On the morning of January 24, 1989, hundreds of people gathered outside Florida State Prison in Raiford, FL. It appeared as if they were gearing up for a celebration. They wore matching shirts, drank beers, and chanted. Intermittent whooping erupted every few minutes. When the clock struck 7:16, the whole crowd burst into cheers. “That’s a wrap,” someone proclaims in an archival video.
At that moment within the prison, a masked executioner flipped the switch on the electric chair, sending 2,000 volts of electricity into the body of Ted Bundy, America’s most notorious serial killer. Bundy had staved off execution for over 10 years. His first death warrant was signed in July 1979 for the Chi Omega murders; another came soon after for the murder of Kimberly Leach. By 1988, after years of appealing these warrants, it seemed that Bundy's time was imminent. But Bundy had one last trick up his sleeve to try to delay the inevitable: He could confess.
Bundy had been outrunning execution for a while. Originally, he was scheduled to be executed on November 18, 1987. However, hours before the execution, three federal judges in an Atlanta appeals court stayed the execution to investigate whether Bundy had been mentally competent during the trial of Kimberly Leach. Then, in December 1987, a district judge in Orlando ruled that Bundy was a “diabolical genius and the most competent serial killer in the country," and was absolutely mentally competent during his 1980 trial.
Further, U.S. District Judge G. Kendall Sharp, who issued the decision, claimed the "mentally incompetent" argument was just a way for Bundy to wheedle out of the death penalty. "Everyone knows that competency was not on trial here. The death penalty is. The only reason he is here is because of the penalty itself," he said.
In 1988, Bundy found someone who was ardently opposed to the death penalty enough that she would help a killer of at least 30 women. Diana Weiner was a lawyer who worked with several death row inmates. While judges continued to deliberate Bundy's mental competency, Weiner and Bundy worked on a campaign to extend his time on earth. Bundy had what no one else did: specific knowledge of his crimes.
"Together with Weiner, he hatched a strategy," wrote David Von Dehle in Among the Lowest of the Dead: The Culture of Capital Punishment. "When the next death warrant was signed, Bundy would offer to make a clean breast [sic], to start at the beginning and account for very victim. he would promise to pore over maps and pinpoint the location of each body."
Bundy’s plan was to swoop into investigations like a savior, directing search parties towards the hidden locations of the bodies. “He would offer, from the mind of America's most notorious serial killer, a windfall of material for investigators of psychiatrists. He could pledge of resolve the mysteries haunting all those grieving people,” wrote von Dehle.
Obviously, though, this plan would take time. Bundy would need least two to three years, as John Tanner, a spiritual leader trying to spiritually redeem Bundy, told prosecutors. Along with Weiner, Tanner was hoping the execution would be stayed so Bundy could confess. As Bundy's official legal team suspected, the plan wouldn't work: Bundy's final death warrant was signed on January 17, 1989.
Still, Bundy kept trying with his "bones-for-time" scheme. For the first time, Bundy began to confess and speak candidly about the murders. In an interview with F.B.I. agent Bill Hagmeier three days before his execution, Bundy gave details for murders in Colorado. Yet he held back information. "Bundy was trying to string the investigators along, tempt them, turn them into levers for his cause. It became a delicate dance: he walked up to the edge of a full confession, then demanded more time," Von Drehle wrote.
During the confessions, Bundy admitted to 11 killings in Washington, though he had originally only been linked to eight. He indicated the locations of three bodies in Utah and confessed to killings in Colorado ″The bottom line was, he said, ’I did it because I enjoyed doing it and I wanted to do it,‴ Hagmaier said of Bundy’s motives for the killings.
Shockingly, as part of his ploy, Bundy tried to enlist victims' families in his "bones-for-time" scheme, thinking they would wish to know what happened to their loved ones. He pressured Hagmeier to contact the family of Deborah Kent, a Utah victim whose body had never been found, and the family of Kimberly Leach. In his journal, Bundy wrote: "Contact Kents...will find Debbie...need help to do so...and need time."
Bundy's final appeal for more time was shot down on January 20, 1989. On January 23, hours before he was to be executed, Bundy gave a final interview with fundamentalist Christian psychologist James Dobson, known for his campaign against pornography. In the interview, Bundy blamed porn for his murder spree.
To Ann Rule, a former friend of Bundy's and the author of of The Stranger Beside Me, this interview was just another one of Bundy's cons. "Dr. Dobson wanted someone to testify against booze and pornography, and Ted wanted to leave us all talking about him. He wanted to blame someone else for his crimes, and by saying it was us who left all those bad magazines on the racks, he became innocent in his own mind," Rule said at an event in 1989.
The fight was over. On January 23, 1989, Bundy dined on burritos and rice. The following day, 42-year-old Bundy was executed in the electric chair, the sounds of the crowd's chanting "Burn, Bundy, Burn" from the crowd audible within the prison. The crowd was cheering the death of a villain. Though Bundy died, his presence remained. Rule was right: We're still talking about him.