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Ted Bundy Gets a Feminist Treatment

I just finished watching the recent Amazon Prime documentary on Ted Bundy, Falling for a Killer, which I took on because filmmaker Trish Wood set out to tell the story from the women’s perspectives. Its primary focus is on Elizabeth Kendall and her daughter Molly, who lived as a family unit with Bundy during the time of the murders, but it also included women who pursued Bundy, surviving victims, and female lawyers who worked on his behalf.
Elizabeth Kendall with fiancé Ted Bundy. She turned him in to authorities multiple times but couldn’t seem to break up with him.

The documentary is interesting because it contains perspectives from people who have never spoken before, like Molly and Ted’s first known victim. Because my Ellery Hathaway series focuses on what it’s like to live your life in the shadow of an infamous serial killer, I found these narratives particularly intriguing. I appreciate that Bundy himself isn’t given the star treatment. Wood places the crimes in context with the Women’s Liberation movement at the time. Women enjoyed more freedom and thus they were more available targets for predators like Bundy. There was also a kind of free-floating rage at women’s efforts for independence that the film suggests forms a backdrop for the whole Bundy narrative. Experts have documented an explosion of male serial murderers in the 1970s into the mid-1980s, and this timing has to be considered when trying to figure out where these men came from.

The film also talks a bit about how women are socialized to be nice and cooperative, and how Bundy used this trait against his victims by luring them to “help” him with various tasks. There is some discussion on how violence against women is prevalent in USA entertainment. As one girl says, “I thought it was normal for men to want to kill women.”

You might think we’ve come so far and we’re in a much better place now. Maybe in some ways we are. Serial murder is down nationwide, mirroring other violent crimes. But the reactions to the documentary in the comments reveal how very far we still have to go. There is a lot of fury, much of it from women, about how the film “glorifies” the victims. They are “whiners” with a “leftist agenda” when really Bundy is just a sick individual and there is nothing to be gleaned from examining societal influence on or reaction to his crimes. There is literal anger that the focus of the story is not on Bundy. Everything is fine now, so ladies should “relax and enjoy life.” The women are “boring” and these viewers wanted more of Bundy himself.

I think if you’re in the comments of a documentary deliberately focused on women’s voices complaining that we didn’t hear enough from the man who tried to murder them, you are part of the problem. As Bundy himself noted, he didn’t like it when the women talked. He knocked them unconscious so they didn’t ruin his fantasy of what he wanted them to be. He didn’t want their real selves to impinge on his forceful reimagining. I liked one woman’s perspective that ultimately Bundy was a thief. He stole dozens of young women from the world, people who would have potentially accomplished great things, and you have to wonder if that was part of his plan all along.

4 Responses to “Ted Bundy Gets a Feminist Treatment”

  1. Mary

    I haven’t read extensively on Ted Bundy. I read Ann Rule’s book “The Stranger Beside Me.” When I recently watched the 2019 movie I was completely surprised when it was revealed that it was his girlfriend Liz Kendall who turned him in. To me that showed extraordinary courage. But even more so, she demonstrated an ability to look clear-eyed at something so awful that most people cannot bear to face it. If they suspect a spouse or partner of such psychosis it’s too hard to admit they might have been so wrong in their judgment, and that they shared loving, tender, trustful, humorous moments with a monster. It’s easier to go ahead with eyes half-closed and averted.

    • Joanna Schaffhausen

      Liz turned him three times, I believe. Many others did too, including Ann Rule if I recall correctly. No one really expected it to be him, although Liz had the most suspicion, especially when young women started going missing in Utah after Ted moved there. The investigators didn’t pursue Ted Bundy as a lead at first because he did not fit their mental model of who they were looking for–a monster. But there was also nothing to eliminate him so he kept making the list as it got winnowed. When he finally got arrested for the first time, he was actually among the top ten suspects back in Washington. The thing I find most interesting about Liz is that she turned in Ted three times but did not break up with him. Indeed, even after he was arrested, she remained his girlfriend for a long time. She had seen the “nice” Ted and she simply couldn’t make herself believe the story was true. Also, if he is what they said, a murdering psychopath, then all her happy memories weren’t real. What’s amazing about this documentary is that she says she was surprised when Bundy didn’t reach out to her before his execution a decade later. But he did write a letter, and Liz’s daughter Molly opened it. She decided she wasn’t going to let her mother get sucked back in, so she burned the letter and didn’t tell Liz.

  2. M.A.

    I’m in my late 30s, and so I don’t have quite the same context I suppose, since I wasn’t around in the 60s and 70s. And I was a child in the 80s. However, my experiences past and present seem similar to the misogynistic environment described in the documentary, an era in which women were fighting and struggling to gain equal rights, to be seen as equals in society, to have the same freedoms as men. The backlash against feminism today seems every bit as vitriolic and horrific and even violent as it was then. There might not be as many serial killers, but men are still murdering women a lot. The victims of Ted Bundy and other serial killers of that era were white women and girls; Many of today’s murder victims are indigenous women and indigenous children, and trans black women. So, today’s white women are arguably safer, but trans people and women of color are not. They are targeted by misogynistic and violent men with disturbing frequency. Just as disturbing as how often these cases go unsolved, and not for lack of ability to solve some of the cases, but rather for lack of motivation. A bunch of white male cops don’t give a f*ck about black women, trans women, or indigenous women and children. This is extremely disturbing, and entirely unsurprising.

    It’s also disturbing to consider that so many murderers are walking free, without any fear of being caught, it would seem. Who are these men who are kidnapping and murdering indigenous women and children? Who are these men who are brutally murdering trans black women? Somebody has to be doing these crimes, and of course, we’ll never find out, because cops only care about the safety of middle-class and upper-class white people and their properties.

    Getting back to the documentary, I appreciate that in a sense, the documentary said ‘f*ck you Ted Bundy, you’ve stolen enough of everyone’s time and attention, and you’ve certainly stolen enough lives. It’s time to tell these women’s stories.’ I love when Elizabeth Kendall says at the end that she’s not going to spend any more time on Ted; she’s going to live her life. I sincerely hope that she has that opportunity, and her daughter as well, and all of the survivors, and all of the loved ones of the victims. F*ck Ted Bundy. May he rest in pieces, forgotten entirely outside of abnormal psych 101.

    • Joanna Schaffhausen

      I think that is a great point about non-white and/or non-straight victims not getting the same kind of attention from cops or the media. It’s certainly and miserably true. One of the reasons the Bundy case gets remade so often is that his choice of victims was pretty young white women on or near college campuses. What resonated for me the most is the way women in the documentary said they were brought up thinking it was normal for men to want to attack women. That’s certainly the impression I got as a child. There are certainly lessons to be gleaned from the Bundy case, but at this point, I believe they’re all on record and people can choose to seek them out or not. We don’t need to keep torturing his living victims by making him into never-ending entertainment.


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