TACOMA, Wash. — Serial killer Ted Bundy has long been suspected in the abduction of 8-year-old Ann Marie Burr, who disappeared from her North End Tacoma home in 1961.
Over the years, academics, police investigators and relatives of Bundy and Ann Marie have debated whether she was the first of his dozens of murder victims.
It's all been speculation and theorizing based on police interviews with Bundy, books and media reports about him and his intriguing connections to the Burr neighborhood.
Soon, Tacoma police detectives could have a more concrete answer.
Officials in Florida are working to have Bundy's DNA profile uploaded into the FBI's national database by mid-August. Tacoma detectives hope to compare it to evidence that was never analyzed in the Ann Marie case.
"From a historical standpoint, there is this belief that Ted Bundy could be responsible," said detective Gene Miller, who leads the Tacoma Police Department's cold case unit.
"It's a question that needs to be answered from a historical standpoint as well as an investigative standpoint." Ann Marie's family wants to know, too. Her parents have died but her siblings still don't know what happened to their big sister.
"It would help put some closure on it one way or another," Julie Burr said Friday. "If we could learn anything to understand what happened or learn what happened, that would be our desire."
Having Bundy's DNA in the national database also could shed light on other unsolved cases in states, including Washington, where he preyed on young women and girls.
Before he was executed in 1989 in Florida, the 42-year-old Bundy confessed to killing 30 victims. Law enforcement investigators were not able to identify all the victims and suspected he killed dozens more.
He confessed to killing 11 women in Washington state. Investigators were able to identify eight of them. The other three victims remain a mystery.
Bundy's killing spree and execution came before the creation of state and national databases that contain millions of DNA samples of convicted offenders. Law enforcement agencies use the databases to crack unsolved crimes, strengthen their evidence against suspects or to clear them.
The effort to get Bundy's profile into the FBI database has spanned several years. It got a jolt of energy after Lindsey Wade became the latest in a long line of Tacoma homicide detectives to look again at Ann Marie's disappearance.
As usual, Ted Bundy's name came to mind. In January, she picked up the phone and called Florida, wondering if anybody still had a sample of the killer's DNA.
For more than three decades, the name of Tacoma's most notorious son has been linked to one of the city's most baffling crimes.
Ann Marie, the oldest of the four Burr children, vanished from her home in the 3000 block of North 14th Street. In the early morning of Aug. 31, 1961, the blond-haired girl woke up when her 3-year-old sister Mary started to cry. Mary had a cast on her arm and it was bothering her.
Ann Marie took her sister to their parents, who comforted the girls and asked Ann Marie to take Mary back to bed. About 5:30 a.m. Mary started to cry again, waking her mother.
In checking Ann Marie's upstairs bedroom, Beverly Burr found the bed empty and her oldest daughter missing. Searching the house, Beverly Burr found a living room window open and the front door ajar.
The 8-year-old's room showed no signs of a struggle and the family's cocker spaniel hadn't made a peep.
Ann Marie, who'd been dressed in a floral white-and-blue nightgown and was just days away from starting third grade, was never seen again.
Bundy was born Theodore Robert Cowell in 1946 in Vermont. He later moved to Tacoma and took his stepfather's last name.
He had a paper route and frequently visited his uncle, who lived in the Burr neighborhood. He later studied at the University of Puget Sound and University of Washington.
In the 1970s, Bundy began his spree of raping, torturing and killing women and girls in at least five states, including Washington.
The first time he was caught was in Utah in August 1975, when a state trooper spotted Bundy in his Volks-wagen Beetle, parked outside a neighbor's home where two young sisters were there alone.
Bundy was convicted of attempted kidnapping and sentenced to 15 years in prison. He was extradited to Colorado to face charges there, but escaped twice.
He showed up in Tallahassee in 1978. Within days he crept into a Florida State University sorority, killed two women and hurt two others. Less than a month later, he kidnapped and killed a 12-year-old girl.
Florida police arrested Bundy in a stolen car a week later. He was convicted and executed for killing the two sorority sisters and the girl.
Before his execution, Bundy wrote to Ann Marie's parents and responded to questions they had about their daughter. He said he didn't know what happened to the little girl and denied having anything to do with her disappearance.
"At the time, I was a normal 14-year-old-boy," Bundy wrote. "I did not wander the streets late at night. I did not steal cars. I had absolutely no desire to harm anyone. I was just an average kid."
LOOKING FOR DNA
Over the years, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's regional crime lab in Tallahassee has received many calls from detectives, asking about Bundy. Most of the time, the techs had little information to share.
About 2002, the lab received a partial profile of Bundy's DNA. A private lab had developed the profile based on tissue taken from Bundy's body before he was cremated.
The profile was too limited to be uploaded into the FBI's database but it could be used for comparisons when detectives called about unsolved slayings where Bundy was a suspect.
None of the comparisons linked Bundy to a killing, said David Coffman, the lab's director. To know for sure, investigators needed a complete DNA profile.
To get that, Coffman needed to find a new sample or piece of evidence to test.
He'd looked for a usable blood sample from evidence in the Bundy cases in Florida but came up empty. No one had taken a sample in the years between Bundy's conviction and his execution.
"It kind of reached a standstill," Coffman said recently. "There was nothing to get a sample from."
Then he took the call from a homicide detective in Tacoma.
GETTING A PROFILE
Last December, Wade was researching Bundy in connection with Ann Marie's case. Her disappearance is the oldest mystery assigned to the Police Department's new "cold case" unit.
Wade found Bundy's DNA profile wasn't in the national database.
Surprised, she called Coffman.
"I wasn't sure where this path was going to lead," she said recently.
After the two talked, Coffman got to thinking. The crime lab had a display case of items from the Bundy murders. It was featured on tours of the building.
He checked the display and found a set of dental impressions in some evidence boxes.
He wondered if they could find DNA on the wax molds.
When the lab's technicians inspected the molds, they found them covered with fingerprints. That would contaminate any DNA.
In the meantime, Wade contacted author Ann Rule, who'd known Bundy and written a book about him. The serial killer had sent her letters from prison and Wade thought his DNA might be found on the stamps on the envelopes.
Wade got the letters and envelopes but didn't need to get them tested because Coffman was finally having some luck.
He contacted the clerk's office in the Florida county where Bundy killed the 12-year-old girl. Investigators still had evidence from the case, including a vial of Bundy's blood drawn when he was arrested in 1978.
Coffman submitted the sample for a DNA profile and scored.
"We were shocked how we got a complete profile," he said. "It was a beautiful profile."
The profile matched the partial profile Coffman had on file. It also was complete enough to be eligible for the FBI database.
Given the age of the sample and that it was collected when Bundy was arrested, there were some legal hurdles to cross.
The profile couldn't be uploaded into the database as a convicted offender because the sample was taken before Bundy's convictions. It also was collected before Florida required DNA samples be taken from convicted offenders.
"We didn't know how to do this since he was collected, tried and executed before" the database was created, Coffman said.
In 2009-10, the Florida Legislature expanded the state's DNA law to allow law enforcement officers to collect samples from suspects upon their arrests. The law took effect this year.
Working with his legal department, Coffman got Bundy's DNA profile into a special "legal" category in the national database.
"This is sort of an unusual situation," Coffman said. "He's a suspect but a dead suspect."
SEEKING A CONNECTION
Last week in Tacoma, Wade and Miller sorted through the box of evidence from the Ann Marie case. With Bundy's DNA profile on its way to the FBI database, they worked to get the local evidence ready for testing.
Even after 50 years DNA could still exist on the evidence. The detectives will soon send it to the state crime lab to find out.
"They probably will be able to get something," Miller said.
Though Bundy is the most prominent possible suspect in Ann Marie's disappearance, he isn't the only one.
"There are many other names listed in the case file," Wade said.6 comments on this story
If a DNA profile can be found, it will be compared with those of convicted felons in the state and national databases. It also will be run against unsolved cases where there is DNA evidence from unknown suspects.
The FBI will issue a nationwide bulletin informing law enforcement agencies that Bundy's DNA has been added to the national database.
Wade and Miller are working with the Washington Attorney General's Office on a similar announcement to agencies in the state.
"It's not just our case," Wade said. "Once the word gets out, other agencies can look at their old cases."
Information from: The News Tribune, http://www.thenewstribune.com