The execution of American serial killer Ted Bundy in 1989 brought an end to his elaborate decade-long game of cat and mouse. Between 1974 and 1978, Bundy is believed to have raped and murdered at least 30 women and girls across the United States. In his compelling final interview, just hours before his electrocution, Bundy alludes to the destructive role pornography played in his conduct. In this article I wish to think about whether Ted was genuinely concerned about the relationship between sexuality, crime and the media as enforcing destructive perceptions of gender, or even aware of this implication? Or was it simply his deliberate final attempt to complicate proceedings further? In any case, let’s take a look.
The ‘all-American boy’
Throughout his trial, Bundy assured people repeatedly of his happy and fulfilling childhood. He claims that he was brought up in a ‘wonderful Christian home’ and that: ‘basically, I was a normal person’. It is probable that the sensation of the Bundy case was caused by this extremely self-aware construction which made Bundy (as well as his victims) so relatable to the average American person. But, despite Bundy’s constant assertion of his ordinary Christian upbringing, he is believed to have privately struggled with the fact that he was an illegitimate child.
People who knew Bundy consistently recognised him as an attractive, charismatic and intelligent individual – traits which he knowingly used to his advantage in order to lure his victims. In 1973 Bundy attended law school in Washington but never completed his studies. However, this brief spell did set him up for his future trial in which he found ways to cheat and manipulate the system time and again when he acted as his own lawyer in the case.
The Final Interview
On January 24, 1989 Ted Bundy agreed to give one final interview just hours before his execution in the electric chair. In the interview Ted condemns the influence of pornography on his behaviour and describes the ability of pornography to ‘reach out and snatch a kid out of any house today’ – after already establishing himself as the ‘any’. He confesses to being ‘deeply consumed’ in pornography, and especially that which ‘deals on a violent level with the sexuality’. By blaming pornography for his crimes, Bundy explicitly links sexuality and violence. He goes on to criticise society for ‘[tolerating]’ such material which makes his further intentions in this interview unclear. Is he trying to gain sympathy? Is he telling people what they want to hear? Is this a genuine criticism and warning? Or does he simply enjoy causing a confusion of questions that will never be answered?
Bundy himself admitted to having been mostly intrigued and influenced by the detective magazine genre which experienced its peak in the 1970s. Magazines such as True Detective, Master Detective and Official Detective in this period all contain pornographic images of attractive women often bound, screaming or gagged and, invariably, about to be harmed in some way. These magazines place explicit emphasis on the sexualisation of violence against women and it’s easy to see their influence on Ted.
Sexuality and Crime
These magazines, as the self-acknowledged incentive of Bundy’s desires and actions, raise many issues about the connections between gender and sex in relation to crime. Sexual violence in such magazines is clearly gendered, with the female figures in positions of helpless submission and at the mercy of an imposing male figure (i.e. the reader). The magazines make use of the perceived masculine desire to dominate the female. Something which, for Ted Bundy was far too tempting, causing him to wonder if ‘actually doing it [would] give [him] that which [was] beyond just reading about it or looking at it’.
In this interview, Ted Bundy raises some interesting ideas about gender, sexuality and crime (whether he was aware of this or not) as well as the role of the media in catalysing the relationships between these concepts. By blaming pornography for his actions, Bundy inadvertently identifies some potential dangers of human sexuality as being bound up with destructive gender binaries in the form of the male desire for power over the female. It is the media’s combination of these perceptions of gender with sexual violence which Bundy claims ‘[snatched]’ him out of his conventional American existence and caused him to commit his atrocities. But let’s be honest, if porn were really the problem there’d be a ton more Bundy’s on the loose.