The psychological profile of serial killers has been used to determine if there is a certain type of behavior that can be linked to the personalities, characteristics and traits of a serial killer. Throughout history, studies of serial killers and mass murderers show that individuals who are capable of such heinous acts often suffered from some form of mental disorder and were likely to have unfavorable experiences through their childhood and early adolescent years. Ted Bundy is a prime example of a serial killer whose unfavorable experiences with women led him down a dark, murderous path. During his criminal career, Ted Bundy raped and murdered numerous women. It wasn’t until after his capture and execution that studies on Ted Bundy’s personality started to take place. A number of psychologists have accessed interviews and statements of Ted Bundy and have concluded that it is likely Ted suffered from antisocial personality disorder (APD) and necrophilia (Samuel & Widiger, 2007; Proulx, 2007). Like other killers, Ted depicts himself as an unremorseful man who held little regard for life, especially those of his victims. This paper explores the psyche of Ted Bundy through the exploration of his childhood, adolescence and his relationship as well as how this influenced him into becoming a sadistic serial killer.
Ted Bundy’s Criminal Profile
Over the course of four years, Ted self-admitted that he was responsible for over 30 murders across four states: Washington, Colorado, Utah and Florida. However, because this number is self-reported, the true number could be higher or lower. 1974 was the first known year that Ted committed his first murder, although his first attempt resulted in the victim escaping (Cook, 2011). While research has not specifically stated a trigger for this, it is quite fascinating to learn that the killing did not start until Ted Bundy rekindled a flame with an ex-lover who once left him due to lack of ambition (Cook, 2011). Bundy and Stephanie Brooks dated briefly during his attendance at University of Puget Sound but the relationship did not last long (Cook, 2011). Though, in 1973, the two began to date again but his actions in 1974 indicates that he might have harbored some resentment towards Stephanie due to their previous breakup (Cook, 2011). In 1974, Ted killed his first victim. His first victim had a strong resemblance to Stephanie Brooks. In fact, all of Ted Bundy’s victims possessed long, dark hair with a center part, just as Stephanie wore her hair (Cook, 2011).
Even more interesting is the fact that victims who survived Ted’s attack can recall him being a handsome and polite. He often used this “charm” to lure women and eventually abduct them. His victims were then raped and killed, usually by strangulation or blunt force trauma (Cook, 2011). Between the years of 1974 and 1977, Ted remained under police radar even though the police were aware that there was indeed a serial killer on the loose. In 1977, Carol DaRonch, a potential victim escaped and was able to notify the police of her abduction. It wasn’t until a routine traffic stop that Ted was linked to the murders and abductions as a potential suspect (Cook, 2011). Because the vehicle matched the statement of Carol DaRonch, Ted was apprehended.
Ted’s apprehension took place in Colorado, but he successfully escaped twice. During his second attempt, Ted fled to Florida rather than continuing to reside in Colorado (Cook, 2011). During his stay in Florida, Ted continued his murderous spree only to get caught in 1978 after his final killing his final victim, Kimberly Leach. After his final capture, Ted was found guilty of his crimes in 1979 and was then executed by electric chair in 1989 after appealing his conviction for ten years (Cook, 2011).
Ted Bundy’s Background
Like many other serial killers, Ted did not have the most favorable childhood. Ted Bundy was born Theodore Robert Cowell to a young lady by the name of Elanor Louise Cowell (Cook, 2011). Ted’s biological father is unknown, although for some time Ted was raised to believe that his grandfather, Elanor’s father, was his biological dad. Bundy was also raised to believe that his mother was actually his sister, a decision made by Elanor’s parents to avoid any shame (Cook, 2011; Crime Feed, 2015). Notably, Elanor’s father was said to be a hostile man with a quick temper (Crime Feed, 2015). Ted’s accounts of his grandfather indicate that some form of abuse may have been experienced during this time.
During past interviews, Ted revealed that he learned the true nature of who his sister was to him, but Ted never fully explained how he discovered this information. After discovering that Elanor was indeed his mother, his mother married a gentleman by the name of Johnny Culpepper Bundy, which is how Ted Cowell, became Ted Bundy (Cook, 2011). His relationship with his mother was an estranged one although details of her treatment of him is sketchy. As a child, Ted was generally well-behaved and received good grades. It wasn’t until Ted grew to early adolescence that behavior problems were noticed. While Ted was a great student, he often endured bullying as a child and was labeled as antisocial because he lacked interpersonal skills with his peers (Cook, 2011; Crime Feed, 2015). From a review of a childhood, one can notice that Ted’s childhood could have influenced his development of APD. However, the sexual nature of his crimes was highly attributed to his addiction to pornography by Ted himself (Ramsland, 2012).
Ted Bundy’s criminal career is highly memorable because of his persona. Ted in his early adulthood was an intelligent, charismatic individual that was described as well liked (Ramsland, 2012). He used this persona to his advantage to abduct and murder his victims. While during his life, he was never diagnosed with a mental disorder, psychologists later classified him as an individual who displayed ASD (Samuel & Widiger, 2007). Furthermore, Ted also displayed no signs of alcohol or drug abuse, which indicates that these vices were not a factor in his mental disposition. Because Ted suffered from an estranged relationship with his mother and then later was rejected by the woman he deeply loved, Stephanie Brooks, it is possible that Ted Bundy developed a sort of hatred for women (LaBrode, 2007; Proulx, 2007). This hatred likely affected his relationship with women and pushed him over the edge when he tried to rekindle a relationship with Stephanie. Because Ted never received any therapeutic treatments or acknowledged that he had a mental disorder, he led a life that was full of murder (LaBrode, 2007). Later he suffered the consequence of this lifestyle by facing execution by electric chair in 1989.
- Cook, B.I. (2011). Serial Killers: Evolution, Antisocial Personality Disorder and Psychological Interventions. (Unpublished master’s thesis). Adler Graduate School, Richmond, MN. Retrieved from http://alfredadler.edu/sites/default/files/Cook%20MP%202011.pdf
- Crime Feed. (2015). Ted Bundy Grew Up Thinking His Mother Was His Sister & Other Disturbing Details About His Childhood. Investigation Discovery. Retrieved from: http://crimefeed.com/2015/06/ted-bundy-grew-thinking-mother-sister-dark-revelations-killers-family/
- LaBrode, R.T. (2007). Etiology of the Psychopathic Serial Killer: An Analysis of Antisocial Personality Disorder, Psychopathy, and Serial Killer Personality and Crime Scene Characteristics. Brief Treatment and Crisis Intervention, 7(2): 151-160. doi: 10.1093/brief-treatment/mhm004
- Proulx, J. (2007). Sexual Murderers: Theories, Assessment and Treatment. Correctional Service Canada. Retrieved from http://www.csc-scc.gc.ca/research/shp2007-paraphil12- eng.shtml#tphp
- Ramsland, K. (2012). Imagining Ted Bundy. Psychology Today. Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/shadow-boxing/201208/imagining-ted-bundy
- Samuel, D.B. & Widiger, T.A. (2007). Describing Ted Bundy’s Personality and Working Towards DSM-V. Independent Practitioner, 27(1): 20-22. Retrieved from: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/eb9a/3fbe2d3bbe7fe180e7f161e35e4188cd3759.pdf