Content warning: The following posts contains depictions of violence. A monster who concealed his evil streak under a friendly smile and well-coifed hair, Ted Bundy is a notorious serial killer who hardly requires an introduction. Though a few women are survivors of their encounters with Ted Bundy, he confessed to murdering 28 women between 1974 and 1978, though authorities believed he killed many more. Bundy's horrific crimes — kidnap, rape, and murder — have captivated millions for decades, so it makes sense that in the era of true-crime documentaries, he, too, would get the Netflix treatment in Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes (not to mention yet another film starring Zac Efron). Though his story is a fascinating one (he escaped from prison twice before Florida state executed him in 1989), it's women like Bundy survivor Carol DaRonch, a critical witness who was largely responsible for putting the killer behind bars for the first time, who deserve our attention most.
In The Ted Bundy Tapes, DaRonch recalled the harrowing fall day in 1974 when she first came in contact with Bundy in the Salt Lake City, Utah, area in great detail. She had been 18 at the time and, despite hearing about a recent string of abductions and killings, hadn't been concerned with being out alone in public. It was the '70s, after all, and while SLC boasted more than 170,000 residents, the city and surrounding areas felt, for the most part, like a tight-knit community.
On November 8, DaRonch drove herself to the mall and entered a bookstore. Shortly after, she was approached by a strange man who identified himself as a police officer and warned that someone had tried to break into her car. The warning signs were there: nothing was missing from the car, the man smelled like alcohol, and he was driving a Volkswagen Bug instead of an official patrol car. Still, this was a different time in a safe community, and he had a realistic badge. What reason did she have not to believe him?
DaRonch got into his car, and they took off. She sensed things were wrong when he pulled over near an elementary school and noticed that the passenger side door didn't have an easily accessible handle. When she started to panic, he cuffed one of her wrists, pulled out a gun, and threatened to kill her.
"I had never been so frightened in my entire life," DaRonch stated in the docuseries. "I know this is cliché, but my whole life went before my eyes."
Eventually, she fought off the man, found a way to open the door, and escaped. "I just fought with all my life," she added.
It's a good thing she had, too. Four hours later, Bundy murdered another woman in a fit of rage.
After months of living in fear without answers, DaRonch finally received some good news. Police had arrested a man who seemed to match her description and wanted her to see if she could identify her attacker in a lineup. Though Bundy had tried to alter his appearance, DaRonch said she knew him instantly. She later learned that prosecutors found a gym bag filled with a mask, an ice pick, and pantyhose in his car, as well as the key that unlocked the handcuffs she'd been forced into wearing. Only then did authorities start to connect Bundy to the killings in Washington and Oregon, which had previously gone unsolved.
Despite her bravery, DaRonch said many people questioned her accuracy and intentions, saying that Bundy was too handsome, trustworthy, and intelligent to be a killer. He, a newly converted Mormon and law student, couldn't possibly be a sadistic serial rapist and murderer. Still, DaRonch testified in court, and Bundy was sentenced to jail for a 90-day evaluation. (Sadly, society hasn't gotten much better at believing women, especially when they come forward about charismatic white men.)
DaRonch isn't the only woman who survived an encounter with Bundy. At least four other women — Sotria Kritsonis, Rhonda Stapley, Kathy Kleiner, and Karen Chandler, who, along with Kleiner, was brutally attacked in a Florida sorority house — lived to tell their haunting stories. These women, who are scarred to this day by their encounters, are the real heroes of Bundy's terrifying tale. It's them, not him, who should be revered for their bravery, applauded for coming forward with their experiences, and remembered for escaping one of the most infamous men who ever lived.