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BOX 3.2: The Case of Ted Bundy: A Real-Life Psychopath

BOX 3.2: The Case of Ted Bundy: A Real-Life Psychopath


It can be very frightening to read about malpractice law. However, being uninformed is not the best response to that fear! If you work as a forensic psychologist, you will find that you are often consulted about Tarasoff issues, and other aspects of therapist liability or negligence. This week’s readings will provide you with good background and a good foundation for understanding these issues, which will work against anxiety.

The debate about delayed recall of childhood trauma and what the Reisner text calls “MPD” is complex and not best suited to be addressed using a law text.

Describe one of the points of law, specific issues, or matters of doctrine that impressed, intrigued or frightened you. DO NOT summarize the case. Rather, you should discuss one aspect of the case. You can argue the court’s findings, learn more about the issues involved through outside references, or describe a variation on the case that might have gotten a different outcome.

BOX 3.2

The Case of Ted Bundy: A Real-Life Psychopath

Born in 1946, Theodore Robert Bundy seemed destined for a charmed life; he was intelligent, attractive, and articulate (Holmes & DeBurger, 1988). A Boy Scout as a youth and then an honor student and psychology major at the University of Washington, he was at one time a work-study student at the Seattle Crisis Clinic. Later he became assistant to the chairman of the Washington State Republican Party. It is probably around this time that he claimed his first victim, a college-age woman who was viciously attacked while sleeping, left alive but brain damaged.

From 1974 through 1978, Bundy stalked, attacked, killed, and then sexually assaulted as many as 36 victims in Washington, Oregon, Utah, Colorado, and Florida. Apparently, some of the women were taken off guard when the good-looking, casual Bundy approached, seeming helpless: walking with crutches, or having an apparent broken arm. He usually choked them to death and then sexually abused and mutilated them before disposing of their bodies in remote areas (Nordheimer, 1989).

Maintaining a charming façade is characteristic of many people with psychopathy; acquaintances often describe them (as they did Bundy) as “fascinating,” “charismatic,” and “compassionate.” Beneath his superficial charm, though, Bundy was deceitful and dangerous. Embarrassed because he was an illegitimate child and his mother was poor, he constantly sought, as a youth, to give the impression of being an upper-class kid. He wore fake mustaches and used makeup to change his appearance. He faked a British accent and stole cars in high school to help maintain his image. He constantly sought out the company of attractive women, not because he was genuinely interested in them but because he wanted people to notice and admire him. At his trial for the murder of two Chi Omega sorority sisters in their bedrooms at Florida State University, he served as his own attorney. (Bundy had attended two law schools, although he did not graduate from either.) He was convicted; he was also found guilty of the kidnapping, murder, and mutilation of a Lake City, Florida, girl who was 12 years old. Bundy was sentenced to death.

Shortly before he was executed on January 24, 1989, Bundy gave a television interview to evangelist James Dobson in which he blamed his problems on pornography. He said, “Those of us who are … so much influenced by violence in the media, in particular pornographic violence, are not some kind of inherent monsters. We are your husbands, and we grew up in regular families” (quoted by Lamar, 1989, p. 34).

Bundy claimed that he spent his formative years with a grandfather who had an insatiable craving for pornography. He told Dr. Dobson, “People will accuse me of being self-serving but I am just telling you how I feel. Through God’s help, I have been able to come to the point where I, much too late, but better late than never, feel the hurt and the pain that I am responsible for” (quoted by Kleinberg, 1989, p. 5A).The tape of Bundy’s last interview, produced by Dobson and titled “Fatal Addiction,” has been widely disseminated, especially by those who seek to eliminate all pornography. But Bundy’s claim that pornography was the “fuel for his fantasies” should be viewed skeptically. It may merely have been one last manipulative ploy to buy more time. In none of his previous interviews, including extensive conversations in 1986 with Dorothy Lewis, a psychiatrist he had come to trust, did he ever cite “a pornographic preamble to his grotesqueries” (Nobile, 1989, p. 41).

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