Social and Environmental Factors Affecting Violence: A Case Study of Ted Bundy

Although the case of Ted Bundy is considered to be well-known in criminology, there are still many factors that are not fully discovered. This paper presents various in the approaches to the Bundy’s case. Different thoughts, factors, and even new facts were explored. However, this paper even extended the knowledge about causes of the offender’s behavior and explored his life and psychological trends and problems. It discussed the factors that had the greatest impact on Bundy’s personality and which led him to the first murder. Then in this work, all potentially biological, environment, and psychological causes of the offender’s behavior were considered. It identified that Bundy was an organized killer with sexually motivating factors. It is hoped that by comparing and analyzing motivating factors and childhood behavior of Ted Bundy, it may be possible to predict behavioral and psychosocial trends of potential serial killers in future.

American serial killer and rapist Ted Bundy was one of the most dangerous maniacs and the most known murderers of the second part of the 20th century. His case is still causing a great debate in the criminological society. Until now, no one knows for sure the exact causes of his behavior and what exactly led to his killings. To study the criminal profile, we need to explore his childhood, later life behavior, as well as his motives and predispositions to find out what exactly led him to kill. Studying his personality, it is also important for us to analyze his first murder, find out why he committed it, what he was experiencing at that moment, and what motivated him to do others. The case of Bundy, as an ideal example, allows to make a more detailed study of the identity of serial killers and in the future can serve as an excellent guide to disclose similar killings.

Criminal Profile

Ted Bundy was described as one of the most notorious serial killers in the modern history. At the end of his trial, Bundy confessed to the murder, mutilation, and rape of 36 women although there were believed to be more of them. Some criminal profilers believe that Bundy’s drive to kill stemmed from genetic or hereditary traits; others believed that the behavior was influenced by social and environmental factors, while there were people who felt it was a combination of both. However, the behavioral traits of many serial killers are associated with external factors mostly centering on the environment and relationships they have with those close to them (LaBrode, 2007).

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Theodore Robert Cowell (would later be named Ted Bundy) was born to an unwed mother in 1946. Because illegitimate children faced social stigma, Bundy was raised by his mother’s parents, Eleanor and Samuel Cowell (Bartol & Bartol, 2011). From childhood, he was described to have possessed unusual behavior by relatives and others close to him. When Bundy was older, his mother married a cook by the name Johnnie Bundy, after which his surname changed. Bundy spent most of the time with his family. He tried to take a stepson to camping trips and other activities trying to become a father, but the boy continued distancing from his stepfather.

After graduating from school, he entered the University of Puget Sound, where he also studied well. In the second year of study, Theodore moved to the University of Washington in Seattle where he completed his degree in Psychology. Bundy was too shy in his youth; university fellows considered him a loner, he had no girls for many years. Only in 1967, Bundy met a woman towards he whom had strong feelings and with whom he dated with many years. Despite this, the girl did not like Bundy and left him, which led to his deep depression. Later in life, Bundy engaged in offenses such as burglary, shoplifting, and violation of traffic rules. In his profile, he was later depicted as a sexual sadist and psychopath. He was also described having a chronic mental disorder with a violent social behavior (Bartol & Bartol, 2011).

In 1971, he returned to Seattle where he worked in the center of assistance to victims of violence and even developed his own “memo” for them. His colleagues later said that Bundy seemed a man to rely on. In 1972, Bundy went to work for the state Republican Party. At that time, he also had a desire to become a lawyer, and in 1973, thanks to a good recommendation, Theodore entered the University of Utah where he studied law. However, he did not finish the studies and gradually broke up all relations with women because at that time Bundy began his series of women killings in Utah.

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The first known murders by Bundy occurred in 1974 when he was 27 years old. In January 1974, shortly after midnight, Bundy entered the basement bedroom of the 18-year-old Karen Sparks, a dancer and a student at the University of Washington. He bet her with a metal rod while she slept and raped her. Sparks was found the next morning lying in a pool of blood. She has been in a coma for several days and, fortunately, survived. Bundy’s next victim was Lynda Ann Healy, another student at the University of Washington. In the morning on February 1, 1974, he broke into Healy’s room, struck her, gagged her mouth, wrapped her in a bed sheet, carried away, and then killed. Young women began to disappear predominantly in campuses in the Washington and Oregon states.

On March 12, 1974, in Olympia, Bundy kidnapped and killed Donna Gail Manson, a 19-year-old student of Evergreen College. On April 17, 1974, another young student Susan Ankort disappeared from the campus of Washington’s Central State College in Ellensburg. Later, two students told about a meeting with a man with a hand in a cast who asked them to help to load books into the Volkswagen Beetle. There were more and more killings, and then Bundy’s sexual murders continued in other states. As a rule, witnesses remembered an attractive young man who turned to the young women for help and who then disappeared forever. He was like a “nomadic killer”. He could have appeared anywhere. For a long time, the police did not succeed in obtaining the murderer’s footprint. It is worth mentioning that he was also portrayed as an intelligent albeit insecure man. In fact, his insecurity stemmed from environmental factors. Before he began his murders, he was believed to have records of sexual assaults.

Bundy’s victim profile was described as white women, who were relatively thin, while his mode of operation was feigning injury or requiring some form of help after which victims would approach him to provide assistance (LaBrode, 2007). He would then strike them with a blunt object, and the women would never be seen alive again. During the establishment of a criminal profile, authorities mentioned that this killer had the capability of traveling from one state to another, but the mode of killing remained largely the same.


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Factors Contributing to the Crime

When Bundy was growing up, he was said to have four younger siblings by his mother and Johnnie Bundy. Because of his polite and reserved demeanor coupled with financial difficulties, Bundy’s parents concentrated mostly on the younger brothers and sisters leaving his emotional needs as a young person unaddressed. Furthermore, the environment in which Bundy’s grandparents raised him was described as hostile, with Samuel Cowell openly and verbally expressing his dislike for Blacks, Jews, Catholics, and Italians, among other groups (Montaldo, 2016). Samuel was also reported to display physical violence with his primary victim being his wife.

There is small evidence that his childhood had a great impact on criminal profile. Although Bundy claimed to have grown up in a normal, loving household, there is evidence to suggest that Bundy’s grandfather often became violent and abused his wife and children (Sandfort, 2013). His childhood environment, though, might have been abnormal and unhealthy. The exposure to violence during his early years can be attributed to his predisposition to violence and aggression later in his life. His aunt remembers the moment when Bundy was three years old, she woke up and found that Bundy had placed knives all around her bed. Another source of inadequacy, poor self-esteem, and affectionless psychopathy can be related to his feelings of rejection from his father, who was believed to have been a sailor. Neglect was also worsened by his parent’s struggle to remain financially afloat, thereby paying less attention to him as a young child. He said later that he “hit the wall” in high school and was not able to understand social behavior lagging behind in the growth of social development. Despite the fact that Bundy was well-liked, he hardly formed close friendships because he didn’t understand how. During his early pre-school years, Bundy was described as a shy, quiet, and reserved boy who had difficulty engaging in social interactions with peers and other people. He built the foundation of social activity, but he could not interact with other people. Bundy also developed an enthusiasm for pornography at a young age, which progressed well into adulthood (Serial, 2013).

Potential biological and genetic causes had a great impact on his behavior. There is evidence that Bundy was the product of incest. Professor of forensic psychology Ramsland (2007) claims that it has been suggested that Bundy’s grandfather fathered him. Nevertheless, something that supports the biological basis of his psychopathy is his behavior at a very early age. At the age of three, before Bundy broke his heart or experienced many of the events that potentially motivated his killings later in adult life, he displayed behavior that indicated a potential violent temper (Sandfort, 2013). These trends of biological impact might have played a big role in turning Bundy into a serial killer.

After a calm childhood, the less happy adolescence followed. Ted Bundy was completely unsure of himself. He considered himself timid and unable to engage with girls of his age. He dreamt of climbing the social ladder. Upon Bundy’s realization that his sister was his mother, his deep resentment towards the family members bore fury. He experienced this discovery as a real betrayal that had affected him. Many such families have a history of psychological and behavioral problems like alcoholism, drug abuse or sexual abuse, and the serial killers were abused physically, emotionally or sexually with poor relationship with family members especially mothers (Dalal et al., 2009). He became increasingly defiant and emotionally distant, which made it harder to connect and communicate his challenges. Psychiatrists later agreed with that this discovery awakened in Ted Bundy all these hidden features that might have never been realized. All his life he would feel deceived and abandoned.

Furthermore, Bundy’s insecurities stemmed from the feeling of financial inadequacy, partly due to his exposure to his peers who were predominantly from wealthy families. He attended the University of Puget Sound and later the University of Washington, where he was believed to be a good academic performer. His feelings of inadequacy and insecurity soon led him to become shy and reserved. Another sociological factor that was thought to have led him to commit these crimes was the heartbreak he experienced from his first love. The woman he was in love with was described as beautiful, wealthy, and influential (Montaldo, 2016).

However, because of his financial capacity, the woman felt he did not match her well and left. This devastated Bundy severely. After his union with the second lady, there appeared reports of missing women. Although the feelings of poverty are not directly related to increased tendency to become aggressive, Bundy’s social environment was characterized by difficulties stemming from financial situations that were worsened by exposure to aggressive behavior of those who raised him (Bartol & Bartol, 2011). In essence, it was clear that Bundy did not have a positive role model in his life while growing up. He faced neglect and hostility which negatively affected the relationships he would forge later in life. These are some of the factors believed to have contributed to his criminal behavior.

Type of Offender

There are two types of killers traditionally divided into organized and disorganized murders. Bundy was an unusually organized and tactical criminal. Organized killers are often intelligent, socially adept, and live with a spouse or significant other (Shalon, 2011). He approached potential victims in a public place, even in daylight or in a crowd like when he kidnapped Ott and Naslund on Lake Sammamish or when he kidnapped Leach at her school. Bundy won the trust of the victim in various ways. Sometimes he feigned an injury wearing a sling or a fake gypsum. In other cases, Bundy pretended to be a person with authority. He pretended to be a policeman in the case of Carol DaRonch and the fireman in the case of Leslie Parmenter.

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Bundy had a remarkable advantage: his features were attractive, but not particularly memorable. In subsequent years, he was often described as a chameleon being able to look completely different, making only minor changes to his appearance, for example, growing a beard or changing his hair. “Ted Bundy who Rule encountered was the blandly handsome and purely sociopathic serial killer who was not content to only murder his victims but to make them suffer and degrade their remains in hauntingly inhuman ways” (as cited in Beale, 2015). All Bundy’s victims are white females aged from 15 to 25 years. Many of them were students. After luring the victim to his car, Bundy hit her head with a crowbar hidden under the car or inside it. Each restored skull had signs of blunt trauma. On each restored body, with the exception of the body of Leach, there are traces of suffocation. Many of Bundy’s victims were transported to a considerable distance from the place where they disappeared as in the case of Katie Parks.

Ted Bundy was a sexually motivated serial killer. Holmes (2010) states that sexually motivated serial killer is a killer whose motifs include sexual dominance, power, and sexual satisfaction. Sexually motivated serial murders are often accompanied by rape, sodomy, necrophilia, and sexual mutilation of the victim. Bundy considered himself an amateur and impulsive murderer in his early years, and then he moved to the stage of the “predator”. Bundy said that it started with the murder of Linda Healy when he started looking for victims whom he considered appropriate to kill according to his “assassin skills”. Bundy confessed to beheading at least a dozen victims with a hacksaw. All heads were later found on Mount Taylor he kept in his room or apartment for some time before finally getting rid of them. He admitted that he had burned Donna. Some of the skulls of Bundy’s victims were found with broken front teeth. Bundy also admitted that he again and again visited his victims at the landfill of Mount Taylor. He stated that he lay with them for several hours having sex with their decomposing bodies. He was very ruthless and malicious. These terribly facts make us state that he has a personality disorder.

Ted Bundy underwent several psychiatric examinations. The experts’ conclusions differed. Dorothy Lewis initially diagnosed him as “bipolar affective disorder,” but changed her decision many times. She also did not exclude the possibility of Bundy having a split personality. Although most researchers believe that it is now impossible to accurately determine the diagnosis of Bundy, most of them think that he had a bipolar disorder or other psychosis such as, for example, dissocial personality disorder. Such people are often called “sociopaths” or “psychopaths”. Psychopaths are incapable of identifying with or caring about the emotional pain that they have caused victims or their families, so any strategy to appeal to the psychopath’s conscience probably will be met with failure and frustration (Woodworth et al., 2012).

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Speaking about the rehabilitation of this type of offenders, it is worth paying attention to their socialization. Firstly, the community at the moment is not ready to understand and accept the psychological problems of the maniacs. Secondly, such criminals become cruel maniacs, particularly, because of poor communication with society, whether it is a school, university or team at work. Therefore, we can assume that rehabilitation of criminals of this kind can consist not only in the process of direct treatment, but also in aspects of socialization and communication with different people as well. Therefore, Bundy cannot be restored to normality, he could not be a normal man or live a normal life in society, on the whole. Killing young girls, he satisfied his needs; it was like an addiction for him. He could not live without that. Also, he was a psychopath, and that only exacerbates this fact. Ted Bundy always tried to transfer the blame for his crimes to someone or something else. He confessed to 36 murders, but did not take responsibility for any of them. He accused his grandfather, his father’s absence, concealment of true origin, alcohol, the media, the police, society, cruelty on television, crime magazines, pornography, and even the victims themselves, but not himself. Theodor Bundy was loved by his relatives and friends. However, the external appeal was only an illusion. The benevolent “company guy” turned out to be one of the most brutal maniacs in the history of the United States.


Bundy was first arrested in August 1975 in Granger, when he refused to stop due to the order of a road patrol officer for search. When he was finally stopped, his Volkswagen was searched by the officer. Police found handcuffs, an ice pick, crowbar, and pantyhose with eye holes cut out along with other questionable items (Montaldo, 2017). Bundy explained that he needed a ski mask to ride, found the handcuffs on the garbage can, and the rest was just household items. Nevertheless, detective Jerry Thompson remembered that a similar person and a car were being searched by the police for the kidnapping of DaRonch. The police searched his apartment, but did not find any serious evidences against Bundy. Later, he said that they did not find pictures of his victims, which he hid in the back room. Bundy was released on bail.

On February 23, 1976, Ted Bundy was brought to trial for the abduction of Carol DaRonch. By the advice of his lawyer, John O’Connell, he exercised his right to a jury trial. On May 1, after four days of trial and two days of discussion, the judge convicted him of kidnapping and assault. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison. In October, he was found hiding behind bushes in the prison yard. He had a “set for escape” in his hands – road maps, aircraft schedules, and a social security card. He spent several weeks in solitary confinement for his attempt to escape. A month later, the authorities of Utah charged him with the murder of Karin Campbell. For this, in January 1977, he was transferred to Aspen.

On December 23, 1977, it was decided to postpone the hearing on the case to another judicial district in Colorado Springs. On December 30, with the help of books and documents, Bundy created the appearance of his lying body on a bunk bed and fled. He stole the car and drove away, but soon the car broke down. A passing motorcyclist drove Bundy to Vail. There he took the bus to Denver, and from Denver flew to Chicago. The disappearance of Ted Bundy was discovered only 17 hours later, at noon on the 31st. Then Bundy was already in Chicago. From Chicago, he moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan. Five days later, he stole the car and went to Atlanta. There he took a bus to Tallahassee. Under the pseudonym “Chris Hagen”, he rented a room near the University of Florida. Later, Bundy said that he planned to find a job and finish with murders. However, on the construction site he had to refuse from job offer because the employer demanded to present a driver’s license for identification. Therefore, Bundy began to steal food in stores and credit cards from the wallets left by the customers in the food carts.

On February 9, 1978, Bundy killed again. This time it was 12-year-old Kimberly Leach, whom he kidnapped and then mutilated (Montaldo, 2017). A week later, near the border with Alabama he was stopped by Pensacola police officer David Lee as the latter he suspected that the car could be a recently stolen Volkswagen “Beetle”. After checking, Lee tried to arrest Bundy, but he hit him on the leg and attempted to escape. Nevertheless, the policeman detained him. In the car documents from students at the University of Florida, there were found 21 credit cards and stolen TV. On his way to the police department, Bundy told David Lee, who did not suspect that he had detained one of America’s most dangerous criminals:”It would be better if you killed me”.

It should be mentioned that the psychological features of Bandy can be traced quite clearly. Bundy was smart enough, he knew how to mislead, persuade, and manipulate. It should also be pointed that he was a good lawyer. He was a sociopath and psychopath. That is why everyone trusted him, and police could not apprehend him for a long time. He cheated everybody. It was like a chest game, the game in which Bundy was a grandmaster. By studying the psychological characteristics of the criminal and his previous crimes, we can predict his further crime and get a clear understanding of how to work with him and what to do in order to avoid the relapse. That could have been used to apprehend this criminal sooner.

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People could not believe that Bundy is a murder that killed 36 young girls because he looked like more than a normal man, even like a film star because of his appearance. However, no one knew what was hidden inside him. The trial lasted almost for 10 years, and even there Bundy played tactically, delaying the trial. Supremely confident that he could beat the sorority murder charges, the arrogant Bundy insisted on acting as his own attorney. Dr. Saferstein (2007) claims that Bundy’s unfounded optimism was shattered in the courtroom when a forensic odontologist matched the bite mark on the victim’s buttock to Bundy’s front teeth. After all, he was executed in 1989.


The story of a ruthless murder and a sexual maniac Ted Bundy again indicates that the criminal is formed not only by his internal but also external qualities and particulars. Negative social environment, family problems, problems with peers in the puberty period, unhappy love, low self-esteem, and the tendency to sexual perversion are the factors that had an incredible impact on the development of violence, cruelty, and formation of a potential killer, as happened with Bundy. The case of Bundy as an ideal example allows making a more detailed study of the identity of serial killers and can serve as an excellent guide for the disclosure of similar killings in the future.


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