Ted Bundy murdered more than 30 women before authorities locked him up for good, and his grisly campaign has served as entertainment to the rest of us ever since. A new Bundy-related movie or TV show debuts almost every year—Zac Efron is slated to star in the next one—because public appetite remains high even four decades later.
Bundy is gone, put to death in the electric chair in 1989, but dozens of people remain living in his shadow. There are survivors—cops, victims, lovers, and family members who are left behind to wonder how they missed a serial murderer sitting in their midst. I wonder what these people think when a fresh Bundy movie comes along, whether they turn on the TV to see who is playing them in this seemingly never-ending story.
No Bundy retelling is complete without Carol DaRonch, the woman who was the beginning of the end for Bundy. Carol met Bundy in a Utah mall parking lot in 1974 where he posed as a policeman and told 18-year-old Carol she had to come with him because someone had broken into her car. When Carol noticed he wasn’t driving her toward the police station, she put up a fight. In their struggle, Bundy accidentally placed both handcuffs on one of her wrists, so Carol was able to escape to safety. She would later testify against Bundy and, as a living victim, help law enforcement connect the dots between her kidnapping and all the other missing young women.
It’s been decades, but Bundy hasn’t disappeared for Carol. She still gets 10-15 messages per day from people asking her about the case and claiming to be fellow survivors. While Bundy was prolific, these stories can’t possibly all be true. Rather, they illustrate how his tale has become so mythic that people would imagine themselves as part of it. Recently, someone came forward claiming to be Carol’s son and aiming to capitalize on her Bundy connection, but Carol exposed the lie. Maybe she could choose to stop talking about Bundy, but it’s clear the public would continue to tell her story, or even make one up, with her or without her.
Robert (Bob) Keppel had been a homicide detective for just one week when he got handed “The Ted Case.” At that point, the cops had multiple reports of missing young women but no bodies. The stress of the case would turn Bob’s hair gray at a young age and change the direction of his life forever. Bob became a specialist in serial murderers. He eventually conducted multiple interviews with Bundy—even getting him to confess to a few crimes from death row—and he rolled that knowledge into his later hunt for another infamous serial offender, The Green River Killer (later identified as Gary Ridgeway).
As Bundy became famous, so did Bob Keppel. If he was the serial killer expert, then a hungry public wanted answers. Bob appeared in interviews, gave lectures, and wrote multiple books on serial murder. His exchanges with Thomas Harris became the basis for the character of Will Graham and some of the personality of Hannibal Lecter. His book, The Riverman: Ted Bundy and I Hunt for the Green River Killer, was made into a TV movie in 2004.
Bundy stories often include at least some of the women in his orbit. His mother, Louise, was first introduced to Bundy as his older sister because she was a teenager when she gave birth to him. Unlike most serial murderers, Bundy didn’t have a documented history of childhood abuse. Louise rightfully would have considered him normal. Imagine producing a child who would murder 30 people and injure many more. What did Louise think whenever she saw the latest picture of her son in the supermarket magazines? How could the rest of her life have been about anything but Ted and what he did?
Bundy’s fiancée, Elizabeth Kloepfer, reported him to authorities three times when she heard that police were seeking a man named Ted who drove a VW bug. Yet she did not break up with him, even after he was arrested. At the end, public outcry against Elizabeth sent her back into hiding. The public wanted to know why she hadn’t done more to stop him. If she still follows Bundy stories at all—and many Bundy survivors have said they do—she gets to relive her mistakes year over year.
Finally, there is Ted Bundy’s daughter, conceived with wife Carole Ann Boone when Bundy was imprisoned on death row. She would be 35 now. Her mother took her to visit Ted up until shortly before his execution when physical contact was no longer permitted. The child was reportedly bereft at the barriers between her and her dad. Carole Ann moved away with the girl, dropping the name Bundy and disappearing into history … at least as much as the long shadow of the Bundy story will ever let her.
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Joanna Schaffhausen is a scientific editor who spends her days immersed in research on potential new therapies for cancer, addiction, and neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. Previously, she worked as an editorial producer for ABC News, where she advised and wrote for programs such as World News Tonight, Good Morning America and 20/20. She lives in the Boston area with her husband and daughter. The Vanishing Season is her first novel.