Saturday, January 23, 2021

Reader Week: Ted Bundy

Today marks the start of Reader Week, the Bytes items this week being topics and information suggested by readers.


Caution: graphic descriptions of violence and criminal acts. 


An email from Steve M: 

Thought I would write to you about Ted Bundy! 

We watched the film ‘The Stranger Beside Me’ last night, which was written and produced by an ex police officer turned crime writer, Ann Rule. She knew Bundy while he was going about his gruesome life in secret. She was in fact involved in helping to profile the killer prior to his capture, and she had secured a book deal about the killing behind the scenes as well. 

We had no idea of the extent of Bundy’s murderous reign, and we certainly did not know about his necrophilia etc etc. 

The film was sanitised a fair bit but it seemed to be a fair account his story. 

The purpose of writing is to mention something the judge said in summing up at Bundy’s trial. When we saw it on the film, I said to Diane, ‘isn’t that typical Hollywood!’ then we looked it up and Judge Cowart did make the comments they repeated in the film. After speaking about Bundy’s atrocious and heinous crimes he finished with: 

“Take care of yourself young man. I say that to you sincerely; take care of yourself. It is an utter tragedy for this court to see such a total waste of humanity, I think, as I’ve experienced in this courtroom. You are a bright young man. You’d have made a good lawyer and I would have loved to have practice in front of me, but you went another way, partner. I don’t feel any animosity toward you. I want you to know that. Take care of yourself.” 

It was an appalling way to leave things. Bundy admitted to 30 murders in 4 years, but the number of victims is believed to be over 100. He kept some severed heads in his apartment, viciously raped and killed his victims then performed acts of necrophilia on their bodies until their decomposition prevented him continuing. The judge’s comments were appalling beyond belief and showed no compassion towards the victim’s families. I imagine Judge Cowart was ‘thinking aloud’ when he made the comments – we think he should have kept those thoughts to himself.  

Would appreciate your learned opinion when you have time? 


Thanks, Steve. 


Ted Bundy: 

The following summary is from Wikipedia at: 

Theodore Robert Bundy (nĂ© Cowell; November 24, 1946 – January 24, 1989) was an American serial killer who kidnapped, raped, and murdered numerous young women and girls during the 1970s and possibly earlier. After more than a decade of denials, before his execution in 1989 he confessed to 30 homicides that he committed in seven states between 1974 and 1978. The true number of victims is believed to be higher. 

Bundy was regarded as handsome and charismatic, traits that he exploited to win the trust of victims and society. He would typically approach his victims in public places, feigning injury or disability, or impersonating an authority figure, before knocking them unconscious and taking them to secluded locations to rape and strangle them. He sometimes revisited his victims, grooming and performing sexual acts with the decomposing corpses until putrefaction and destruction by wild animals made any further interactions impossible. He decapitated at least 12 victims and kept some of the severed heads as mementos in his apartment. On a few occasions, he broke into dwellings at night and bludgeoned his victims as they slept. 

In 1975, Bundy was jailed for the first time in Utah for aggravated kidnapping and attempted criminal assault. He then became a suspect in a progressively longer list of unsolved homicides in several states. Facing murder charges in Colorado, he engineered two dramatic escapes and committed further assaults in Florida, including three murders, before his ultimate recapture in 1978. For the Florida homicides, he received three death sentences in two trials. Bundy was executed in the electric chair at Florida State Prison in Raiford, Florida, on January 24, 1989. 

Biographer Ann Rule, who had previously worked with Bundy, described him as "a sadistic sociopath who took pleasure from another human's pain and the control he had over his victims, to the point of death, and even after." Bundy once called himself "the most cold-hearted son of a bitch you'll ever meet." Attorney Polly Nelson, a member of his last defense team, wrote that Bundy was "the very definition of heartless evil." 


Bundy as a senior in high school, 1965 

Bundy's 1975 Utah mug shots 

1977 photograph—taken shortly after first escape and recapture[187]—from Bundy's FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives poster 

Bundy in Tallahassee during his triple murder indictment, July 1978 

Departing a preliminary hearing, Miami, 1979 

Mug shot taken the day after sentencing for the murder of Kimberly Leach 

Hagmaier and Bundy during their final death row interview on the eve of Bundy's execution, January 23, 1989 

Judge Cowart: 

Edward Douglas Cowart (1925 – 1987), the Dade County Circuit Court Judge best known for being the presiding judge at the trial of Ted Bundy, served as a Miami police officer and prosecutor before becoming a judge. Cowart sat on the bench for 14 years, was respected by Florida lawyers and was known for frequent Biblical quotations in the courtroom. 

Bundy was a one-time law student who represented himself in court and was sentenced to death by Cowart. 

Cowart is remembered for his sympathetic post-sentencing remarks to Bundy: 

The court finds that both of these killings were indeed heinous, atrocious and cruel. And that they were extremely wicked, shockingly evil, vile and the product of a design to inflict a high degree of pain and utter indifference to human life. This court, independent of, but in agreement with the advisory sentence rendered by the jury does hereby impose the death penalty upon the defendant Theodore Robert Bundy. It is further ordered that on such scheduled date that you'll be put to death by a current of electricity, sufficient to cause your immediate death, and such current of electricity shall continue to pass through your body until you are dead. 
Take care of yourself, young man. I say that to you sincerely; take care of yourself. It is an utter tragedy for this court to see such a total waste of humanity, I think, as I've experienced in this courtroom. 

You're a bright young man. You'd have made a good lawyer and I would have loved to have you practice in front of me, but you went another way, partner. I don't feel any animosity toward you. I want you to know that. Take care of yourself. 

Cowart died of a heart attack at the age of 62. Bundy was executed two years later in 1989 after failing in numerous appeals to Cowart and the Court of Appeals, seeking to overturn his sentence or be granted a new trial. 

Judge Cowart’s closing: 

Steve, I agree with you about the inappropriateness of the closing comments by Judge Cowart in respect of the sentencing of Ted Bundy. 

The following article by George McEvoy, columnist for The Palm Beach Post, upon the death of Judge Cowart, may offer some wider understanding. It can be accessed at: 

The people of Florida suffered a particularly tragic loss last week with the death of Dade Circuit Judge Ed Cowart at the age of 62, and I wonder if they realize just how much he will be missed. 

In this age of venality and bumbling incompetence in public office, an era when liars and cheats and pompous idiots are elevated to heroic stature, a man like Cowart towers above the field. As a jurist, he was one of the most highly respected, consistently voted in the top three by the lawyers who practiced before him, both prosecutors and defense attorneys. But as a non-lawyer, I respected him more for his down-to-earth approach to law. He never forgot that human beings are fallible at best, and that he was one of them. At the same time, he had great faith in the intelligence of the people he was elected to serve. 

He was one of the main reasons we have cameras in the Florida courts today, and television coverage of major trials. He supported such coverage simply because he believed that the more people are educated in how the justice system functions, the healthier that system will be. 

I met him first during the six-week-long trial of serial killer Ted Bundy, an arrogant egotist who tried to turn the proceedings into a carnival. But Cowart handled it all with dignity, firmness, and when the situation required flashes of wit and humor that kept everything in perspective. 

Before the trial was more than a couple of days old, it became apparent that the lawyers on both sides were trying to keep the press and public in the dark by conducting most of their business during "side-bar" conferences that is, by approaching the bench and talking in whispers among themselves. This is common practice by lawyers, who seem to think the courts are their private turf and that the public, through the press, has no right to know what's going on. Unfortunately, most judges agree with them. But Ed Cowart wasn't like most judges. He told the lawyers they could hold all the side-bar conferences they wished, but that a member of the press would also be allowed at the bench to listen. "A trial is supposed to be a public hearing in this country," he opined in that Florida cracker voice of his. 

In handling Bundy, Cowart displayed all the patience and command he had learned in his years as a police officer and prosecutor before becoming a judge. Bundy, who had finished two years of law school before embarking on his murderous Odyssey, was determined to cause a mistrial. He did everything he could to anger the judge, hoping for a blowup. One morning, Bundy jumped to his feet, shook his finger under Cowart's nose and shouted "There's going to come a time in this trial when I'm going to have to yell 'Whoa,' your honor." Cowart, who was a big man, leaned half over the bench and said in soft but menacing tones "Young man, don't you ever ever wave your finger in my face again! And if you ever yell 'Whoa' in this courtroom, I'm gonna come in wearing spurs." Bundy turned pale, retreated to his seat and sat quietly the remainder of the day. 

Then there was the afternoon Bundy insisted on cross-examining a witness. He asked 10 questions. Each was objected to by the prosecution and every objection was sustained. Turning to the judge, he threw his hands in the air and cried "Well, what should I do, your honor?" Cowart chuckled and responded, "I reckon you should have taken that third year of law school, son." 

But at the end, after he sentenced Bundy to die in the electric chair, Cowart was genuinely saddened. "It's a tragedy for this court to see such a total waste of humanity," he said. "You're a bright young man. You'd have made a good lawyer, and I'd have loved to have you practice in front of me. But you went another way, pardner. Take care of yourself." There was no rancor, no hatred. It was spoken like the words of a grievously disappointed father. 

Judge Ed Cowart was like that. 

Gallery and video: 

See a commentary on Judge Cowart and video of the Bundy trial and sentencing by clicking on: 

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