I’m not especially interested in Theodore Robert Cowell Bundy’s crimes. He’s been called the poster boy for serial killers. Is there any such thing as a poster boy for that? Let’s hope not. I suppose this refers to his good looks, charm and intellect. It also refers to the fact that he was a sadistic killer of many women and a little 12-year-old girl. The latter is the one that really upsets me. I’m more interested in the psychology of Bundy. His childhood background in particular is of interest to me. Most information on his early life seems quite scant. It is repetitive and generally includes the following facts:
His paternity was undetermined. Bundy was born in 1946 at the Elizabeth Lund Home For Unwed Mothers (now the Lund Family Cente in Burlington, Vermont), in 1946 to Eleanor Louise Cowell. His paternity was attributed to an air force veteran named Lloyd Marshall. However Louise claimed his father was a sailor named Jack Worthington. In the 1940s, army men were everywhere, considering the Second World War had just ended in 1945. Years later, investigators would find no record of the name Worthington in Navy or Merchant Marine archives. Either Louise was lying or this “mysterious” man had lied to her. Some family members expressed suspicions that the father might actually have been Louise’s own violent, abusive father, Samuel Cowell. I’m inclined to believe the latter. That would explain a lot. Louise remained at the Home for 8 weeks before she returned to the Cowell house of horrors.
During the 1940s in American history when a young, single woman got pregnant, she brought great shame upon her family. For the first three years, Bundy lived in Philadelphia, with his maternal grandparents, Samuel and Eleanor Cowell. Strictly religious, they were disappointed in their 22-year-old daughter, a prim department store clerk, when she had their grandson out-of-wedlock so they raised him as their son to avoid the social stigma of illegitimate birth. Family, friends, and Bundy were told his grandparents were his parents, and Louise was his older sister. Now that’s weird. It’s not reported whether people actually believed this lie. Of course, if Samuel Cowell had raped his daughter, then he was indeed Bundy’s father.
The discovery. From a young age, Bundy sensed he lived a lie. Somehow Bundy discovered that his sister was actually his mother. His cousin showed him a copy of his birth
certificate after calling him a “bastard”. Where the cousin got his birth certificate, I can’t say. Years later, he told biographers that he himself found the birth certificate. That seems more likely. Ann Rule, famed true crime author, worked with Bundy. He expressed anger toward Louise all of his life for having lied about their relationship. His sense of identity was shattered. He felt badly betrayed. This discovery may have occurred when he was in university and his first girlfriend had just broken off their relationship, leaving him devastated. His earliest suspicions in life had been confirmed and his world came crashing down around him.
Samuel Cowell. Bundy told Rule that he “identified with”, “respected”, and “clung to” his grandfather, not a good admission. Samuel Cowell was a tyrannical bully. He hated blacks, Italians, Catholics, and Jews. Cowell also beat his wife and the family dog. He threw Louise’s younger sister Julia down a flight of stairs for over sleeping. I’m certain he did other terrible things to his daughters. Only the Lord knows what he must have done to his grandson. Cowell may have been mentally ill, as he spoke aloud to unseen people. On at least one occasion he flew into a violent rage when someone questioned Bundy’s paternity.I think I can guess the reason for that. One of the many dysfunctional behaviours in this family was a deep shame over Louise’s unwed motherhood, yet Louise’s own incestuous father may have been Bundy’s father, technically making Cowell his son’s grandfather. It’s no surprise that Bundy was confused about his identity from early childhood. The Cowell family worked hard at appearing “normal” to other people. Later in life, Louise talked about her Christian upbringing, yet she never alluded to the incest and violence she suffered at Cowell’s hands.
Eleanor Cowell. Bundy described his grandmother as a timid and obedient woman who periodically underwent ECT for depression. She became agoraphobic toward the end of her life. I’m surprised she wasn’t frightened of staying in the house with her husband. Clearly Eleanor was an inefficient mother and grandmother. She didn’t attempt to leave the role of abused wife. She ignored the incestuous relationships her husband had with her daughters.
Early signs of pathology. Bundy displayed disturbing behavior, even at the early age of three. Julia recalled waking up one day to find herself surrounded by knives. Bundy stood by the bed, smiling at his frightened aunt. Bundy roamed his neighborhood as an adolescent, picking through trash cans, looking for pictures of naked women. He read detective magazines, crime novels, and true crime stories of sexual violence. He especially liked pictures of dead or maimed female bodies. Sometimes he doodled pictures of raped and dead women in his schoolbooks. Bundy also tortured animals, an undisputed sign of a psychopath. Bundy consumed alcohol and “canvassed the community” at night, looking for windows with open drapes so he could watch women undress, or “whatever [else] could be seen.”
Bundy told biographers that he “chose to be alone” as an adolescent because he was awkward at interpersonal relationships. Actually Bundy was uncomfortable around his stepfather after his mother married and preferred to be alone at home. He also had to babysit his younger siblings on many occasions. Bundy claimed he didn’t have friendships. “I didn’t know what made people want to be friends,” he said. “I didn’t know what underlay social interactions.” Tellingly, Bundy knew no personal need to bond with other people. He lacked the empathy and sincerity needed to build friendships. High school classmates claimed Bundy was”well-known and well liked”. They remember a popular, pleasant, if somewhat shy, boy. Bundy didn’t have girlfriends however and didn’t ask girls to go out on dates with him. He was too awkward to risk rejection, something that might have filled him with rage even at that early age. Bundy insisted he was terribly shy, filled with self-doubt and was often teased by bullies in his junior high school. Clearly he didn’t remember his high school popularity. It was his unhappiness in his middle school years that resonated in his memory.
A budding psychopath. By high school, Bundy was arrested at least twice on suspicion of burglary and auto theft. Many people close to him suspected him of petty thievery. It’s quite likely this was true, considering his two arrests. Stealing without any sense of guilt is a common trait in a psychopath. He gets a thrill from the excitement and danger that stealing offers. Bundy’s dishonesty evolved from stealing small things at work to burglarizing homes for televisions and other items of value. There is no evidence as to whether Louise or Johnnie attempted to rein in Bundy’s behaviour. Probably they didn’t know how to discipline their increasingly wayward son and chose to ignore his troubled behaviour. Bundy’s behaviour has been analyzed by several forensic psychiatrists and one was of the opinion that Bundy was “not like other children, he looked and acted like them, but he was haunted by something else: a fear, a doubt — sometimes only a vague uneasiness — that inhabited his mind with the subtlety of a cat. He felt it for years, but he didn’t recognize it for what it was until much later.”
Johnny Culpepper Bundy. In 1950 Louise changed her surname from Cowell to Nelson. Extended family members told her to leave the Cowell home with Bundy. She left for Philadelphia and lived with her cousins Alan and Jane Scott in Tacoma, Washington. In 1951 Louise married Johnny Culpepper Bundy, a hospital cook. Johnny Bundy formally adopted Ted. Johnny and Louise conceived four children of their own. Ted remained distant from his father. He complained that his stepfather “wasn’t very bright“, and “didn’t make much money.” Bundy was nasty and surly toward Johnny Bundy. His contempt for his stepfather and unhappiness about his paternity contributed to other psychological problems. Why it was that Bundy disdained the kindly Johnny and claimed respect for the violent Cowell is a mystery. Bundy’s name by then had changed from Cowell to Nelson to Bundy. His head must have been spinning. He was a confused and angry little boy.
Louise Bundy For her part Louise Bundy believed in Bundy’s innocence until the night before his execution when he finally told her the truth. ‘Ted Bundy does not go around killing women and little children!’ she told the Tribune in 1980 after Bundy was convicted. ‘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.’ She stopped defending her son after he made several of death-row confessions. During Bundy’s trial for several rape-murders, Louise stated “my Christian upbringing tells me that to take another’s life under any circumstances is wrong. And I don’t believe the state of Florida is above the beloved God.” Her pitiful response to Bundy was “You’ll always be my precious son.’
In 1999 Bundy was linked to the 1961 disappearance of eight-year-old Ann Marie Burr in Tacoma. Louise barked at the News Tribune: ‘I resent the fact that everybody in Tacoma thinks just because he lived in Tacoma he did that one, too, way back when he was 14. I’m sure he didn’t.’ What a bizarre conversation to have with the press about one’s son. I doubt Louise was “sure” about anything at all to do with Bundy. Quite like the manner in which he’d discovered the identity of his real mother, Bundy shocked and devastated Louise with the truth about his crimes. He also waited until the last moment of his life to tell her. The sins of the Cowell family had been visited upon her son and returned full circle.