Is That Weird?: America’s Fascination with Serial Killers

I like to know things.

Whether these things actually provide useful information for the future or not doesn’t really matter. I like learning and I like feeding into my own curiosity. So when the Ted Bundy stories started coming up in the media again, I started looking into it more for myself. Of course, I had heard the name before and my knowledge was really just the main bullet points:

  • He was a perverted creep.
  • He assaulted and killed a bunch of women and girls.
  • Very funny looking.

But I wasn’t going to open up my Netflix account for this (so I also haven’t watched “You”; sorry!). Instead, I looked up some easily accessible literature and found The Stranger Beside Me, a book by his former associate Anne Rule. Like everyone else who had close ties with Bundy during his time of initial arrest, Rule was utterly shocked. Bundy has perfectly played himself off to be an innocent, wholesome, intelligent guy. In his initial arrest, he had the support of college buddies, professors, family, girlfriends (dude kept more than one), etc.

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However, as the story unfolds, Ann Rule describes the progression of her thinking. She went from being shocked and thinking that “there’s no way Ted would ever” to “it is a definite fact that Bundy was a monster”. Learning from her book and the encounters with Bundy, it was definitely interesting to get an idea of how and when things started to go downhill for him. For one, the guy isn’t some genius. Cunning and manipulative, sure. But definitely not a genius. I’m not going to go into how I feel about the book in its entirety, but I would recommend it to anyone who wants to hear the story from the perspective of his former acquaintance. But, should you choose to read this book please be advised that it does contain graphic content in reference to how Bundy carried out crimes.

I feel that most of us can come to the conclusion that Bundy was a sick, twisted man who earned his death sentence. He was a manipulative conman whose downfall was spearheaded by his own arrogance. With that being said: why are we so intrigued? Why is it that when books, film adaptations, and documentaries about a guy like this are brought to the public eye that we all flock to them? Most important: is that weird and should we be concerned?

A Slippery Slope

A lot of intrigue behind the Ted Bundy cases, occurrences that took place close to 50 years ago, was brought back through Joe Berlinger’s Netflix documentary series Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes. The documentary contains archival footage and interviews of Ted Bundy and the people affected by his crimes. Joe Berlinger also directed the film Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile which is a ‘biographical crime thriller’ that also centers around Ted Bundy. The narrative is told from the perspective of Elizabeth Kloepfer, one of his former girlfriends.

Upon seeing the trailer for Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile the first thing that came to my mind was: This looks like some sort of edgy action film. After reading Ann Rule’s book and researching about Ted Bundy’s background, I will say I was taken aback by how the teaser trailer seemed to portray him as this ‘edgy and charming’ criminal. But according to his victims and those who became aware of his true nature: he was exactly that. But, be that as it may, the trailer also seems to deemphasize the horror that was Ted Bundy. Of course, it may be too soon to say as this is only the first trailer released.

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Controversy has surfaced over Zac Efron playing the starring role in upcoming Berlinger film based on the life and crimes of Ted Bundy.

One argument (or fear) about films such as Berlinger’s is that they could inadvertently glorify the serial killer. They could potentially have the audience not just being intrigued by his story but impressed or maybe even sympathetic to Bundy. People have criticized Berlinger for casting Zac Efron in the role of Ted Bundy, mainly because he’s conventionally good looking, and the last thing people want is to be attracted to someone who is portraying a serial killer.

Others, however, would argue the opposite. According to those who encountered Bundy, he was a very charming guy. He was often described as “easy to talk to, charismatic, intelligent, humorous, etc”. With that being said, it may make sense to have someone of Efron’s aesthetic to portray him in this film. The main thing about Bundy is that, to his friends and colleagues, he was seemingly the least suspecting person to engage in such an unthinkable act. They regarded reports about him as slander; even complete strangers of Ted would get swept up by his charisma and the way he presented himself to the media; this eventually got him a following, a ‘fan club’ of women who admired him. It is very possible that having an attractive actor like Zac Efron is supposed to emphasize those very points. This guy is a menace? A cold killer? This guy? Really? And, while I’m not familiar with Elizabeth’s story specifically, Ted Bundy had other girlfriends that displayed intense denial in regards to who he was as a person. With this story being in Elizabeth’s perspective, it’s likely we will be seeing what Elizabeth saw through her ‘rose-colored glasses’ that she saw in him.

Again I want to emphasize that this is only the first trailer, and we don’t know where Berlinger could go with this. Let’s also not forget that he’s definitely not the first person to create a film based on Bundy; outside of his own, there have been five films, three books, and three other television series revolving around Ted Bundy. But we can’t deny that basing a film off of one of the most notorious killers our nation is a risky move. It is very easy to toe the line of artistic expression and unintended glorification.

The biggest problem that people are having with Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile is that it can easily cross the line. Having it portrayed as an ‘action’ or ‘thriller’ could very much feed into the idea of romanticizing the life and crimes of Ted Bundy. When you present that type of portrayal, it’s very easy for the audience to get sucked into it to the point that they forget that he was a real person, real people were affected by these crimes, and they were carried out in gruesome and unthinkable ways.

Ladies Love…Serial Killers?

It’s one thing to be in a weird headspace about someone like Zac Efron portraying a notorious murderer. It’s a completely different topic when people viewed the docu-series on Netflix and, despite all of the content revolving around the interviews and testimonies, mainly had more to say about Bundy’s “good looks”. In response to this odd reaction, Netflix’s social media team ended up taking to Twitter to say this:

I will say this: beauty is most definitely in the eye of the beholder. I’ve seen many photos of Ted Bundy thanks to good ol’ Google. I am definitely not seeing what a lot of these other people are seeing. Is it a crime to find him physically attractive? No. Is it rather disturbing to rave on and on about his good looks fully knowing about what this man did? Most definitely. While it’s nothing new that people found Ted Bundy to be an attractive guy, we could go our whole lives not knowing how you feel, girl.

It was even more peculiar in the 1970s while Bundy was on trial for his murder cases, specifically the case of 12-year-old Kimberly Diane Leach, his last known victim. Women would show up to the court to give Bundy’s defense lawyer handwritten notes to give to him. Some would tell reporters that “he didn’t look like the type to kill anybody”. Young women would sit in during his trial, smiling and giggling whenever he looked at them. Carol Anne Boone agreed to marry him minutes before he received his death sentence and also had given birth to his daughter. Even on death row, Bundy had women smitten over him. Then you have another notorious killer, Richard Ramirez, who had countless groupies that sent him love letters all while he was on death row. One of the jurors of his trial ended up falling in love with him and publicly defending him, claiming that he was a caring guy who didn’t get a fair trial.

According to this article, there are psychological reasons as to why certain women could have been attracted to Bundy and others like him despite his being accused of several different murders. In fact, even though Bundy wasn’t necessarily universally handsome, women could have been drawn to the general way he carried himself. Most would describe him as bold, confident, charismatic, a good listener, easy to talk to, humorous: basically all the qualities you’d like to see in an alpha male. Some people liked his “edginess”; he was somehow able to pull off a friendly boy-next-door vibe while also pulling off a ‘mysterious and dangerous’ type.

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Doreen Lioy had written him over 70 letters while has incarcerated starting in 1985. They married in 1996.

For others, it could have simply been because of his somewhat of a ‘celebrity’ status and the way he presented himself to the media as ‘the truly innocent suspect’. Women may have equated him to the way they would a rock star or rap icon, others would have enjoyed the fantasy and thrill of having a ‘killer’ boyfriend, others may have thought that he had some sort of ‘lost and misunderstood soul’ for them to care for. Whether it was a case of not being able to fully grasp the situation at hand or just full delusion, ladies were fascinated by and attracted to Ted Bundy.

Oh, and just to be clear: That’s most definitely weird and if you fall into this category I suggest seeing somebody about that.

Sheer Curiosity

As I stated before: I like to know things, and there are plenty of people out there just like who also like to know things. Humans are naturally inquisitive beings. A lot of times when we begin researching something it’s because we want to satisfy our curiosity (or maybe you just want to prove your side of an argument, I don’t know).

I can’t lie, it’s very hard for me to hear a one-liner about a crime story and not become intrigued enough to find out more. Especially if the story is as outlandish as a Ted Bundy, a Richard Ramirez, a Jeffrey Dahmer, and so on. I don’t have a background in criminology, law, sociology, or psychology. Obtaining knowledge about these people and their backstories will likely contribute nothing to my life in any way. I understand, and yet I still want to know these things. It’s like watching a movie up but you miss the ending or reading an intense novel only to find that several chapters have been ripped out of it.

Curiosity is an innate quality. If you’re at a daycare center full of toddlers and then all of a sudden a photographer shows up with all of his different camera equipment to start taking pictures of them, what are those kids going to do? Some of them will gather around him, some will try to touch his possessions, some will try to talk with him, and others will just stare at him awkwardly like small children love to do. Or maybe you’re at work and a co-worker steps in; but instead of his usual dress shirt and slacks, he’s wearing a Hawaiian shirt, basketball shorts, Nike sandals with no socks, and wearing a du-rag on his head. I don’t know about you, but if my co-worker came in looking like that, I’d have some questions (especially with it being winter time right now).

But…is it Weird, Though?

When it comes to this subject, in particular, I think it just really depends on why you’re interested in these types of stories. For me, it’s just a matter of curiosity and my strange desire to be knowledgeable about things that don’t necessarily matter. For others, it may be wanting to understand things from a social, psychological, and societal perspective; why did it take so long to catch these guys? Would could have happened in their life to make them go into such dark habits? What’s with these women who were obsessed with them? What do these situations say about the state of our legal system? And so on. But I will say that it is still a slippery slope. It’s a completely different story if you’re looking to these people as if they are someone to be admired. You can have an interest in the subject matter all day but I wouldn’t go labeling them ‘prolific’ as that is better served to a compliment. And, to state the obvious, it is most definitely weird to express intense romantic attraction to these guys. Yes, there are some deeply embedded psychological and social reasons to why that may be but I think something like that is best either kept to yourself (aka don’t defend these guys just because you’re attracted to them) or maybe talked out with a professional.

Your Friendly Neighborhood Awkward Penguin,

-Raven

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