Serial killer, kidnapper, rapist, and necrophile Ted Bundy killed many young women and girls during the 1970s. Before he was executed, after spending a decade of denying his crimes, he confessed to 30 homicides which he committed between 1974 and 1978. His actual victim count remains unknown.
So what happened to this charismatic, handsome young man that turned him into one of the most feared serial killers of all time? Here we look back at the early years of Ted Bundy…
Bundy: The Early Years
Founded in 1890 as a home for unmarried pregnant women, Lund Family Center in Burlington, Vermont is still a vital resource for struggling families and societies most vulnerable. During those years, Lund Home was a necessary shelter for young women who needed to give birth quietly without losing their social standing.
That is the environment into which Theodore Robert Cowell was born on November 24, 1946. His mother, Louise, was just a teenager when he was born and his father is unknown to this day. However, theories of his paternity range from a sailor on leave to his own grandfather.
Ted spent the first three months of his life alone in the maternity home, over four-hundred miles from his mother. After giving birth, his mother returned to her family home in Philadelphia and Bundy was raised by nurses and other caregivers at the Lund Home. It has been suggested by members of his family, that his mother never intended to go back for him, leaving the child to be put up for adoption. However, it was insisted she bring him back to her family’s home.
Friends and neighbors alike agreed that he was a handsome child with dark blue eyes and curly brown hair. Ted’s grandparents took on the outward role of father and mother in the boy’s life- although almost everyone knew he was their eldest daughter’s son.
Still living in her parents’ home after high school, Louise took on the role of his sister. She did her best to help care for Ted; taking him to the local Methodist church and made sure he was in bed on time. She tried to bond with him, yet there was always a distance between them. Instead, Ted clung to his grandfather and revered him, despite the older man’s disturbing behavior towards the rest of his family.
A terrifying man with an abusive personality, Sam Cowell was feared both within his home and throughout his Philadelphia neighborhood. Stories were told of the Cowell head of household swinging stray cats by their tails, kicking neighborhood dogs, and brutally tormenting his family. His youngest daughter of three, Julia, referred to him as a “tyrant.” He was often found shouting at no one in particular, leading some people to wonder if he was mentally ill.
Still, little Ted was said to have worshiped his grandfather. It was during these early years that his Aunt Julia, his mother’s sister, began noticing disturbing behavior in her young nephew. She tells a story of waking up from a nap in the Cowell home to find herself surrounded by kitchen knives and three-year-old Ted smiling at her nearby.
Luckily, by the time he was four, his mother was able to move in with family in Tacoma, Washington to escape her father’s abuse. In doing so, she must have thought she was removing her child from the chaos and dysfunction of the Cowell household, but it seems the damage was already done. In his grandfather, Ted had found a role model.
Discovering His Illegitimacy
Growing up in Tacoma was disappointing to Ted. He and his mother initially lived in the home of his very successful great-uncle, Jack. Jack was a mentor to the young boy and had the kind of wealth Ted wanted his family to have. Uncle Jack was able to send his own children away to overseas boarding schools. Ted began to resent his wealthy cousins, especially after Louise met and married a middle-class worker named Johnny Bundy.
Ted’s illegitimacy became a big deal when he hit his teen years. Taunted by his cousin John Cowell about being a “bastard,” Ted was devastated to learn his mother wasn’t married when he was born. He distanced himself even more once he realized she hadn’t told him about his true parentage. His mother was his first disappointment in life and he was never able to get away from both needing her and being repelled by her.
Ted had it all; clothes, a home, and dinner every night, but what he really craved was a deep conversation and answers about his real dad.
Becoming A Predator
Growing up in the 1950’s meant appearing to be a clean-cut, modest young man. Ted wanted nothing more than to fit in, but he didn’t understand how friendships and relationships worked. His friends during high school mentioned his quick temper and inability to avoid confrontation. One of his teachers stated he had a hard time controlling his temper in class and was often seen by peers clenching his fists. He would regularly ride his bike around the neighborhood, alone.
By his pre-teen years, he was starting to exhibit disturbing behavior. Any adolescent has a lot of questions about sex, but Ted had no one he trusted to answer them. His mother was reserved and proper, not someone he could approach regarding the topic. Ted began sneaking out of the house at night, searching for pornographic magazines in his neighbors’ garbage cans.
Initially, he looked to racy photos to answer his questions about women. Later, he started peeping in the windows of women who lived nearby. From an early age, Bundy was an established voyeur. He was also acting out in other ways. Bundy would pull down a female classmate’s pants and try to feel her up when no one was looking. He attempted this with his friend’s sister and was almost beaten when his friend found out. Often, late at night, he would listen to call-in radio shows. Ted later admitted he felt like he was eavesdropping on private conversations.
By the time he reached adulthood, Ted had experienced a major uprooting in his childhood, shame from being a bastard, and a great deal of confusion about his place in the world He resented his mother for not telling him about his father and his illegitimacy. Coupled with his tendency toward outbursts and aberrant sexuality, Ted Bundy was a serial killer in the making.
He admitted to not being able to converse with women in high school, but by college, he realized that he didn’t have to know how to talk with them to get what he wanted. Violent fantasies of controlling women and forcing them to obey his desires became normal and though he was capable of relationships with them, those relationships were only a facade.
The real Ted Bundy was the stalker, the rapist, the killer. His unstable childhood and deep feelings of insecurity and narcissism only fueled his later depraved acts upon the beautiful women too unlucky to have seen danger coming their way.
Louise never truly came to terms with her eldest son’s actions. She couldn’t even call them murders, only referring to his crimes as “those terrible things.” She only realized he was truly guilty when her eldest son confessed to her on the night of his execution in January 1989. Even then, she couldn’t fully come to grips with his actions. Louise Cowell Bundy wasn’t a bad person. She didn’t abuse Ted or berate him. However, the neglect of his delicate psyche and inability to communicate with him probably helped put him on his fateful path to becoming America’s most famous serial killer.
Louise Cowell Bundy wasn’t a bad person. She didn’t abuse Ted or berate him. However, the neglect of his delicate psyche and inability to communicate with him probably helped put him on his fateful path to becoming America’s most famous serial killer.