Why Ted Bundy’s appeal may never end

Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes (Official Trailer)

A Netflix streaming true crime docuseries “Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes” includes interviews the serial killer had with journalists before he was executed for his murders.
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A Netflix streaming true crime docuseries “Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes” includes interviews the serial killer had with journalists before he was executed for his murders.

One of America’s most famous serial killers is back in the spotlight. Maybe he never left.

The electric chair may have put an end to Ted Bundy in 1989, but it sparked a perennial fascination with the man who twice escaped jail. Just when we think we’ve heard the last of Tacoma’s most famous homegrown killer, out comes another telling of his heinous crimes.

Actually, Netflix has two tellings. The first is a four-part documentary called “Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes.” The series offers never-before-heard audio from Ted Bundy interviews. Netflix hopes any questions the curious have about the killer and his victims will get answered.

No doubt Bundy, a notorious narcissist, would be pleased with the attention.

Bundy was born in Vermont, but spent his latter childhood in Tacoma. It’s believed Bundy started killing when he was just 14 years-old. He delivered papers in Tacoma’s North End neighborhood near the home of Ann Marie Burr, an 8-year-old girl who was kidnapped in 1961. It’s likely Burr was Bundy’s first victim.

The Wilson High School grad attended the University of Washington in Seattle and once walked the shady paths of the University of Puget Sound where he went to law school. He never finished.

Bundy is thought to be responsible for the disappearance and death of 36 women, many of them from the Seattle area. In 1979, he was finally convicted of raping and killing two sorority sisters and a 12-year-old girl in Florida.

His crimes are unspeakable, but still, the public can’t get enough.

The supposed purpose of the latest Netflix’s docuseries is to ask why: Why would this former Tacoma boy, who by all accounts was likeable and friendly, kill?

Bundy answers the question in his own voice with about the same emotion one uses to order something from a menu: “Control. Fear. Violence.”

For those who like a more scripted retelling, Netflix offers a fictionalized film. The soon-to-be-released movie stars Zac Efron in the leading role.

The casting of Efron, a former teen heartthrob, is not surprising given that Bundy was often described as attractive. This might explain why he received scores of love letters from women until the day he was executed.

But watching Efron play up Bundy’s supposed charm begs the question: Is this film about a monster or a movie star? Even the title is provocative. “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile.” Remove the word “vile” and it sounds like a sexy perfume.

We get it. Stories of crime and murder make for compelling viewing. There’s a reason true crime dramas and documentaries are the most popular genre on television.

A prurient fascination with murder isn’t anything new; from the first chapters of the Bible to the Greek tragedies, cautionary tales involve murder. Fairy tales are the gateway, taking children on a journey through the dark, dark woods to see what lurks.

Horror writer Stephen King calls it, “daring the nightmare.”

The tales are meant to make us uncomfortable and afraid. But Bundy isn’t some brain-eating zombie; he was a real life killer who should never be glorified or glamorized and therein lies the danger of all this infotainment.

How about this cautionary tale, Netflix? Commit a crime and get caught. Today’s forensics are just that good. Let’s see more documentaries on the breakthroughs in investigative tools. A movie about the local Jenny Bastian and Michella Welch cases would be a good place to start.

Last year, DNA helped track down their killers after more than 30 years. Advancements in forensic science and a larger DNA database helped identify a pair of unconnected suspects. It wasn’t the happy ending the young victims or their families deserved, but it delivered a semblance of justice.

And it wouldn’t have happened without the tenacity of detectives and the families of the victims who never gave up hope. We say fewer stories about local monsters and more about local heroes. We have our share of those, too.

But go ahead and watch the Ted Bundy depictions, if you must. Just know that no one would be more pleased than Bundy himself.