Sexy Serial Killers: Ted Bundy's Thirsty Following
By Zoe Huettl
Ahead of Zac Efron’s “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile,” Netflix released a docuseries tracing Bundy’s trial, time in prison, and eventual execution. Interviews with Bundy were a fundamental part of the documentary and Netflix quickly flew to dissuade thirsty viewers from lusting after Bundy. Similar issues arose after the trailer for “Extremely Wicked” dropped—people wondered in the comments whether Bundy was being glorified, if the focus on his long-term romance was appropriate, if the brutality and seriousness of his crimes were ignored. But to show who Ted Bundy really was, to capture the media frenzy in which he existed and the wildly different personalities he put on, requires a complex understanding of both the nature of crime media and the character of Bundy himself.
So let’s start with Bundy. He was born in 1946, to a single mother. He was raised by his grandparents to avoid the stigma associated with birth out of wedlock and believed his birth mother to be his older sister until his early teens. Bundy’s childhood was marked by intermittent violence by his grandfather, and in some interviews Bundy was described as having a history of violent behavior. Bundy argues that he wasn’t attracted to weapons, like his aunt Julia remembers, and that he was obsessed with porn. The different accounts of Bundy’s childhood, especially with the question of where his violent urges originate, are one of the largest complications in Bundy’s case, especially because his own ideas are so unsatisfying. Before he was executed, Bundy claimed in his final interview that a porn addiction fueled his killing spree. Bundy’s pathology and modern understandings of violent motivation make this idea seem bizarre.
Bundy’s classic charm was developed in college, and his long-term relationships with two different women were full of hot-and-cold periods, abrupt breakups, and meaningless actions. It’s unknown when Bundy committed his first murder, and Bundy himself told many different accounts at different times throughout his trial process. The psychological consensus is that Bundy had an antisocial personality disorder because he was able to be charming and personable, with little substance underneath. He was a narcissist, a keen manipulator, and exhibited serious delusions about the ability of regular people to notice his actions or his missing victims. Many argue that his strange statements about porn before his death suggest a final manipulation, trying to free himself of blame.
Ted Bundy confessed to killing thirty women, sexually assaulting and raping many of them, and burying their bodies across Washington, Utah, Colorado, Florida, Oregon, Idaho, and California. Twenty of his victims have been identified, and a full list of their names and locations is available as is a list of possible victims determined after Bundy’s death. He preyed on young, attractive women by wearing casts and feigning injury, using his charm to convince them to follow him, before murdering them. He outwitted police based on his intelligence and escaped police custody multiple times, using his decision to represent himself in trial as a ruse for extra privileges and escape opportunities.
Once his trial began, a media frenzy surrounded Ted. His age, his charm in the courtroom, and his good looks earned him a predominantly young, female fanbase who wrote him passionate love letters and gave starstruck interviews. So, in context, the responses to Bundy’s docuseries and movie are very similar to the social conversation surrounding his trial. He has always been an attractive figure, and he used that to his advantage in his crimes. The irony of Bundy’s appeal is part of why his case is so interesting; yet he has an awkward place in the common ground between two communities: true crime buffs and paraphiliacs.
The true crime community has flourished online, as people use their spare time to dive into cases with mountains of loose ends, unsolved mysteries, and conspiracies. Alongside this community, which forms small groups around each case, are the people who fantasize about and glorify the killers themselves. Paraphilia is the blanket term for this sexual kink--attraction to abnormal or extreme things (a video describing the community on Tumblr is available here). Part of the appeal may simply be the attraction of the men themselves (because this phenomenon applies almost solely to men) yet some people are specifically sexually attracted to people who have committed violent crimes. Other paraphilias can be as benign as foot fetishes or as problematic as pedophilia and necrophilia. Technically, they are kinks, sexual in nature. They find some redirection through kink culture and contemporary BDSM, but some community members have tried to invade LGBTQ+ positive spaces and assert their value.
Paraphilia may seem adjacent to the Ted Bundy controversy because he doesn’t exclusively attract paraphiliacs--he has conventional appeal to many different people who wouldn’t associate with the kink community otherwise. Yet many notorious true crime figures have paraphiliac followings, like Richard Ramirez, Jeffrey Dahmer, the Columbine shooters, and Charles Manson. Lots of true crime fanatics have to defend their interest as nonsexual and noncongratulatory, something the paraphilia community doesn’t pretend. They are the women who marry men on death row, or write scores of fan letters. They are the people who may be negatively impacted by the cultural exchange surrounding Ted Bundy. When normal (or, as a kink community member would say, ‘vanilla’) people express attraction for a serial killer or other violent offender, paraphiliacs are validated. As much as people’s attraction to Bundy is benign and part of his psychology, it also connects to a more problematic subculture that can find legitimacy through these expressions. So, in the end, maybe don’t tweet about your crush on Ted Bundy. I’m sure Ted and the paraphiliac community would love it.