Before watching Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, I was not very familiar with Ted Bundy. The Netflix docuseries came out January 24th, 2019 and immediately sparked a succession of discussion and controversy. Originally watching the trailer for the show, I couldn’t really see myself dedicating four hours of my life trying to understand the inner workings of a serial killer’s mind and the investigation of his crimes. Still, something compelled me to give it a try, and I have to say, I was automatically hooked.
Theodore Robert Bundy was born in Burlington, Vermont on November 24th, 1946, but spent the majority of his childhood in Tacoma, Washington. He graduated from the University of Washington in 1972 with a degree in psychology, and a few years later moved to Utah to attend Law School. He showed a lot of promise as a student, as a lawyer and as a person. Most knew and viewed him as your average friendly, smart, and attractive young man. Who would ever suspect someone so well-esteemed, so well-educated, and so well-spoken to be capable of such ghastly crimes; crimes that included kidnap, rape, murder, and even necrophilia? As Marlin Lee Vortman, a friend of Bundy’s, puts it, “he was the kind of guy you’d want your sister to marry”. It was this reputation that allowed Bundy to stay hidden from investigators’ suspicions for so long, and it was this persona that, horrifyingly enough, garnered the adulation from so many young women across the country.
The documentary series, directed by Joe Berlinger, is compelling in the way it presents Bundy’s story. Set up in timeline-fashion, the show journeys through Bundy’s life from beginning to end, and offers the perspectives and anecdotes of those associated with his investigation, trial, and execution. From the journalist who recorded the tapes to the woman who just barely escaped his murderous grasp, each account gives a real, never-before-heard perspective on the infamous killer. Taking the narrative one step further, the audience receives additional access to Bundy’s own explanation of his thoughts and actions through the tape recordings of journalist Stephen Michaud and Hugh Aynesworth. Being able to witness Bundy’s testimony from beyond the grave is a chilling experience that has led to both profound interest and harsh criticism. Fellow Ithaca College student Mikayla Caruso states, “the story itself is interesting, but I [don’t] like that they [give] a voice to a serial killer. He should not have been able to tell his own story and have his voice heard on that international level”. While I agree with some sentiments of her statement, I personally don’t see the tapes as an advantage for Bundy, but rather a disadvantage. After hearing him talk about his motives and viewpoints, it’s obvious how utterly heinous and disturbed he was.
After finally admitting to killing over 30 people between 1974 and 1978, Bundy was ultimately executed in 1989. Theodore Bundy was a monster, and I believe Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes does that truth justice in a way that is educational, harrowing, entertaining, and upfront. I understand the hesitation around it, but for anyone interested in psychology or law, I highly recommend giving some of your time to this series.