Ted Bundy brutally murdered at least 30 women and girls in the 1970s. But because he was a college graduate who was studying law, he initially escaped intense official scrutiny as he didn't fit into people's preconceived ideas of a serial killer. Bundy's education itself may have aided him in his murder spree, as his psychology degree could have helped him understand ways to isolate victims. And because he'd studied law and could represent himself in court, he had an opportunity to escape custody. Yet Bundy's education didn't keep him from paying the highest price for his crimes.
Bundy majored in psychology as an undergrad
Ted Bundy attended multiple schools as an undergraduate student, including the University of Puget Sound, Temple University and the University of Washington. Being a part of so many different campus communities gave him ample opportunity to study the habits and vulnerabilities of female coeds, who were among his most common targets.
Bundy initially wanted to major in Chinese, and then urban planning, but ultimately settled on psychology. In 1972, he graduated "with distinction" with a psychology degree from the University of Washington. One professor felt so positively about Bundy's time in his department that when writing a recommendation letter for law school, he said: "I regret Mr. Bundy's decision to pursue a career in law rather than to continue his professional training in psychology. Our loss is your gain."
When Bundy began claiming lives, his psychology studies might have provided him with insight into how to manipulate people. He sometimes put on a fake cast or used crutches, then asked women to help him, playing on their natural sympathies. He also understood that most people would obey authority figures, so he sometimes pretended to be a police officer.
Bundy studied law at the University of Puget Sound
Bundy wanted to go to a prestigious law school but wasn't accepted to any of his top choices. Instead, unhappily, in September 1973 he began taking night classes at the School of Law at the University of Puget Sound. However, Bundy was soon skipping classes because he was busy killing.
University of Washington student Lynda Ann Healy, Bundy’s first known murder victim, was killed in February 1974. Bundy committed at least seven more homicides in Washington and neighboring Oregon through the summer of 1974. These killings included two women who disappeared from Lake Sammamish State Park near Seattle in July. Witnesses later came forward to describe a man calling himself "Ted" who'd asked for help with a sailboat while wearing a sling.
Bundy resembled the composite sketch circulated by authorities and the suspect was alleged to drive a Volkswagen Beetle, matching his car. These similarities, and the shared name of "Ted," made a few people around Bundy suspicious enough to reach out to the police about him. However, Bundy was a law student who'd worked with the state's Republican party and had no adult criminal record. In the eyes of the police, he wasn't a serious suspect.
Bundy also attended the University of Utah Law School
In 1974, Bundy began studying at the University of Utah School of Law. He'd been admitted in part because of recommendation letters from his college professor and from the governor of Washington, whose re-election campaign he’d worked on. The school transfer was fortuitously timed, as it gave Bundy a reason to leave Washington and its ongoing murder investigations.
Soon women in Utah and Colorado began to disappear. While Bundy killed some of his victims quickly, he kept others alive for days to be repeatedly raped and strangled. Even after a victim had died, Bundy would sometimes engage in necrophilia or hack off her head as a temporary trophy. With some, he took the time to apply makeup and wash their hair before disposing of their corpses. His way of killing was time-consuming, so Bundy often didn't attend law classes, though he still managed to do fairly well on exams.
Bundy continued to live as a law student until August 1975, when a police officer stopped him and Bundy's vehicle was found to contain a ski mask, ice pick and handcuffs. He was linked to and charged with the 1974 kidnapping of Carol DaRonch. (DaRonch had been tricked into getting into Bundy's car when he'd pretended to be a police officer, but managed to escape.) Through the trial, he proclaimed his innocence and won over many supporters. In interviews, Bundy called DaRonch a liar and promised to continue his legal studies. But in 1976 he was convicted of kidnapping.
Bundy acted as his own lawyer
Bundy was soon extradited to Colorado to be tried for killing 23-year-old nurse Caryn Campbell. There, he decided to use his legal know-how and act as his own lawyer. Because he was representing himself, officials gave Bundy access to the law library. But when sent to the library during a pretrial hearing in June 1977, he managed to jump from an open window and escape.
Though Bundy was recaptured after eight days, the people guarding him didn't learn from the experience. Bundy escaped again on December 30, 1977. This time he made it to Florida, where he took the lives of two college students and one 12-year-old, as well as severely injuring three other women, before being arrested once more.
When put on trial in Florida, Bundy again defended himself. (A lawyer advising him felt it was because Bundy couldn't relinquish control or admit guilt.) And though Bundy managed to marry his girlfriend when she came to testify, thanks to a legal loophole, the rest of his case didn't go as he'd hoped. He was found guilty of three murders (in two separate trials) and sentenced to death.
Bundy was reportedly surprised by the outcomes of his Florida trials. Despite his education, he was neither smart enough, nor a good enough lawyer, to accurately assess the strengths of the prosecution's case and his likelihood of conviction. He'd never finished law school, and even before dropping out had been too busy committing multiple murders to hit the books.
Bundy had turned down a plea deal with Florida prosecutors that would have resulted in a life sentence instead of capital punishment. Though appeals kept his execution from being carried out for years, and Bundy tried to trade information about the murders he'd committed in order to delay the sentence, his time eventually ran out. On January 24, 1989, he was put to death by electric chair.
In 1979, the judge who'd handed Bundy a death sentence made the comment, "It's a tragedy for this court to see such a total waste, I think, of humanity that I have experienced in this court. You're a bright young man. You would have made a good lawyer and I would have loved to have you practice in front of me, but you went another way, partner."
Of course, Bundy wasted much more than his own life and education. By killing so many women and girls, he deprived the world of the contributions each one of them could have made, if they'd been allowed to live.