sends out a message that he’s willing to speak to a journalist in exchange for a reexamination of all the cases against him, which would prove that he is innocent. After 11 years of murder, he confesses to 30 murder crime cases, although the actual number is thought to be close to 40.

“Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes” is a docuseries that offers great insight into a serial killer’s mind. Bundy speaks in third person about what made him want to kill:

Perhaps, this person hoped that through violence, through this violent series of acts, with every murder leaving a person of this type hungry, unfulfilled, but also leave him with the obviously irrational belief that the next time he did it, he would be fulfilled.

Bundy goes on and explains why he selects young women as his victims:

A person of this type, chooses his victims for a reason. His victims are young, attractive women. Women are possessions. Beings which are subservient, more often than not, to males. Women are merchandise. From the pornographic, through the Playboy, right on top to the evening news. So there’s no denying the sexual component. However, sex has significance only in the context of a much broader scheme of things. That is, possession, control, violence.

Ted started laying out the history of what he would soon come to call “the entity”. He first developed a pornography habit that gradually caused him to start connecting naked women with violence. The feeling grew to an extent he started hearing a voice and he obeyed whatever the voice told him to do.

When this was satisfied through sexual release, killing the women would be destroying the evidence. Killing the young women became a way of him destroying the entity. The act of killing became the end in itself.

When Ted was asked when does he think that this person acts out, he said:

“It reaches a point where the anger, frustration, anxiety, poor self-image, feeling cheated, wronged, insecure, he decides upon young attractive women being his victims.”

This is very interesting. Ted explains why he moved from one place to another and the importance of trying to maintain a normal life to conceal the side of him that only his victims know:

“We’re dealing with an individual whose primary concern is not to be detected. The individual’s modus operandi was moving large amounts of distance in attempt to camouflage what he was doing and to take advantage of the anonymity factor. He’s probably so caught up in living a dual life that he’d been enmeshed in that continuing cycle of trying to maintain a normal life. He would modify his behavior to make him a sound, stable, law-abiding individual“.

Psychopathy in Serial Killers

Serial killers, like Ted Bundy, share characteristics of a psychopath. Bundy was diagnosed as a psychopath by Hervey Cleckley, an expert on psychopathy.

A psychopath is a social predator who charms, manipulates and ruthlessly plows his way through life — entirely lacking in conscience and feeling for others. They selfishly take what they want and do as they please, violating social norms and expectations without the slightest sense of guilt or regret.

Psychopath is a personality trait that falls under antisocial personality disorder. People with antisocial personality disorder have a long-term pattern of violating the rights of others without any remorse.

According to the FBI, it is very important for the criminal justice system to understand psychopathy and its relationship to serial murder.

Psychopathic Traits

Ted Bundy displayed many traits of psychopathic antisocial behavior. Some of the most recognizable traits were:

Superficial Charm

Ted Bundy had a mysterious allure. Women felt that there was something substantive to him that was unspoken. But that this mystique was rooted in killing and mental distress, of course, wasn’t obvious at the time.

Even when facing a death penalty Bundy remained charming and charismatic.


The use of deceit and deception to cheat, con, or defraud others for personal gain. He was a skilled manipulator. He often scoped his environment to see who will be the easiest to manipulate.

In an interview with James Clayton Dobson, Jr., an American evangelical Christian author, he uses his skills as a manipulator to fake remorse in order to trick the priest by appealing to his weakness (religion). Dobson is a hardcore Christian guy who is very anti-pornography.

Lack of empathy

A lack of feelings toward people in general; cold, contemptuous, inconsiderate, and tactless.

As Bundy prosecutor Jerry Blair told The New York Times, “[Bundy] killed for the sheer thrill of the act.” Ted would bludgeon the young women unconscious before binding, raping, and killing them, dumping their bodies in a remote location in the woods. He would often revisit these sites to have sex with their decaying corpses. In some cases, Bundy would decapitate his victims and keep their skulls in his apartment, sleeping beside his trophies.

Lack of guilt or remorse

A lack of feelings or concern for the losses, pain, and suffering of victims; a tendency to be unconcerned, dispassionate, cold-hearted, and non-empathic. This item is usually demonstrated by a disdain for one’s victims. In Episode 4 of the docuseries, he said, “I never said (pornography) made me do it. I said that to get them to help me. I did (murder) because I wanted to do it.”

Bundy’s History

According to his childhood friend, Ted had good and involved parents who took him to church every Sunday. But he had speech impediment and didn’t really fit in. Though Bundy described himself as a loner who would stalk the seedy streets at night to spy on women, many high school friends describe him as reasonably well-known and well-liked.

Because Ted’s father was unknown, his grandparents were ashamed of their daughter’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy, they raised him as their own child. For nearly all of his childhood, he believed his mother to be his sister. His grandfather would regularly beat both Ted and his mother, causing her to run away with her son to live with cousins in Tacoma, Washington, when Bundy was 5 years old.

Growing up in an average Tacoma neighborhood where family matters like his grandfather’s violent rages were hushed up and enraged to discover he was illegitimate, Bundy had aspirations, to be a lawyer, to work in Republican politics, anything to take him into his definition of the upper class. His ticket would be a gorgeous girlfriend from a wealthy family.

Bundy’s Childhood

Psychologist Al Carlisle, part of the diagnostic team at the prison whose job was to evaluate whether Bundy had a violent personality, was asked why Ted became a psychopath:

I don’t believe a person is born a psychopath. I don’t believe Bundy was a psychopath when he was a child or during his high school years. In my career in state prison, I interviewed multiple rapists and killers. I wanted to know how they became violent. This is what I found: If early in life a person is lonely and doesn’t fit in and is empty, they begin to look for some way to undo that, to satisfy their loneliness. And they turn to fantasy to comfort themselves. This is what happened with Bundy.

He started out lonely and shy as a child. He believed all of the attention was paid to the younger kids, who were really [his stepfather] Johnnie Bundy’s children from a previous marriage. He started fantasizing about women he saw while window peeping or elsewhere [and] mimicking the accents of some politicians he listened to on the radio. In essence, he was fantasizing about being someone else, someone important.

These things did not cause him to kill—they built up a desire within him to experience more real sexual activity with a girl. He was not interested in killing. The real thing was to get as close to controlling a woman as possible and perhaps rape her, because it was the next step in what was getting to be exciting [for him].

This article is adapted from A&E Real Crime.


With a dozen witnesses present, he was strapped him to a wooden chair and placed a black hood over his head.

At 7:07 a.m., 2000 volts of electricity pulsated through his body for one full minute, causing his body to surge back in violent reaction, pressing him against the back of the chair.

At 7:16 a.m. Theodore Bundy, the nation’s most notorious serial killer, was pronounced dead.

Word spread among the 500 people or so across the street, who gathered in the early morning hours to celebrate and cheer Bundy’s death. Some began chanting, “Burn, Bundy, burn!” And others sang or hugged or banged on the frying pans they had brought along.

In most cases, death penalty isn’t really the solution and we do not get to decide whose lives we are allowed to sacrifice. Serial killers are often psychopaths, they do not choose to be the way they are because psychopathy is a result of both genetic and environmental factors.

A study has shown that early exposure to relational trauma in childhood can play a role in the development of more severe psychopathic traits (Craparo, Schimmenti, & Caretti, 2013). Another study found that disrupted parental bonding was associated with an increased level of adult psychopathy, with a lack of maternal care being the most important aspect (Gao et. al, 2009). Life imprisonment would be a better choice than execution.

However, Ted Bundy’s case is an exception. Considering that it was the late 1970s, the idea of serial murder was relatively new and the criminal justice system wasn’t ready to control the situation. Ted was dangerous.

Before his killing spree in the 1970s, Bundy was the assistant director of the Seattle Crime Prevention Commission. It gave him access to crime statistics and the methods of the police, and allowed him to manipulate the system for 11 years. He escaped the prison TWICE. The women all around the US would’ve still felt alarmed if he was given the life sentence, terrified of being the next victim. He was a very skilled manipulator who was very escape prone.

Ted Bundy remained cold-blooded and manipulative to the last as he meted out information on his victims in hopes of delaying his execution. The only sorrow Bundy felt at the end, despite his tears, was for himself.

By revealing the charismatic and charming Ted, the docuseries doesn’t glorify him. It actually serves as an eye-opener that warns the public that even the most charming may have a side to them that is evil, brutal, and manipulative.

People are still fascinated by Ted Bundy for a good reason, as his story is worth telling. Murderers like him will always roam, but what’s most terrifying about him is that he seemed superficially plausible especially when he wore a fake cast on his arm and asked young university students for help and guided them to his car.

For our own safety, we need to be reminded of men like him.

Bundy found his victims on university campuses, in ski resorts, pleasant neighbourhoods, malls, crowded park beaches, in a sorority house and a school gymnasium. Unlocked doors, open windows, unguarded moments and brief conversations were his modus operandi. Maybe it’s time to reconsider the way we live and be more cautious.

14 replies on “Ted Bundy: Justifiable Death Penalty Case”

His story is fascinating to so many because of what lay underneath that seemingly normal exterior. I am currently reading Ann Rule’s novel, The Stranger Beside Me, her account of his life and relationship with him in the early 70’s. Did you know that he saved a toddler from drowning and perhaps the lives of many more who called the helpline where he worked? Such a split personality (probably not in the clinical sense).


Fascinating article. I’m interested to know your thoughts about using these types of killers to further our understanding of this phenomenon of serial murder in terms of the factors of the killers mindset and how they are able to remain engaged in their work for so long. Once captured their threat to society has effectively been removed is it possible we, as a society, have more to gain through keeping them alive rather than sentencing them to die? I would love to hear more of your thoughts as forensic psychology has been a passion of mine since 1997 when I began studying psychology. Thanks so much.

Jed Wisniewski-jaio, llc


Thanks! I think it would be very difficult to understand their mindset even if we tried to, due to their manipulative and ruthless nature. Ted, as mentioned in the article, did not feel guilty about anything and refused to hold responsibility for his actions even after he was sentenced the death penalty!

I believe Ted’s case was an exceptional one. I don’t believe death penalty in our generation is a good idea. The reason why I felt like his case was justifiable is because the justice system was too weak that he was able to escape two times!


Unfortunately there are and will be many more Teds and BTKs out there amongst us. Who live normal socially adequate life’s on the outside but deep within them they have many demons. I do find this an interesting subject ( obviously very tragic) but no matter how many professionals, phycologists, and even other serial killers, it’s only them and them alone that know deep down why and that I believe is also part of their makeup too. Nobody will ever truly get into the mind of these evil beings. That’s just my opinion. I think they tell us what we want to hear but they will never fully uncover their true self’s they take that to the end for their self gratification ( if that makes sense ? ) thank you for sharing 🙏🏻❤️


I always wonder what it is like to be in their shoes! The mystery is very intriguing. I agree! I don’t think we can ever find out the entire truth due to their manipulative nature.


appealing by pointing to the environment and genetics as the cause that induces people to become criminals, is a criminal act with which other criminals, in charge of social and political roles, hide their crimes and crimes by hiding also those of others, make acceptable, understandable, justifiable. Crime for crime! those who commit crimes, kill, violate etc. he chooses, he makes himself himself because he has always had the opportunity to choose the good and not want the bad. If you grow up in a violent context, all the more reason to build the good and not vice versa. Those who still deal with these mystified justifications are simply complicit in crimes and criminals. It is time to end it with manipulations of meanings and adulteration of crimes to make them normal.


Crime is never acceptable nor justifiable. But it is understandable. Research continuously shows that there are influences that drive humans to act in such a way. We cannot assume that everyone is capable of being in control of their behavior. People with mental disorders don’t lead dysfunctional lives because they want to. It’s not like they have a choice. Trying to understand them doesn’t mean we’re making them normal. They are an extreme danger to society and they should be punished regardless of the reasons why they are committing crime.


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