Pensacola, Florida
Wednesday August 21st 2019

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The Unreliable Narrator

Ted Bundy, Pensacola and Stories We All Wish Didn’t Happen
By C.S. Satterwhite

Ted Bundy was not the first serial killer, but he was the first of his kind.

This January marked the 30th anniversary of his execution and, thanks to a new Netflix series and our cultural fascination with anniversaries in general, Bundy is once again having a pop culture “moment.”

Due to the historical moment of his arrest, his trials became the first real “True Crime” case to go live. With the advent of video and satellite technology, and intense public interest in the case, Florida courtrooms allowed cameras to enter for the first time, and the world came face-to-face with a serial killer in a way it never had before. The “Ted Bundy Show” became a gripping spectacle, and the main character gave the public what they wanted.

The underlying cost of this spectacle, however, was the lives of possibly over 30 women.

“This Charming Man”
Bundy was a young and charismatic white man from the Pacific Northwest. He came from a Christian household. He was in the Boy Scouts, went to college, studied psychology and law. He was active in the Republican Party and worked with various political campaigns.

According to prison interviews, he labeled himself a conservative, and most of his public history says as much.

He opposed the public protests of the 1960s, held traditional white conservative values and was active in the GOP political campaigns of the early 1970s. In many ways, he was stereotypical of the white majority who put Richard Nixon back into office in 1972.

He also brutally attacked, raped and murdered women.

Investigators have trouble finding his earliest victims, as even until his last days he gave conflicting information. To use a term from literature, Bundy is the classic unreliable narrator. He only revealed information he wanted people to know, often receiving a sick pleasure out of retelling stories to investigators, reporters and the court.

Building off circumstantial evidence, pieces of his early life emerge. Beginning possibly as early as 1962, when he was a young teenager, Bundy’s thought to have killed his first victim. She was an 8-year-old girl who befriended him when he was a 15-year-old paperboy. His urge to kill grew over the years, reading true crime magazines, specifically for sexual-type killings. Sadly for many families, he honed his techniques. His first confirmed victims in Washington State started disappearing in 1974. Ironically, he was working for the Seattle Crime Prevention Advisory Council at the time, where he was the assistant director and authored a pamphlet on rape prevention.

He was so bold and brazen with his earliest attacks that he sought them out in the daylight hours and used his real name when approaching potential victims in Washington State. Wearing no disguise and driving his beloved VW Beetle, police sketches of a man named “Ted” circulated with an image that looked so strikingly like the man himself his friends joked with him over the supposed coincidence.

However, this was no coincidence. This seemingly charming man, liked by his friends and hardly the stereotypical loner, was a killer perfecting his craft.

Bundy’s killing spree started in Washington State, leaving a trail of dismembered, mutilated and violated bodies of young women throughout the nearby states. It lasted until the end of the 1970s, with dozens of women ultimately falling victim to him.

Only a few women survived to tell of the horror.

By the time federal investigators realized what they had on their hands, the FBI put Bundy on their 10 Most Wanted list. While on the run, police captured Bundy at least twice before he came to Florida. The first time that authorities captured Bundy was in Colorado, where he charmed the media and publicly proclaimed his innocence. While doing legal research in the county courthouse in Aspen, Colo., Bundy escaped out of a window and evaded capture until apprehended six days later.

After his first escape, Bundy’s case drew more media attention. Colorado authorities transferred him to several prisons and decided upon Colorado Springs because of its higher prosecutorial record. Having escaped once, Bundy worked to recreate his feat. After losing 35 pounds in prison, Bundy took advantage of holiday staffing shortage, put books on his bed and covered them with a blanket, and the skinny man escaped through a ventilation shaft on December 30, 1977.

This escape allowed Bundy eventually to end up in Florida, where he infamously continued his grisly killing spree in Tallahassee. In what police suspect was a 15-minute wave of violence, Bundy attacked and sexually assaulted four women, killing Lisa Levy and Margaret Bowman. Days later, he drove to Lake City, where he abducted 12-year-old Kimberly Leach from her middle school and murdered her. After Leach’s murder, Bundy drove his stolen car to the Panhandle.

His murderous rampage ended when he reached Pensacola.

Stopped by Pensacola police officer David Lee on February 15, 1978, in Brownsville, behind the former Oscar’s “The Hot Cake King” Restaurant, a routine late-night stop showed Bundy’s VW Beetle as stolen. Bundy resisted arrest and fled, with Officer Lee firing a warning shot. After a brief chase and violent scuffle, Officer Lee subdued Bundy, found several different IDs and credit cards in his possession and took him to jail.

At that time, Pensacola Police didn’t know whom they captured. Media accounts referred to him as a “Mystery Man” giving conflicting stories of his identity.

In the days prior to fax machines and photo IDs, it took several days for the Pensacola Police Department to realize whom Officer Lee actually captured.

Obsession with a Serial Killer
Pensacola punk band This Bike is a Pipe Bomb’s song “Board of Tourism” proudly gives a snapshot of its hometown pride. In a brief few minutes, the band wraps up Pensacola’s selling points as the abortion doctor murders, albino squirrels, religious revivals, sports heroes and the late Willie Junior’s drive-thru funeral home. The last lines of the song are the trivia so many people learn about Pensacola when they first move to the City of Five Flags, “Ted Bundy was caught behind The Hot Cake King. He had a busted headlight behind The Hot Cake King.”

Even if the details are a bit off, the sentiment is clear—Pensacola has a slight obsession with Bundy that borders on pride.

This pride is currently on display near the corner of W and Cervantes Streets.

A driver unfamiliar with Pensacola’s connection to Bundy might be a bit surprised, if not horrified, by a series of murals on the outside wall of the former Oscar’s Restaurant. The mural shows the arrest of a man beside a VW Beetle, a mugshot and someone strapped into an electric chair. The first images are from Pensacola, but the execution of Ted Bundy took place in Raiford, Fla.

When the State of Florida executed Bundy in 1989, the scene outside Florida State Prison in Raiford was nothing short of a carnival. Video footage from the day show screaming people, some with Confederate hats, holding signs which read “Burn Bundy Burn,” “File Another Appeal in Hell,” and “It’s Fryday.” Men sold T-shirts and souvenir pins of “Old Sparky,” the macabre nickname for Florida’s electric chair. Media reported live from outside the prison grounds and crowds cheered when officials pronounced Bundy dead and officials took his body out of the prison by hearse.

Bundy ended the 1970s as a media sensation—a sensation that continued until his last days and beyond. This fascination lends to somewhat apocryphal, but possible, local sightings and run-ins with Bundy.

After his Pensacola arrest, several locals believed they had close encounters with the serial killer. Terry Johnson, member of This Bike is a Pipe Bomb, said when she was a freshman at the University of Montevallo in Central Alabama, for years she thought she had a “creepy” meeting with Ted Bundy. As it turns out, the timeline didn’t match.

While Johnson’s potential meeting was not likely with Bundy, her initial belief that the meeting was with the serial killer speaks to fear and fascination with this case. Researching this story, several locals spoke about family members and friends with confidence that their encounter was with the man himself, none of which could be verified but are certainly possible.

Patricia Bint, a retired postal employee, said that shortly before Bundy’s arrest, she and a friend went out for drinks at a popular bar near Cordova Mall named Big Daddy’s.

“My friend was very pretty with long, wavy, light brown hair parted in the middle,” said Bint, describing the standard look for the women Bundy most chose to attack.

“A very good-looking, well-dressed young man asked her to dance, and they really seemed to hit it off,” said Bint. “After several dances together, she brought him over to our table, and we all made small talk for a few minutes. Then she asked me to go to the ladies’ room with her so we could talk.”

Bint continued, “She said that she really liked this guy and he wanted them to leave the club and go out together.” Bint refused, telling her friend she didn’t like to be left to fend for herself since her friend drove. The two friends went back to the table, told the man she couldn’t leave with him and “he moved on to asking other women to dance.”

Bint said her friend was “quite angry” with her, but soon they saw the same man on television under arrest. When they discovered whom “the mystery man” was, “our shock turned to horror when we realized that I very well might have saved her [friend’s] life that night.”

Other testimonies corroborated this story, which points to very real danger Bundy posed to these women, ending with the Pensacola arrest.

Yet despite the horrific murders of over two dozen women, most dying in the most unimaginably grisly ways possible, a strange attraction exists not unlike the desire to rubberneck at a horrific accident. Nonetheless, hearing people speak of Bundy in Pensacola sounds closer to admiration or troubled romance. At times, it’s as if Bundy seduced another victim with his charming smile, but this time it’s an entire population.

Although he’s an odd claim-to-fame, the Ted Bundy Fan Club is not just a Pensacola phenomenon.

On Facebook, a fan page named “Understanding Ted Bundy” recently celebrated his birthday with a photo of him with a birthday hat added. The page is “dedicated to the individuals who would like to expand their minds and learn more about a man who has made an impact on everyone!” Some of the birthday comments included, “Happy belated ted…loved ur work.”

Reading various posts and comments, it’s hard to tell if the people posting are genuine in their admiration or joking.

Prior to her work for the post office, Bint was the editor of an underground newspaper known as The Gulf Coast Fish Cheer. Her paper, published in the years following the Charles Manson murders, often described as the end of ‘60s idealism, casting a long shadow over the 1970s. As the Manson story continues to captivate people, Bundy’s story combined the macabre elements of Manson with the early phases of round-the-clock news coverage to create an early version of the docuseries for Americans to binge watch.

For those who saw it live, or even in documentaries, there’s little doubt that it was compelling television. Bundy was a star.

Reflecting on her own brush with the serial killer, Bint said. “I’m not surprised by the fascination so many people have with Ted Bundy.”

“It’s chilling to think of how likely it is that we have unknowingly crossed paths with a depraved killer in the course of our daily lives,” she said.

Before Bundy, there was little psychological research devoted to learning the characteristics and traits of a serial killer. Ironically, Bundy’s later interviews with criminologists helped investigators develop profiles for killers. Like all people, however, each killer is different, and few fit evenly into the same box. One factor often cited about Bundy was his magnetic personality. To most people, especially his victims, he likely didn’t present himself as a threat until it was too late.

“I got a glimpse of his charm and charisma that night,” said Bint. “It gives me chills to try to imagine what it would be like to ever experience the flip side of that.”

Brownsville Revival
Over the past few years, Brownsville has gone through a major revitalization. Whether residents like the association or not, Bundy is an undeniable part of the neighborhood’s history.

“People would tell me about it when I mentioned we lived around the corner from Oscar’s,” said Mike Kilmer, referring to Bundy’s arrest. As president of the Brownsville Neighborhood Association, Kilmer and his neighbors work to improve Brownsville and tell its story.

While Bundy is part of that history, Kilmer said the perception takes away from the work they’re doing to revitalize Brownsville’s public image.

“The Ted Bundy thing seems like one of those useless viruses of information,” said Kilmer. “It would be more useful if we were remembering the officer who apprehended him, but instead we remember the mess of a person that Ted Bundy was. I don’t know why we want to associate that with our town.”

“It doesn’t say anything about Oscar’s or Brownsville,” Kilmer added.

“I guess I see it as tying in with that weird attraction to dark and negative things that we seem to have for some reason,” said Kilmer.

“The fact that we’re even still talking about Ted Bundy almost seems like there’s something wrong with us. We could be talking about human trafficking, which is still going on here and is relevant and more worth talking about,” he said.

Kilmer prefers to focus less on the “dark, relatively unimportant trivia” of the neighborhood and more on what Brownsville currently needs, such as better sewage in the area. He also pointed to what Brownsville contributes to the city’s culture.

Crediting a handful of old-time Brownsville businesses, specifically the African-American and Vietnamese businesses, they “have really carried Brownsville through this decades-long period of economic and cultural struggle.”

For years, one of the local mainstays was Oscar’s. For those lucky enough to eat there, the memories of a good Southern breakfast and service linger. Pictures of World War II naval vessels and old record covers lined one wall, and a giant mural of an average day on the bayou covered the next wall. Customers could get biscuits and tomato gravy, hash browns, grits and a cup of coffee for around $5 until its last days.

Nothing inside or out would let the public know what happened near Oscar’s, even though it was a commonly known fact.

Remembrances
A world-renown artist with local roots, Panhandle Slim (aka Scott Stanton) painted one of his characteristic works to commemorate the officer who captured Bundy. He quietly left the painting outside Oscar’s, took a picture of it, posted the picture on social media and left it for whoever was the first to find the free work of art.

Recently, Stanton posted an interesting footnote to the continuing local fascination with Ted Bundy on Facebook. Stanton wrote, “Years ago, I made a painting/homemade historical marker and nailed it to a telephone pole in Pensacola. It marked the spot where the Pensacola Police Department captured Ted Bundy.”

Stanton continued that since “this was not a legit sign and I had no permission to do such a thing, I had some concerns the police themselves might frown on my DIY adventures,” blaming his worries on his inner skateboarder.

The Pensacola Police Department, however, took a different approach.

According to Stanton, “I got a message the other day from a Pensacola Police captain asking about my painting/marker, and they wanted to know if they could have the painting to put inside the Pensacola Police Department for all the officers to enjoy and to encourage them. I told the captain that [the] painting/marker is long gone, but I’d be honored to make them another one as well as a painting of the Pensacola Police officer who arrested Ted Bundy.”

Officer Lee took his job seriously that night, and countless unknown women are likely alive today who have him to thank for ending a murderer’s rampage. As a gift to the Pensacola Police Department, Stanton is working on his tribute painting now.

With the current Netflix docuseries and the upcoming feature film starring Zac Efron, as well as a new book and surely newer material to come out after that, the seemingly endless fascination with Ted Bundy continues. For locals who may have mixed emotions about his case, the approach suggested by Kilmer and Stanton offers a means to find the good in a horror story. For many, remembering the person who stopped the killing spree, Officer David Lee, while taking time to remember his numerous victims is a much more fulfilling way to keep this story alive.

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“My name is Theodore Robert Bundy”
The Story Behind PPD’s Most Infamous Arrest
By Duwayne Escobedo

The Pensacola Police Department thought they arrested Kenneth Miser for stealing an orange Volkswagen Bug.

Officer David G. Lee thought something fishy was going on when he saw the car pull away from the Oscar’s Restaurant parking lot at 1:30 a.m.

He pulled the car over. The suspect ran, and Lee shot at him twice before tackling him to the ground. The two wrestled before Lee cuffed him and secured him in the police car. Lee discovered 21 stolen credit cards in the Bug.

Ted Bundy whispered to Lee, “I wished you’d killed me. If I run at the jail, will you kill me then?”

It was Feb. 15, 1978.

Bundy finally revealed his true identity after 5:30 p.m. Feb. 16—more than 41 hours later—after lawyers and law enforcement offered him two hours on the phone to talk to anyone he wanted.

Bundy, young, handsome and charming, often found his victims on college campuses. He killed Margaret Bowman and Lisa Levy at the Chi Omega sorority at Florida State University. He assaulted and battered Karen Chandler and Kathy Kleiner there. He then headed two miles down the road and battered Cheryl Thomas. His Jan. 15, 1978, rampage in Tallahassee ended with two murders and three attempted murders.

Witnesses said around that time that Bundy bragged that he “could get by with anything he wanted to because he knew his way around the law.”

Pensacola Police Officer Norman N. Chapman Jr. met with Bundy at 3 a.m. on the night of his arrest and took over the investigation.

Chapman claimed in media reports that he spent 40 hours talking to Bundy and learned things Bundy said he never told anyone else.

Inweekly tried to interview Chapman. The newspaper called Pensacola Police Department public information officer Mike Wood. He relayed the inquiry to Chapman, who did not call back this newspaper. Wood said a Los Angeles TV crew doing a documentary on Bundy also was unsuccessful in talking with Chapman, who has enjoyed a taste of local and national fame from the Bundy case. Wood said he did not know how to contact former officer Lee.

Additionally, Wood admitted interestingly that the PPD has no public records from the Bundy arrest and are unsure what happened to them.

In one of his last interviews with the media, Chapman spoke to the WEAR-TV news station in February 2018—the 40-year mark of his Pensacola arrest.

“He says, ‘My name is Theodore Robert Bundy,’ and I had no idea who he was,” Chapman told WEAR.

He said Bundy told him he was on his way to Mobile to kill again. Plus, Bundy confessed he had no one to talk to about his “addiction to killing.” Chapman said Bundy told him, “‘I couldn’t go to anybody with my problem’ because his problem was killing people. ‘I couldn’t go to a psychiatrist and talk to them about that.’”

The day after the arrest, Tallahassee Police Department investigator Donald Patchen and Leon County Sheriff’s Office investigator Steven Bodiford arrived in Pensacola and met with Bundy, who still maintained his false identity.

Asked if Bundy had confessed to any crimes, Chapman told the Tallahassee officers at the time, “Yes, that he had admitted to taking the car and credit cards.”

In the early evening of Feb. 16, Bundy finally relented and gave authorities his name. Shortly after that, a Washington newspaper called asking about Bundy. The FBI soon followed after the PPD confirmed Bundy’s identity with the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted flyer.

Finally, Chapman organized a press conference at 9 a.m. Feb. 17, by the flagpole in front of the police station. Meanwhile, a priest Bundy requested stayed with him well after midnight.

Bundy returned to Tallahassee on Feb. 19, 1978, and stayed there until being indicted on July 27, 1978.

Bundy, who earned a degree in psychology from the University of Washington, took some law classes at the University of Utah. He served on a few political campaigns in Washington. Plus, he was a gourmet cook. A recent 20/20 news special quoted Bundy saying, “I intended to be a lawyer and be a damn good lawyer.”

Bundy died in the electric chair at the Florida State Prison at 7:16 a.m. Jan. 24, 1989. He was 42 years old.

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Remembering the Victims

After years of denial, Ted Bundy confessed to close to 30 homicides.  Here are their names, ages and the year he murdered them:

Anna Marie Burr, 8 years old, 1962
Rita Lorraine Jolly, 17 years old, 1973
Vicki Lynn Hollar, 24 years old, 1973
Karen Sparks (aka Joni Lenz), 18 years old, 1974
Lynda Ann Healey, 21 years old, 1974
Donna Gail Manson, 19 years old, 1974
Susan Elaine Rancourt, 18 years old, 1974
Brenda Baker, 15 years old, 1974
Roberta Kathleen Parks, 20 years old, 1974
Brenda Carrol Ball, 22 years old, 1974
Georgann Hawkins, 18 years old, 1974
Janice Ott, 23 years old, 1974
Denise Naslund, 19 years old, 1974
Nancy Wilcox, 16 years old, 1974
Melissa Smith, 17 years old, 1974
Laura Aime, 17 years old, 1974
Debra Kent, 17 years old, 1975
Nancy Baird, 23 years old, 1975
Sue Curtis, 15 years old, 1975
Caryn Campbell, 23 years old, 1975
Julie Cunningham, 26 years old, 1975
Denise Lynn Oliverson, 25 years old, 1975
Melanie Cooley, 18 years old, 1975
Shelly Robertson, 24 years old, 1975
Lynette Culver, 12 years old, 1975
Debbie Smith, 17 years old, 1976
Lisa Levy, 20 years old, 1978
Margaret Bowman, 21 years old, 1978
Kimberly Leach, 12 years old, 1978

The true number of  Bundy’s victims is unknown and possibly higher.