Why The Stories of Ted Bundy's Survivors Have A Lot To Show About Strength
30 years after his execution, Ted Bundy has resurfaced. The infamous serial killer, who is known for using his “charm” in the act of brutally murdering at least 30 women between the years 1974 and 1978, is the subject of Netflix’s latest crime-documentary, Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, and is soon to be portrayed by Zac Efron in the upcoming film Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile, which premiered at Sundance in January and will also be distributed by Netflix.
The fascination with Bundy has been a subject for decades due to his complex psychology, his “double” life, his escapes from prison (yes, he escaped twice. Not once, but twice.), and the quantity of people who believed he didn’t seem like the type of man to be “somebody who would tear apart young girls,” as one anonymous interviewee notes in the docu-series. Bundy was often described as charismatic, smart, and handsome. The same judge who sentenced him to death even claimed he would’ve been a great lawyer.
Although the fascination with such a complex serial killer is understandable—as is the desire to binge every episode—it’s the stories of his survivors that truly deserve our attention. Why? Because their strength is the reason Bundy’s crimes were put to an end. And because, fairly, Bundy was a monster. “The man’s a wimp. I mean, people that sneak up on women and kill them—what else can you say?” Hugh Ayensworth, a journalist who interviewed Bundy while he was on death row, makes clear.
In the tapes, survivor Carol DaRonch, who played a key role in identifying Bundy, describes how she escaped from his hands in Salt Lake City, Utah, 1978. She recalls driving to the mall by herself, not concerned for her safety, as it was a tight-knit community. After entering a bookstore, she was approached by a man who stated he was a police officer and informed her someone was trying to break into her car. He had an ID, and she believed him.
DaRonch got into Bundy’s infamous Volkswagen Beetle, and she immediately felt panic when he pulled to the side by an elementary school, and she noticed the passenger side didn’t have a proper handle. Her panic immediately caused him to quickly cuff one of her wrists, pull out his gun, and threaten her life.
“I had never been so frightened in my entire life. My life went before my eyes,” she tells in the series.
Somehow, amidst the fear, she got the car door open and made her escape. Angry from his loss, Bundy killed another woman just hours later.
Despite being an active witness, people were quick to question her accusation, with claims that Bundy was far too smart and handsome to be the same killer she described. How could a good-looking law student be a rapist, necrophiliac, and murderer? His privilege was evident. Despite the efforts to disregard her experiences, DaRonch stood in her strength, and testified in court. If the #MeToo age has proven anything, it is that it is still difficult for a woman in to be believed when making claims about a man in higher stand, making DaRonch’s decision to do so four decades ago particularly bold.
According to an interview with Rolling Stone, another survivor, Kathy Kleiner, who was a part of the Chi Omega Sorority at Florida State University, stated she wasn’t going to let her trauma with Bundy define her. Kleiner was asleep in her dorm room when Bundy crept his way into the home with a piece of firewood, ravenous for more kills after his escape. After killing sorority sisters Margaret Bowman and Lisa Levy, he moved onto Kleiner’s room. In the interview, she recalls those nights’ events.
“I remember the noise of the trip and something falling off the trunk, and that woke me up. The room was dark, and I didn’t have my glasses on, but I remember seeing a black mass. I couldn’t even see that it was a person. I saw the club, saw him lift it over his head, and slam it on me. The first time, it didn’t hurt. It was pressure, like someone pressing on your arm. And then he hit me again. And I think that’s where he hit me in the face and broke my jaw in three places and I passed out. But that’s what I remember the most: him lifting the club and bringing it down on me.”
Kleiner and her roommate, Karen Chandler, were only able to survive because a car’s lights shone into their dorm window, causing Bundy to make a run for it.
Despite facing both physical and mental trauma, Kleiner chose to not let that night define her. “It made me stronger, and it gave me more to live for, and it taught me nobody’s going to put me down,” Kleiner says. On the day Bundy was executed, she says, she felt her angst lifted. In many ways, Kleiner has moved on from Bundy.
Like Rolling Stone states, Bundy’s story “is at its core” the story of Carol DaRonch, Kathy Kleiner, and all the other women he attacked and killed. It’s these women, not him, who are the truly important parts of the Bundy Tapes, and along with other survivors like Rhonda Stapley, Karen Chandler, and Sotria Kristonis, they should be remembered. Because at the end of the day, it is their strength that brought the demise of one of the most vile and wicked men who lived.