Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes premiere recap: Handsome Devil


Episode 1 of Netflix series Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes offers a different kind of Ted talk.

No matter how much times passes, a person like Ted Bundy will always be fascinating. Sure, there’s legitimate concern that we’re adding to the celebrity status of such people, but many of us can’t help but look at these cases.

The prevalence of true crime documentaries and films is solid proof of that. So, what can four Netflix episodes about Ted Bundy offer us? Quite a bit, actually, if it’s well put together.

Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes fits that description pretty well.

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As this documentary suggests, Ted was driven by attention and aspirations of greatness. He was a former social worker, a political campaign activist. He wanted to be seen as having a great family and strove for affluence.

Had he not been a serial killer and otherwise chaotic, some believe he could have been a politician or attorney (not that politicians never kill anyone, of course, but they tend to successfully do so through policy). So now, as this series looks back over his life, we learn about his necrophilia, his occasional habit of actually biting victims, and just how desperate he was to be “a normal individual.”

Ted, symbolic of a changing world

The ’70s seemed troubling — even without Ted Bundy. Violent crime was said to be up 130% and America didn’t know how to handle it. For example, the term “serial killer” wasn’t really a thing (even though there were serial killers before Bundy).

Still, you had things like the Manson family murders, Son of Sam, the Hillside Strangler murders and John Wayne Gacy. Much like Gacy, Ted was seemingly a nice guy, at least to most people. He was known as a Law student-type, clean cut, fairly good looking and intelligent.

In retrospect, some probably claim they see the evil in Ted’s eye in old photographs, but that has more to do with hindsight being 20/20. In reality, before he was on death row, few women spotted Ted’s more sinister side and lived to tell the tale.

Death row is exactly where journalist Stephen Michaud met Ted for extensive tape-recorded interviews. Michaud thinks Ted saw him as easy to manipulate. Michaud went to Florida and, with some help from fellow journalist Hugh Ayneswoth, gathered roughly 100 hours of conversation.

Coincidentally, Michaud and Ted knew some of the same people in Tacoma, Washington, so that made it a little easier. Still, Ted Bundy was apparently trying to control the conversation at all times.

The murders begin

Lynda Ann Healey is the first known victim of Ted Bundy, although others are believed to have happened before her. Like many of his victims, she was a university student.

According to King County Detective Kathleen McChesney, Lynda was a weather and ski report person for a local radio station, so her absence was noticed pretty quickly. Kathleen also says she listened to Lynda. The only evidence at the scene of her disappearance was some blood on a pillow.

Then, in June 1974, Georgann Hawkins disappeared down an alley, within two blocks of Lynda. We also get to meet Bob Keppel, who basically got his start with the Bundy investigation. It would be a rough start for anyone.

Just being Ted

As we hear in the Michaud tapes, Bundy often tries to serve up an idealized childhood. Michaud compares it Bundy co-writing a celebrity bio. We get mental images of Ted as a boy frog hunting and marble playing, and just getting along with people normally. Maybe there was the occasional schoolyard scrap or some minor bullying, but nothing Ted would convey as hardcore abuse.

Sandi Holt, a childhood friend, partly maintains this image. She says Mr. Bundy was a good dad, that the Bundy boys were supportive of Boy Scouts and had appearances of a normal family.

However, she says Ted was teased for a speech impediment. He also had a temper because he didn’t measure up in athletics. She says something else a bit strange: Some girl fell into a hole called a “tiger trap” made by Ted and hurt her leg.

Still, none of this necessarily means someone will be a serial killer, right? Nevertheless, Sandi says Ted wanted to be number one at something but wasn’t, and that there was a “gap” in him as a result.

In 1966 at the University of Washington, Bundy received an undergraduate degree in Psychology and dated a lady named Diane Marjorie Jean Edwards, who Ted claims inspired him “to become something more” (hopefully she never put that on her résumé, though).

He developed a cursory interest in politics, becoming a Republican. In a Michaud tape, Ted even says he was anti-union, “not fond of delinquency,” and spoke against “radical socialist-types” (and, to be fair, John Wayne Gacy was a Democrat, so serial killing cares little about political affiliation).

Ted Bundy even joined the Dan Evans re-election campaign, where he became pals with Marlin Lee Vortman. Vortman now says that, as far as he knew then, Ted was a great guy. “He was the kind of guy you’d want your sister to marry.”

The politics stuff was pretty good for Mr. Bundy. On the tapes, he even says he “got laid” for the first time in Walla Walla. Being a sociopathic character, Ted spied on the Rosellini campaign, which won Bundy some minor press attention (to be honest, though, all Ted did was record the speeches, which is far from the most scandalous thing ever done in politics).

Interestingly, it’s suggested Ted wanted a Volkswagen just like Marlin Vortman’s and may have decided to attend law school due to Marlin. Unfortunately or otherwise, he fell short of his aspirations of greatness.

His LSAT scores were mediocre, which meant he struggled to get into a more prestigious school than the University of Puget Sound. Also, his relationship with Diane fell apart. Even on the tapes, Ted mentions some feelings of rejection.

More go missing and police get desperate

Perhaps because Ted’s life was imperfect, more women went missing. These included (at least) Donna Manson, Susan Elaine Rancourt, Roberta Kathleen Parks and Brenda Ball.

It was six disappearances in less than six months. It had many people on edge. Dale Rancourt, Susan’s father, is shown in archival footage saying he didn’t think it could happen to his family. Ward Lucas, a TV and news reporter from the area says that, before the kidnapping, hitchhiking was common. However, after the kidnappings, hitchhiking stopped.

There was much pressure on the Seattle police. On one of the tapes, Ted says the police work was horrendous. Oddly enough, he had a firsthand way of knowing this. For a brief time, Ted worked for the Seattle Crime Commission where he had access to police statistics and could better learn about regional and jurisdictional limitations.

Because Ted left little evidence behind, police even speculated that occult and witchcraft were behind the killings (it was a little too early to scapegoat hard rock, rap or video games).

In other words, Ted was in a good place and time for a serial killer, but he would get cocky about it. In fact, he seemed to let his relationships dwindle to spend more time killing. For example, when he boasts that about 60% of his friends are women, it could easily be seen as a way to cover his tracks, while superficially boosting his image.

Surely a man who has female pals can’t be a monster! Still, when he met a new girl named Liz, he calls it “destabilizing” on the tape. He says they didn’t have enough in common and admits he was jealous of her.

July 14, 1974, Kake Sammamish State Park

This is where two of Ted’s most memorable murders began. An estimated 40,000 people were there that day when Denise Naslund and Janice Ott disappeared. In other words, no matter how you look at this, Ted Bundy was becoming a bigger risk taker.

When the girls disappeared, reporter Ward Lucas lived two miles away. Various witnesses said they saw the man approach the two women, and he was also seen approaching other women. He was wearing an arm cast, asking women for help loading a sailboat into his car.

Not only was this suspicious due to the disappearances but why would the man only ask women if he just needed help? Couldn’t anybody with a spare moment help? Anyway, witnesses spotted him with a light brown or tan Volkswagen bug.

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As the episode ends, Stephen Michaud gets Ted to start talking about himself in the third person, realizing it will get more details about the crimes. Specifically, he asks Ted to hypothesize about the killer. Ted talks as if he’s speculating on such a mind, comparing its development to microscopic events, like the melting of a snowflake, in relation to a bigger body of water.

That’s it for this recap of Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes! What are your thoughts on this Netflix original series? Let us know in the comments!