Ted Bundy was a serial killer notorious for kidnapping, raping, and murdering up to 36 women. His horrifying story is getting the Hollywood treatment in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, which stars Zac Efron as Bundy and Lily Collins as Bundy’s girlfriend Elizabeth Kloepfer.
The film follows Bundy’s murder trial and seeks to tell his story through Kloepfer’s eyes. The movie premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January, following the release of Netflix docuseries Conversations With a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes—both are directed by Joe Berlinger.
Who is Ted Bundy, and how did he become one of the most infamous killers in recent memory? Here, a guide to everything you need to know about him before his story hits the big screen.
Ted Bundy grew up in Washington state.
Bundy was born Theodore Robert Cowell on November 24, 1946 in Burlington, Vermont. He was the only son of Eleanor Louise Cowell. The identity of his true father was and still remains unknown. In 195o, his mother moved with him to Tacoma, Washington to stay with family members. The following year, she met John Bundy, a hospital cook, and married him. He later adopted Ted, officially making him his son.
He had a complicated early childhood.
Bundy’s mother gave birth to him at a home for unwed mothers when she was 22 years old. This upset Cowell’s religious parents. To hide the fact that she was both young and single with a baby, Cowell moved to Philadelphia, where Bundy was raised as the adopted son of his grandparents. Bundy’s grandparents told him that his mother was his sister, which he believed for many years.
Relatives of the Cowells said that Bundy’s grandfather Samuel was extremely volatile. This was what drove Bundy’s mother to move with him to Washington.
Bundy was a bit of a loner in school.
Though Bundy was relatively smart, he was poorly received by his peers in college due to his social awkwardness. He often kept to himself while he attended the University of Puget Sound, but his shyness started as early as his high school years. “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 each other. I didn’t know what underlay social interactions,” he said in Stephan Michaud and Hugh Aynesworth’s book, The Only Living Witness: The True Story of the Serial Sex Killer Ted Bundy.
His first girlfriend broke up with him.
Bundy met his first girlfriend, Diane Edwards, in the summer of 1967 after he transferred to the University of Washington. Edwards came from a upper-class family from California, while Bundy was middle-class and worked menial jobs to support himself throughout school. In Bundy’s death row tapes, he described her as “a beautiful dresser, beautiful girl. Very personable. Nice car, great parents.”
Due to their financial incompatibilities, Bundy soon began to feel insecure about their relationship. “There were occasions when I felt that she expected a great deal more from me than I was really capable of giving. I was not in any position to take her out and squire her around in the manner that she was accustomed or buy her clothing,” he said in the tapes.
After Edwards broke up with Bundy in 1968, he wasn’t the same. “I had this overwhelming feeling of rejection,” he said. Shortly after, he longed to get “some sort of revenge on Diane.”
He started killing women in the ’70s.
On February 1, 1974, University of Washington student Lynda Ann Healy disappeared from her campus apartment; she was killed by Bundy. The following summer, Bundy was responsible for attacking and killing seven girls in Washington. His victims were often attractive, with long, dark hair parted down the middle. He left Washington and continued his killing spree in seven states, including Utah, Colorado, and Florida.
He escaped arrest twice.
Authorities stopped Bundy for a driving violation in August 1975. Trying to evade the police, he turned off his car’s headlights and sped through stop signs, which further aroused suspicion. When the police caught up with him, they searched his car and found handcuffs later linked to Carol DaRonch, a woman he attempted to kidnap in Utah in 1974. As he awaited trial for the case in 1977, he escaped police custody through the open window of a library. He was caught a week later but escaped a second time in December 1977, and headed to Tallahassee, Florida.
While in Florida, Bundy murdered two women at Florida State University’s Chi Omega sorority house in January 1978. The following month, he murdered 12-year-old Kimberly Leach. He was arrested in Florida for driving a stolen vehicle; later on, eyewitnesses identified him as the same man who broke into the sorority house and as the man spotted leaving with Leach at her school. Bundy was then convicted of the murder of Kimberly Leach and the Chi Omega sorority house murders because his teeth imprints matched bite marks found on the bodies.
Bundy defended himself in court.
Bundy had a very public trial, which started on June 25, 1979. Bundy had gone to the University of Utah Law School for a year and felt it provided him with enough knowledge to represent himself.
Bundy was sentenced to death by electric chair.
He maintained his innocence, but the jury gave Bundy two death sentences for the Chi Omega sorority house murders on July 30, 1979. Bundy continued to present himself as innocent at the trial for Kimberly Leach’s murder on January 7, 1980. Instead of representing himself this time, he had a defense counsel that had him plead not guilty by reason of insanity. He was found guilty a month later and was issued an additional sentence of death by electrocution.
He had a child while on death row.
Bundy had his only daughter while on death row. Carol Boone became Bundy’s wife in 1980 as he was awaiting the verdict of the Kimberly Leach trial. Boone was convinced that Bundy was innocent and often visited his cell while he was on death row. Rose Bundy was conceived in October 1982, but little is known about her. Boone and Bundy split in 1986 after he confessed that he committed the murders.
Bundy died on January 24, 1989.
After years of waiting, Bundy finally made his way to the electric chair on January 24, 1989. His final words were: “I’d like you to give my love to my family and friends.” Forty-two people watched his execution. The prison’s chief physician confirmed him to be dead at 7:16 A.M. EST on that day, according to Orlando Sentinel.