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Excerpt from

Ted Bundy: The Felon's Hook

© Copyright 2011 Richard A. Duffus
all rights reserved


 

Prologue

 

Confessions in the Third Person

 

CONVERSATIONS

 

 

 Weary from months of sparring with Ted Bundy over their work in progress about his crimes,authors Steve Michaud and Hugh Aynesworth sought for a way to save the project. Bundy felt it should be an “exciting, gossipy book with naughty details”[1] while the authors and their publishers expected something more substantive, either evidence of his innocence or a confession. Failing that, the project would not be worth their effort.

Bundy had been twice tried for murder, receiving multiple death sentences. It seemed that nothing he could say would affect the ultimate outcome, his execution. Nevertheless, he still professed but couldn’t prove his innocence. He was appealing his convictions and had to avoid self-incrimination. His hands were tied. He couldn’t confess. In fact, he would hold off making the kind of confessions the authors were seeking until just a few days before his death, when his execution had become a certainty.

Michaud and Aynesworth were facing an impasse that would force them to abandon their effort. But, believing that Bundy did want to explain himself, they thought to try a different strategy. It occurred to them that Bundy might be able to talk if he could do so without directly implicating himself. If he could speak in the third person, perhaps speculating about the killer, assuming it was someone other than Bundy, he might be more forthcoming. They decided to try the approach. They had nothing to lose.

On March 26, 1980, they presented the idea to Bundy. He said he would consider it. By the next day he had made up his mind. Bundy more than agreed with the idea. He “embraced it enthusiastically.”[2] It was a way for him to open up. Because he would need to be careful to talk about “this personality” rather than about himself and avoid revealing any details that only the killer could have known, it would be intellectually challenging. It was daring as well. Any mistake could jeopardize his appeals. The authors would later note that he “skirted many cases where … he feared that one slip might provide the vital link.”[3]

Near the end of his life, Bundy recounted his own understanding of the arrangement. “I would speculate based upon—you’ve heard this—based upon knowledge of what I’d read in the newspapers, and my experience in the law, on what happened. But I’d also, and when I speculated, I would make sure to alter significant facts so the police couldn’t say that I was saying things that only someone who’d been there would know.”[4]

Bundy practiced and refined the technique during the resulting conversations that continued on and off for a year. For him it was an intellectual game of cat and mouse. At one point, Michaud tried to trap him in a question concerning Lynda Healy by asking “I guess you would have had to dress her?”[5] Bundy carefully responded, “It would be unlikely that any attempt was made to clothe the girl.”[6]

The rules were strict. There could be no direct questions, no judgmental reactions. Any violation would spoil the game. Bundy often spoke with deliberate ambiguity, much of it “sociological twaddle.”[7] He sometimes inverted his thoughts in order to obfuscate his meaning, revealing more than the authors knew they were getting. In a 1989 discussion with FBI agent Bill Hagmaier, Bundy referred to these instances, “I kind of played with them [psychiatrists], just like I did with some of the authors.”[8]

There ought to be an old adage: “never teach a serial killer new tricks.” They are gamesmen, and there is no telling how they will use what they’ve learned to play out their strategy. When his conversations with Michaud and Aynesworth concluded, Bundy couldn’t stop. Third person confessions can take on many forms and serve many purposes. Seeing the many possibilities, Bundy began to experiment on his own. He was becoming as obsessed with confession as he was with murder. One instance began three years later when he composed a letter to Bob Keppel, a detective who had earlier pursued him.

 

RIVERMAN

 

In October 1984 that letter arrived at its destination. Bob Keppel was now on the Green River Task Force. Bundy was proposing that he had information that might be useful in the pursuit of their quarry. Keppel was wary, wondering what Bundy’s ulterior motive for the offer might be. Keppel knew that Bundy “always seemed to have a hidden agenda.”[9] But one tantalizing possibility Keppel thought of was that Bundy might “use the Green River case as a forum to tell us about his murders.”[10] After some further correspondence, Keppel went to Florida to meet with Bundy.

As Keppel had speculated, the conversations that followed, with Bundy analyzing the circumstances in the Green River case, were as revealing of Bundy himself as they were of the Green River Killer. Keppel knew that Bundy “couldn’t talk about the Riverman’s behavior without detailing some of his own experiences.”[11] Bundy knew as well. When addressing the Green River killer’s motivations, Bundy “hesitated because he knew that we knew he would be talking about himself and his motivations for murder.”[12]

In 1988 Bundy and Keppel engaged in a second round of conversations. Less a cat and mouse game this time, it was more like a chess match between two long-time adversaries. The superficial context would be a discussion of the way a recently arrested serial killer should be interviewed.

Bundy wanted to teach Keppel “how to interview serial killers so I [Keppel] could master the techniques to get his own confessions.”[13] He was going to groom Keppel for the final set of interviews that would take place in January 1989 when Bundy would propose to fully confess. In anticipation of that, he needed to teach Keppel how to be his confessor.

For his part, Keppel was interested in learning the “preferred circumstances under which a convicted murderer, such as he, would talk about his crimes.”[14] He would learn that, most importantly, “The art of interviewing a serial killer was clearly interviewing without being judgmental,”[15] even expressing genuine agreement with the killer that his actions had been correct. It was a lesson that Keppel could never master. It is difficult for anyone to face someone like Bundy, knowing what he had done, without feeling—and showing—disgust and disdain.

As with the Michaud-Aynesworth conversations, the Riverman discussions produced information that was useful to law enforcement in hunting serial killers and interviewing them once apprehended. In addition, they provided valuable insights into Bundy’s own nature. But none of these interactions produced answers to the most basic of questions: who were all his victims and why did he kill them?

Bundy’s experiments with third person techniques spanned nearly a decade. During that time, there were the three known instances detailed above, in 1981, 1984, and 1988. Then in early 1993, five years after Bundy’s last experiment and four years after his death, another seemingly disparate instance of third person confessions surfaced at Florida State Prison.

 

MOUTHPIECE

 

Seated around a table with five other men in a green-painted room, a heavy-set man with thick, wavy hair spoke in a Southern accent. “The main problem is when me and him talk about what he has done, he gets very emotional. That’s one of the reasons why he asked me to do this here. He has a lot of remorse and gets very emotional at times, dealing with them things. They’re hard on him, they’re very hard.”[16]

The man speaking was Bobby Lewis, then serving twenty-five years to life for murder. Next to him was Danny Rolling, accused in the 1990 murders of five students in Gainesville, Florida. Also present were Rolling’s attorney, Johnny Kearns, and three detectives, Steve Kramig, LeGran Hewitt, and Ed Dix, who were investigating the case. Lewis was explaining why he was speaking on the suspect’s behalf. Rolling confirmed Lewis’ statement. “Bobby is my mouthpiece. He is my confessor. I have confessed to him. He will speak to you.”[17]

The detectives were initially reluctant to accept the arrangement, concerned that a confession given in this way might not be accepted by the courts. And they knew Rolling’s pattern. He was a talker. “Once he was caught, he confessed.”[18] If they could get him to start talking, they would get the whole story and get it first-hand. They tried to persuade him to speak for himself. But Rolling stood his ground. Lewis would speak for him. Eventually the detectives relented.

The video-taped session lasted three hours and yielded a confession to the five murders. The detectives would ask Rolling a question and he would respond by whispering to Lewis who would repeat to the detectives what Rolling had said. The detectives would then request confirmation of the answers Lewis was giving by asking “is that correct, Danny?” Even under these ground rules Rolling could hardly contain himself, occasionally making little self-deprecating speeches.

This technique was unusual and awkward but served to prevent the kind of interrogation with which Rolling might otherwise be faced. Just as Rolling’s form of third person confession differed from Bundy’s, so did its purpose. In fact, Rolling’s goals were the opposite of Bundy’s. Rolling was not trying to avoid an admission of guilt. He wanted to ensure his conviction. But he was trying to confine his revelations only to what was necessary to accomplish that. He feared that if he confronted his interrogators directly, he could reveal too much. Anything he said to them would enter the public domain. That would diminish the exclusivity of his story. His use of Lewis provided safe distance.

Other than the fact that this instance of third person confessions took place in Florida State Prison, there appears to be nothing to connect it with Bundy’s third person confessions. Although inspired by him, Rolling never knew Bundy. Certainly, Bundy’s confessions had been thoroughly documented in books. Rolling could have gotten the idea from reading them. But Bundy was never known to have used an intermediary, an actual third person, as Rolling did. That idea had to come from somewhere else.

It came from Bobby Lewis. He had been Bundy’s best friend in prison. According to the then State Attorney Rod Smith, “They were tight.”[19] They confided in each other, and, from time to time, collaborated in projects. Lewis had learned from Bundy by participating with him as an intermediary in another instance of Bundy’s third person experiments. This one had been done on the sly, primarily in 1986. It had been one of Bundy’s fabled hidden agendas. Rolling implied he had learned about the experiment from Lewis. Lewis concurred. Rolling would later copy the technique, tailoring it to meet his needs.

 

ROBERT

 

In the 1970s, Bobby Lewis had been a Jacksonville, Florida drug dealer and pimp. In 1977 he was sentenced to death for the murder of a man who Lewis claimed had been paid to kill him. After two years on death row, Lewis one day walked out of Florida State Prison disguised as a guard. He was captured a week and a half later. Upon Lewis’ return to the prison, he was hailed as a hero by his fellow prisoners and became “top con” in the Florida prisoner hierarchy.

When Bundy arrived at the prison, he was placed in a cell near Lewis in Q-wing. Both were intelligent and enterprising and most likely shared their escape stories. They soon became close friends. Despite this friendship, Bundy’s prison experience in Utah taught him not to trust other prisoners. He had to protect the details of his murders, because they were “the stuff of media interest … and could be the keys that kept him off death row.”[20] Thus he avoided sharing with Lewis anything incriminating.

Lewis routinely dabbled in nickel and dime correspondence scams to help pass the time and hone his skills. He would pose as a prisoner sympathetic to his correspondent claiming that he would be getting out of prison soon and saying that he needed a stake. Often, during the course of the process, he would send out artwork. Some that he claimed to have done were actually done by other prisoners. In exchange for the art, he would receive “canteen money,” usually in small amounts.

This avocation was not determined by Lewis’ education. He was a high school dropout whose worst subject was English. His writing was child-like and he was self-conscious about it. He had an “inferiority complex about his dismal spelling and grammar.”[21] His sentences were often awkward, short, and stilted. When he wanted to write something more formal than letters, he would seek the collaboration of someone with better language skills.

Compared to Lewis’ elementary grasp of the language, Bundy’s was masterful. His mother had paid special attention to his developing those abilities. “My mother taught me the English language. How many times did she type my papers as I dictated them to her? [She] gave me great verbal skills.”[22] He was adept with a wide range of expression and had a particular fondness for word games. In his conversations “some revelations came wrapped in metaphor. Others he described as might a clinician.”[23]

Years earlier, when Bundy had first experienced prison in Utah, he wrote in a letter to a friend. “Prison is a most powerful experience, an entirely alien way of relating to people. I have learned much about people, and myself, but I wonder to what practical purpose all this delightful knowledge can be put.”[24]

Bundy continued that thought process in his new home—Florida State Prison. Immersed in a world of third person confessions, familiar with the characters created by Lewis for his correspondences, and confident with his own verbal skills, Bundy began to understand the possibility that revelation could be accomplished by concealing fact in fiction.

Constantly pursued by those asking why he had killed and constantly in pursuit of someone who could understand him, Bundy was driven by a need to talk, “not out of guilt or as a gesture of atonement, but to share before an appreciative audience the enormity of what he was and what he had done.”[25] His conversations with Michaud, Aynesworth, and Keppel arose from that need.

But he was constrained by his appeals. When appealing, “The guy who’s been convicted is bound to try to maintain his position, and he can’t say anything, is not in a position to say anything.”[26] And he was further constrained by his public image. Bundy tried to come across to the public as macho. He was fearful of public condemnation. As much as he wanted to talk, he could no more expose his vulnerabilities than he could stand up in court and say, “I did it,” about the murders.

Even greater was the necessity to dispose of the problem of his unknown victims. He had to keep quiet about them, not only because of the appeals, but also because he had plans for them upon the event of his execution. They were a hook he had in us. Once the appeals were settled, if the execution were to go forward, it would be at the peril of our abandoning them.

But the hook was in him as well. He did not want to risk taking the identities of his unknown victims with him to the grave. No conception of God would allow into paradise someone who has left so many families forever anguished by the disappearance of their children. In the end he began confessing, leaving his attorneys conflicted. Although his confessions would sabotage his appeals, who were they to tell him “not to confess if confession salved his soul and made things right with his deity?”[27] According to FBI agent Bill Hagmaier, Bundy “was concerned about what would happen to his body, and as he articulated, his soul, afterwards … He asked me to rehearse a speech to God … He did practice talking to God.”[28] If he felt he had a chance with God, then he must have resolved the problem.

His maturing understanding of fiction provided the solution to these conflicts. He could create a character and script it to make any desired revelations, not only the reasons behind his depravity, but also the means to identify his unknown victims. Through this character he could create a kind of deferred confession, one that could not possibly be used against him until well after his death. Bundy’s intent for his endgame was to frame the issue, to bring his victims into direct confrontation with the criminal justice system. In essence, he planned to throw them between him and the on rushing system, which he knew would plow right through them in its frenzy to get to him. But, by divesting himself of them beforehand, their fates would no longer be intertwined with his. Regardless of how his game played out, theirs would continue.

Bundy’s plan was a natural outgrowth of “the pathological need of Mr. Bundy to defy authority, to manipulate his associates and adversaries,”[29] as Dr. Emanuel Tanay noted after a 1979 examination of Bundy. Tanay described Bundy as “the producer of a play which attempts to show that various authority figures can be manipulated, set against each other.”[30] Bundy had a “recurring desire to deliver hints of what he has done, to tantalize with suggestions of how very clever he is.”[31] Judge Edward Cowart, when sentencing Bundy, had even commented on Bundy’s attempts to both “conceal and reveal his acts simultaneously.”[32]

Bundy now had a way to accomplish that. He could conceal himself by being Lewis’ silent partner in a correspondence. From that position, by planting hints and clues along the way, he could peel back his mask at his own pace.

Gradually, over roughly three and a half years, Bundy refined his plan. Drawing from sources in pop culture such as Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano DeBergerac and Kit Williams’ then well-publicized Masquerade, Bundy crafted a complicated strategy that would not only keep the prison authorities unaware of his activities, but also leave Lewis blind to his hidden agenda. His correspondent would be unaware of him until Bundy began to peel off the mask. With Lewis providing safe distance, Bundy would be in the position with which he was most comfortable, behind the veil and in full control.

In some ways, the arrangement was elegant. It would be an interesting project that would command much time and attention, keeping him always in the game. Due to the fortunate coincidence of Lewis’ first name, like Ted’s mother, Eleanor Bundy, who went by her middle name, Louise, Bundy would be known by his middle name, Robert. And, through his character, he would be able to experience a taste of life as it might have been had his life gone a different way.

When he was ready, Bundy encouraged Lewis to try one of the correspondence scams on someone with whom he knew Lewis would have difficulty. After all, Bundy would be there to give him a hand if necessary. They began to cruise the personal ads that were sent into the prison by other correspondents and then traded among the prisoners. Bundy helped Lewis pick out possible targets, ensuring they would meet Bundy’s criteria. Soon Lewis engaged with a mark: me. Eventually Lewis did what was expected. He ran into trouble and asked Bundy for help. Bundy offered to collaborate with him. Because Lewis was asking for Bundy’s help he did not suspect Bundy’s ulterior motives. Nor did he realize that he had been manipulated.

So it was that Ted Bundy came to write a story. Its protagonist was Robert Lewis, a young man serving the last year of a sentence for selling marijuana. On the surface, it was a simple tale about Robert’s hopes, dreams, and plans as he anticipated his upcoming release. But beneath the surface, it would reveal Bundy’s innermost thoughts and feelings. It would tell “a lot about what he did and why”[33] and “where some of the bod[ie]s may be found that never was.”[34] What follows is an account of the writing of that story and of its subsequent revelations.

 


[1] Stephen G. Michaud and Hugh Aynesworth, The Only Living Witness (New York: Signet, 1984) 10.

[2] Ibid., 11.

[3] Ibid., 12.

[4] Ted Bundy qtd. in Polly Nelson, Defending the Devil (New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1994) 295.

[5] Michaud and Aynesworth. 114.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid., 104

[8] Ibid., 351.

[9] Robert D. Keppel and William J. Birnes, The Riverman (New York: Pocket Books, 1995) 199.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid., 209.

[12] Ibid., 245.

[13] Ibid., 329.

[14] Ibid., 330.

[15] Ibid., 339

[16] Bobby Lewis, qtd. in James Fox and Jack Levin, Killer on Campus (New York: Avon Books, 1996) 134.

[17] Ibid.

[18] John Philpin and John Donnelly, Beyond Murder (New York: Onyx, 1994) 384.

[19] Rod Smith, in discussion with the author, 03/14/1997.

[20] Keppel and Birnes, 348.

[21] Sondra London, Knockin’ on Joe, (London: Nemesis, 1993), 20.

[22]Ted Bundy, qtd. in Stephen G. Michaud and Hugh Aynesworth , Ted Bundy: Conversations with a Killer  (New York: Signet, 1989) 7.

[23] Michaud and Aynesworth, The Only Living Witness, 12.

[24] Streven Winn & David Merrill, Ted Bundy: The Killer Next Door, (New York: Bantam Books, 1980) 170.

[25] Michaud and Aynesworth, The Only Living Witness, 242.

[26] Ted Bundy, qtd. in Keppel and Birnes,  364.

[27] Michael A. Mello, Dead Wrong, (Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 1997), 108.

[28] Catherine Crier, John Scott, and Eric Shawn, Serial Killer Ted Bundy, Fox Files, May 27, 1999.

[29] Dr. Emanuel Tanay qtd. in Richard W. Larsen, Bundy the Deliberate Stranger (New York: Pocket Books, 1986), 345.

[30] Ibid., 343.

[31] Larsen, 342.

[32] Judge Edward Cowart qtd. in Winn and Merrill, 359.

[33] Robert Lewis (Bobby Lewis and Ted Bundy), letter to author, 09/24/1986.

[34] Ibid.


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© Copyright 2011 Richard A. Duffus
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