Conversations with a killer

Audio Book released June 2019 re-issued book with new introduction from Robert Keppel Major Crimes Detective 

Tape Recordings took place in 1980

This is a long in-depth review and analysis, the audio book is quite long. It was part of a writing class assignment where you had to write 8 pages or more about a book you are currently reading. If you are interested in the book, you might like to read the first few paragraphs which are enough to summarise the books main points.


Stephen G. Michaud Stephen G. Michaud and Hugh Aynesworth

“He was clearly a narcissist, and he was also paranoid. So while he didn’t trust anybody he also really enjoyed being in the limelight, and thought it was a wonderful game that he was playing”. Investigative Journalist and author

Stephen G Michaud

Anyone who has studied psychology has been taught how to analyse disturbing research with a degree of scientific detachment, not permitting their emotions to dictate scientific findings. Despite striving to use this skill when listening to ‘conversations with a killer’ it is impossible not to be affected. The more you hear Ted Bundy talk, the more your knowledge of his character builds, the more his horrifying behaviour and absence of empathy are magnified. This inevitably heightens your awareness of the vulnerable females who crossed his path and were never seen again. Their fragility becomes even more pronounced: the injustice of their deaths is with you all the time. They may be silent here, but it’s the victims that haunt you, as the investigative journalists take Bundy on a journey from childhood to adulthood, asking the most infamous American killer deep psychological and investigative questions. In the 1970’s the term ‘serial killer’ (a person who has killed three or more people with time elapsing between killings) was not widely used. Detective Robert Keppel who worked as a young officer on one of the Bundy murder cases, admitted that US law enforcement agencies were not prepared for the kind of killer Bundy was. Policing between states was chaotic; branches did not share vital information about murder victims and missing females. Bundy took advantage of this weakness in the system by moving from state to state to commit his crimes.

“I thought if he was innocent, like he said he was, it would be a great story. It took about two weeks, however, for me to realise that Ted was as guilty as hell.” Journalist, Stephen Michaud

Theodore Robert Bundy, known as ‘Ted Bundy’ born in 1946, studied psychology at The University of Washington. He is one of the most notorious serial killers in the world. Often set apart from other serial killers; he is considered ‘the educated serial killer’ described as a ‘rising star’ in politics. He’s the serial murderer that studied law in prison and defended himself in court. Ronald E. Smith, now Professor of Psychiatry, who taught Bundy at university, once stated in a documentary, that he saw no evidence of the killer Bundy was to become, as Bundy appeared to have ‘laboriously perfected a mask he wore in social situations’ (biography, 2012). In fact, Bundy as the two authors of this book soon came to understand, a master of compartilisation: separating distinct personalities, and presenting one personality to say family and another to victims, keeping parts of his life, including images and thoughts entirely separate. Bundy spent time preserving a formidable barricade between ‘Ted Bundy the Killer’ and his portrayal of ‘Ted Bundy, educated sophisticated friendly man in society.’ Ronald E. Smith also describes Bundy as a psychology student that was ‘very verbal articulate and intelligent.’ Bundy was an accomplished social chameleon who’d perfected the formation of personality ‘disguises’ to fit complex social interactions, to present a ‘fake’ persona that he knew would be accepted by members of society. He was skilled at concealing his true self.  The formidable darkness and rage he carried with him was carefully concealed under layers of artificial masks. ‘Conversations with a killer’ is the true story of a young reporter asked to conduct the biggest story of his life, the story of Ted Bundy. Stephen Michaud asked his mentor if he would assist him. The interview would become an intellectual battle between a calculated intelligent serial killer and two journalists; an encounter where both men in an attempt to understand the mind and world of a serial killer, they would enter a chasm of darkness, so chilling, it would ultimately drive both into a sprial of depression.

Ted Bundy“Society wants to believe it can identify evil people, but it's not practical. There are no stereotypes.” Ted Bundy

Bundy worked for a brief time in the Seattle police department, giving advice on how to prevent women from rape, while there he learned that police departments in different states often did not ‘work together’ or ‘share information’ something he would use to his advantage of at a later date. He also gave his free time to a suicide hotline, he did this alongside crime author, Anne Rule, who also admitted that she did not see the killer during the time she worked alongside him. That she felt safe walking to the car park with him. He was a boyfriend to a loving female with a small child and the son of a religious mother. He was a republican and worked in Governor Dan Eva’s re-election campaign with other professionals, a position that he thrived in for a brief time. He dined in the houses of other professional republican supporters, some believed Bundy was a man that was who would excel in life, including Ralph Munro Former Secretary of State Washington, who said the ‘Ted Bundy we knew was a very nice guy; we didn’t think he was strange or different (biography, 2012). Attorney Jenson Bayles, who taught Law to Bundy, described him as smooth, smart, capable and genteel. He lived for a time in a University rooming house with a couple and was described as a 'gentle' and 'helpful' person.

Bundy was also a philanderer, a kleptomaniac (addictive thief often related to impulse control problems), prolific voyeur who stalked females through the city at night, an accomplished liar, sexual deviant called a sexual degenerate by Major Crimes Detective Robert Keppel. He was a ferocious killer of innocent vulnerable young women. He meticulously researched forensic methods in order to escape detection and confuse police forces. With his degree in psychology he understood some of the inner workings of the human mind. He used this knowledge and his intelligence to escape detection and commit some of the most horrifying acts imaginable, destroying the lives of families and young vulnerable girls over a long period of time, as he travelled in his Volkswagen beetle, from state to state, spending much of his time at University campuses where most of his victims studied. These recorded dialogues that took place in death row expose how intelligent, calculated, manipulative, self-aware and un-empathetic Bundy was. Due to continuous court appeals while being sentenced and his failure to confess the truth to his mother, he did not want to admit his guilt to the media. Bundy had also married in prison, he told his wife that he was innocent of all crimes, despite her being in the courtrooms and seeing the evidence first hand, she still believed in his innocence. This meant that it would not have been in Bundy's favour to admit guilt at this stage, even though he told newspapers and journalists that he was innocent.

He wanted to use us to escape the death penalty and he probably thought he was smarter than us. I thought of Bundy as a case of arrested development, that in many ways you were dealing with a child in a man’s body. I thought of a scenario where a baseball would come through a living room window. So you go outside, see a kid with a bat, and you’re given a pretty good case for what happened. But if you were to ask the kid, he’d deny it. Ask how he thinks it might have happened however, where you remove the confessional eye, and you’ve given him a route to start talking. Stephen G Michaud

When Bundy was arrested in caused chaos in the media, one photographer, Ross Dolan, who took some photographs of Bundy at this time, describes it like this 'people didn’t realise back then was that this as a whole, it was kind of a carnival atmosphere. It was kind of a circus that went around that surrounded this whole thing. People didn’t take him seriously because he was so charming,' said Dolan (Denver Channel, 2019). It's possibly that the media found it hard to believe this charming educated man who'd mixed in high society could actually be the killer they were looking for. They expected someone different, they expected a man that looked like the 'serial killer' they had in their imagination, and that image was not of the Ted Bundy they took photographs of.

Ted Bundy ArrestedJournalist Dan Sewel, who covered one of the Miami murder trials of Ted Bundy for the associated press,wrote aboutyoung female spectators, one describing Bundy as 'Impressive with a kind of magnetism'. This shocked many people at the time, that he had female fans during this murder trial. Sewel talked about the fact that Bundy 'left me wondering about the contrast between this personable, engaging man across from me and the ruthless killer the jury found him to be.'

The journalists, stephen Michaud and Hugh Aynesworth began these interviews thinking Bundy may be innocent, as he proclaimed, and that officials might have the wrong man. Stephen Michaud was a young journalist aged thirty-one, who’d been told that Bundy had asked for interviews from the press to prove his innocence and that Bundy would provide evidence of his innocence. It took a short time for both journalists to conclude that Bundy was guilty of all crimes; but they knew the book they were writing would contain no confessions as Bundy said he'd committed no crime, despite all scientific evidence demonstrating his guilt. At the point of giving up, frustrated by Bundy’s continual twisting of facts and caustic lies, the way Bundy appeared to be using them for a ‘celebrity type book’ the journalists ingeniously resolved to ask Bundy to provide a profile of a serial killer, a framework (model) of a serial killer in the third person. This way, both journalists could try to understand who Bundy really was, to discuss how a serial killer behaves, thinks and acts and how this man had evolved into a killer with the journey from childhood to adult, what were the mechanisms that led to his crimes? What were the triggers that drove Bundy to kill again and again? They believed that somewhere inside Bundy was the need to talk about who he was. Though, at this stage it is important to note, that Bundy, was not a man with a history of telling the truth, he was known as a prolific accomplished liar. Nevertheless, the journalists recorded up to 100 hours on tape in 1980, all were conducted on death row.

“You know more about this saga than anybody. Tell me what you think happened. What forces created this man? How did he proceed? And how did he see the world?” Stephen Michaud.

“Do you mean for me to tell you what this guy is like?” Bundy asks

Hearing their idea, Bundy’s voice changes, from a strong defensiveness and paranoia, he appears to think it over and relax at the idea of talking in the third person. Shortly, he would begin to analyse the mind of killer, theorising about the background, triggers, environment, genetics and even the effect of culture and historical timing that ‘may’ have contributed to the development of a serial murderer like himself. ‘Conversations with a killer’ is a collection of unusual psychological discussions. Both investigative journalists commented on Bundy’s ability to self-reflect on his own abhorrent behaviour, in a way that was radically different from other killers interviewed. This very self-reflection is utilized by both journalists; it enables them to ask intelligent questions, the journalists delve into Bundy’s psyche with a professionalism and strength of mind that is impressive, despite coming across constant obstructions from Bundy. Stephen admitted there was a great deal of stress and that he had to hide his disgust of Bundy and what he’d done while interviewing him.

The Interviews

'There was a cold, poisonous luster in Ted’s unguarded gaze. I had heard about it before I met him, but I was unprepared for its effect. When his “entity” retreated, a softer blue came into Ted’s eyes. His irises cleared and his pupils constricted. His expression went from sinister to mild in a moment.' Stephen Michaud (The Only Living Witness, 1999).

Bundy is composed at times, almost taking the lead role of teacher, rather than prisoner being interviewed, theorising and discussing the mind of a predatory hunter and prolific voyeur. At times he jokes; at others he moves through a spectrum of emotions from authoritative, narcissistic, manipulative, confident, depressed and angry - talking about perceived injustices, intellectualising, paranoid, and sometimes boastful and frightening. Bundy is sometimes described as a ‘showman’ who yearned for some kind of fame and he found it in the worst imaginable way conceivable: at the expense of young innocent female victims. He’s a man who likes to control his environment and the people in it, this is evident in the recordings, and also fits his behaviour in the courtroom. In court, he defended himself putting witnesses through more traumas and striding round the courtroom in his bow and tie smiling like a ‘TV personality’. He enjoyed ‘playing’ the expert, but there are times when even Bundy is affected by certain questions, especially about his inability to talk to his mother and his social problems with other classmates at University. The problem is, he doesn’t seem to show any feelings about the victims, over time this begins to affect the listener more and more as the conversations develop. Throughout the interviews, Bundy changes his behaviour depending on the type of questions the investigative journalists ask. He is cautious about his words and quick to correct both men if he feels he has been misinterpreted. He is inventive at misrepresenting facts relating to specific crimes, and tells lies with a smoothness that almost defies belief.

He avoids some questions, and is adept at moving from difficult subjects or re-framing a question and positioning it in a way that he feels more comfortable with. He is a master of evasion, something that Al Carlisle commented on when he conducted psychological testing in prison. He immediately corrects the journalists when they make the mistake of moving away from the ‘third person’ language. Bundy comes across as a man very aware of his own notoriety, conscious of the fact that by withholding crucial details he can exert power, quick to notice if anyone makes a mistake on the tape recording. It seems important that he remains in control at all times. Sometimes the journalists have to act like a friend; they create a setting that enables Bundy talk more openly. At other times, they play good cop bad cop, a method that Bundy is familiar with, thus he is not as disturbed as many would be by this technique, although he does become uncomfortable when the journalists accuse him outright of lying to them, it’s almost as if he cannot quite believe they are not accepting his denials. He plays a cat and mouse game, using avoidance techniques when positioning his arguments that you can see wear down both journalists over time. In the end, exasperated and exhausted, it would become an intellectual battle, sickened by Bundy’s narcissistic traits, outrageous denials of truth, and the way he seemed to see them as people he could use to sell a book, Bundy told them should make as much money as possible. Bundy would sometimes be 'high' on marijuana during interviews, other times he would be very articulate and exhibited a practised control and intelligence, as he theorised about 'the serial killer' and described the world that this man lived in.

During one conversation Bundy becomes angry at the way one of his court trials taking place and sounds every bit the ‘innocent man’ being maligned by officials, Bundy talks as if he truly believes he is blameless, despite all the physical evidence including blood and hair fibres and eye witness accounts that prove he committed the murders. This bizarre manipulation of the truth expressed by Bundy is challenging for the listener to process; it is disarming, as if you have entered a ‘surreal world’ one in which Bundy controlled the truth so tightly inside a room in his head, that even he at moments appears like an actor on stage, earnestly giving a great performance of his virtue to an audience, rather than a convicted man whose guilt at this stage is very clear to all those around him. Although, evidently very intelligent, these moments of what can only be termed ‘Bundy entering a world of complete unreality’ seem like some kind of dissociative process, where Bundy detaches completely from realism and throws the listener into a state of confusion. He appears to live permanently in a ‘fantasy world’ one that is detached from the crimes, far away from the unfathomable horror he inflicted on others’, this is challenging for the mind of the listener, and must have been extraordinarily infuriating and disorientating for the journalists. The one thing you realise as you listen to these recordings is Bundy is only relaxed when you 'play the game' according to his rules. He appears very much like a moody child, or an unhinged king, one that could use his power to turn on you if you don't play his games. If the journalists do not adhere to his unrealistic rule set, if they push him too much, if they refuse to accept his 'version of event's' he does not like them, they are no longer likeable, they become more disposible. Bundy has probably spent his entire life in this 'immature state' of wanting his own way and turning on anyone who would not be a puppet in his life. Stephen describes feeling like he wanted to vomit at times when he left the prision environment after spending sessions interviewing Bundy. He talks about the stress of having to restrict any negative 'spontaneous' responses, so that Bundy would not see his true feelings or be able read him.

The second clear signal we saw was Ted’s profound capacity to dissociate. He was a compartmentaliser, and a superb rationaliser. His mind was a maze of walls. This, we would learn, was a key to understanding his entire mental edifice. Stephen Michaud and Hugh Aysnworth (The only Living Witness, 1999).

The most harrowing part of ‘conversations with a killer’ is Bundy’s avoidance of the enormity of his crimes, even when he talks, limitedly, about how a killer might act, it’s as if he’s talking about something ordinary, an everyday event. Bundy’s chilling lack of feeling and remorse is evident during one of the trials for a brutal murder, when he suddenly professes his love  for his current girlfriend and asks her to marry him in prison in the middle of the courtroom. He managed to find an obscure law in the Florida legal system that allowed him to do this. It’s this utter disregard for the human lives that he took, that made people use the term ‘evil’ when describing Bundy, as if he wasn’t actually human, but some kind of atrocious evil force. Bundy is seen as ‘monstrous ’ a monster ‘apart’ from other human beings. Most people found it difficult to understand the mechanisms going on inside Bundy’s mind, which enabled him to act the way he did. It’s a callousness of extremes; Bundy assuredly switches off from the homicidal horror of his crimes and focuses on his current girlfriend and his own 'immediate selfish' needs. But it’s this accentuated coldness that enabled him kill in the first place. This is why many psychological specialists and neurologists were brought into the prison to examine and try to diagnose Bundy; to see if a diagnosis could be made that would explain this behaviour, it's also why FBI agents working the profiling division wanted to learn from him to prevent more killers like Bundy in the future.

ted Bundy in courtThis was a man who after killing, with what one detective called ‘a sharklike ferocity, went on to defend himself in a courtroom with a thoroughness and outrageous defence of innocence, that led Edward Cowart, the presiding judge at Ted Bundy’s trial, to say of Bundy, after sentencing him to death, that he would have been a good lawyer, that he would have liked to have seen him work as a lawyer, but that Bundy, unfortunately, chose another path. Cowart said he had no bad feelings towards Bundy as he sentenced him to death. Journalist Dan Sewell recalled Cowart speaking softly to Bundy with the words 'Take care of yourself.' He is also the judge that famously stated the killings by Bundy were ‘extremely wicked, shockingly evil and designed to inflict the highest amount of pain and utter indifference to human life.’ Possibly this is the most appropriate description of Bundy’s crimes ever vocalised. It's important to note that no serial killer in history has been told that he could have been a lawyer by a presiding judge.


“There is nothing in my background that would lead someone to think I was capable of murder.” Ted Bundy

On tape Bundy cites upbringing and early caregiving as one factor that could impede the development of most criminals, but stresses that it would be too one-dimensional to be the only dynamic in the formation of a serial killer. He describes a reasonably positive childhood, though makes the assertion that it was ‘not positive enough’ that any positivity was not long lasting. In most interviews, Bundy seems to re-imagine his childhood years, portraying himself as an ordinary boy, a boy that did not experience anything disturbing in his formative years. Nevertheless, evidence gathered during research and interviews by both investigative journalists demonstrates this was far from the truth.

There is clear evidence that Bundy’s grandfather described by other family members and by Bundy himself on occasions as an oppressive, aggressive and impulsively violent man who had thrown one of his daughters down the stairs for oversleeping, and was very cruel to animals. Bundy lived in his grandfather’s house as a child during the first few years of his life. His mother, Eleanor Cowell, was twenty-two years old when she gave birth in a home for unwed mothers. Perhaps to conceal the family shame and social stigma, on returning to her parents’ home with little money to support herself and a baby son, she agreed with her parents to live in what can only be described as an ‘extremely abnormal situation’. Bundy was told his mother was actually his sister and that his grandmother was his mother. It is impossible to know how long this strange pretence was acted out by the family, Bundy’s ex-girlfriend; Elizabeth Kloepfer indicated that after a time, Bundy learned who his mother was in the family home. However, it is doubtful that any child living in this type of situation could grow up unaffected in some way, though research has shown it takes more than childhood trauma itself to create a killer, and not all children abused grow up to be serial killers.

In his teenage years Bundy learned he was illegitimate when he came across his birth certificate alone, both Elizabeth Kloepfer and a childhood friend stated that it completely devastated Bundy. His childhood friend, a boy he’d played with, stated at the time that Bundy felt it affected everything including his future and he said Bundy found it diffiucult that it had been kept a secret from him. Nevertheless, in these recordings Bundy denies the illegitimacy had any impact on him. Bundy minimises these traumatic childhood events as if they were minor skirmishes, skating over them with ease, denying their existence or even re-imagining events as more stable and normal, a vision of a false childhood. His long term girlfriend who lived with him for a time Elizabeth Kloepfer described to Stephen Michaud how Bundy had discussed it and cried. Bundy oin these recordings denied he'd cried or was overly affected. You get the impression listening to the ease in which Bundy addresses these subjects, with little emotion, and the way he clearly avoids the profound affect they must have had, that he’d obviously spent time constructing a make-believe ‘view’ of his childhood in his mind. Perhaps to a level, he almost believed it himself. It’s also probable that he was protecting his mother while he was in prison, she was one of his strongest supporters at the time he was imprisoned.

When asked about his father in the recordings, Bundy says that not knowing his biological father had no effect on this personality or growth as a child to adult, nor did he believe that being unaware of his biological father’s identity have any lasting imprint on his development. This is contradicted by other reports and interviews that state he never got over his mother not telling him about his father. His mother never revealed his father’s name and Bundy spent his life reluctant to discuss anything ‘real’ with her.

Any child that does not know the identity of his biological father and has no idea he is illegitimate till his teenage years, is without a doubt, going to have serious emotional struggles and may have develop psychological problems. Especially, if he has a mother that is unable to talk to him about his birth or what happened to him, and this definitely seems to be the case with Bundy’s mother. However, it is important to note that Bundy’s mother had a very difficult upbringing herself; her family may have instilled certain behaviours on her, like not talking about anything that was difficult or traumatic. His mother did what she could to escape her parents’ home and move away from her father’s influence in order to bring up her son. But it must have been very hard for his mother to be pregnant and have no real way of escaping the family home and her father’s authoritarian rule over the house after she’d given birth. He inability to talk to Bundy though obviously caused a serious problem in both his upbringing and adulthood.

There is some evidence provided by the journalists and Bundy himself which demonstrates his mother may have been a very closed person, Bundy states she never talked about anything significant or emotional, though he said she was a good mother and he did respect her, he describes on tape how she just did not talk about ‘anything real’ and he didn't know how to approach her with anything as she seemed unable to talk about dificult problems. There are moments here when he falters in the recordings, where he struggles to describe his mother and his relationship with her.

There is also evidence to show that Bundy found it hard to form a positive relationship with his step-father who was described as not very intelligent and not a person who he could connect with or look up to. His mother had other children and all of them knew their father’s identity, this may have created a sense of ‘I’m different than them’ as a child. Bundy did, however, admire his uncle, this comes across in the recordings, people describe a younger Bundy as almost having a wish that he’d had a father like his uncle. His uncle who played the piano, was part of a social class that was very different from the one his parents lived in and his uncle was very intelligent like Bundy. Bundy admits on tape he was very envious of his cousin and the advantages that he was given in a different social class.

Bundy was described as one girl who knew him in the 'netflix version' as a child as having a speech impediment, that he was in the ‘have nots’ regarding the family’s financial setting in that period. He was also described as boy that wanted to be ‘someone’ in society or ‘someone ‘he was not’ as a child (Netflix,2019).

Social Class Differences  

Social class appears to play a significant part in Bundy’s life and in these conversations. His mother, years after high school, recounted a story to Bundy about a wealthy girl at school who won a scholarship to continue studying at university, yet she told Bundy she could not afford to study. Years later he said, she told him this story again, she hadn't forgotten it, it was a story that showed that the 'wealthy' get more chances in life and possibly she had that belief.

He said she'd been a member of groups and associations at school, but at some point had done nothing with her intelligence. He stated that he didn't know why. Bundy’s mother and step-father were often short of cash, Bundy described a strong resentment of the big houses in the neighbourhood where the affluent people lived. His mother, though a religious woman, seemed to foster resentment at the ease that the wealthy lived their lives and the opportunities they had. This may have passed onto Bundy, one can only speculate. What we can say is that Bundy from these recordings seemed to have developed a belief in his early years that society was unfair, that some were comfortable and others struggled, and that there was very little equality. This belief system may have fuelled his need to own luxury items, and prompted him to see stealing as something that wasn't actually wrong. Eventually this would become an addiciton but he certainly didn't think it was a bad thing, he seemed to think as life wasn't fair why should only the wealthy have the luxury items. Bundy took many short lived jobs while he studied, moving from one to the other, in most of these jobs he would also steal from his employer (The Only Living Witness, 1999)

There is a clear resentment towards society, life is unjust Bundy seems to say, you are born into one social class and you cannot move easily to another, if you come from a certain background you cannot achieve exactly what you’d like, that it’s always there in the background of everything, that you cannot match the opportunities those have from a higher society level. When asked by Stephen why he hadn't quite made it to the level he wanted in the social classes, Bundy becomes emotional and defensive saying that 'how could someone like him' just move into an upper level of society, it just wasn't possible in that time.

It’s also telling detail that when investigative journalists visited Bundy’s mother and informed her that they believed her son guilty of all crimes, she showed no tangible emotion. Stephen said she made a strange sound, and then described her jumping up and offering them all ice-cream.

This bizarre exchange alerted Stephen to her facility to compartlise, which reminded him of Bundy: Stephen later theorised that there could have been a genetic component that was passed down to Bundy which contributed to his cold personality, the way that he could switch off all emotion and deny events, his ability even to live two seperate lives and hide behind complex personality masks.

Eleanor was Bundy’s staunch supporter right up until her death aged eighty-eight; she denied his involvement in the crimes. It’s obvious that she loved her son very much and possibly could not face the enormity of the crimes he’d been accused of. How does one face the fact that the baby you brought into the world committed crimes like this?  Bundy is said to have confessed before he was electrocuted, but she still denied his involvement stating he was a lovely son. She did not believe in the death penality as she was a relgious woman and didn't think the courts had a right to kill her son.

“I had this overwhelming fear of rejection that stemmed, not just from her (girlfriend from a different social class) but everything.” Bundy

Social integration in groups and forming friendships at University

“How can I say it? I’m at a loss to describe it even now. Maybe it’s something that was programmed by some kind of genetic thing. It just seemed like I hit a wall at high school.' Ted Bundy (Conversations with a killer, June,2019)

Ted BundyIn these conversations Bundy describes his inability to socially integrate with others his own age after high school. He analyses why this may have occurred, saying that he struggled to understand why this was happening to him as a young man and that he found it very difficult, theorising that perhaps his upbringing and lack of social role models, or possibly some kind of genetic factor may have caused his inability to fit in with his peers.

His close friend as a child, Terry Storwick described Bundy as the young man he knew in the book 'The Only Living Witness' also written by Stephen G. Michaud and Hugh Aynesworth. 'It seemed to me that he was just tongue-tied in social situations. It didn’t have to be girls; meeting new friends, meeting new people from another school was a difficult thing for him to do. In the book, Storwick describes remembering those days and how difficult Bundy found it. That Bundy was often walking the school, with a half-aggressive, half-hopeful expression. That he was left out of events a great deal and that Bundy probably took this very hard, as Terry said he was 'very sensitive' to being ignored and treated as if he were less than by other students (The Only Living Witness, 2019).

“I didn’t know what made things tick, I didn’t know what made people want to be friends. I didn’t know what made people attractive to one another. I didn’t know what underlay social interactions (Ted Bundy, The Only Living Witness, 1999)

Storwick while being interviewed becomes very emotional and is described as finding it difficult to talk, when discussing how Bundy had saved his sister from drowning. He tells journalists about the Ted Bundy he knew and serial murderer Bundy became.

'There is no way, that the person I grew up with could have done the things they said he did. And there’s no way for me to reconcile the image of the mass murderer and the kid who came running to my back porch when the first snow fell in November, all excited to go skiing. In between those two images, something happened. Definitely, something popped (The Only Living Witness, 2019)

It's clear that Storwick struggles in the interview with what Bundy became as an adult, and seriously struggles in his mind to grasp the two very different Bundy's, the young man he knew and played with and the cold homicidal killer. One can only imagine how this man who played with Bundy and saw him as his friend, forming a bond with him as a child felt when he heard what Bundy had done. But you can see from the way that he describes Bundy as a boy on his back porch, that it is devastating for him to re-live these memories. It's hard enough for anyone to read Storwick's description and resolve the memories of the young man Bundy is described as and the serial killer.

In the recordings Bundy describes his mother as someone who ‘did not join groups’ or ‘mingle in the community’, that she wasn’t much of a ‘talker’ despite being a regular church goer. At this stage in the recordings you can see that this social dysfunction caused Bundy a great deal of stress; he falters, as he goes back in his memory to recall his high school years that are clearly not happy times, though he says he did ski which eventually helped. One gets the impression that he was an uncomfortable young man with anxiety issues and a young man that possibly began to hide his anger. He talks about feeling inadequate compared to other students; this may have been accentuated by his illegitimacy and poverty. He describes his inablity to make friends.

He said because he learned how to ski he eventually fitted into that group, the group that went on skiing trips, but he doesn't describe any particular friends at this stage in his life.

On the netflix version one woman from childhood who knew Bundy, describes how Bundy didn't seem to hang out with anyone, that he was a loner that he talked big about his future in life, but that he didn't seem to make friends easily.

His first serious girlfriend who rejected him came from a wealthier background, she is said to have described Bundy as a weak male, trying to please too much and not asserting himself. It’s also highly challenging to imagine this image of Bundy, when you realise that he became a serial murderer.

Many feel that it was her very rejection that could have been a trigger that sent Bundy to kill. He does claim to be angry and ‘wanting some kind of revenge’, stating that he could not keep up his girlfriend in the lifestyle that she was accustomed to, though denies that the victim’s appearances were related to her. In fact, it is very doubtful that this rejection alone, like his early caregiving, was the only factor that caused Bundy to commit such brutal horrific murders, though certainly, they may have been part of a very complex framework.


Bundy was a staunch republican, the journalists state that Ted saw himself of someone who was more than a campaigner, he said Ted liked politics as it was all ‘about image’ and he didn’t have to be ‘himself’. Ted did well in life, it seemed, when he could use a mask to camouflage his real self, family background and simmering rage. Wearing a mask came naturally to him by the time he was an adult and he relied on ‘being someone else’ in most social situations.

Ted is described by one republican friend who worked on the campaign, as someone who wanted to be part of the upper classes (Netflix,2019). He began to study law at university but did not receive the results he needed; according to Jenson Bayles one of his teachers he ‘skipped many classes’. It is important to note that Bundy never seemed interested in working hard at a career but seemed a perpetual student. Yet, he described this difficult period of life, as a time where he did not know where he would live and how he could afford to live. Even at home with his girlfriend; he described himself as a person that wasted lots of ‘time’ and that he didn’t want to do any house chores. Although intelligent, he definitely had a problem with commiting to the the hard work required for a professional career.

There is a short film of interview footage of Bundy from his time in politics, in this brief interview he is asked about his work on the campaign, he smiles, acts utterly professional, mannered, a man that looks accomplished, he diminshes the work he did saying it wasn't that much really, though smiles with an 'easy charm' when he speaks. One looks at this short film and captures a glimpse of the personality mask that Bundy used in society and around professionals, it's easy to see why so many were shocked when he was arrested for the crimes.

Ralph Munro Former Secretary of State Washington, said, that Bundy had dinner with them and that they saw no evidence of the killer, but perhaps an hour from that dinner he became the killer (Biography, 2012).

When a serial murderer is asked to theorise about who a serial killer is and how he thinks

In ‘Conversations with a killer’ Bundy is asked about what triggers could cause a person to commit these types of murders. Bundy discusses his addiction to stealing which began as a young man and continued to his capture. His need to possess things; the severe impact of stress and its effect on the personality of a killer over a significant period of time. He states that the person in question had abnormal compulsions, these may have been a genetic pre-disposition, but it was impossible to be absolutely sure why these abnormal compulsions existed and what caused them. He theorises that this murderer already flawed with a defined weakness was subjected to stress from the outside environment, and that unlike a healthy person, this created chaos in the mind of a killer.

This chaos, this inability to cope, could transmute into anger and rage, witnessing their own failure in society, the serial killer, he stated, may look outside themselves, to someone else, an external person to take out their fury. The serial killer he admits is driven by abnormal sexual desires. The man he describes seems to be a person that is continually hiding his rage, his anger at failing,. He appears full of disappointment at society for being 'unfair'. He describes having constant depressive episodes, during these depresive moments he describes days that could go by without him being able to do anything. This would have made it impossible for him to hold down a proper job in the normal sense, or use his intelligence to start a career. He said he didn't know where these depressive episodes came from. He admits an addiction to violent pornography, but emphasises that the killer began by looking at normal sexual imagery, that it was imperative to understand his abnormal complusions grew slowly over time and did not just appear suddenly.

“How can we know what stimuli most influenced the actions of this man, we cannot get close to those microscopic events in the mind, indistinguishable undetectable events like the melting of a single snowflake, I think we know more about why a snowflake melts than the behaviour of a killer.” Ted Bundy

Bundy acknowledges being a heavy drinker during what he called ‘depressive episodes’. He tells journalists that drinking unquestionably influenced the killer’s mind, minimising his fears and inhibitions and helping him to commit criminal acts. That criminal acts built up over time, each time he committed a crime, the time he struggled emotionally with what he had done, lessoned bit by bit, and the acts would become more substantial and more frequent. He discusses pornography and its accessibility in society and the effect he believed it had on the mind of a man who already had ‘abnormal compulsions’ that he believed women were often projected in society as objects and that he also saw them as objects at times, ultimately, he said it was impossible for him or anyone to say which stimuli; upbringing: genetics, environment: culture would be the more influential ‘stimuli’ that led to the killer committing horrific acts.

More than likely, he believed it would be an amalgamation of many composite factors that he felt could not be understood scientifically in 1980. He believed we knew very little about the human mind Bundy states that ‘nature of the flaw or weakness’ in the personality of the killer that was always there, together this with other stimuli in the environment began the situation.’ He states that culture was also important and his belief that if the killer had been brought up in a small village where certain things were not as ‘accessible’ as they were in the America at this time, that perhaps the killer may not have committed murders. If the killer had lived in '18th Century America' he may also not have become a killer at all. Bundy makes the statement that that some flourish in certain soil and not in others, that this killer did not flourish in the country or historical time he was born into, is definitely what he is describing. These are his belief systems, but it must be said that Bundy's belief systems were governed by an irrationality that may have been constructed over many years, even from childhood.

He describes the killer as attacking females, but not killing them, and feeling shame and disgust at what he’d done, horrified by his actions, though he recovered from this after a few months, he could not stop doing it again, and each time the amount of horror and disgust reduced, he would go out and commit another horrific act. Bundy also described in interviews that he felt ‘another identity’ some kind of ‘entity’ had possessed him when he was angry or drunk driving him to kill. Bundy was a prolific voyeur who stalked the city at night looking for windows to watch females who were alone at night. So while he maintained a 'normal' persona in his everyday life, at night he'd wander the streets and back alleys.

Bundy had taken some acting lessons, he was also adept at changing his physical appearance, even slightly, with hairstyles, mustaches and making, using other acting techniques that he was taught. This also helped him disguise himself in public and create an appearance that would often cause people to describe him slightly differently when interviewed as witnesses. He had no 'prominent' facial features that would stand out in descriptions, and he used this to his advantage, when approaching victims. In photographs of Bundy you can see how he styles his hair and how different he can look in pictures with only a few very simplistic physical changes.

Despite admitting that he had seriously abnormal compulsions and that these compulsions added to stimuli in the environment had set the killer on a course to commit horrific crimes. There is clear evidence in Bundy’s discourse that demonstrates he habitually cites these environmental stimuli, ‘external’ factors, as playing a large part of responsibility for the behaviour of the serial killer. He blames ‘the readily availability for pornography in society and crime imagery with females portrayed in them, especially crime magazines that often portrayed females in disturbing ways as victims on covers', the way that women are treated as ‘objects’ in adverts and magazines in society, the influence of ‘alcohol’ that he claimed made it easier for him to commit crimes by lowering his inhibitions, the very ‘culture’ he lived in that was not ‘puritanical’ enough' there were too many explicit sexual things available in western society. That perhaps if he'd been born in a small place with less of these 'sexual images' maybe things could have been different. If he’d lived somewhere else ‘it might not have happened’, as if his country and the way society functioned in his country had to accept some responsibility for what happened to the victims. If society had been fairer and had a different culture he implies, that 'maybe' none of this would have happened. In his discourse, it is clear he fully admits the killer’s abnormalities and says the killer 'was not normal' to begin with; however, the way he cites ‘outside’ dynamics is very much a positioning of blame away from himself, or to things outside of his control.

Bundy seems to see himself as a mistreated son in an ugly unfair society, that he believes helped create him. His view of the world around him is negative, frightening, and steeped in confusion.

Another strong theme in ‘Conversations with a killer’ is the theme of possession, whether it be: objects that are stolen by the killer, small crimes committed over time, that feeling of taking something they wanted to own, of crossing the law and societal boundaries; was important in the criminal mind. There seems to be a constant need for ownership of things that he desired that he couldn't afford. He states that the killer may think a person would become part of them in some way if he took that person. Bundy did not steal for money or to sell objects, he did it as part of an addiction and a need to own wealthier things than he could afford, as part of image, Bundy is said to have suffered from Kleptomania, which is when stealing is an addiction and Kleptomania is cited as a problem with controlling impulses and can also be related to substance abuse. It's telling that Bundy also had a problem with alc

Bundy felt the idea of ‘possession’ would be significant; however, he stated that this did not need to include the death of the person. The journalists tell Bundy on tape that they imagined that the killing of a person would be the ultimate possession, as it would give a killer the power over life and death, and they felt that this was significant with Bundy, it's also true that some FBI agents have suggested the same thing. Often in serial murders, the serial killer would keep something belonging to the victim, part of a feeling of 'possession' or having something that now 'belonged to them'. However, Bundy responded with a ‘maybe’ but that often that part of the possession comes with the actual kidnapping, and that murder was often just a way for this killer to hide his crimes and escape detection from authorities. He said that the killer believed that it was impossible to leave a living witness, that one of the most central things to a killer was survival and doing everything possible to evade capture. That a killer may rationalise what he was doing, even though he knew that it was wrong. The killer may create a category of illogical beliefs that empower him to commit abhorrent acts; like 'there are millions of people in the world, what did one missing person matter?' Some of the things appear nihilistic. In truth, he said the killer didn’t really believe this, he said, but it helped him to justify his actions.

He said he the killer didn't think he was cleverer than the police at the time, but that he knew the police operated with certain weaknesses, and that they often gave out too much information at the time of the kilings. That the killer would try to do what he could to trick the police and others when he'd committed the murders, by deliberately changing his tactics to throw them off course. That he was well aware that police states did not communicate.

The Victims

Bundy denied any part in the murders for about a decade, confessing just before his execution to killing 30 women, though many believe the number to be much higher. The killings occurred in seven states from 1974 to 1978, until one girl escaped after he posed as a police officer and pushed her into a car and attempted to handcuff her. She would become the main witness in his trial and was able to provide precise evidence regarding her abduction. 

Most of Bundy’s victims were either snatched in the night while they were sleeping, or tricked into helping him when he posed as a vulnerable man whose leg or arm was in a ‘fake’ cast. He was seen 'dropping his books on the ground and struggling by other witnesses. This was all a sadistic act, carefully planned and executed by a man who wanted to kill. He’d often asked the girls for help carrying books to his car, a Volkswagen beetle. The fact that he used such an abhorrent trick posing as a physically injured male is truly sickening. These girls felt that they were helping a ‘needy’ man who’d experienced an injury. Bundy could come across as a professional, educated, friendly male in social interactions. Some of the girls would say no or they were in a hurry, Bundy would continue this approach until one agreed. These girls were kind ‘helpers’ the type that would take time out to assist someone defenceless and in need. They were caring sweet girls who were educated and loved deeply by their families. They were careful about dating, they were all beautiful and many had hairstyles that looked very similar, long dark hair parted in the middle which many felt was significant.

Bundy would often bludgeon them unconscious before kidnapping them in his car. Some of the girls were approached on campus, an environment where they would have felt safe. They may have seen Bundy as a teacher or student just like themselves; others were abducted at parks and on their way home alone. It’s not an accident that Bundy spent much of his time on campuses, many of his victims were students, he chose that place where the girls felt comfortable and wouldn’t have looked for danger, especially in the middle of the day.

The girls would disappear very quickly, which also caused problems for investigators, people would decribe the girls as being there one moment, then the next, gone forever. The truama it must have caused partners and families must have been horrendous, but it fitted with Bundy quickly asking them for help to his car, which might have only taken a couple of minutes. One that went missing just going to her room at a ski lodge in a lift, she was never seen again, her body was found later, but it was unheard of for a murderer to prey on females in these kinds of places, a lodge hotel full of people, then in seconds kidnap a woman going into a lift to her room within seconds. Part of the problem seemed to be the way Bundy used his 'personality' masks to look the profesional friendly guy, perhaps at times even looking like he fitted into a higher society than he was a member of at the time.

Bundy created a devastation that would last generations and he showed no real remorse for his crimes, he also refused to provide information to the families. In many ways one could say Ted Bundy was a man who made his crimes a ‘TV-Show’ one that was all about him. It’s harrowing to hear no real empathy for the girls or remorse in the recordings.

In fact, Bundy discusses his views on the death penalty, he did not believe in it as he felt research indicated it did not deter criminals. This viewpoint was entirely his, and it’s obvious that some of the families would think differently. He openly discusses his own death, his views on how society needed to change in order to prevent killers, the way the media has portrayed him, the way that criminal trials were flawed due to information in the media. But most critically, he does not talk about the victims as if they were people with lives and families, thoughts and dreams, with childhoods and worlds of their own, of all the wonderful gifted things they could have done and brought into the world, of these women as people.  It’s clear he saw the women as objects for his own gratification, at one point in the interviews he says ‘what was that girls name again? It’s a devastating moment, which assures us that the girls were objects, rather than human beings. They are not discussed as if they are three dimensional people, with lives, families, thoughts, dreams and personalities. It’s traumatic to hear him avoid any sense of remorse or understanding of the pain he caused. He does say that he didn’t want victims to suffer at the end, that this ‘killer’ did not need to make their deaths traumatic, but obviously, anyone familiar with the case and has seen FBI agents talking about Bundy and his murders, knows this is a complete lie, that these young innocent girls suffered tremendously is evident from some of the evidence found by FBI agents.

I’ve also not talked about the more abhorrent parts of the crimes that Bundy committed. Needless to say, Bundy committed many horrific and utterly shocking acts of brutality that are difficult for most human beings to comprehend and process. I’m not going in to the details of the killings here, there has been enough media coverage describing the crimes Bundy committed.

The Media and Serial Killers

Media portrayals of serial killers show they are often characterized as either ‘monsters’ or ‘celebrities’. Bundy fitted this portrait aptly: he was a portrayed as ‘monster’ and positioned as almost ‘inhuman’ like many other serial killers, and 'apart from the rest of society' and ‘not like us at all’. He also created media frenzy and was filmed and photographed in court rooms wearing a smart suit and bow tie smiling and waving at cameras, with young fans hanging on his every word sat in benches, as if he were a celebrity figure. So the media portrayed him as two people, both monster and celebrity.

It's important to note that as Dr Scott Bonn has said on many occassions, the media often socially construct serial killer's as other than human through specific wording and headlines they use in newspapers. This is a powerful construct that is broadcast widely to the public (, 2017). The public become interested in such cases for many reasons, but one is that are call attention to behaviour that is so grotesque it defies our reality. It sends shockwaves through communities, the fact that this person could be part of a community in society, is difficult for human minds to fathom, that these killers could even live next door to us, that a man that spends his spare time murdering, could as in Bundy's case, live in a roominghouse with a couple he helped, drove on errands, and seemed 'amiable and polite' drives public fear.

The fact Bundy looked 'normal' even 'handsome' made it even more chilling to people. He was a man that you could be sat at dinner with, he is a man that 'fitted in' at least on the surface, he was an adept actor in the social world, he could disguise himself as a man 'just like any other'. He could be what you wanted for a time, he could charm at the switch of a button, he could keep an intense rage hidden deep down inside him. One of the reasons Bundy attracted so much attention from the press was due to his distinct differences to other serial killers, his intelligence, and the way that Bundy had moved in prominent society circles without casting suspicion, and of course his visual appearance, Bundy was often described as good looking, as a young man he was described as a young Cary Grant lookalike, and this was important for the media at that time, even his looks made him stand out from other serial killers and he was more photographic which meant the media were taking many photographs of him in the courtrooms wearing his suit and bow tie. Bundy challenged societies beliefs and the media's perception of what a serial killer 'looked like'. People understood that there was a new breed of killer in society and the most important question became 'What created a man like Bundy? '

Often there is a discussion about how some serial killers like 'Bundy' are often 'glamorised' in society, that serial killers have become part of society's 'culture' and are often mis-represented in film and media. I think that this is true, and it is important to say that the idea of the 'serial killer' portrayed in film is is not the way that real serial killers are. In Hollywood you have the films like 'Hannibal' which portray the 'intelligent' serial killer, the man who goes to opera and then comes home to kill, a master of intellect and a sophisticate who can cook exotic dishes and work in a professional job. The truth is that most serial killers are not intelligent at all, they are not handsome, nor are they sophisticated, most are uneducated and most do not hold down professional jobs. Serial killers are known to crave 'media' attention and many have engaged with the media in some way or other, either by sending the media letters, or asking for interviews, Bundy was no different, though he possibly took it to a much higher level than any other serial killer in history.


American Jewish psychiatrist, Dorothy Lewis, who graduated from Yale University in 1963, sat with Bundy for hours before his execution. She has sat with serial murderers and criminals for most of her life. She states that ‘To my mind, evil bespeaks conscious control over something. Serial murderers are not in that category. They are driven by forces beyond their control.’ She believes that child abuse and neurological impairments are the keys to understanding a serial murderer. Her theory is that differences in the area of the frontal lobe of the brain, the part of the brain that is linked to empathy do not work correctly. This is a theory, interestingly there are now brain scans that show differences in in areas of the brain that could explain, to some extent some behaviours of serial murderers, but we are a long way from conclusively saying that the brain creates a serial killer, or that because a person had certain areas of the brain that are affected that they don’t have a choice over whether they kill. What we can say is that they lack empathy and things like ‘impulse controls’ are core qualities. The factors that lead a person to become a serial killer are still being intellectually debated and most likely that debate will continue for a long time. Dorothy Lewis looks for evidence based on the Lewis-Pincus hypothesis, that child abuse causes profound and pathological changes in the structure of the brain as just like a physical injury, and that these changes drive a person to commit terrible acts they are unable to stop themselves committing, this is one theory, others would say they still have that ‘choice’ despite brain abnormalities.

It’s a controversial theory, the journalists conducted these conversations state that Bundy ‘loved killing’ and he would continue if let out. Nevertheless, during his time in prison Bundy was assessed by many psychiatrists and neurologists, one diagnosis was that he was a psychopath, this was usually diagnosed using the Hare psychopathy checklist created by Robert Hare, a score of 30 or higher would fit a diagnosis, Bundy scored 39. Some of the main symptoms of a psychopath would be ‘limited remorse’ ‘Very little empathy for others’ ‘Narcissism’ and ‘Artificial charm’; this is not an exhaustive list, just a few symptoms that fit Bundy’s profile. However, it must be stressed that the term psychopath is now classed as a ‘broad’ term and is not used the same way it was in the past in relation to serial killers, it is now often known as ‘anti-social personality disorder’, this is classed as a total by indifference to the feelings of others (which can lead the person to commit cruel sadistic acts and behaviors ) contempt for norms and responsibilities, a weak tolerance for feelings of  frustration.

Adrian Raine, criminologist, was the first scientist to conduct brian imaging scans of murderers, his research has led him to believe that there is a clear social and environmental element to violent behavior. He says 'Just as there's a biological basis for schizophrenia and anxiety disorders and depression, I'm saying here there's a biological basis also to recidivistic violent offending,' Raine theorises that in people like 'serial killers' may have a brain abnormalities that could have begun in childhood, if so, he says, can we hold the adult totally responsible?' He describes how cautious he has to be as his words could be misinterpreted. He says that there is no destiny, that biology is not destiny, that it is more than biology (National Public Radio, Raine,2014).

'There's lots of factors that we're talking about, and one factor like prefrontal dysfunction or low heart rate doesn't make you a criminal offender. But what if all the boxes were checked? What if you had birth complications and you were exposed to toxins and you had a low resting heart rate and you had the gene that raises the odds of violence, et cetera? What then? (National Public Radio, Raine, 2014).

Although we are making progress in brain research and in Bundy's time he would have been asked for a brain scan so that someone like Raine could examine his brain, these ideas are still being theorised and that we are not ready to make absolute assertions, nevertheless Raine is helping to create a different way at looking at 're-offending' prisoners and the reasons why they continue to re-offend and how criminals are being assessed. Does he have all the answers? Possibly not, but he's made clear advances in scientific studies regarding criminal behaviour.

It’s also important to state that it is damaging to say that people diagnosed with mental health problems, may develop into killers, mental health is already a stigma in many societies. It is essential to note that simply because one person is diagnosed with a condition, does not imply they are going to become a serial murderer, as I’ve said earlier, it takes many complex factors for a serial killer to be what he is. Some people who have been diagnosed with say ‘psychopathy’ in the past have not killed anyone. Some even work normally in society.

Although Bundy was adept at relying on ‘fake’ personality masks in social situations throughout life and his portrayal of ‘sophisticated intelligent friendly guy’ which fooled many people, Al Carlisle, PH.D interviewed Bundy while in prison and conducted a psychological test determining his danger to society. He stated that he was described by some girlfriends as a ‘a total liar’ who committed ‘frequent thefts’ and a man who ‘shifted his personality like a chameleon.’ Women in relationships with Bundy noticed he had serious personality problems and exhibited extremely negative behaviours, this may have been noticed because they spent much more time with Bundy in close proximity, if he was missing they would notice, and it was difficult to maintain his mask. However, few guessed he was a serial murderer. Unfortunately, the basic tests conducted by Carlisle at this time failed to pick up signals that indicated a higher level of dangerousness, though he was sure something wasn’t right about Bundy as a person, that he was more dangerous than the psychological test was showing. It’s interesting to note that Carlisle described Bundy as person who used ‘charm and friendliness’ to conceal a high level of anxiety and anger. Interestingly, Carlisle has written a book ‘Violent Mind’ where he tries to answer one of the most significant questions about Bundy. How did Bundy keep two very separate selves in society? How could he be a serial murderer than calmly have dinner at a professional's house? Bundy says he took time to maintain his two ‘lives’. Carlisle discusses his theory of how Bundy could have committed many murders, and still appear a normal functional person in society as coming from the ‘evolution’ of three specific dynamics.

Fantasy, the person imagines scenarios for entertainment and comfort.

Dissociation, the person avoids painful feelings and memories.

Compartmentalisation - the person consigns different ideas and images to specific frames and keeps boundaries between them.

(Carlisle, Al, 2017).

End Thoughts

‘Conversations with a Killer’ is a window into abnormal psychology; it’s a window into the mind of a serial killer. It is a testament to both journalists that they stood up to Bundy’s continuous lies and manipulation, both men ask intelligent and psychologically deep questions which makes the conversations interesting from a psychological standpoint. If they were other journalists who had asked less probing questions it would not be the book it is. How is a killer created? Does evil exist in a serial killer? Is this purely a mechanism in the brain or childhood trauma that changed the brain? What are the governing factors that led to these events? How do some people exist without any real empathy towards their fellow men? How can a man hide who he is for all those around him? Can environment switch on a gene (a pre-disposition) that creates a violent mind? Do we really know the people stood next to us? Is there something professionals can learn to stop these events happening in the future? All of these questions are either discussed in ‘Conversations with a Killer’ or you think about these subjects while listening to the tapes.  

Unreliable Source

Nevertheless, it is imperative to remember that Bundy is an unreliable source, that the questions are being answered by a serial murderer and a prolific liar and manipulator of truth. At times, he may be telling you a fragment of the truth, at others he may be more honest, many times he may simply be lying to both journalists. Bundy was interviewed by many professionals during his time in prison, sometimes what he told one person would differ somewhat from information provided to another professional. For instance, he told one that he found his birth certificate on his own, in another story he said his cousin had said something cruel to him, and that’s when he searched for the certificate to see if what they had said was true.

It may be that Bundy couldn’t recall all these events with clarity and only remembered fragments; his constant lies may even have become half-truths inside his head. It may be that Bundy, a man that spent much of his life lying could no longer remember the whole truth or perhaps he simply manipulated the truth deliberately, something he’d been skilled at his entire life. Bundy was astute at presenting himself in a certain way. Bundy was high during some of the recordings, something that was a normal part of prison life on death row. So this may have influenced some conversations, it may be said that some conversations could be more 'real' due to this, as Bundy would have been less controlled in his conversations. Despite the unreliability of the source, due to the in-depth questioning by both investigators, you do see into some parts of Ted Bundy’s mind, you begin to have some understanding of who the man is, even if it is a negative understanding. After listening, you understand why the journalists conducting these interviews became depressed and could no longer sit with the Bundy.

Both investigators conducted rigorous research while creating their notes for the book; they interviewed as many people as they could get permission to interview. Those that agreed to be interviewed that knew Bundy they worked hard to get the most truthful story they could. Both men also wrote about the interviews and a biography of Bundy in the book 'The Only Living Witness' that has a forward by former FBI profiler Roy Hazlewood. It is a very well researched book and I've referenced some extracts from it in this article.

This story eventually becomes a psychological battle between two intelligent investigative journalists and a serial killer. However, it is not a book for the faint hearted, nor is it a book that you walk away from without being deeply affected. There are some who will find the tapes not detailed enough, that the portrayal of Bundy is not what they expected, but I do feel given the man they were dealing with, both men did the best job they could under very difficult circumstances.

It’s important to note that both men were investigative journalists: not clinical psychologists or forensic psychologists, nor were they experts in abnormal behaviour or FBI agents that worked as profilers. Bundy was interviewed by FBI agents in prison so that they could learn from him, in order to prevent future killings. Unlike those transcripts, the FBI conversations have not been made available to the public, though some agents did talk about some of the conversations they had with Bundy.

Michaud and Aynesworth manage to persuade Bundy to theorise about the creation of a serial killer, despite Bundy being an unreliable source, both men pushed boundaries with their questions, fighting psychologically with Bundy and forcing him to answer tough questions. At times the conversations are strained, emotive, and angry. You can feel the frustration of both journalists especially by the end. They conducted these interviews as journalists, as such, it’s true they may have done things differently than someone interviewing with a background in psychology or psychotherapy.

There have been many negative reviews about the Netflix documentary, some saying it wasn't adding anything new or that it was 'weak' and exploitative. At least one negative review I’ve read the reviewer was upset by the way Bundy responded to questions. One was the way Bundy responded to a question saying he had to kill as the victim was a witness, also that by discussing childhood trauma or difficulties in his childhood, we may be trying to make excuses for the killer. This review is not of the documentary on Netflix, though I have seen it. This review is for the audio book which is much longer and more substantial.

What I will say is that this was an interview with a serial killer; some of the things Bundy says in response to questions are brutal and disturbing, it's obvious that Bundy had choices. However, expecting Bundy to be different than he was and provide answers we would prefer as they would seem ‘more humane’ is unrealistic. Expecting Bundy to show remorse or even to admit his guilt was something both journalists knew he would never do.

By analysing Bundy’s childhood and finding some evidence of childhood trauma does not mean that one is removing his responsibility for the crimes, and that is definitely not what the jounalists do in this book, they are doing what other professionals do, trying to find answers to the personality of the adult Bundy in front of them.

Most journalists, FBI profilers, neurologists and psychotherpists have to analyse the childhood of serial killers, it’s part of the scientific process to see if there are similarities with other killers, to find out if anything could indicate any problem exhibited in adulthood. It’s not a way of excusing the crimes committed, that’s the distinction. In research, it’s documented that child abuse alone does not create a serial killer; a childhood may however provide some pieces of a very complex psychological framework that created the mind of the adult. What happened to Bundy in childhood cannot be negated. Childhood's help form us as adults, our experiences have profound affects on our personalities. A serial killer was once a child, this is very difficult to comprehend sometimes, as we cannot imagine that this man who committed atroctiies so horrific, so sadistic, could once have been a little boy. Upbringing is often analsyed for evidence of anything unuusal, anything that might not be the 'norm' that could tell us a story about the mind of the serial killer. That does not mean that the adult 'did not have choices' that the adult 'is excused' and his actions are lessoned.

As for the fact that the documentary and other media are exploiting or glamorising the type of true crime that is 'lurid and exploitative'. Personally I did not see this in the netflix documentary, it seemed well researched, they had experts talking on the program, many poorly made documentaries would not have the acutal journalists that did the recordings talking, nor would they have managed to get some credible witnesses speaking. I have seen exploitative crime shows and I wouldn't count this as one of them. One may say that the recordings they play, the conversations may not reveal what people wanted or perhaps were not considered substantial enough for some people or as some said 'not providing new information' certainly, the program is disturbing. This book is much longer and more in-depth, you get to see the journalists at a young age and hear much more indepth conversations, as such your knowledge of both men builds and you develop a clearer picture with the book about what both men's intentions were and how they struggled but managed to fight through their difficulties and try to get some answers to Bundy's behaviour.

Why is true crime popular? One reason, and there are possibly about ten psychological reasons why people watch true crime programs, however, one I'll discuss is the human need to try and understand something that is completely abhorrent to them, to try to find answers to something that they cannot fathom, even remotely, in their own minds. Human beings like puzzles, they like to have answers to complicated problems. Our need to understand even the most traumatic event, is fuelled by our own humanity, and the fact that we could not even imagine hurting another human being, it's so far removed from most people's nature. Most people are looking for answers, answers to why another human being, a person that was once a child, like they themselves were, grew up to commit these horrific crimes.

What leads a person to the darkest paths on life? Why do some people lack a conscience? Why did serial klilers become more abundant in particular times in society? Why do some take pleasure in hurting the innocent? Why are these killers driven by abnormal sexual motives to extremes? What can be done to prevent this horrendous injustices? It's human to question everything around us, even the blackest darkness. When we look at these people we are speculating about our own humanity. What we can say is that specialists in the field are working hard to discover the complex factors that lead serial killers to kill in order to change things. We are now in a new era of research and progress is being made, hopefully in the future this will save lives. That is the hope of researchers.

It must be said in this document I am talking specifically about serial killers, not other types of killers or mass killings, or spree killings. Serial killers are a specific type of killer, usually sexually motivated and killing with (a lapse of time). Understanding other types of killings, is very complex and involves many other psychological factors that I am not discussing in this document.

Regarding the conversations, It’s important to note that these conversations were also taken in 1980 on death row, thus one has to look at the historical way interviews with serial killers were conducted by journalists at this time; these types of interviews may not be done in the same way now: Journalism changes. This was an unusual case for both journalists. Even some psychological experiments that were conducted in the 1960’s and 1970’s are now considered unethical and would never be take place in modern society. Stephen was a young reporter when he was given this job, which is why he most likely asked his mentor to assist him. I would say that both journalists did the best they could in the unique circumstances they found themselves and in that historical context and the setting ‘death row’, and most importantly, with one of the most manipulative serial killers they could possibly meet.

Often he had me literally sick to my stomach. Sometimes it was all I could do to get out of the prison and back to the car before I vomited. Stephen MIchaud (The Only Living Witness, 1999)

Both men describe becoming seriously depressed by the end, dealing with Bundy’s constant lies, total narcissism and denials and the way that he was enjoying the ‘fame’ of being a serial killer. They describe actually feeling physically ill. Spending time with Bundy, with the type of man he was, caused both to be seriously affected. It can be deeply upsetting for the listener, but you realise it was also terribly hard for both of these journalists. The conversations at times seem to swallow them into a chilling darkness, stormy waves of blackness, drawing them away from their lives, and there are moments when the listener is also swallowed up in that same darkness and thrown completely off course. It can be difficult to shake off, even after the recordings have ended. Stephen describes emotional stress spending time with Bundy, as if he felt contaminated in the room. During the whole process, he had to keep his disgust of Bundy from the man sat opposite him in close proximity. One can only imagine how hard this must have been for him, he was thirty-one years old at the time and he finds himself sat next to a man who had created some of the worst horrors in serial killing history.

Due to the fact that Stephen had to wear a mask in the room, he had to put on an act, creating a fake friendliness and bury his true feelings, just as Bundy had done in real life, this creates a distrubing atmosphere that you can feel when they are talking. However, unlike Bundy, who was skilled at this acting, Stephen had a conscience, what happened to the victims haunted him every time he entered the room with Bundy. At one point he describes telling his sister that he didn't want a daughter, as he was afraid of something happening to her, both men were deeply affected.

When you have walked away, after listening, you are thinking about the victims and the tragedy of everything that happened to them. This is what stays with you after listening to ‘Conversations with a Killer’, not Bundy, who seemed to be choreographing his own TV show in those days. Despite Bundy being the one talking, despite everything he says, you think about the victims and the lives they lost, when he’s asked about some of the victims, you feel a sadness that at times is overwhelming. It’s harrowing to listen to after a while; it makes you feel deeply sad, just like the journalists conducting the interviews felt. Sad that Bundy grew up to be the man he became, devastated that innocent young girls were taken from this world by this one man.

Bundy assures you in these recordings that he is not crazy, that he’s just like you and me. He tells you he has empathy just like other people that people like to say he’s a monster with no emotions and that is far from the truth. I’m totally sane; he tells the journalists speaking confidently into the tape recorder. Perhaps that’s the most chilling terrifying thought to think of once the recordings stop and there is just silence.

'I'm totally sane.' Ted Bundy



AP News - Ted Bundy’s murderous charm still polarizes, 40 years later (Sewell, Dan, 2019)

The Anatomy Of Violence - The Biological Roots of Crime Adrian Raine

Conversations with a killer Stephen G.Michaud and Hugh Aynesworth (audio version) reissued June 2019

The Only Living witness Stephen G. MIchaud and Hugh Aynesworth (1999)

Stephen G.Michaud's official site

Ted Bundy ‘The Biography Channel’ (2012)

I taught Ted Bundy (The Professor) YouTube (2017)

The Denver Channel (2019)

Kleptomania: Clinical Characteristics and Relationship to Substance Use Disorders (Grant, John, 2010)

Dorothy Lewis the Criminal Brain (independent newspaper)

Personality disorders, psychopathy, and serial killers (Morona H, Stone M, ABdalla-Filho,E, 2006)

Al Carlisle (PhD) A violent mind – the 1976 psychological assessment of Ted Bundy

National Public Radio INC Criminologist Believes Violent Behavior Is Biological (2014)

Psychology Today How the media makes Monsters - The Social Construction of Evil part 2 Dr Bonn (2017) Meet the journalist who interviewed Ted Bundy