The murderer's former girlfriend and her daughter tell Laura Pullman of the devastating impact he had on their lives.
Elizabeth Kendall's relationship with Theodore "Ted" Bundy lasted six years — during which time he raped, tortured and killed at least 30 women across America. The true number of his victims is feared to be far higher. Once describing himself as "the most cold-hearted son of a bitch you'll ever meet", he practised necrophilia and kept some of the women's skulls as trophies. Until his death in the electric chair in 1989 aged 42, he wrote to Kendall professing his love.
More than three decades after his execution, the fascination surrounding Bundy has not faded. His 1979 murder trial was the first to be televised nationally in the US, and he is deeply embedded in America's cultural history thanks to myriad books, films and television series.
In the latest such offering — an Amazon documentary called Ted Bundy: Falling for a Killer — Kendall and her only daughter, Molly, explain how he charmed his way into their lives. It's a remarkable coup by the film-makers: after Kendall released her 1981 memoir, The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy, she hid from the spotlight and, until now, Molly has never spoken publicly about how Bundy helped raise her from when she was three years old.
In October 1969, Kendall — which is a pseudonym — was 24 and fresh to Seattle from Utah, where she'd been brought up in a Mormon family. She met Bundy, a "tall, sandy-haired" stranger, at a bar and recalls being naive, shy and insecure that she was a divorced mum. Drinking made her feel "prettier, smarter, more fun".
Conversely, Bundy, then 23, was confident and polished. "He was very handsome, very funny, very smart and seemed to fit into our lives effortlessly," Kendall says, sitting alongside Molly in a hotel in Seattle, Washington. "He was an answer to a prayer. I was smitten right from the get-go."
Molly remembers how Bundy once read her favourite book to her, purposefully making mistakes so she'd laugh. "I thought he was delightful."
The photos from that time seemingly capture a happy family: the trio dolled up to visit relatives, dressed down for camping, skiing and fishing trips. They show Bundy as a doting father figure: teaching Molly to ride a bike, helping her bake cookies and sprinkling her with a hose on a hot day. "We played all kinds of games and I felt I was getting his undivided attention, which was a big deal for me," she says. (Her biological father remained in her life too.)
The photos, of course, tell only one story. The Phantom Prince has recently been republished with a new chapter by Molly, now 53, where she details how Bundy once crept into her bunk bed, naked, and ejaculated. He'd also carry her in a "crotch hold", slipping his fingers inside her underwear. "I kept Ted's weird behaviour to myself," she writes.
How does she look back at those images of her childhood? "You just wonder, what were you really thinking? What were you really feeling? Were you killing people before we took this picture? It feels like a pile of ashes to look on those happy memories." Similarly, her mother tries not to let herself think of the good times they shared: "It happens, and I just have to shut it down because it was not real." The five-part series, by the female director Trish Wood, is focused not on Bundy but on his victims. His killing spree began in the early 1970s, coinciding with the nascent Women's Liberation Movement. "Women were starting to think they could do anything and then were walloped with a sense of helplessness," says one activist in the documentary, recalling the terror that gripped Seattle's female population as students started disappearing. Bundy's first known victim was Karen Sparks, a political science undergraduate, who was attacked in January 1974 — and survived. In the film, she speaks about it for the first time: "He came into my home, took a bed frame off my bed and smashed my skull … smashed it into my vagina and into my bladder." Left for dead, Sparks, then aged 18, lay undiscovered for about 20 hours.
Ted Bundy's girlfriend speaks out in chilling documentary
Speaking calmly, she details how she suffered permanent brain damage, hearing and vision loss, and has constant ringing in her ears. She has never discussed the attack with her children: to them, she's "Mom", and that's how she likes it.
We learn about other victims, such as Lynda Ann Healy and Georgann Hawkins, who were kidnapped and killed in 1974. Their relatives and old university roommates tearfully recount what these women, on the cusp of adulthood, were like and what they dreamt of achieving. It's painful and powerful viewing. How did Kendall, 74, find watching it? "It was healing for me to see how much damage he did in the world and how he touched so many people, not just me, not just my daughter, and just what we were really up against," she replies quietly.
The series comes after last year's film, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, which was based on The Phantom Prince and starred Zac Efron and Lily Collins. Molly is grateful that the movie, which was accused of glamorising Bundy, showed her mother in a sympathetic light. "I spent my entire life trying to explain how this all transpired: how we didn't know, how Ted Bundy was not only normal but really great," she says forcefully. "He showed up in our lives like a full person. He was there all the time making us feel we were seeing the entire picture."
Kendall, who thinks of herself as both a survivor and a victim of Bundy, has kept the love letters he sent her while he was locked up. In one, he wrote: "I shall love you forever and forever in my dreams. I shall love you with every long-haired beauty I see. I shall love you with every clear blue sky. I will love you till my last breath." Kendall reads that excerpt in the documentary. "That one still gets me," she confesses, eyes filling with tears. It seems she still wrestles with the spell Bundy cast on her more than half a century ago.
Why hold onto the pictures and letters? "I kept them because I couldn't believe this was my life. It's so crazy to look back and think that I loved Ted Bundy." The photos, adds Molly, are proof of how he presented himself: "If you doubt the experience you had, you have credible evidence that this is what was shown to you."
There were early warning signs that Bundy was more complicated than the sophisticated, aspiring lawyer that he projected to the wider world.
Though Kendall was immediately besotted with him, at times he caused her tremendous pain: in 1970, the couple got engaged, but Bundy tore up their marriage licence in a rage. Two years on, Kendall had an abortion — she couldn't afford to have another child as well as work to send Bundy through law school.
He lied and frequently stole things. Once, when Kendall confronted him about his thieving, he exploded: "If you ever tell anyone about this, I'll break your f****** neck!" He confided his fury at discovering, as a teenager, that he was illegitimate and that the man who had raised him wasn't his biological father.
Later, when his murderous spree had started, he'd disappear for hours at a time. "If I pressed him, he'd get mad at me for trying to monitor his freedom and tell me I'm insatiable," she says. Molly adds: "There was a lot of gaslighting going on — a lot of making us feel crazy for questioning him in any regard."
Bundy slipped between his two lives with ease. On May 31, 1974, he took Kendall, her parents and Molly out for dinner in Seattle, but quickly left after dropping them home. The following day, he turned up late for Molly's baptism. Kendall later learnt that a young woman named Brenda Ball had disappeared from a nearby town in the early hours of June 1. The 22-year-old's skull was subsequently found on a mountain outside the city.
On July 14 the same year, he killed Janice Ott, 23, and Denise Naslund, 19, after abducting them from Lake Sammamish State Park. The same day he took Kendall out for hamburgers. Witnesses to the abductions of Ott and Naslund described a man with his arm in a cast who called himself Ted. When a sketch of the suspect resembling Bundy came out, Kendall called the police to report her suspicions. As the "coincidences" mounted and her fear grew, she phoned the police again. But she was told her boyfriend didn't fit the right profile. He'd already been ruled out, she was told. Kendall reminisces about the time she and Bundy went rafting and he forcefully shoved her into the freezing water. He stared at her with cold, dark eyes as she struggled to haul herself back on board. "I think if I'd drowned that day, he'd have thought 'Chop, chop, chop — get rid of her'," she says.
In September 1974, Bundy left Kendall in Seattle to study in Salt Lake City, Utah. She was heartbroken he had not invited her along, but their strained relationship continued. When women started going missing in Utah, she rang detectives again.
She rootled through his belongings and scoured the news for evidence. She was terrified he would find out she had gone to the police, then murder her and her family. Mad with confusion, she confessed her fears to her father, a doctor, who refused to get involved, warning her Bundy's career would be ruined if she was wrong. By this point, Kendall was routinely drinking herself to sleep.
She doesn't now blame anyone for not listening to her sooner. "When I went to the police, I was saying things like 'I know I'm wrong'. I'm sure it was frustrating to them because I wasn't saying, 'He's your guy.' " Molly interrupts, "Of course you waffle, you love this person, but you're bringing them [the police] the facts, and I think it's their job to look at the facts."
In August 1975 in Utah, Bundy was finally arrested for the first time after trying to flee when he was pulled over by a police officer in a residential area in the small hours. Ski masks, gloves, rope, a crowbar and handcuffs were among the items found in his car. A detective recalled that a similar suspect had months earlier persuaded 18-year-old Carol DaRonch into his car before attacking her with a crowbar. Miraculously, she had escaped. The police joined the dots, put Bundy under surveillance and eventually charged him with attempted kidnapping.
By now he was also the main suspect in the string of disappearances of young women. Some of the victims hadn't been found — and never would be — while the remains of others had been gradually discovered. America was agog: could this suavely dressed, smooth-talking law student be a serial killer?
But Kendall, despite her earlier suspicions, had a change of heart when Bundy was free on bail before his kidnapping trial. She was convinced she had wrongly accused him. When Bundy turned up at Kendall's door, she welcomed him back and their romance fired up again. "I was so co-dependent at the time that I'd gaslight myself, it wasn't necessarily him telling me I'm crazy, it's like me thinking I'm crazy and I need to change," she says.
When she wasn't at work at Washington University, they spent their days making love, playing cards and reading aloud the letters he'd sent her from behind bars. The authorities in Seattle were terrified of letting Bundy out of their sight: police officers were stationed outside Kendall's home, helicopters occasionally hovered overhead and car chases with cops had become strangely standard.
"I knew he needed me as a sort of cover, to counteract the image of 'freak' he had been given by the press, but I was willing to play whatever game it was if I could stay by his side," Kendall wrote in her book. It's difficult to square those words with the warm-natured woman opposite me.
Today, how does Kendall reflect on bringing Bundy back into her home? "People always want to know, how can she have him back in her life when she had these doubts. [At that time] I never really was convinced that he was guilty of these things," she says, before raising the spectre of how differently events might have panned out if she had rejected him that winter. "He could have gone into a rage and who knows …" she trails off.
Bundy was found guilty in the DaRonch case and imprisoned. But in December 1977, while facing murder charges, he escaped from his Colorado jail after losing weight and squeezing through ducting in the ceiling of his cell. He went to Florida, where he killed at least three people, including 12-year-old Kimberly Leach. After he was recaptured, Bundy called Kendall and confessed he had long battled a "force building in me". "We just happened to be going together when it got under way," he told her. He admitted he had once tried to kill her by blocking her fireplace at night — she had woken up as the smoke thickened. "I just didn't believe it was all true until he told me himself," Kendall says.
For years, Molly was particularly haunted by the murder of Kimberly, who was the same age as her. She has only recently been able to stop the girl's brutal death playing out in her head. "I've spent so much grief and tears on it over the course of my life, and if all that could have brought her back, it would have. But it can't, so I needed to stop hurting myself."The mother and daughter reject any suggestion that they suffer from survivors' guilt. "People assume I have survivors' guilt, which I don't relate to at all," Molly says firmly. "I feel terrible that those women are dead, but I don't feel guilty to be alive because my death couldn't have kept them from being killed." Kendall struggles with "guilt about loving Ted, about what he did, even though I didn't have a part in that".
Gentle towards each other, the women clearly have a strong relationship. "There was a time where we weren't as close because we were processing things completely differently," Molly admits. "I started on this very bitter road of hatred when I realised who he was, and she had a hard time to get out of the love memories."
After Bundy was incarcerated, Kendall got married, but it quickly collapsed. She had other relationships; but as she writes in her book's new afterword, "with my trust and intimacy issues, it wasn't much fun".
What are Kendall's feelings towards Bundy now? "I don't feel like I've forgiven him or not forgiven him, I just don't want him to be in my head." Molly's answer is more resolute: "I can sum it up in two words: evil bastard." Does she long for her mother to reach a similarly clear-cut place? "I'm sorry that it's so hard for her, but that's her own journey she has to work on."
Both women have had addiction problems. Kendall quit drinking in the late 1970s and Molly struggled with alcoholism and drugs for years. "I felt like a rabbit in its hole waiting to die," she says in the documentary. Sober for 13 years, a catalyst in moving forward with her life was exchanging letters with Vivian Winters, the mother of Susan Rancourt, who was 18 when Bundy killed her. Molly wrote that she'd grieved for Rancourt, and all of Bundy's victims, her whole life. "She replied that she hoped my mother and I had been able to heal and that she had worked on her own healing and trying to not let him take the rest of her life from her. That was so inspirational."
Aware that the Bundy case attracts "weird stalkerish types", the pair are cautious about revealing too much about their current lives. They're also anxious about how the families of his victims will react to the series. "I know how much it hurts my heart when this comes into the news cycle again. So because now we've participated in this, is that just adding to their hurt?" Kendall worries.
They were encouraged to speak out after witnessing victims of sexual violence come forward as part of the #MeToo movement. "There's the saying, 'You're only as sick as your secrets,' " Kendall says. "I just felt there's no reason I should be holding this close." Molly adds: "One of the movement's great messages is that when somebody does something to you, it's not your shame, you don't have to keep holding it."
Nevertheless, delving so deeply into the past has been painful. "I've gone backwards in trying to figure out how this could have all happened, it's a kind of obsessive thinking that, I think, comes from PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder]," Kendall says. Weekly therapy, her spirituality and hiking all help: "I love to be out in nature, that's where I feel close to my higher power."
For years, Molly was terrified of Lake Sammamish State Park. Now she has reclaimed it as a place of peace and beauty. She walks there for hours: "My dogs made me go out in the world when I didn't want to."
In her book, Kendall details having hideous nightmares involving Molly, Bundy and police detectives. Do they still occur? "I never believed in the death penalty, but after he was no longer on the planet the nightmares just wound down."
Ted Bundy: Falling for a Killer is on Amazon Prime
Written by: Laura Pullman
© The Times of London