Lifestyle

Who Was Ted Bundy? What You Need to Know Before Watching Zac Efron Play Him

His crimes were truly horrifying.

By Megan Friedman

Zac Efron recently shared a photo from his latest film, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile. Efron is playing Ted Bundy, who was one of the most infamous serial killers in American history. "Meet Ted," Efron wrote, and shared a creepy behind-the-scenes angle on what seems to be a mugshot.

The movie tells Bundy's story from the perspective of a longtime girlfriend, Elizabeth Kloepfer (played by Lily Collins), who was in denial for many years about his gruesome murders. And his story is beyond chilling. "We may never know the total extent of his devastation," former FBI director William S. Sessions said in a 1992 review.

Bundy, then named Theodore Robert Cowell, was born to a 22-year-old unmarried mother, Eleanor Louise Cowell. She gave birth to him at a home for unwed mothers, and he was initially raised as the adopted son of his grandparents; he believed his mother was his sister, and though he eventually learned the truth about his mother, he never knew the identity of his father. In 1951, Eleanor married Johnnie Bundy, who formally adopted Ted.

There were signs Bundy had a dark side at an early age; according to Biography, he was interested in knives as a kid, and as a teenager he would look into strangers' windows and stole whatever he wanted. He was shy and became the target of bullies, according to Britannica. He studied psychology at the University of Washington and graduated in 1972, and moved to Utah to attend law school.

In 1971, Bundy volunteered for a suicide hotline alongside future crime writer Ann Rule. "Ted Bundy took lives, he also saved lives," Rule would later write, according to The New Yorker. Rule would later write about Bundy's killings and her personal connection to the perpetrator.

The number of people Bundy murdered is a mystery; some say the number is around 30, and others say the number could be in the hundreds. Many of his victims resembled a girlfriend he had in college who broke up with him: students who had long, dark hair.

It's unclear exactly when Bundy started killing people, the FBI's website notes. According to Biography, he would tell his victims he was injured and asked for help, luring them to his car. He would apparently follow a very specific plan before ever approaching a victim, so he knew how he would dispose of their bodies and get rid of evidence, People reports. Bundy had sex with most of his victims, often when they were semiconscious or unconscious, People adds. He was a voyeur who wanted to see the extent of his crimes, so he would kill his victims under a bright moon or in front of the headlights of his car. He reportedly buried 10 of his victims and beheaded a dozen of them.

But around 1974, women in Seattle and Oregon had started to go missing, and then once Bundy moved to Utah for law school, women in that state began to vanish, too. Witnesses would tell authorities they saw a Volkswagen Beetle, or a man with crutches or with his arm in a sling, according to the FBI.

From 1969 through the late 1970s, Bundy dated Liz Kloepfer, and the two were even engaged at one point. In November 1974, Kloepfer called authorities and asked them to consider Bundy as a suspect. "I keep telling myself — though I don't want to — that Ted is involved," she reportedly told Det. Jerry Thompson, according to People. "Too many things point to him." She would later recant what she said, and was never on the witness stand. Even after that, she and Bundy continued their relationship for a time.

In August 1975, police pulled Bundy's Volkswagen over and found a ski mask, rope, and handcuffs. Bundy was arrested and police began to connect the dots. The next year, he was convicted of kidnapping Carol DaRonch, who had escaped, and that was just the beginning of his convictions.

Bundy escaped police custody twice. In June 1977, he was attending a hearing after he was charged with killing a nursing student in Aspen, Colorado. He was left alone at one point, the FBI notes, and he escaped through a second-story window. FBI agents offered a $100,000 reward for his capture, and he was brought back behind bars within a few days.

But the most infamous escape came next. On New Year's Eve in 1977, he made a hole in the ceiling of his cell, having lost 30 pounds to fit through it, and snuck out through the jailer's office. Despite a nationwide manhunt, he got to Tallahassee, Florida, where he broke into the Chi Omega sorority house at Florida State University, killing two students and leaving a third with serious injuries. Police connected Bundy to the murders by noting the bite marks on one of the bodies.

After that, Bundy killed 12-year-old girl Kimberly Leach, who had disappeared from her junior high school in Lake City, Florida, People reports. On February 15, a Pensacola, Florida police officer pulled over a stolen Volkswagen Beetle and noticed the driver was Bundy after comparing him to the FBI's Most Wanted flyer.

Ted Bundy's Most Wanted FBI poster.
Ted Bundy's Most Wanted FBI poster.

Bundy's good looks and charisma, which helped him lure his victims, made him even more infamous, and his trial gained nationwide attention. In 1979, he acted as his own lawyer in self-defense, and his trial was the first to be fully televised, according to A&E. "You'd have made a good lawyer, and I would have loved to have you practice in front of me, but you went another way, partner," the presiding judge told Bundy after the trial. "Take care of yourself. I don't feel any animosity toward you."

During the penalty phase of his trial, Bundy married a former girlfriend, Carole Ann Boone, inside a Florida courtroom. She gave birth to a daughter in 1982 and said Bundy was the father. But eventually, in the last two years he was in prison, Boone realized Bundy was guilty and stopped visiting him, according to Biography.

His mother, Louise, refused to believe her son was guilty until he eventually confessed in an attempt to change his sentence. "Ted Bundy does not go around killing women and little children!" she told The News Tribune in 1980. "And I know this, too, that our never-ending faith in Ted – our faith that he is innocent – has never wavered. And it never will."

Bundy was convicted and given the death penalty three times. Over the next 10 years, he fought his sentence, filing many appeals to try to avoid the electric chair, the History Channel reports.

He was put to death at the Florida State Prison on January 24, 1989. He was 42 years old. His last meal, according to CBS News, was the traditional one since he didn't have specific requests. He ate a medium-rare steak, eggs over easy, hash browns, toast with butter and jelly, milk, and juice. He spoke to his mother over the phone before he died, the New York Times reported. According to Biography, crowds cheered outside the prison and set off fireworks after his execution.

SOURCE: Cosmopolitan US