[Review] Netflix's 'Conversations With A Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes'

Netflix original docu-series "Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes" is a thrilling 4 part docu-series detailing the life and crimes of the infamous serial killer. This series premiered earlier this year in February leading up to the highly anticipated release of the film Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile. Joe Berlinger, director for both the docu-series and film, has done excellent and thorough research to make this as accurate and respectful to the families affected, the cases involved, and any unsolved disappearances and murders that no one knows about. I really liked the inclusion of the journalists, police, news anchors, lawyers, etc. providing their interactions and insights with and about Bundy. It helps make the sad situation that much more real, as some of them depict very colorful pictures of what it was like to be around him such as this quote “All I could do is look down at his hands and think ‘What did those hands do?’”

In Part One, the interviewer briefly started to recall in vivid detail about getting ready to meet Ted Bundy and interview him for the first time. The interviewer and Bundy ended up having a lot in common actually that was a unique perspective. They grew up in the same neighborhood and knew the same people even though they never personally crossed paths. A childhood friend talked about how Ted was like as a child and growing up in school. He usually always talked a big game and couldn’t deliver, with academics and sports alike. She also recalled how he didn’t really have a close friend and how he never had a high school girlfriend.

A lawyer friend of Ted’s was interviewed about his short stint in politics. This friend was someone Ted admired and imitated, down to owning the same car in the same color. He decided he would become a lawyer and get involved in politics for direction in his life, and eventually how Bundy’s political career ended in scandal. Ted, at the time, was also dating his first girlfriend Diane who lived out of state. Ted started becoming self-conscious about not being good enough for her and not being able to provide for her, and when they slowly corresponded less and less and she eventually stopped writing, that’s when Ted seemed to snap. He felt like he wanted revenge on life and on Diane, and claims the summer of 1974 is a complete blank

Bundy allowed this interviewer speak with him so that he could write a book about Ted. They had an agreement that Ted would talk about information he has to prove his innocence, and to give them the “real story”. When Ted kept deviating from the subject, he

finally thought of the way to get Ted to talk. He realized he had to get Bundy to talk about his actions in third person, and talk like he’s an expert witness. He told Ted that since he was intelligent from studying psychology, and since he was familiar with the cases, that he should tell him what he think happened and the kind of person would do these things. Ted started to cradle the tape recorder and talked into it as if the interviewer wasn’t in the room. He began to talk in hypotheticals such as “Perhaps this person hoped that through violence, through this violent series of acts, if with ever murder leaving a person of this type hungry…unfulfilled. Would also leave him with the obviously irrational belief that if, the next he did it he would be fulfilled. And the next time he did it he would be fulfilled. Or the next time he did it he would be fulfilled.” – Ted Bundy. He also felt it was important to get people to understand that it is something in someone’s past that nurtures the behavior. Despite his persistence that he suffered no abuse or trauma himself as a child, it was later revealed a family member may have sexually abused him.

College radio forecast reporter Linda Ann Healey is Bundy’s alleged first victim. She was the first to be reported missing in the Seattle area, taken right from her bed in 1973. Georgann Hawkins also later went missing. In 4 other jurisdictions, Donna Gail Manson, Susan Elaine Rancourt, Roberta Parks, and Brenda Carol Ball were later reported missing. In all 6 cases, there were unfortunately no leads to go on, so they were treated as missing person cases although foul play is highly suspected.

Ted later abducts Denise Naslund and Janice Ott in broad daylight from a community festival going on down at Lake Sammamish. Police started to narrow in on their suspect from these abductions, a witness overheard him introduce himself to one of the women as Ted, who also drives a brown Volkswagen Beetle. It’s the first time the police get a break in trying to identify the perpetrator because they could narrow down on the same man to approach both women.

Onto Part Two. There is a chilling quote from Ted Bundy describing his attack on a victim. The interviewer also stated that Bundy’s blue eyes would turn black as he was reciting these kinds of memories. “One particular evening, he was driving down a fairly dark street, and saw a girl walking along the street. And parked his car and ran up behind the girl and she heard him, she turned around, and he brandished the knife, and grabbed her by the arm, and told her to do what he wanted her to do. Let’s say he placed his hands around her throat just to throttle her into unconsciousness, so that she wouldn’t scream anymore. ”

Ted’s first wife Liz Kloepher tells police she suspects he’s the Ted they’re looking for. She also explains his behavior that seemed suspicious and unlike him, especially on some of the nights the some of the girls went missing. She also said she found women’s clothing and a knife, and also said that he would tell her he would follow sorority girls while driving in his car at night. Ted was able to elude police for a long while from a combination of his knowledge of the police system from volunteer work, his relatively clean record, and for his uncanny ability to be a chameleon and appear differently as if in disguises.

Fearing capture in Washington after the incident at Lake Sammamich, he moved to Utah where he later continued his murderous streak after failing to blend in with society. Ted was charismatic and was able to manipulate people to try to blend in to the new community, including becoming a very active member in a church. While he was very active in the church he was leading his double life in law school and his life of crime. Unable to control his tendencies any longer, Melissa Smith, the Chief of Police’s daughter, Nancy Wilcox, and Laura Aime all went missing. Melissa Smith was later found murdered. In Colorado, Caryn

Campbell was abducted from a hotel and her body was found 36 days after last seen. Julie Cunningham and Denise Oliverson were also later reported missing. On November 8, 1974, Carol Daronch escapes Ted Bundy and recalls her attack vividly. Taylor Mountain in Seattle is discovered now too. This is where Ted buried the first 6 bodies of the missing women from across the states of Alaska, California, and Washington.

Shortly after discovery of Taylor Mountain, Ted Bundy was arrested in Utah in a chance encounter with police while driving around at 2am. They tied his name Ted and also found suspicious things like a ski mask, handcuffs, and pantyhose. He also matched the description for Carol’s kidnapping. He was brought in for a line-up, and despite his best efforts to change his appearance, she recognized him immediately. After this, Utah and Seattle Ted were believed to be the same and it brought forth the first large scale collaborative effort between states in history.

Ted was issued a 90 day psychology test to see if he truly was violent after he received his sentencing. Ted tells the psychologist that when he was younger, he found out he was an illegitimate child when he found his birth certificate. He claims this never affected him since the man he knew to be his father didn’t treat him differently. The psychologist later determined that he was an extremely violent individual. Still in prison in Utah for the kidnapping, he allowed himself be extradited to Colorado for the murder of Caryn Campbell. Realizing all the evidence mounted against him, such as proof he was in the same hotel the night Caryn was last seen, he made a prison break and jumped out the window at the Colorado State Courthouse.

Part Three, after returning to prison, Bundy escapes a second time. This time, he crawled through the ceiling and was able to walk out. He went on a malicious rampage in Florida. He broke into a sorority house full of women, bludgeoned Margaret Bowman and Lisa Levy to death and severely injured Karen Chandler and Kathy Kleiner. Losing control, he walked a few streets over then started beating on Cheryl Thomas, which made investigators wonder if it was indeed the same man. The next day, 12 year old Kimberly Diane Leach goes missing on her way home from school; and her body is later found.

After nearly a week on the run, Bundy is finally apprehended. He was driving slow and suspiciously and raised the suspicions of a police officer. He resisted arrest resulting in a high speed chase and was fighting an officer with a revolver. He faked a Florida ID that didn’t require photos on them at the time and had lots of stolen credit cards. The person he was impersonating found out and verified that it wasn’t him, and Bundy was still refusing to identify himself. He was then questioned about the night of the sorority killings. Feeling lonely, Ted calls his ex-wife Liz Kloepher and gave them his identify for it. She said he called a second time a few days later to say that he was consumed by something he didn’t understand and that he couldn’t contain it.

The series concludes with Part Four. Ted Bundy’s crimes were so notorious that in 1976 for his murder trial, news coverage came from every state and almost a dozen other countries. It revolutionized electronic news gathering by broadcasting the trial and other interviews on TV. He also thought his arrogance and charm would win over a jury, turning down the plea bargain for his life. He traded a life sentence in jail for the death penalty essentially. His lawyers were forced to work with him representing himself as his own lawyer as well, and tried to get the courts to deem him incompetent to stand trial.

Throughout his trial, he displayed erratic, impulsive behavior such as focusing on murder scenes, as if reliving them, wild shenanigans such as firing his lawyers who were helping him and yelling at random points in the courtroom. He thought he was getting special treatment, and talked to the news reporters and laughed with him like he didn’t have a care in the world. He was also found in contempt of court for breaking his prison cell lock and for not arriving in court until a half hour later. On account of forensic evidence of his heavily indented bite marks left on one of the women, Bundy was served the death penalty.

Later when he goes to trial for Kimberly Diane Leach’s murder, he tries to play a sympathy card and proposes to Carole Ann Boone, one of Ted’s biggest advocates during the trial. She is a longtime friend of his from Washington who he eventually married and fathered a daughter with. They even set the wedding date for the date of his execution. The jury doesn’t fall for it though and gets a second death penalty.

Ted was extremely accommodating in helping the FBI when they started the character profiling forensic program to determine likely characteristics and aspects/insights into serial killers. Ted gave a lot of information that either confirmed what police always suspected about serial killers, and new insights they hadn’t yet come across. He was very smart of course having studies psychology, so he really gave the FBI a unique perspective, and also introduced the new emerging type of criminal. He also was officially diagnosed as being clinically bi-polar and a sociopath, having no remorse for his actions.

After appealing the death penalty and jumping through all the hoops, it’s then that Ted realizes he can’t fight the electric chair any longer. The only thing he feels he has is information about what happened to 30 of his victims, and offers to confess to have more time in life. It is there he provides the burial sites of dozens of other women; some that were missing persons and others that remain unidentified. For his last day, he wanted to sit down with a preacher to talk about the Bible and about what he thinks led him down his road to murder. “First manifestations resulted from an addiction to pornography at an early age. And then the line between naked women and violence was skewed when there were violent sexual magazines and then the lifelong feelings of feeling insecure and rejected. ‘The entity’ has a voice and he followed what the voice told him to do.” – Ted Bundy

People party outside of the prison full of camera crews and a nation celebrates justice. Onlookers cheer as Bundy’s body is wheeled into and driven away by a hearse.

This gruesome documentary was haunting from the beginning, starting with a montage of audio and visual clips and photos of Ted. We’re bombarded with footage of Ted’s family/friends stories, Ted’s antics in and out of the courtroom, and details about all the crimes he was accused of committing. There are also voiceovers from various commentators who were close to Bundy and their thoughts of him and his crimes. It also includes news segments about his brutal assaults, rapes, and murders, appearing with images of the prison, victims, evidence, and Bundy himself.

I appreciate how this documentary helps explain to younger people what the time period was like, it created an understanding of how scary it was without today's investigative advancements. A lot of the advancements actually came about because of Bundy, and that was a really cool part of this too, to see just how it transformed the FBI and police work. Realizations such as the fact that the term “serial killer” not a household name like it is now, much less know so many details about a person who murders more than once. I think it’s definitely worth a watch to see actual clips of the events that happened, and it brings it a lot closer to home when you see the grief of the victim’s families. It’s also interesting alone to see the warped psychology of the human brain in an individual like Ted Bundy.

"Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes" is now available to stream on Netflix.


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