"The Killer Next Door" is the first of a rash of books about Theodore Robert Bundy scheduled to hit the bookstores in the next couple of years. It is a thorough, workmanlike compliation of what is known or suspected about numerous murders and disappearances that have been loosely connected to Bundy over the last decade. The book begins with case histories of the earliest crimes and ends with Bundy's trial and conviction in Miami for the murder of two Florida State University women in Tallahassee in 1978.
Bundy is now on death row in Florida, facing another murder trial which began in Orlando earlier this month. He is charged with kidnapping and killing Kimberly Diane Leach, 12, from Lake City Junior High School less than three weeks after the FSU murders.
The authors of "The Killer Next Door," David Merrill and Steven Winn, got interested in Bundy early on and have bird-dogged his career ever since. By diligence and good luck, Winn got hold of police files on many of the early killings and the disappearances out west. The book is based on these, and, according to the foreword, on hundreds of hours, of interviewing and on personal correspondence and documents. Winn and Merrill also draw heavily on court records in Utah, Colorado and Florida.
Though much of the information has been previously published, this is the first full account between covers and available nationally of the astoundingly complex trail of "coincidences" that followed Bundy around the country for about 10 years. However, the authors do not offer their own judgements about the extent of Bundy's involvement in any of it.
Winn and Merrill provide an unusually detailed look at the police work -- and lack of it -- that often goes into such cases. There's also a profile, of sorts, of Bundy's psyche, as derived from the testimony of court-appointed psychiatrists. But somehow, Winn and Merrill fail to capture any vivid sense of Bundy's persona. This may be the result of the kind of man Bundy is -- distant, aloof, witty, bright, but without the kind of focus that gives most people their individuality. Instead, he comes across as a rather two-dimensional personality, probably because, at core, he is inscrutable.
One of the most fascinating insights is provided by extracts from Bundy's attempt to plea-bargain with his arresting officers in Pensacola, a week after the Leach disappearance. The dialogue, transcribed from tape, shows Bundy trying to depict himself as a pathological psychological specimen for a life-sentence in a Washington State mental insitiution.
Fictitious names are used for a substantial number of real people "to minimize [their] pain and discomfort." In some cases, however, this has been carried to the point of absuridity. For exampale, Bundy's close friend Carole Ann Boone is identified in the book as "Nancy Hobson," though Boone has been conspicuously present at most of Bundy's court appearances, has appeared on national television in interviews with him, and has been quoted extensively in newspaper accounts under her real name. To compound the problem, the fictitious names are not identified as such when they are used.
Another flaw, looking at this book as a work of history, is that the authors have found it necessary to invent some dialogue that they could better have taken verbatim from court records.
Despite its shortcomings, "The Killer Next Door" is grippingly told and should be a significant contribution to the record of one of the nation's most fascinating criminal psychopaths.