A sad and ugly chapter in the long litany of man's capacity for murderous cruelty ended today with the death of Ted Bundy in Florida's electric chair. Justice was served in Bundy's execution, but the scars left by his brutal murders will linger in other lives for a long, long time.
Officially, Bundy's execution was for the kidnap-murder of 12-year-old Kimberly Leach, of Lake City, Fla., but he had been found guilty of two additional 1978 slayings and was suspected in 20 to 40 others, at least 23 which he confessed in the final hours before going to the electric chair.The victims were always girls or young women who simply vanished. Their bodies sometimes were found later, others simply remained missing. Bundy's confessions included eight such murders in the state of Washington, two in Idaho that had not previously been tied to him, three in Colorado, and at least eight in Utah and perhaps as many as 11.
Faced with execution after nearly a decade of court appeals, Bundy apparently tried to trade confessions for time, perhaps as much as three years, to give lawmen details on all the murders. The Florida governor rightly refused to make such a trade.
The Florida governor can hardly be faulted for insisting that the execution go ahead. Bundy had escaped execution dates before and had teased lawmen and writers with hints many times before. It's unfortunate that Bundy had resisted pleas to talk sooner. But if it were not for the death penalty, it is possible Bundy would never have confessed.
Under the circumstances, the obtaining of at least some information on some of the killings can be considered a bonus. How much of Bundy's confessions can be accepted at face value is unclear. He liked to be the center of attention, but also had a history of refusing to be pinned down, of causing as many problems as possible for lawmen.
If those confessions lead to the remains of some of the missing victims, it will be a long-delayed comfort to the families. A disappearance, the uncertainty as to what happened, even though there is a strong suspicion, can be a lengthy, cruel form of suffering that is harder to come to terms with than the shock of death. Many books can finally be closed.
One of the unhappy circusmatances surrounding Bundy's execution was the circus-like atmosphere promoted by many, from the selling of slogan-decked T-shirts, to celebrations by police officers. A state-sanctioned death ought to be society's most serious business, and certainly not a celebration, no matter how heinous the crimes or how deserved the penalty.
As for Bundy himself, in death he remains an enigma.
He was bright, educated, adaptable, good-looking, personable, with an apparently normal childhood, and liked by many who knew him. He seemed totally the opposite of any picture of what a gruesome, violent serial killer might be. Yet there was a twisted personality inside, one that used intelligence to carefully plot and carry out vicious murders in many places for perhaps a decade.
In a statement shortly before his death, Bundy said an addiction to pornography fed his descent into murderous sex crimes.
He was, at least until his final hours, calculating and unfeeling about what he had done, even bragging at times about his cold lack of emotion. Ted Bundy's life is a sad reminder that there is inexplicable evil in the world and that sometimes it hides behind a most unlikely face.