June 9, 2021

With a simple Google search, one can see there are at least 11 movies about serial killer Ted Bundy, and that’s not counting the newest movie coming out later this year.


I’ll give credit where credit is due: writers have managed to take this story that rocked the U.S. since Bundy’s trial in 1979 and create new angles that draws audiences in.


But as a writer, I know there’s a difference between glorifying and informing, as does Hollywood; however, they seem to blur the line between the two while recently displaying Bundy’s charisma as his main personality trait, only using the last ten minutes of a movie or episode to show that — believe it or not — he used his charm to kill.


Do I myself write about true crime? Yes, that’s what I’m known for on The SIREN, and I won’t make any excuses if it seems like I’ve ever glorified a criminal. I mention extreme violence and kill counts in my articles because they’re facts. But if I inadvertently sensationalized them in the process, I’ll own up to it.


“[I]f these are true stories and are depicted in a correct fashion as to what happened, then fine,” world-renowned pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht told me in an interview in 2019. “If you find it too violent, then turn it off.”


Dr. Wecht has also said in other interviews that true crime has come a long way from sensationalizing killers. He says it can and has been used to educate others, whether it be potential victims escaping an uncomfortable situation with someone they suspect to be a criminal or even providing valuable information for the field of criminology to prevent future crimes of a certain sort.


An example of informative use is journalist Jessica McDiarmid’s book Highway of Tears.  It speaks of Canada’s Highway 16 and the shocking number of women (most of whom are Indigenous) that go missing from there and are later found murdered.


True crime could also be seen as a sort of therapy for both victims’ families and families of the criminal.


Kerri Rawson talks about growing up with a seemingly normal childhood until her father is charged with the crimes of the BTK Killer in her book A Serial Killer’s Daughter.


Dancing With the Octopus, tells the story from the victim’s viewpoint. Written by Debora Harding, it tells her story of being kidnapped at 14, raped, and eventually being released. Her mother firmly believed her daughter’s kidnapping was a fabricated story, resulting in Harding making the difficult decision of visiting her kidnapper in prison in order to prove her mother wrong, get closure for the attack, and discover why he did it.


Similar books and interviews have been conducted with the Ted Bundy case.


Probably one of the most famous is Ann Rule’s account of being friends with Bundy in The Stranger Beside Me. The two volunteered at a suicide hotline when they met, often worked together and even used signals to alert one another when it was believed a person was truly about to take their life.


With this book, Rule’s morals have been questioned, some wondering why she wasn’t more insistent that her friend was a killer while the evidence was right in front of her. The title does suggest she acknowledged she didn’t know her “friend” as well as she thought, as the book is both about Bundy’s crimes and her realization he was indeed a killer.


A similar angle is Elizabeth Kendall’s The Phantom Prince, which explains Kendall’s romantic relationship with the killer and how she, like Rule, had a very difficult time believing the man she loved was a killer, despite there being many signs.


Could there be indications of sensationalizing in these accounts? Yes, though consider the facts: these were both women who are admitting they fell for the Bundy he wanted them to see. They’re also writing from the perspective they used to have, noting the humanity within him while discrediting this persona he displayed.


Of course, these are both accounts that were released within a year or two of his trial, which is understandable. It’s an event that was fresh in people’s minds, and it’s likely that many didn’t understand the case at the time.


But it’s a good 42 years later, and we’re still focusing on the idea that it’s unbelievable an apparently attractive man could be capable of killing and raping about 30 women. Playing on his looks and charm is probably not the best thing to do because in 2007, 73 psychologists diagnosed him with different mental illnesses; more than 95 percent of them agreed he was a narcissist among other disorders.


Jane Caputi, professor of Women, Gender and Sexuality at Florida Atlantic University, infers how much his ego would be boosted were he alive today: “He was a nose-picker, a nail biter, not well liked as a child, he tortured frogs — his own opinion of himself preceded everything, and the media did just buy that.”


Many Twitter users voiced their disappointment when it was announced another new movie would be released this year.


“He was a vile monster who gruesomely ended the lives of probably more than 30 women,” one user Tweeted. “Please stop making this true-crime consumer-porn trash.”


“The ONLY Ted Bundy adjacent movie I am interested in is one which respectfully tells the life stories of these women and girls, humanising them, portraying them as real people who lived & loved, rather than simply victims,” another user said. “And ONLY if their families give permission.”


Meanwhile, Chief Operating Officer and President of Voltage Pictures, Jonathan Deckter, said, “[Chad Michael] Murray (who portrays the killer) is so talented and expertly captures Bundy’s charm and seductive nature, traits that the notorious killer exploited to win the trust of his victims as well as society.”


One more Twitter user (@Jessi Sheron) — whom I agree with more than anyone here — posted, “Ted Bundy wasn’t hot, also he didnt trick women by being hot, he targeted nice women, pretended to be injured and then when they helped him he killed them. he was just a gross disgusting jerk loser who took advantage of the kindness of others to cause pain and death.”


Sure, one could argue these are being made to educate younger generations of how manipulation works, but in reality, Hollywood only cares about the one thing that most industries care about: money.


Episode specials of Dateline and 20/20 are typically able to focus on the aftermath of the crime, usually with a heavy focus on the victim’s family, what they want others to know about the case, and what could even be done preemptively to ensure others loved ones won’t become the next victim of an episode. (Take my article about the James family, for example.)


To close out, I’ll actually allow Bundy himself to help make my point:


“I’m the most cold-hearted son of a b*tch you’ll ever meet.”


“You feel that last bit of breath leaving their body. You’re looking into their eyes. A person in that situation is God!”


“I don’t want to die. I’m not gonna kid you. I deserve the most extreme punishment society has…I think society deserves to be protected from me and others like me.”


Reveling his apathy, playing God, and bragging about the fact he was violent; obviously, we want a guy like that to continue living in the media’s idea of “infamy.”

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About the Writer
Erin Brody is a Writing and Publishing senior from West Homestead and is the Editor-in-Chief/Director of Operations of The SIREN Media Group. She particularly enjoys investigative journalism and crime... writing and researching it, of course.

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