Jan. 24 marked 30 years since serial killer Ted Bundy was executed by electric chair at Florida State Prison. This date also marked the release of Netflix’s new true-crime docuseries “Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes.”
Before Bundy’s execution, journalist Stephen Michaud took advantage of Bundy’s degree in psychology and prompted the mass murderer to speak about these crimes in third person as an “expert witness.” Thus, the Ted Bundy Tapes were created.
“Well it’s not an easy question, but I think we can speculate,” Bundy responded when asked who he thought could have committed these atrocities. “We can generally describe manifestations of this condition of this person’s being skewed towards matters of a sexual nature that involve violence.”
Ted Bundy, whose actions coined the term serial killer, was a handsome, articulate and educated man. He used these traits to his advantage when luring victims to his 1968 Volkswagen Beetle. Many times he would be dressed as a law enforcement officer or pretend to have an injury in order to get help from the victim.
Once lured into the Beetle, Bundy proceeded to immobilize his victims by bludgeoning and handcuffing them, and later raping and dismembering the bodies. He always left a double bite mark on his victims — his signature. His primary victims were college-age women with dark hair.
Ted Bundy killed over 30 women in this fashion. He escaped custody twice, the final time fleeing to Tallahassee, Fla., where he abducted and murdered a 12-year-old girl and two women at the Florida State University Chi Omega house.
In his confession, Bundy admitted to an obsession with pornography as well as necrophilia. He also noted in the tapes that he suspected the killer began to “connect naked women with violence.”
Due to the lasting impact of Bundy’s crimes coupled with the type of victims he chose, one can see how the Netflix docuseries could gain prominence on social media and on college campuses. But what is it that’s so fascinating about revisiting this horrific piece of history?
Directed by esteemed documentarian Joe Berlinger, “The Ted Bundy Tapes” trace the infamous serial killer’s life up until his execution. Throughout the series, journalists, FBI agents, law enforcement and Bundy’s close friends and family gave their testimonies on their experiences with him.
Although seemingly necessary to include Bundy’s family as witnesses, their fond remembrances served only to humanize and, at times, glorify the life of this killer. These moments were juxtaposed with flashing pornographic images and grisly photos from the crime scenes, sequenced in a sort of sickening, artsy montage.
These montages continued throughout the series as transitions and hinted at the glamourization and sensationalization of these murders within the film. His attractive appearance was mentioned many times throughout the series in order to supplement the hysteria that one may never know who could become a serial killer.
The final episode focused on Bundy’s trial. Archival footage revealed a strange obsession many college-age women had with Bundy. Many even attended the trial in order to watch and fawn over him. This specific footage attributed to the true-crime series’ hollywoodization of the life of Ted Bundy, disguised as a seemingly important part of his criminal profile.
This calls into question the ethics of “The Ted Bundy Tapes.” The information presented in the series is nothing many people don’t already know, and can be easily found online. Does releasing this series on the anniversary of his death denote a celebration? Is there a necessity to relive these crimes by binge-watching four hours of Ted Bundy’s macabre legacy?
“Murderers do not come out in the dark with long teeth and saliva dripping off their chin,” Bundy said. “We want to be able to say we can identify these dangerous people … you can’t identify them. People don’t realize that there are potential killers among them.”
The previous quotes from Bundy were used as the last dialogue in the series. This voiceover was specifically chosen to leave the viewer in a timid and uneasy state. If simply a documentary that recollected the events of this time, this placement of dialogue wouldn’t be necessary. This creative choice attributed to the dramatization of the docuseries.
Despite its questionable tactics and post-production choices, “The Ted Bundy Tapes” highlights a dark and interesting period in American history. Instead of glorifying Bundy as a nefarious villain, focusing more on the victims and their legacies would have been a more ethical approach to this 30-year anniversary.