Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Jottings - Slice of life - 271 ( The killer continues to haunt- Ted Bundy)
There is no reason to remember this man in such vivid detail, but Americans and the world do not want to forget him. On January the 24th 1989, In the early hours of a beautiful and cold Florida morning, Ted Bundy, one the most brutal psychopathic killers modern man has ever known, was committed to the electric chair in the Florida State prison. Outside the wired fence that day, hundreds of Men and women, who had been waiting through the night, jumped in joy and relief, when the prison warden announced the successful electrocution of Ted, and his body hurriedly carried into a van to be transported and scattered on the mountains of Seattle where his reign of terror began almost twenty years ago. On January 24th, 2019, about two weeks ago, Netflix released a four-part documentary showcasing the live conservations journalists Stephen Michaud and Hugh Aynesworth had with ted during his incarceration. Nearly hundred hours of Ted Bundy answering questions in the third person about the workings of a psychopathic mind and what propels an educated man to that edge of sanity where reason, morality, and decency break down, are interlaced with interviews by his victims, police investigators, acquaintances and live footage from Bundy’s past. In the last three decades since his execution, Bundy has attracted the attention of psychologists, forensic investigators, novelists, and movie makers to understand why Bundy became the man he came to be. There have been mass murderers in the past, but it is only with Ted Bundy, the term Serial killer, a term that has come to indicate a type of murderer who kills for deeply psychological motives ( and therefore unfathomable) came into common use. In many ways, Ted Bundy was symptomatic of the modern age: urbane, charming, articulate, outwardly normal and educated. There was nothing about the description of Ted which could not have fitted any other person of his time. Yet, within his outwardly adjusted personality, there lay a demonic force that destroyed the lives of dozens of young girls across the four states of the USA. He wore a social mask that was impossible to pull away. His methods for luring and decapacitating his victims, the sheer insanity and diabolic violence of the acts, his deep understanding of the legal mechanism and intelligent manipulation of loopholes in the police information systems, made him a difficult man to track and pin down. Between 1974 and 1980, the Bundy crisscrossed the country living and relishing his secret life leaving the police with no clues whatsoever. Wherever he went, he left a trail of bodies, panic, fear, and unrest in the community. When finally a tired Bundy was miraculously caught for a petty driving violation on the streets of Florida, little did the police realize that this educated, smart, witty, handsome, young man who could have lived any kind of life he wanted to - was the notorious serial killer responsible for the deaths of more than 35 young women at the prime of their lives. The nation was shocked, excited, puzzled and alarmed at the same. The legend of Theodore Bundy was born.
At the turn of the twentieth century, Freud had boldly proclaimed that a man’s actions could be traced to his childhood. With his powerful book “The interpretation of dreams”, the power of the unconscious as an influencing shaper of one's destiny grew popular with each passing decade. The two world wars and the inescapable brutality of it had convinced mankind that evil was nurtured and not natural. Psychoanalysis, a field of medical science, sought to mechanically look at one past for any deviant behavior. When Ted Bundy was caught in 1980, and the horror of his crimes began to take hold of people's imagination, the inevitable question asked was: “What was Bundy’s childhood like?”. Except for the fact the Bundy’s father is unknown, Bundy grew up in a household dominated by his grandparents, mother, and step-father, who gave him enough attention, love, and security. By nature, Bundy was little aloof and found it difficult to make friends quickly, but that inhibition was more than made up for by his unusual charm and good looks. At school, he did averagely well, soon enrolled in college. Psychiatrists would love to say that the pivotal moment of Ted life was his rejection by a high-society girlfriend for lack of ambition and drive. There is no conclusive evidence it did so. However, it is clear that Ted was drifting. He moved from college to college, joined political campaigns made friends with budding senators, and started loving the occasional attention he got on camera. In the footage we have of him, Bundy comes across a debonair young man with a bright future ahead of him. During this time, he was also attempting to major in philosophy, psychology, and law. The last subject would come in handy during his trials later.
At what point in the 1970s, did Ted psychotically break and commit his first murder. We don’t know? Young girls from sororities were disappearing in the University of Seattle, never to be seen again. Forensic science was in its infancy. Police had no track record, and information took its own sweet time to travel from one county to another. Bodies were found of few, but in such mutilated condition that it was hard to reconstruct what could have happened. Ted was living a normal life and moving from one State to another. He drove to Utah and joined the Mormon church, a sect of Christianity that is very protective of its members. Even after Ted’s identity was revealed, his Mormon brethren would swear to his innocence. While in Utah, his murders intensified, and police were beginning to narrow down a suspect based on a description of a car by a rape victim who survived his assault. By 1978, Ted was captured twice and escaped from prison that many times. The story of his escapades are legendary, and also points to the lack of seriousness of law in dealing with a murderer like Ted. His last leg of murders began in the state of Florida, to which he escaped using multiple modes of transportation. In between his escape, he sojourned in Chicago and found time to watch a football game. When he reached the town of Tallahassee, Florida, Ted unleashed the most virulent of his crimes. He broke into a sorority home at the dead of the night, killed two girls and brutally injured a couple of others before he walked few blocks away to batter one more innocent girl. Clearly, something was breaking within him. Five assaults on a single night indicated that his craving had become insatiable. It was in Tallahassee, that ted was stopped by a police officer for a driving violation, little realizing that the person the officer had in custody was the rapist and killer wanted in three different states. The rest is history.
Over eight years, from 1980 to 1989, Ted was in the limelight of the nation. His courtroom antics, charm, and articulate defense of himself created a fan following. Young girls around the country, contrary to all expectations, began to like the charming man. Many believed that Ted couldn’t have been the serial murderer he was taken for. His courtroom appearances were packed, and media eagerly awaited the latest from the life of Ted Bundy. In a way, Ted was finally getting what he always wanted - fame and publicity. When all appeals failed, and sentencing was set, Ted chose to speak to the journalists Stephen and Hugh promising he would give them the locations of all the girls he had killed. But when Stephen began taping the interviews, he realized the Ted wasn’t committing to anything about himself. The dialogues were going nowhere. Stephen understood that Ted was never going to admit his crimes in the first person, and the only way to get him closer to the truth was to place Ted on a pedestal and give him the opportunity to analyze the nature of a hypothetical killer who would commit the kind of crimes he did. The ploy worked; Ted began to talk about the rapist in the third person. When personal responsibility was taken away from Ted, he opened up, and in over a hundred hours of recorded conversation revealed to Stephen the nature of a mind behind such heinous attacks.
There is enough literature on Ted Bundy for anyone interested in more details. My intention here was to simply to draw the readers to the fact that Ted was a product of modern society - educated, unfulfilled, craving for fame and acceptance, leading a double life and more importantly, a man who could be our next door neighbor graciously opening doors or helping with grocery when needed. The facade of civility, which we take as a measure of an orderly citizen, proved to be false and empty in Ted. That is how he lured his victims. During his very last interview with a Pastor, Ted blamed Pornography for modern man’s psychological slide into depravity. But that begs the question: How many who watch porn turn into serial killers? Is that the right explanation? Ted also blamed society and broken relationships for such behavior. But none of these really add up to the viciousness of his crimes. The question that looms large in medicine is: Can Ted’s behavior be a wiring problem in the brain? He often complained of voices that he couldn’t control. It is difficult to reach an answer. Hence, his life still interests us.
I was drawn to the case of Ted Bundy for the first time in 2008 during my stay in Sydney, Australia. I was reading Colin Wilson’s magnum opus on crime “The encyclopedia of murder” co-authored with Patricia pitman in 1961. It is a fascinating book, and for the first time, an elite thinker had bought to bear his understanding of what motivates men like Bundy and others to justify their acts. Can murderous rage be a window to understanding the human mind? Even Dostoevsky, the great Russian novelist explored this theme in his brilliant novel “Crime and punishment”. The Hero Raskolnikov is faced with the dilemma of his crime. He relishes living on the edge of the sensory and psychological tempest of chaos than die once and be done with it. In Wilson’s book, he argues that the problem with killers is existential. The triviality of modern-day existence and lack of any deep beliefs creates a vacuum that can be filled with anything that feels good. The trigger to killing someone can be as trivial as “ argument with a wife, didn’t get a cup of hot coffee, a snub, a broken engagement”, almost anything. In a very incisive and meaningful passage Wilson writes: “If a man is deprived of meanings beyond his everyday routine, he becomes disgusted and bitter, and eventually violent. A society that provides no outlet for man’s idealist passions is asking to be torn apart by violence” Cleansing of perception, of which the mystics talk about, is achieved for the serials killer through the act of killing. Universally, none of the killers convicted for mass murders and rape have shown any remorse. Because, in their eyes, the act doesn’t assume the meaning of violence or banality or ‘wrong” as we know it. The suffocation of daily living and the lack of anything deeper creates simmering pressure within, which needs ventilation in some form. For most of us, such ventilation could be art, sport, meditation, vacations, books, music, friends and rest of it; but for a serial killer, the relief is to kill.
After 30 years, Theodore Robert Cowell ( Ted Bundy) is alive in our imagination. A new movie that premiered in the recent Sundance festival is about to hit the screens. We may hate the man for what he did; but certainly, he lives, and from his grave, must be smiling too. What more could he have asked for? We are giving him all the fame and glory he would have liked to have during his lifetime.
God bless…
yours in mortality,
Bala