In 1929, 41 years after the Whitechapel murders, the first full-length book on Jack the Ripper appeared. Publication of "The Complete Jack the Ripper" in 1973 brought the number of Ripper books up to seven.
It would seem as if our own Ted Bundy threatens to outstrip Jack the Ripper in the amount of publicity he's had, and certainly in the speed with which books about him have come off the press.
Consider the Bundy bibliography: "The Killer Next Door," "The Stranger Beside Me," "The Deliberate Stranger," "Phantom Prince," and now, a fifth entry, "The Only Living Witness."
What's Ted Bundy got that Jack the Ripper hadn't? A real name and an agreeable face. And what's this book got that the other Bundy books haven't? A voice; Bundy's own voice.
But Ted Bundy has never admitted his crimes. (This book opens with a list of the women alleged to have been his victims between 1974 and 1978: 10 in Washington, six in Utah, three in Colorado, another six in Florida. What is more, the authors contend that it is "possible that as many as 40 were killed" in all.) How, then, did the authors trick Bundy into the next best thing to confession?
One of the two, Stephen G. Michaud, describes the technique: "Ted would talk so long as we agreed that he was only 'speculating,' in the third person, on the nature of the killer. I could not ask any direct questions. But in fact we weren't playing 'let's pretend'; it was 'let's pretend to pretend.' If I once asked, 'How did you do it?' it would spoil the game."
Bundy's "speculation" is awfully specific. He tells Michaud: "He parked his car down the street and, uh, then ran up behind the girl. Just as he came up on her they were at a place where there was an orchard, or a number of trees or something. As he came up behind her she heard him. She turned around and he brandished a knife . . ."
Ted Bundy's narrative continues, describing the attempts to quell the girl's screams, the departure and return to the scene: "He parked his car at the curb of this small orchard and walked into it and saw that in fact the body was still in the same position he'd left it. So it was clear that the girl was dead . . . So he carried the body to his car and put it in and covered it."
But even when Bundy's speech is absurdly euphemistic (he calls murder "inappropriate acting out"), it is harrowing. What the authors refer to as Bundy's "sociological twaddle" is, clearly, still another way in which he has managed to separate himself from the deathblows he struck.
Ted Bundy posits that the killer had two selves, a "dominant personality" (the law-abiding Young Republican), and something he describes as "this entity inside him." Neither, however, has a conscience. Even the "dominant self," as Bundy tells it, is only "fearful, terribly fearful, that for some reason or another he might be apprehended."
Bundy's revelations take up a mere fifth of the book, and one cannot help but wonder why so little could be culled from the reels of tape the authors collected in the course of a year. Indeed, they tell us that they "wore out 10 tape recorders, five in conversation with Ted." Was so little of what Bundy said pertinent?
In light of the publicity the in propria persona aspect of the book has received, the amount that is offered seems skimpy. Much of what remains is rehash--bios of the murdered women, an account of Bundy's various arrests, escapes and trials. Not that it wasn't necessary to include this material--there are people who'll be reading this book who haven't read any of the others. It's just that, given the more sensational stuff the authors presumably had to work with, presentation of that which is familiar seems to take up too much space.
We are given some sidelights that are both moving and terrifying. The authors describe playing the prison tapes for Bundy's mother and stepfather: "The four of us sat in their living room listening to their son's disembodied voice describing the rape and murder of the unnamed girl in an orchard. Louise let out several sharp, involuntary moans as she leaned forward in her chair, pain etched across her face. Johnnie sat by her and held her hand."
They also reveal details of correspondence between Bundy and one of his groupies.
As a case study, Bundy continues to have enormous appeal. As a man he is much minimized. This book reports what other accounts have ignored--that Bundy is "a compulsive nail-biter and nose-picker, that he was only middling bright (IQ 124), that he was at best a fair student in college and a failure in law school, that he was essentially untraveled and poorly read, that he stuttered when nervous and had acquired only a surface sophistication."
And on top of all this, the latest photograph of Bundy on Death Row shows him to have grown pudgy, maybe even fat.
Bundy's favorite modus operandi was to fake an injury, then ask an unsuspecting woman to help him carry something to his car. In earlier accounts and in photos, too, he was so handsome, so wholesome, we derived a "near-miss" sort of thrill. We knew that, had he approached us, we might well have gone off with him, too. But no more. The Bundy that "The Only Living Witness" presents would give even the most incautious pause.