How One Mind-Blowingly Simple Mistake Stopped Ted Bundy

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Content warning: The following posts contains depictions of violence.
Netflix and the world’s obsession with true crime stories continues in 2019 with its four-part docuseries Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, which launched in January 2019, and the controversial Bundy biopic, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil & Vile, which launched May 3 on the streaming service. The documentary digs far deeper into his history, from how it all started to how Ted Bundy was eventually caught, but the biopic also includes the story of the traffic stops that would put Bundy's eventual trials in motion.
But first, some context. The notorious serial killer, born Theodore Robert Bundy, confessed to around 36 sex killings before his death. However, the doc, which uses audio recordings of an interview with Bundy in his jail cell, notes that conspiracy theorists speculate he was actually involved in the deaths of 100 women. The film also includes interviews from lawyers, journalists, and even a woman who survived being kidnapped by Bundy to explain how the murderer was finally stopped and captured.
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Of course, the time period had a lot to do with why he was able to escape capture for so long. Despite being a criminal referenced with the likes of Charles Manson and Jack the Ripper, the term serial killer wasn’t widely used at the time of Bundy’s murdering spree in the 1970s. The lack of technology and DNA testing made it difficult to connect Bundy to the murders that spanned across California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Colorado, and Florida. Many sources in the documentary alarmingly reference Bundy's status as a student and his “handsome” appearance as reasons people doubted he could be a killer. So when it came down to it, the simplest thing unraveled it all: Multiple, completely coincidental traffic stops (after Bundy escaped prison twice!) were ultimately what led to Bundy’s arrests and death. Extremely Wicked, though controversial for its seemingly sympathetic view of Bundy, does show these admittedly dumb mistakes that led to Bundy's demise.
The Netflix docuseries, however, explains the series of events in detail. Despite the initial string of murders and disappearances in 1974 near Seattle, Washington, it wasn’t until Bundy relocated to Salt Lake City, Utah for law school in August of 1975 that he was first on the police’s radar. In the early hours of the morning, Bundy was driving down a street in his Volkswagen Beetle with his lights off when a patrol officer in the area happened to notice him. When the officer commanded Bundy to stop, he disobeyed and the policeman arrested him for what initially seemed like a misdemeanor. Police then found a gym bag in the car with a ski mask, ice pick, and torn sheets as well as handcuffs that resembled the same restraints Bundy used to kidnap a woman who survived his attack, Carol DaRonch. DaRonch, who is interviewed in Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, then identified Bundy in a lineup and he was convicted of kidnapping. But, of course, the story doesn’t end there.
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Following the conviction, Bundy was extradited to Colorado and put on trial for murder. Somehow the felon (who, again, was being tried for murder!) was left alone and he was able to escape the prison in Aspen, Colorado in June of 1977. He was missing for days. It was yet another fluke accident that caused him to be recaptured after he made a U-turn in a stolen vehicle.
Oh, and there’s more. Bundy broke out of his cell, again.
Just a few months later, in December of 1977, a guard found a pile of books in Bundy’s jail cell bed and realized he had escaped through the ceiling. Even though Bundy was put on the FBI’s Most Wanted List, he evaded capture for 46 days(!). Bundy’s final act on the run was a high speed chase in Pensacola, Florida, in a stolen vehicle, with 21 stolen credit cards.
After being found guilty of murdering two women in Florida on July 24, 1979, Bundy was also charged and found guilty of murdering a 12-year-old girl in November of 1979. He received the death penalty for both crimes. He attempted to escape the electric chair for years, managing to get his execution date pushed back multiple times. He was executed on January 24, 1989 at the Florida State Penitentiary. He finally confessed to most of his murders from 1973 to 1978 two days prior.
But if it hadn't been for that initial routine traffic stop in 1975, this story might have played out very, very differently.
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