In March 1976 Ted Bundy was sentenced to one to 15 years in Utah State Prison, convicted of the attempted kidnapping of a young woman near Salt Lake City.
At that point, no one in law enforcement knew that Bundy was a serial killer, rapist and necrophiliac, although police were investigating him for a string of murders while he was behind bars. (Bundy ultimately admitted to 30 murders, but experts and people close to him believe the number of victims is likely closer to 100 or more.)
Psychologist Al Carlisle was part of the diagnostic team at the prison whose job was to evaluate whether Bundy had a violent personality and was likely to commit acts of violence.
After a 90-day assessment, which he outlined in his book Violent Mind: The 1976 Psychological Assessment of Ted Bundy, and interviews with Bundy and those who knew him, Carlisle eventually determined he was violent and likely to continue killing. This ultimately sealed Bundy’s fate in prison. He received the death penalty and died in the electric chair on January 24, 1989.
A&E True Crime spoke with Carlisle about Bundy’s lonely childhood, participation in illegal activities and strong desire to control women, which Carlisle believes led to Bundy’s psychopathic tendencies.
There are several theories about why Bundy became a psychopath—from his possibly suffering from attachment disorder due to his mother passing herself off as his sister during his childhood to his pornography addiction and more. What do you think?
I don’t believe a person is born a psychopath. I don’t believe Bundy was a psychopath when he was a child or during his high school years. In my career in state prison, I interviewed multiple rapists and killers. I wanted to know how they became violent. This is what I found: If early in life a person is lonely and doesn’t fit in and is empty, they begin to look for some way to undo that, to satisfy their loneliness. And they turn to fantasy to comfort themselves. This is what happened with Bundy.
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He started out lonely and shy as a child. He believed all of the attention was paid to the younger kids, who were really [his stepfather] Johnnie Bundy’s children from a previous marriage. He started fantasizing about women he saw while window peeping or elsewhere [and] mimicking the accents of some politicians he listened to on the radio. In essence, he was fantasizing about being someone else, someone important.
But many people are lonely, come from emotionally dysfunctional families, watch porn or all these together and don’t become serial killers.
That’s true. These things did not cause him to kill—they built up a desire within him to experience more real sexual activity with a girl. He was not interested in killing. The real thing was to get as close to controlling a woman as possible and perhaps rape her, because it was the next step in what was getting to be exciting [for him].
At what age did he first show signs of dangerous psychopathic behavior?
Bundy started with peeping in windows in his early teens. Then he got into shoplifting. Coming from an overly religious family, he began to shut down feelings of guilt. Then he got away with these things and he started doing more.
At 18 he fell head over heels in love with a girl, but she ended it. [She said,] ‘He just won’t stand up for himself, he’s lying about a lot of the little things.’ I got this directly from her.
Bundy completely fell apart. Bitterness started to develop and lots of increased loneliness. At this point, we see him getting into a lot of illegal stuff. He was stealing food and uniforms from work. You can see the whole psychopathic personality beginning to grow at this point.
What was the trigger for him to kill?
In 1968 (when he was 20) Bundy got involved with Arthur Fletcher‘s campaign. Fletcher (who was running to be lieutenant governor of Washington state) lost the election and Bundy went to Philadelphia to get a law degree at Temple University. He soon dropped out.
All these failures left him very upset, lonely, again looking for an identity. When he saw [his first two victims] Susan Davis and Elizabeth Perry on the beach on Memorial Day weekend,1969, he had an overwhelming urge to rape them. Once he did, he felt he had no choice but to silence them.
This was the big turning point in his life. Once Bundy killed [them], there was no way of going back to the person he was before.
By Christmas 1973, Bundy was a pretty strong psychopath: He had the habit of pornography, he had the habit of window peeping, he was into a lot of sexual fantasy. But now he had homicide fantasies too.
Within a few days in 1974, he attempted to kill a woman in her apartment, but she lived. (Her name has been kept from the public.) He soon began killing other women. At that point he was a complete psychopath.
Why did he engage in necrophilia with some of his victims?
During a psychological assessment in Florida prison, he was asked: ‘What is it about the victims? Is it the excitement?’ He said, ‘No. It is the possession of the person.’
He got addicted to the idea of this possession of the essence of the victim, whether you want to call it the victim’s soul or whatever.
You’ve said, Ted Bundy was ‘the author of his own creation.’ Does this suggest Bundy somehow chose to become a serial killer?
I don’t think Bundy chose to become a serial killer. Bundy started out as a normal child, a lonely child who found fantasy very enjoyable.
He was like Westley Dodd and Arthur Gary Bishop, child killers who were not born killers but chose to hide their pathology, showing everybody else they were normal people. [But] their sexual pathology just kept getting worse, finally controlling them.
If you look at it at that point you say, ‘Wow, this guy was born a psychopath,’ but…none of them were psychopaths as a child or a teenager. That’s why I made that statement. Bundy created himself through poor choices.
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