Ted Bundy had the nation on edge in the 1970s, slaying dozens of innocent women and evading police at every turn. When he was finally captured, Bundy was accused of murder, sexual assault, and necrophilia. While Bundy himself claimed to have taken the lives of an estimated 36 women, some experts put the number closer to 100 people. They also count men, and perhaps a child, among his victims. It's worth noting that Bundy was only 42 when he was executed in 1989, and at that point, he had already been in prison for years. The acts he committed spanned roughly 20 years and extended throughout the United States.
So what makes someone a serial killer? It's the age-old question of whether people turn bad or are just born bad. Countless books, documentaries, and podcasts have tried to get inside Bundy's head. Even his girlfriend, Elizabeth Kloepfer - who he dated before his spree of shocking misdeeds - didn't suspect he had the capacity for such behavior. His unstable childhood is often cited as the root of his problems. While it doesn't answer all of our questions, Bundy's adolescence does give us some disturbing insights into the man he would become.
Bundy's mother, Eleanor Louise Cowell (known as Louise), was only 22 years old when she gave birth to Ted. It was a problematic pregnancy from the onset: It was unplanned, Louise wasn't married, and Ted's father was not in the picture. Being an unwed mother in 1946 was taboo in and of itself, and the severity of Louise's situation was compounded by the fact that her parents were extremely religious.
She gave birth to Ted at the Elizabeth Lund Home for Unwed Mothers in Burlington, VT, on November 24, 1946. Before Bundy was even born, his existence had an air of scandal to it. The identity of his father ultimately had to be kept a secret - even from Ted, himself.
To this day, no one knows the true identity of Ted Bundy's father. Louise was unreliable on the subject. On his birth certificate, Ted's father is listed as Lloyd Marshall, a US Air Force veteran. His mother later told people that Jack Worthington - a sailor on leave in Philadelphia - was Ted's father.
Since his father wasn't in the picture, Bundy's birth certificate was stamped with the word, "Illegitimate."
Ted's severe and controlling grandfather, Sam Cowell, forbade Ted's mother from raising him as her son. Instead, Ted's grandparents adopted him at birth, raising him as their own. During his formative years, Ted believed Louise was his older sister. She helped raise Ted, but they never genuinely bonded as mother and son.
As an adult, Bundy said of his mother, "There’s this logjam of feelings in her that she doesn’t open up and explain." It seems it wasn't until his teens or early twenties that Bundy discovered his sister was his biological mother.
Shortly before his execution in 1989, psychiatrist Dorothy Otnow Lewis evaluated Bundy, who believed the convicted murderer's dark tendencies were rooted in the first few years of his life when he likely witnessed the physical aggression his grandfather displayed towards his family. Bundy's grandfather also allegedly treated animals harshly - he was said to be seen swinging a cat around by the tail - and was generally disliked in the community.
However, Bundy seems to have blocked the memories of his grandfather and described good memories of the man he thought was his father. Dr. Lewis only discovered the truth about Bundy's grandfather after interviewing other family members.