Girls Who Love Ted Bundy
Why are some young women so disturbingly passionate about this serial killer?
Posted Oct 21, 2019
Recently, a lot of media attention has focused on why females – especially teenage girls – are so fascinated with Ted Bundy. According to Bundy expert Kevin Sullivan, some girls wish he were alive so they could date him. MTV.com describes a TikTok trend in which girls videotape themselves as his victim and some even pretend to be him.
I’ve written about Bundy wannabes here, but this post is about those girls in their teens and twenties who’ve become die-hard Bundy fans.
According to the MTV article, “hundreds of teens are role-playing Ted Bundy and other serial killers, as well as their victims.” They have thousands of followers, most of whom approve of the morbid depictions. Some show themselves pretending to prepare for a date, only to be dragged away. One girl falsely posed as Bundy's granddaughter.
Putting aside the outright insult to genuine victims, what’s going on in these girls’ lives that makes the idea of being raped, battered, and murdered entertaining? Some even put make-up on to present their “bruises” from such an encounter.
We already know from research published in Social Psychological and Personality Science that many more females than males are fans of true-crime narratives. Women pretty much dominate the ratings for networks that run crime all the time. We’ve also seen the ascendance of killers like Ted Bundy, thanks to intense media attention on him, much of which has humanized him.
But it's not the first time. From Bundy's earlier fan base when he became the world's most notorious serial killer decades ago, we can see common themes.
According to those who encountered Bundy when he was alive, he was charismatic, he projected confidence, and he knew how to act as if he were in charge. This, alone, commands attention, but then add notoriety, high energy, and an undertone of vulnerability. It's a magnetic package.
Carol Ann Boone is among the most infamous of his admirers. She moved from Washington State to Florida to be close during Bundy's trials, married him and had his daughter. Boone believed in Bundy’s innocence and claimed he was being railroaded. During the penalty phase of his final trial in 1980, she even testified on his behalf. In Women Who Love Men Who Kill, author Sheila Isenberg said that Boone could not have truly loved Bundy. Instead, she'd loved “her own creation, what she wanted him to be—not what he was.”
Stephen Michaud interviewed Boone for his book on Bundy and noted that she referred to this killer of 30 women by such affectionate names as “Angelbuns” and “Bunnykins,” while he responded with “Precious Fleshpot.” Michaud thought they'd formed a folie à deux, a shared delusion.
We see this same denial in the women and girls who believe that if Bundy dated them today, he’d be a different man. This is not hybristophilia, a concept coined during the 1980s by Dr. John Money to describe addictive sexual arousal to violence. If it were, these girls would form the same fixation on other killers, including unattractive ones. This hyper-fascination with killers like Bundy grows from media portrayals of him as a handsome, articulate man who could sometimes be gentle and caring. It generates a yearning in some girls to be with him, emotionally and sexually.
Ann Rule knew him, but none of the girls today would listen to her observation: “Ted was never as handsome, brilliant, or charismatic as crime folklore has deemed him… A virtual nonentity before he was suspected of a series of horrific crimes, he somehow became all of those things as the media embraced him.”
Yet others thought this, too.
Bundy’s defense attorney, Polly Nelson, said his insecurity made her feel protective until he devolved into a demanding narcissist. When she met him, Nelson searched for a sign that she would have spotted the killer. “This dangerous man was not detectable by sight or sound…. It was not because Ted exuded charm – he was too obviously disingenuous to be truly charming. It was not because Ted was such a ‘diabolical genius’ that he could fool you – believe me, he was not that smart.”
According to Isenberg, who’s interviewed many women involved with incarcerated males, most cannot accept the inmate’s crime, and many had suffered some form of abuse. They had built fantasy worlds that satisfied their needs. These women, she theorized, “have a deep need to love someone with whom they can’t enjoy an easy, comfortable relationship. I would assume that the challenges of a difficult relationship may be more exciting to some people. The obstacles might make it more thrilling.”
Another persistent devotee was Doreen Lioy, who had beat fierce competition in 1996 to marry Night Stalker Richard Ramirez, killer of 14. Lioy had seen his image and fallen madly in love. Believing he needed a friend, she’d become his advocate, insisting he could not have raped or killed anyone. She'd described him as funny, charming, and kind. Despite overwhelming evidence about his brutal acts, she stated, “I just believe in him completely.”
Some females see the little boy in these killers and want to nurture it. Some believe they can influence a man as cruel and powerful as a serial killer to mend his ways. Some confuse brutality with masculinity. They think the serial killer they love is an alpha male who will protect them. With the media’s help, these killers become larger-than-life, and the aura suggests that they’ll deliver more than an average man might. They’re viewed as exceptional in every way, intellectually, sexually, and emotionally. And among serial killers, Bundy stands out. In the minds of his fans, his exceptionality generalizes to other qualities.
That kind of devotion can have a real downside. In the 1990s, Beverly Bonner met inmate John Robinson, left her husband, and went off with Robinson upon his release, only to be murdered for her alimony checks. Rose Marie Walley became pen pals with Arthur Shawcross when he was serving time for killing two kids. When he was paroled, she became his fourth wife, giving him a home base in Rochester, New York, from which he went out and killed 11 women.
Yet cautionary tales have little effect on romantic fantasies, especially when some young women think it’s exciting or romantic to be raped, battered and bruised. As Isenberg said, these girls love an image they've created from their own needs. Perhaps if they met some real victims who survived a serial killer, they'd be less eager to role-play one.
Isenberg, S. (1991/2000). Women who love men who kill. iUniverse.
Hood, Abby Lee. (2019, August 13). "TikTok has a Ted Bundy problem. http://www.mtv.com/news/3134857/tiktok-has-a-ted-bundy-problem/
Ramsland, K. (2013). The care and feeding of serial killers. Evil in American Pop Culture, Prometheus.