Friday, October 06, 2006

Ted Bundy on Death Row.

Very rarely do I feel that a book is straddling the line of acceptability. I am vehemently against censorship, and so when I experience a book of this nature, it's a dusturbing encounter. Such is Michaud and Aynesworth's "Ted Bundy: Conversations With a Killer (The Death Row Interviews)". At the time the interviews were conducted, Bundy was in a Florida prison awaiting an appeal regarding the murder of a twelve-year-old girl. He had already been convicted of previous murders, and his execution was a foregone conclusion. The authors believed that they could get into the mind of Bundy, and possibly clear up some other unsolved cases. This was not to be the case.

Ted Bundy was remarkable for his good looks, solid background and significant intelligence. By his own account, there was nothing in his personal history that would suggest the atrocities he would commit. The killer describes his gradual progression into extreme malignancy. Not surprisingly, his descent began with trips to the adult bookstore, where he purchased materials that drew the link between violence and sex. As ordinary stresses and frustrations built up through his life, he began acting out in inappropriate ways.

He started with voyuerism. He began to see women as symbols rather than people. His peeping Tom adventures soon took a sinister turn. He begin entering the houses of his targets... watching them as they sleeped. Eventually he assaulted someone but quickly retreated in the horrible realization of what he had done. What followed was a period of self-recrimination and shame, but those feelings soon faded away. His behavior escalated until he finally abducted his first victim. Having sexually assaulted her, he realized that he was in a desperate predicament. He decided that he could not simply release her, and proceeded to kill her and dispose of her body on a wooded hill. Because of the enormity of what he had done, he resolved not to repeat the behavior. But after the fear of being discovered passed, and the inner tensions accrued once again, he began a full-fledged campaign of rape, abduction and murder.

It is not known exactly how many lives Bundy claimed. The authors continued to put pressure on him to commit to a number, but Bundy understandably refused to disclose the information. He intended to string along Michaud and Aynesworth, extracting a promise that they would investigate leads that Bundy said would exonerate him. The pair of authors frustration grew as one lead after another proved to be mere deflection. Eventually Bundy agreed to recount some of his heinous crimes, but only in the third person. He related his tales as if speculating on the type of individual who would commit such crimes. He eerily refers to "the entity" as he details the methodology, emotional and mental states, and the experiences of the killer.

At times Bundy seems sincere in his effort to cast light on his inner workings. He doesn't seem to be holding much back. But there are certain incidents of which he refuses to "speculate" about, including a vicious attack on sleeping girls at the Chi Omega sorority house in Tallahassee, Florida. Again, it is important to note that Bundy was involved in continued appeals in court... it wouldn't have been in his interest to disclose information about cases in which evidence was weak. And ultimately... whatever credit Bundy deserves for shedding light on his crimes... it is crystal clear that he has his own best interests in mind.

Contemporary readers don't have much access to the firsthand accounts of killers. I really got the feeling that these interview transcripts were unfiltered and uncensored. This book is an extraordinary opportunity to see behind the veil of a sociopath. It can serve as a primer for budding serial killers, or as a cautionary tale about the flaws in the human condition. How much do you trust the reading audience of such a work?

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