Ted Bundy is controversially enjoying pop culture icon status as of the moment, thanks to Netflix’s documentary Conversations with a Serial Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes and the film Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile‘s portrayal of the serial killer.
Ted Bundy confessed to burglary, rape, murder, and necrophilia and was sentenced to the electric chair in 1980. He continuously delayed his execution by divulging little information regarding his crimes each time. Bundy was finally executed in 1989, nine years later. Read on to know about his childhood and the probable causes for his psychopathy.
Who Was Ted Bundy as a Child?
Born Out of Wedlock
Ted’s birth itself was already scandalous. Eleanor Louise Cowell gave birth to Ted in 1946—a time when being an unwed mother was taboo. She was only 22 years old, and it was unplanned, which means Ted’s father was nowhere. Worse, her parents were extremely religious.
His Absent Father
Until now, no one exactly knows the true identity of Ted Bundy’s father, and the identity ultimately had to be kept a secret. Louise herself was unreliable on the subject. On his birth certificate, Ted’s father is listed as Lloyd Marshall, a US Air Force veteran, but his mother later told people that Jack Worthington, a sailor, was Ted’s father. Since his father wasn’t in the picture, Bundy’s birth certificate was stamped with the word illegitimate.
Bundy expressed a lifelong resentment toward his mother for never talking to him about his real father, and for leaving him to discover his true parentage for himself.
His Mother, Mistaken as a Sister
Sam Cowell, Ted’s grandfather, forbade Louise from raising Ted as her son. 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, and it wasn’t until his teens or early twenties that Bundy discovered his sister was his biological mother.
His Abusive Grandfather
Psychiatrist Dorothy Otnow Lewis evaluated Bundy before his execution, and she believed that the serial killer’s violent tendencies were rooted in his childhood, when he witnessed the physical aggression his grandfather displayed toward his family.
Bundy seemed to have repressed the memories of his grandfather and instead shared only 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. They told attorneys that Samuel Cowell was a tyrannical bully and a bigot who beat his wife and the family dog and swung neighborhood cats by their tails. He once threw Louise’s younger sister Julia down a flight of stairs for oversleeping.
Strange Behaviors Toward His Aunt
Julia Cowell was still a teenager living at home when Ted was a little boy. Julia once woke to find an assortment of kitchen knives laid out around her. After the initial shock of seeing the blades, Julia allegedly noticed three-year-old Ted standing at the foot of her bed, staring at her and smiling. The young Bundy reportedly committed similar acts on several occasions.
Grandfather—His Real Father?
Many theories were suggested regarding the true identity of Ted’s father. Some family members expressed suspicions that Bundy might have been fathered by Louise’s own violent, abusive father, Samuel Cowell. The theory goes that Cowell had relations with his daughter, which could explain Bundy’s psychological issues. His mother fervidly denied the accusations that she and her father ever had an inappropriate relationship.
Early Exposure to Adult Periodicals
Dr. James Dobson, a psychologist associated with the religious group Focus on the Family, interviewed Ted before his execution. Bundy told Dobson that his early inclination toward adult materials caused his crimes. However, Dobson had a known bias against adult material, and some critics suggested Bundy was trying to manipulate Dobson and the public during the interview. Bundy was revealed to have presented different claims, saying he never purchased such a magazine in another interview.
Louise Cowell later married Johnny Bundy when Ted was four. The Bundys subsequently had four children together, and Johnny attempted to be a father figure to Ted. But although Johnny tried to include his adoptive son in camping trips and other family activities, Ted remained distant. Ted’s interest in the finer things in life reportedly caused him to be embarrassed by Johnny, who worked as a cook. Ted later complained to his girlfriend that Johnny wasn’t his real father, “wasn’t very bright,” and “didn’t make much money.”
In his conversation with biographer Stephen Michaud, he described how he would consume large quantities of alcohol and “canvass the community” late at night in search of undraped windows where he could observe women undressing, or “whatever [else] could be seen.” Ted Bundy later said he enjoyed watching others as a means of feeling close to someone else.
Picking Pockets and Shoplifting
Ted always wanted to be wealthy and resented his working-class upbringing. In his early teen years, he started stealing items he wanted but couldn’t afford. Bundy was placed in police custody on several occasions as a juvenile, but that didn’t stop him. He used stolen credit cards to purchase more than thirty pairs of socks while in Florida. He was so proficient at stealing that he also stole several cars in Colorado. His love of skiing also proved to be an expensive hobby, and he had a collection of ill-gotten ski equipment. He forged lift tickets and was arrested at least twice on suspicion of burglary and auto theft.
Eight-Year-Old Ann Marie
Some believe Ted took his first victim when he was fourteen. While authorities have never been able to prove it, Ted Bundy was a suspect in the 1961 disappearance of eight-year-old Ann Marie Burr. Ann Marie went missing in late August, and her body was never found. She reportedly vanished near Bundy’s childhood home in Tacoma. Bundy lived only a few blocks from the Burrs’ home, and neighbors had seen someone lurking outside the house in the days leading up to Ann Marie’s disappearance. Bundy, himself, denied the charge. However, one author later claimed that Bundy confessed to the act while being interviewed in prison.