Ted Bundy was an American serial killer who confessed to 30 homicides committed across 7 states in America between 1974 and 1978. Bundy kidnapped, raped and murdered his victims, targeting young women and girls. While evidence was found for some of these cases, the true number of Bundy’s victims remains unknown.
The recent 2019 movie “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile” starring Zac Efron and Lily Collins brought Ted Bundy’s case back into the media limelight. This portrayal of Ted Bundy’s life captured the unusual and eerie nature of Bundy’s charming personality, focusing on him and his life rather than the brutal crimes he committed.
While the new film has brought more media attention to Bundy and his case in the present day, it’s interesting to look at newspaper articles about Ted Bundy from the time. We’re in possession of some rare Ted Bundy newspaper articles from the 1970s, and these help us see and understand how ordinary citizens learnt about the mass killer as his case was unfolding.
Newspaper articles from the time often exposed a sense of non-belief in regard to Bundy’s case. In earlier reports just after his conviction, journalists wrote about Bundy in a questioning manner. Attempting to separate the idea of Americanism from mass murder, the media often suggested that Bundy could only be one person: an All-American, respectable member of society, or a brutally wicked mass killer…
“Love Bite Serial Killer”
This New York Post from 25 July 1979 opens with a headline on the front page, “Love-Bite Killer May Take Grisly Secret To Grave” makes a reference to the tactics Bundy used to lure in his victims.
A conventionally attractive and charming man, Bundy was able to use his looks and personality to attract young girls. Even the newspaper article features a relatively nice photograph of him, and not a typical police mugshot that’s often associated with reports on criminals.
He was a man that most didn’t believe was capable of committing mass murder, due to his seemingly ‘normal’ personality and appearance. While Bundy admitted to 30 murders before his death, the actual number of girls he killed has not been confirmed.
He went against the stereotype that there was something obviously ‘criminal’ about a person to make them commit such crimes. Bundy didn’t have a criminal record, he had a college degree and was a friendly man. He was far from appearing like the mass murderers that came before him. The idea that he “may take (his) grisly secret to grave” may be referring to the idea that Bundy might have been likely to get away with his crimes due to his character.
The newspaper article states: “Was he a cold-blooded sex maniac whose trail of victims extended from Washington State to Florida – a modern-day Jack the Ripper who murdered more people than anyone in American history?” showing the journalist’s attempt to work out who Ted Bundy really was. The comparison to Jack the Ripper is interesting; in a similar way to Jack the Ripper, Bundy committed several crimes within a short space of time in different locations.
The article then reads: “Or was he an All-American, public-spirited student – a victim of police who used him to “solve” sex crimes when no other suspect was handy?” This represents the doubt people felt about whether Bundy was actually responsible for these crimes. The quote implies concern that he may have been framed by the police, questioning whether a man of his spirit and character could be capable of committing these horrific sex crimes.
His All-American and well-spirited personality gave the impression that he might be a victim, being easily blamed for something that he might not have done. Both of these quotes suggest the media didn’t believe he was capable of being both characters.
The article accentuates Bundy’s previous enrolment in law school, aiming to show his capabilities in society and make awareness of his potential. This paints a horrific killer in a positive manner, making the newspaper reports on Bundy extremely unusual.
Announcing Bundy as a suspect, the New York Post article writes “Law enforcement officials from several states claim Bundy – who dresses in ivy league clothes, flashes a warm smile and never forgets his mother on Mother’s Day – is responsible for a trail of savage sex murders across the country.”
This makes it seem like the New York Post simply didn’t believe the claims about Bundy being a serial killer, by making reference to his positive characteristics. Here, we can see again that Bundy went against the norms of the typical American killer. It was presented like having a warm smile and caring for your mother on Mother’s Day were characteristics making you exempt from being a potential mass murderer.
Articles about Ted Bundy also make reference to the strange decision of the man to act as his own lawyer at one point in his trial. The reports states “Then Bundy, who acted as his own lawyer during part of the trial, calmly picked up a stack of legal papers and walked from the courtroom – throwing the crowd of spectators a wink and a smile.”
This unsettling description of Bundy in the courtroom adds to the unusual behaviour he had exerted throughout his case. The disconcerting wink and smile hid so many secrets, namely the victims he killed that evidence couldn’t support.
Appearing calm and confident, Bundy was able to separate himself further from the brutal killer he really was. Even at his own trial, he maintained the charming and smooth attitude that he had carried right through his violent killing spree.
The relationship between Ted Bundy and newspapers is a fascinating one. The New York Post news report referring to Bundy as “The handsome law school dropout” presents him as a kind of celebrity and a person to be admired. The quote states that he is both attractive and intelligent – two characteristics that aren’t usually used to describe a potential killer.
Original Ted Bundy Newspaper
Historic Newspapers have this Ted Bundy newspaper (New York Post) for sale at a premium price of £59.99, from 25 July 1979, meaning you can read the report for yourself in a newspaper from the time. To order this rare edition of the New York Post, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.