CRIME

A killer’s final hour

Bundy makes a last-ditch confession

MARK NICHOLS February 6 1989
CRIME

A killer’s final hour

Bundy makes a last-ditch confession

MARK NICHOLS February 6 1989

A killer’s final hour

Bundy makes a last-ditch confession

CRIME

Escorted by two guards, the condemned man entered the death chamber in handcuffs shortly before 7 a.m. on Jan. 24. While 42 witnesses watched through a large window, the guards strapped 42-year-old Theodore Robert (Ted) Bundy into Florida’s electric chair. Speaking into a microphone and addressing two of the witnesses by name, the convicted killer uttered his last words: “Jim and Fred, I’d like you to give my love to my family and friends.” Then, after the guards had attached a metal skullcap to Bundy’s shaved head and covered his head with a piece of cloth, the executioner pressed a switch that sent 2,000 volts of electricity coursing through his body. At 7:16 a.m., doctors pronounced Bundy dead. Suspected of killing as many as 50 young women—and possibly 100—during the 1970s, Bundy spent the last few days of his life confessing to killings. But his execution last week—more than eight years after he was convicted of mutilating and murdering a 12-year-old Florida girl—meant that no one will ever know the exact number of slayings carried out by the United States’ worst serial murderer.

Bundy was executed just seven hours after the U.S. Supreme Court turned down a final appeal by his lawyers for a stay of execution on the grounds that the jury had not been properly informed that conviction would mean the death penalty. Handsome, intelligent and personable, the native of Tacoma, Wash., grew up in a

strict Christian home. Bundy studied law at the University of Utah at Salt Lake City before he began stalking and killing women in the Pacific northwest states more than a decade ago. Frequently, Bundy throttled and sexually abused his victims. Many of the bodies were never found. Arrested in Florida in 1978, Bundy was convicted in 1979 for the killing of two Florida State University students, who were bludgeoned and strangled in a Tallahassee sorority house. A year later, he was also found guilty of murdering 12-year-old Kimberly Leach. After appeals against his convictions failed in higher courts, then-Florida governor

Robert Graham issued three successive warrants for Bundy’s execution in 1986, but federal courts stayed them after Bundy’s lawyers mounted further appeals. His exploits became the subject of five books and one TV movie.

As his time finally ran out last week, Bundy—who in the past had protested his innocence—confessed to the killing of 19 other women, including some whose deaths or disappearances had never been linked to him. Among his victims: Debi Kent, a 17-year-old Salt Lake City student who disappeared in 1974, and Roberta Parks, a 20-year-old student at Oregon State University in Corvallis, who vanished in 1974. Her battered body was found a year later east of Seattle.

Bundy’s violent career provoked a gruesome demonstration by proponents of capital punishment. On the morning of Bundy’s scheduled execution, about 300 death-penalty supporters waited in a field near Starke, near his deathrow cell at the Florida state prison. One man and his wife had a lighted billboard on their truck that said “Bundy bum in hell,” while another demonstrator stood beside an effigy of Bundy in the electric chair. Another sold Tshirts depicting Bundy in the chair, with a caption saying “Bum Bundy bum.”

The day before his execution, Bundy took part in a videotaped interview with James Dobson, a California fundamentalist Christian broadcaster, in which the condemned man linked his crimes to violent pornography and alcohol. Bundy said that as a child he had become fascinated by sexual violence that “brings out a hatred that is just too terrible to describe.” He said that alcohol reduced his inhibitions against killing. Added Bundy: “I deserve, certainly, the most extreme punishment society has, and I think society deserves to be protected from me and from others like me.”

Bundy was the 106th person to be executed in the United States since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. Still, the long series of postponements that delayed Bundy’s execution could help to produce an accelerated pace of executions in the future. The successful legal manoeuvres by Bundy’s lawyers prompted a public outcry in Florida, where surveys have shown that more than 85 per cent of those polled favor the death penalty.

On the day after Bundy died, Florida governor Robert Martinez delivered a speech denouncing the “federal appeals process that allows death-row inmates to manipulate the system.” Meanwhile, with 296 prisoners currently on death row in Florida, the state’s electric chair was unlikely to be idle for long. Barring a last-minute stay of execution, Ian Lightboum, 29—who in January, 1981, shot and killed a woman—was scheduled to be executed this week, though almost certainly without the blaze of publicity that attended the last hours of Ted Bundy.

MARK NICHOLS

FRANK ADAMS