Lately, I have been on a true crime kick, particularly of infamous serial killers because I’ve been watching 15-minute infographics about notorious figures like Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer during my lunch breaks. Its weird to be taking in maiming, necrophilia and murder while I eat but it just so happened that it was available. That’s why I was really excited to watch Netflix’s Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, a documentary on one of America’s most infamous, if not, the most infamous serial killer in history.
Synopsis: Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes is a documentary that centers around taped interviews of the infamous murderer’s version of events that led to his conviction and eventual execution. To provide different perspectives to Bundy’s tale, director Joe Berlinger also includes interviews with journalists Stephen Michaud and Hugh Aynesworth, FBI Special Agent Bob Keppel, Ted Bundy’s defense attorneys, childhood friends and counsel who prosecuted the Chi Omega cases and the Kimberly Leach case where he finally received a death sentence by electric chair.
I must admit that when I heard the documentary will center around Ted Bundy’s taped interviews, I was fully expecting that he would go into full confession about the murders of over 30 women all across the US. I was unprepared however, to hear his voice as he denied all of the charges that were lodged against him as he sits on death row.
The documentary talks of his early days and how he overcame his speech impediment, his peculiarities which his childhood playmates spoke of, his first relationship and subsequent break up, the disappearances of the women across different states, his arrest, escape and finally, the fanfare of his extensively covered trial.
I must admit that despite Bundy’s pecularities, I was on the fence about believing that he was responsible for all those murders because up until the fourth chapter of the documentary, he was adamantly maintaining his innocence. When I watched documentaries for Jeffrey Dahmer and other killers, there was an acknowledgement of their crime but Ted Bundy was different. He never admitted to it even until the end of his dealings with Michaud.
This was perhaps, the reason why psychologists have tagged him as a different breed of killer. He was very intelligent and he used this to manipulate people to do his bidding. Listening to his own words, one would understand how a lot of his victims would have been fooled by his smooth talk and confidence.
It also surprised me that he has somewhat developed a friendship with FBI profiler Bob Koppel and profiled the Green River Killer with him. Koppel was one of the few persons in the documentary that did not seem disgusted by the mere mention of Ted Bundy. It also seemed that Koppel willingly stayed with Bundy until his last moments and gave him the real talk that he needed because they had a mutual respect for each other, if not for the deeds that Bundy had done based on his own admission in the end.
I was actually quite sad about what Bundy could have been if only his skills and his urges were channeled to do good like help law enforcement early on. He had a degree in psychology, after all. However, it was not to be because by the time he was tapped by the FBI to pick his brains on criminal profiling, he was already too far off the boat. He already killed too many people and caused too much harm that it was hard to recover from it.
Director Joe Berlinger’s masterful presentation of the stages of Bundy’s life gives viewers a fine understanding of his experiences, not to justify his crimes but to show who Bundy was in the eyes of people who knew him. The final tapes were the most chilling when he finally admitted his crimes and was using it as a bargaining chip to stay his execution. It was a chilling admission and at the same time, it was an affront to the families of his victims to listen to his lack of remorse for the violence he inflicted in these women, some of whose bodies were decapitated and tossed in the woods like it was some piece of trash. Worse, some of the bodies were never found and he was using it as his ace to stay alive.
Discounting the assessment of the people who have had close encounters with Bundy, I believe that Ted Bundy was a master manipulator with a God complex who believed that he would get away with anything he set his mind into, perhaps to prove to the world that the boy that they used to make fun of has made a name for himself.
Even his decision to work together with the FBI to profile criminals was a power play to lord it over the agents that only he had crucial information to solve the case. It was also a bid to stroke his own ego with the belief that he is better than all the other serial killers who were being featured on the news.
Bundy will forever be etched in history as one of the most notorious serial killers in history because he is the poster boy for the saying that one should not judge a book by its cover. The evil that he has committed and his obvious pride at what he has accomplished is a terrifying wake up call that transcends generations. As much as I would want to judge him with compassion, it would be far too difficult to do so, knowing what he has done and what future he deprived those women of when he ended their lives. Still, he may have gotten his wish in the end. He made a name for himself alright, only, not as a revered public figure, but rather a reviled character that nightmares are made of.